21 In Korean learning journey (:

‘I can read and write better than I can speak’

Hands up, those who feel this way too (:

It’s a common problem plaguing foreign language learners, although the opposite problem exists too. It all depends on how and in what circumstances we are exposed to / learning the language. I have friends who are conversant and more confident about speaking Korean, but makes basic spelling mistakes and grimace when presented with a more formal text. 

I belong to the other camp where my reading and writing skills are way better than my speaking skills. It took me approximately 2.5 years before I can hold a basic conversation in Korean, whereas by that time I could blog in Korean, read pretty long articles and also attained a TOPIK Level 4. Weird right.

I started to wonder how speaking skills come about for people like us. Under what circumstances and how long we will take before we are able to and confident enough to use that grammar point, to say it out loud and to hold a conversation?

Is it easier to first start out conversant, and then improve your reading or writing skills?

Or is it better to build a strong ‘foundation’, and speaking will ‘naturally’ come after that?

I don’t really know the answers. But from personal experiences, throwing me into Korea helps ALOT. Is that considered survival instinct? Where you have no choice but to use that language if you want to survive there? hahaha, okay that sounds a little extreme, but I guess it is natural for people to want to blend in and it feels easier to speak Korean when everyone around you is doing that.

Still, I do not really think speaking comes ‘naturally’ after you learnt the grammar etc. Engaging in a conversation requires different skills from passive understanding and I think that there are still people who will feel really awkward about speaking in a foreign language.

So, does that boil down to personality and character?

I don’t know. It’s an interesting issue though, any thoughts about it? (:

hehe please leave me a comment, just to assure me that I’m not being abandoned by you all. xD

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  • Reply
    21 May, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Both hands up! Although my reading and writing skills are still far from being good they are definitely better than my speaking skills -or lack thereof. O.o

    When I started studying Korean it was because I wanted to join Kim Sun Ah’s fan cafe. I also wanted to understand her dramas and interviews. And even though I also wanted to talk to her, talking to her would simply mean writing in the cafe. I don’t have to open my mouth to do all those things. It’s not that I don’t want to learn speaking the language, but probably… subconsciously… I didn’t see/realize the need then – and the possible difficulties I’ll be facing in the future. O.o

    Studying alone, I also didn’t have any opportunities to speak the language. I talk to a lot of friends – by chat/email. It resulted to not just my inability to converse well but also to my bad pronunciation.

    Studying in a class forced me to open my mouth and speak. Meeting Korean/Korean speaking friends outside the internet gave me an opportunity to speak. But it was not enough (or I’m really not trying my best).

    Most of the time I feel like there’s a missing bridge between the things you learned (grammar specifically) stored in your brain and your tongue. It’s just very difficult to push these things out of your mouth. And it’s just very frustrating when you know that you know what you want to say but you just can’t get it out of your mouth in a conversation for some reasons. I remember, the first time I was able to use 그래서 and 그럼 comfortably in a conversation was when I was left in a room with a Japanese friend who doesn’t speak English (but speaks Korean) and I love that friend so much that I wanted to talk to her badly. Somehow at that time I felt like something snapped and 그래서 and 그럼 was able to finally cross that bridge.

    I also have a couple of friends who are very conversant in Korean. Both of them have spent a year in Korea as exchange student. And yes, they struggle with spellings and formal text and even vocabs and idioms. Sometimes they even asked me for spellings and meanings of certain words – much to my surprise (I simply admire them for being good in Korean then suddenly they’ll ask me how to spell 괜찮아 or what’s the meaning of 불안하다). But when we’re together and we have to talk in Korean (say with a restaurant 아줌마 or our 선생님 or our Korean friends) they carry the conversation brilliantly and I’m left tongue-tied most of the time.

    Now that I don’t have classes anymore the more I will not improve for sure. So I’m trying my best to read aloud my lessons (though it’s very tempting to just study quietly), talking to myself, and spontaneously translating random things I hear. I hope that would help. But what I’m really hoping for is to be thrown in Korea too someday! ㅋㅋㅋ

    • Reply
      22 May, 2011 at 7:57 AM

      hehe that’s a really long comment! 😀 but i enjoyed reading it (: keep them coming~~

      I understand that feeling of ‘crossing the bridge’. It seems like it will take a certain period of time before I finally dare to take the step forward and use that grammar. Something like a lag time LOL

      hahaha that’s really interesting. I have friends who went to korea for exchange, but most of them arent that interested in the language and I never tried talking to them in Korean. 😀

      Choosing between being conversant and being good in reading/writing, I think I’ll choose the latter (:

      yay! Hopefully we’ll all get thrown into Korea someday and we will finally be able to meet up. It will be real cool

  • Reply
    21 May, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    악! my comment is even longer than your post… O.o

  • Reply
    21 May, 2011 at 8:48 PM

    Same thing here!
    What makes it even easier to be better at reading/writing is how easy it is to access a dictionary. You can’t do that in a conversation.
    In English, it was the same thing for me. During my childhood I was really good at reading/writing but only understood my family and their neutral accent, and didn’t speak that well. I couldn’t watch TV without subtitles.
    Everything changed a few years ago when I decided to stop watching shows with English subtitles (it was a forced decision, I was way too impatient to wait for them to be released). At the beginning it was really tough, I had to concentrate and still missed out on a lot, but eventually I understood everything, even the slang, and now it annoys the hell out of me when I’m watching something with a friend who wants to put on the subtitles. It’s so distracting! I’ve come a long way. Now the only area that’s a bit lacking is my speaking skills, I have some weird accent and words flow less easily than in French. (Nothing serious though, I just need some practice, if I’m in a English-speaking context where nobody understands French, I sound fine in a matter of days.)
    I guess it will be the same with Korean. I might get good at reading first (and writing will follow from it), and when I understand nearly everything I read, I’ll stop the subtitles and in a few months I guess I’ll understand everything I hear too.
    I still have a long way, though!
    (Sorry, I wrote a whole novel about myself here… This should belong to my own blog xD)

    • Reply
      22 May, 2011 at 12:48 AM

      yeah! we flooded Shanna’s blog when we have blogs of our own. XD Sorry Shanna. XDXD
      the topic is interesting, that’s why. ^^

      • Reply
        22 May, 2011 at 7:45 AM

        nahh (: it’s really nice to see a discussion here! ^^ You all bring in different perspectives to the issue

    • Reply
      22 May, 2011 at 7:53 AM

      thanks for sharing your experiences! (: I think a sudden change/challenge is really helpful in language learning.I wanted to watch this documentary which is not subtitled, so I decided to try it out and I was surprised by how much I could understand. 😀 I’m still trying to break that habit of watching subtitled shows, but sometimes i’ll feel insecure about not understanding 100% of the show.

      • Reply
        22 May, 2011 at 8:08 AM

        Stopping the subtitles is a great idea, especially since you seem to be so advanced (wish I could reach your level someday!). Maybe at first you won’t get 100% of a show, but in the long run you definitely will understand everything/more than enough to enjoy it. I’m absolutely thankful for slow subbing teams that, at the time, forced me to watch shows in English raw and stop being lazy xD

  • Reply
    22 May, 2011 at 12:16 AM

    I think this is the problem for those who are self-studying since they don’t have much exposure to situations where they(we) have to speak in Korean. I can comprehend what I read and I can express myself in writing but it’s different in speaking. I get tongue-tied when I’m speaking in Korean. My mind gets 복잡해 with grammar and vocabs that I should use. Funny that I had the same topic conversation with a Korean friend today!

    • Reply
      22 May, 2011 at 7:49 AM

      self-learners always face the most challenges (: i still find it mentally draining to carry out a long conversation.

  • Reply
    22 May, 2011 at 1:26 AM

    Yeah I have this problem but honestly, it doesn’t bother me that much since my chances of being in Korea in the near future are next to zero. I’m content with being able to read, write, and understand Korean. It sounds shallow but I’m just glad I can understand dramas and songs to a certain degree. Obviously you can’t consider yourself fluent in a second language if you’re unable to converse in it but that’s fine with me… fluency isn’t really my goal. As of now, speaking isn’t nearly as interesting or relevant to me as reading, writing, and listening – but hey, that might change in the future and when speaking does become a priority for me, I’ll go with it.

    Interestingly, a lot of Korean-Americans I know have the opposite problem. They grow up hearing and speaking Korean with their family but complain about having bad spelling and grammar when it comes to writing. Definitely an interesting topic to ponder.^^

    • Reply
      22 May, 2011 at 7:48 AM

      True, everyone has different goals when it comes to learning a new language (: For me, Japanese is the language that I’ll be happy with knowing how to read and understand. I don’t have Japanese friends and I probably won’t be there too.

      Korean doesn’t have a very transparent system when it comes to 한글 alphabet and with the amount of sound changes and ‘carry over’ sounds, it can get really confusing for those who are just used to speaking.

  • Reply
    22 May, 2011 at 11:09 PM

    I think reading and writing must become one’s foundation first.

    If you cannot read something then how the hell are you going to be able to understand it when hear it?

    If you can’t write it then how the hell are you going to say it.

    I’ve been mosty reading and writing Korean and then try to actively use new stuff I am encountering. I make a list of 오늘 사용해야하는 어휘 and I try to incorporate them into everything.

    • Reply
      24 May, 2011 at 9:19 AM

      the more formal written language is quite different from spoken language, and it’s quite a big contrast in the case of korean. there are some particles that are usually used in prose and others in colloquial speech.

      the korean alphabet is not as transparent and i guess that’s where the difficulty comes from. they may be able to write it, but spelling mistakes are common

  • Reply
    22 May, 2011 at 11:21 PM

    말을 잘하는 것을 기대하기 전에 먼저 그 언어를 이해해야 한다. 언어를 배우기 위한 가장 좋은 방법은 많이 듣고 읽는 것이다. 듣기와 함께 읽는 것으로 많은 단어에 노출 되어야 하며 그것이 언어 학습의 기본이다.

    듣고 읽는 것으로 언어를 점점 더 잘할 것이고 결국 유창하게 말하게 될 것이다. 빠른 시간 안에 완벽해지기를 바라지 말고 듣기와 읽기를 즐겨라!

    말하고 쓰는 동안 실수하는 것을 두려워하지 말고 그냥 그 자체를 즐겨라. 만약 실수를 하지 않는다면 언어를 빨리 배울 수 없을 것이다.

    • Reply
      24 May, 2011 at 9:20 AM

      한국말 정말 잘하시네요 ㅋ jory님의 말이 맞아요. 실수가 두려우면 언어를 배울 수가 없어요.

  • Reply
    23 May, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    This is interesting. I have the opposite problem. I live in Korea (and don’t study nearly enough) so my speaking and listening skills are so much better than my reading and writing ones. Whenever I take any practice tests (KLPT, TOPIK, etc.), my listening scores are always insanely high when compared to my writing ones. I think it all depends on how you learn a language. If I practiced reading/writing as much as I practiced listening/speaking, I’d be much better. I hope to rectify my problem, though.

    • Reply
      23 May, 2011 at 4:41 PM

      But it seems that the listening material on those test is way easier than then reading material is though. You wouldn’t be able to undertstand if they read the reading material outloud and you would be able to read if the wrote the listening portions down.

      • Reply
        23 May, 2011 at 10:38 PM

        Not necessarily. I suppose that would be true if there was just a small difference between how much reading/writing I do and how much listening/speaking I do and between my scores, but there’s a huge difference. Sometimes I don’t understand things that I see written down, but if someone says it, I react with, “Ohhh~” Also, reading takes time and my reading speed is not that fast. My writing is just atrocious. I have serious spelling and spacing issues. Written grammar can become a problem sometimes as well. There’s also the fact that conversational and office Korean are quite different from written academic Korean.

  • Reply
    24 May, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    My reading and writing are waaay better than my speaking and listening comprehension. Sometimes the pronunciation really confuses me, like when Koreans say
    몰라요, it really sounds like 물라요 to me. (Anybody else notice this or are my ears just faulty?) Since I’m a big visual learner, it takes me a moment to figure out which word is being said. Whoever said Korean spelling was so phonetic, logical, super-easy, etc.?!!! I wish…

    • Reply
      24 May, 2011 at 10:00 AM

      hahaha it’s not your ears, i think that’s their colloquial way of pronouncing. like how they like to say 구 instead of 고 in 있고요.

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