Recently I watched a great video by Sun Hyunwoo, who is the founder of TTMIK (talk to me in Korean) and a fellow language nerd (I mean that in a good way ).In this video, he talks about his experiences learning English, what motivated and what worked and what didn’t. All in crisp, smooth English:
Most English language videos focus on how to learn other non-European languages, so it was great to see how someone from another culture learned English, and Hyunwoo’s English is really quite amazing. An English speaker can really see the fruits of his labor.
There’s a lot of lessons from this video that made an impression on me. One of the first was his comment about not being “Korean-Korean” anymore. It’s a really powerful statement actually, and I tend to feel the same way about myself. Having delved into Japanese culture for years, I don’t feel “American-American” anymore, in that I don’t feel quite so bound by American cultures and ideas the way I used to be. I am still American by heritage and culture, but now I feel that my exposure to Japan, Europe (especially Ireland) and such have really opened my mind to new ways to thinking and doing things.1 I think this is by far one of the best reasons to study another language, especially a language that’s very different from your’s.
On more practical matters, much of what Hyunwoo describes as his methods for learning English remind me of the lessons from Khatzumoto’s excellent AJATT website. Hyunwoo stresses that study and textbooks didn’t help him that much. Instead, he made his goal communication and used whatever resources he could to accomplish this. His day to day efforts were focused on continual, small improvements, until one day he started winning awards and now can speak really nice English. Khatzumoto describes the same methods on his website when learning Japanese.
I like Hyunwoo’s comment about “input” and “output” too. I’ve neglected output quite a bit over the years because the JLPT exam didn’t emphasize it at all. So, in Japanese conversation, I sound really stiff and unnatural. I can (usually) get the idea across, but the listener is often straining. Not good.
I can’t write Japanese at all beyond simple stuff, even though I can read pretty good. So, a balance of input and output is really important. If you can’t express your ideas, and can’t communicate, why are you even studying?
Hyunwoo and Khatzumoto might have slightly different techniques, this doesn’t really matter. Their situations and environments are different, so that’s expected. Everyone has to adapt to their own personal situation. But their motivation and their drive for continual improvement is what really succeeded in spite of their circumstances. Both had passion, practical goals, and personal motivation. Not surprisingly, both succeeded.
A positive lesson for all inspiring language students.
1 A good reason for people to travel more and live abroad more.