Our in-house polyglot: On learning his 7th language, Korean
Pura Buena Onda is a Spanish language school for adults, that uses an organic, conversational approach to teaching Spanish.
For the last few weeks our in-house polyglot Octavi, has been telling us the stories of how he came to be a 7 language speaker. So far he has shared his journey with becoming fluent in Spanish, Catalan, English, French, Italian, and Japanese. Today Octavi will tell us about his journey with Korean, his 7th language.
In case you missed any of those posts, please see below.
Now on to today’s topic:
Hola a todos!
This week it’s Korean, everybody! This is the last language I learned. I started back in 2006, and like with most of the other languages I speak, I never thought I would seriously learn it.
It all started during my first trip to Japan in 2006. I was walking down the street and in one of the big TV screens scattered around the city, I saw a pop music video sung by a young girl. I looked for the singer online because I liked the song. Later, I found out she was not Japanese, but Korean. Apparently, the song I liked was the first song she had released in Japanese, and it was called ‘Number one’. The singer’s name was BoA (yes, written like that).
I was very curious about her, and I wanted to hear her previous songs in Korean, so I looked for videos on Youtube. I liked the music videos and the songs I discovered, and it made me want to learn more about Korea and its language. With time, I found other singers, other songs, and I even started watching South Korean soap-operas and movies. I liked them, and what I liked the most was the fact that people in Spain didn’t know anything about South Korea, so it became unique and special in my eyes. I don’t exactly remember what happened, but one thing led to another and, after some hesitation, I decided to meet a Korean girl living in Barcelona to start a language exchange.
I still don’t know exactly why, but I was increasingly fascinated with the language. As I said before, the fact that everything Korean was so unknown in Spain made learning about the language and the culture so much cooler. Nowadays things are different, and Spaniards know a lot more about Korean culture, but not back then.
2009 was the year I finally traveled to South Korea. I loved it! My first impression was that people were friendly, energetic, boisterous and generous. I didn’t see many westerners, which I liked, and the food was good and cheap; perfect combination! I met a lot of people in only one month, and when I tried to say things in Korean everyone was very encouraging… the country reminded me of Japan, but it was not like Japan. I guess what I’m trying to say is like saying that Spain, France or Italy are similar but different. They are European countries and share some characteristics, but aren’t the same country, obviously. Do you know what I mean?
Anyway, Before the trip was over, I changed the plan I had in mind: instead of trying to live in Japan, I would try to live in South Korea. I still liked Japan, but I knew it was going to be easier to find an exchange program that would allow me to study in Seoul, given that most students wanted to go to Japan, and the concurrence was fierce. At that time, There was a Postgraduate degree in Barcelona called ‘Asian Studies’ that offered yearly exchanges to students in mainly two countries: Japan and China. As I said before, most of the students wanted to go to Japan, or China; but only a few knew there were spots for Korea, and those spots were not even filled! That fact made it even easier for me to choose Korea over Japan for my year abroad. I remember how excited I was when I left Barcelona in August of 2010 with another exchange student to live in Seoul for one year. It was a dream come true, and maybe the last time I was going to be able to live abroad.
One Year becomes Five Years
My first year was amazing. I enrolled in an immersion program provided by the University of Foreign Languages of Seoul. The classes were from Monday to Friday, and from 9am to 1pm. All the classes were in Korean and only in Korean, even for total beginners, and they worked! I was lucky enough to get an extension and my year became two years, so I attended the Korean immersion program for a year and half. I completed all the levels and even a special level added for students interested in advanced Korean. We were only fours students in the final advanced level: three Chinese students and me.
I consider myself to have been extremely lucky to have been in such a program for so long when I already was 30 years old. I would advise anyone to take a chance, if they can, and enroll in a language immersion program. It doesn’t need to be one year, it can only be a week, or a month; it is such a great experience and you learn so much…
However, before the second year went by, a friend of mine asked if I could work in a Spanish academy for some days. They needed teachers and I needed money, so I said yes. Within a few weeks, the academy owner asked me if I would like to work with them full time, and he said that they would provide the necessary visa for me to stay in the country. Indeed, they did, and I ended up working in that academy for three years.
Five Years in another Country
Thanks to the being so many years in South Korea, I was able to learn Korean pretty well. However, just living for a long time in a country doesn’t automatically turn you into a good speaker of the language spoken there. I have met foreigners in Seoul who had been there for years and were not able to put a simple sentence together in Korean. Being there clearly helped me learn the language, but you also need to make an effort and talk, meet people and talk, just talk, talk, talk.
When the immersion program was over, I tried to meet up with a Korean friend at least once a week to practice the language. I read books in Korean, watched Korean TV, etc…I also spoke to one of my bosses in Korean, and to people in shops. When someone tried to speak in English with me, I lied and I said that I was from Spain and that I couldn’t speak English. I don’t think anybody believed that, but hey, who is going to say: ‘that can’t be! A Westerner living abroad who doesn’t speak English? You are lying!’ Hahaha! So they spoke in Korean with me :)
By now, you all know what you need to do to learn Spanish, right? Hehehe… Speak! Not being in Mexico or Spain shouldn’t be a great obstacle to learn. Also, read a lot in Spanish and watch Netflix shows or whatever TV shows you might like, provided they are in Spanish.
Alright, I hope you enjoyed my story! I still want to share one more story next week; my experience with a language that I learnt for four years but I don’t speak! The mysterious language will be revealed next week!
PS Since I left Korea I have been practicing with somebody on the phone for at least one hour a week. First, I did it with a friend, and now I do it with a teacher called Hoyeon :)
If you have not had a chance to learn how Octavi became fluent in Catalan, Spanish, English, French, Italian & Japanese, check out his previous posts: