Korean Hangul in 20 minutes

If you have never tried to learn another script, anything that you see in a different script looks mysterious, strange and difficult to understand. There are many different kinds of scripts in the world, but few as simple as the Korean Hangul.

Creating Hangul

If you’ve seen the writing systems that look like strange scribbles from the far eastern countries, you probably also come across the Korean writing system known as Hangul. Hangul is actually a proper alphabet that was created rather than developed over time. The story goes that a Korean king named Sejong the Great wanted to promote literacy in Korea, especially among his own soldiers, and thought that the Chinese writing system (called hanzi in Chinese, hanja in Korean) was too complicated and didn’t properly correlate to the way Korean was spoken. He set up a competition for linguists to create a writing system specially designed for Korean, which was to be as simple as possible so that anyone could learn it. There were many scripts that were developed in this competition, and the Hangul we see now was elected the winner of the competition.

Well, if the idea was to make a simple writing system, why does it look so complicated, you may ask. Well it really isn’t complicated at all. You just haven’t tried to learn it yet, and as you know, anything you haven’t tried to learn could either be extremely complicated or very easy to learn. In this case, you just don’t know how easy it is just yet.

Hangul is Easy

I believe that anyone can learn to read and write Hangul in less than an hour, no matter what excuses you may come up with, that you just don’t have a mind for languages, that you are too old, or anything else. I also firmly believe that most people can learn it in 20 minutes or less. How cool wouldn’t it be if you could learn a completely new writing system in as much time as it takes to watch an episode of The Simpsons? Continue reading Korean Hangul in 20 minutes

How Language Exchange is like Tug of War

Tug of War

How language exchange is like tug of war

When you learn a language you will eventually come to the stage where you want to practice what you have learned and start using it in real situations. When you come to this stage, you might start looking for a native speaker of your target language, who is in turn learning your native language. When you do find someone who is willing to practice with you, it can lead to a mutually beneficial language exchange and even good friendship. More about this in a little bit.

When should I start with language exchanges?

Some people will tell you that you should start speaking right away, using what you know and push yourself to gain better understanding through putting yourself out there, while others will tell you that you should first internalize the language, the rhythm, the sounds and gain a lot of vocabulary  before you speak. Some even go so far as to say that you shouldn’t speak at all  until you have a better understanding of the language you’re learning. Whatever way you choose to go, there will at some point come a time where you need to start speaking, if you want to be able to use the language.

You probably will benefit the most from language exchanges once you reach an intermediate level in your languages (due to being able to express yourself better and being able to understand explanations and replies given in the language), but in my experience, it is good to get speaking practice even from when you are in the early stages of your learning, just to get used to producing the sounds of the language. If you keep putting it off for later, when you know the language better, you might get caught in the trap of understanding a language, but not being able to speak it at all. It’s good to progress your level evenly over the different areas of learning a language, so make sure that you don’t only build up a passive vocabulary. This is where you need practice speaking the language.

Finding a language exchange partner

Finding someone to practice with can be quite difficult, if you are learning a rare or exotic language, but the most difficult thing is to find someone who you enjoy talking with and who can help you with your language learning. There are many websites for getting in contact with people who want to practice languages such as sharedtalkbusuu, and livemocha. There are a lot of them, so you only have to search on Google for language exchange and you will find more sites than you’ll ever be able to go through.

Once you have found a language exchange partner, the initial session is in my opinion the far most important one. That’s where you decide what languages are going to be practiced, and you get to know each other.

Tug of war

When you start talking to each other, it’s usually the one who has the biggest vocabulary or has the most confidence in speaking their target language that sets the common communication language (or the language that you use to talk, most of the time). Of course, you will want to practice your target language and your language exchange partner will want to practice his/her target language. This can lead to a conflict of interests, like a tug of war. Usually the language that you use to communicate between yourselves will be set in the first few sessions, after which it will be a bit more difficult to change the dynamics of your exchange, unless you address the issue directly and talk about it.

So, let’s say that you are learning Hindi, and you meet someone online and start talking. After a while you will have used up much of your vocabulary in the language you are practising and you might fall back on your native language, so that the conversation will have a better flow. Do this, and you will be doing yourself a disservice in the end. Once you start getting more comfortable and get back to your native language, you are on a slippery slope and it will take more energy to get back to the language you want to practice again. It is better to struggle a bit, and taste the sweet taste of victory when you find that you can express yourself in your target language. If you don’t try, you might get stuck talking in your native language with this person for as long as you know him/her.

Solution

There are many ways to deal with this issue, but the best thing you can do is to be prepared for a language exchange and have a clear idea of how it can be the most beneficial for you and what things you need specific help with. Make sure that you know for yourself what it is that you need from the language exchange. Maybe you need to practice some grammar points or want to make sure with a native speaker that you’re using the grammar correctly; this could be a much more fun way to go through grammar exercises. Or maybe you need to practice reading out loud and want to make sure that you are pronouncing things correctly and have the correct speed and intonation for the language. If you really want to work on your pronunciation I would recommend that you record yourself as well when you read out loud, that way you would also be able to tell from listening to yourself where you need to improve. Communicate your needs and expectations to your language exchange partner in the beginning of getting to know each other, and he/she will be able to help you out a lot more as well.

A language exchange can be a great thing and it should be both fun and beneficial for the both of you. Take turns talking in your native language and the language you want to learn, and use a timer, if you want. Make sure that you speak equally much in both languages and make sure that you know what your language exchange partner expects from you as well. That way the exchange will be beneficial for both of you, and you wouldn’t need to feel like it’s unnatural to switch between languages, talk about grammar exercises or just read texts out loud to each other. Just set the guidelines when you get started and you will benefit a lot more from language exchanges. Also, make sure that you update your goals regularly, so that you don’t start feeling too comfortable talking about only one thing, but push your limits as well. You will become more productive and will help your language exchange partner a lot more too!

I would also like to add that if you are feeling adventurous or feel very confident, the best kind of language exchange partner is not a language exchange partner at all, but a friend who doesn’t share any common language with you, except for the language you are learning. That way, you force yourself to stay with the language and you will most definitely get the best kind of practice there is. It is more challenging and especially in the beginning it can be quite tiresome, but it will leave you feeling amazing. (I still remember the first time I talked with a guy from Vietnam who didn’t know any English at all. We were talking about shopping and buying shoes or something like that, something that I’m not interested in at all, but it still made me feel really good about myself, being able to express myself in Vietnamese for the first time.) Just do what you feel you are capable of, and have fun!

Summary

To sum it all up

  • Look for a language partner you feel comfortable talking to. There are many websites available to look for people to talk to.
  • Make sure you know what it is that you need to improve on in the language.
  • Agree on how you will divide your time between your languages and stick to it.
  • Stick to the language you are learning even though it’s difficult at times and slows the conversation down, you will thank yourself later for doing it.
  • Use a timer to divide your time if it makes you more comfortable.
  • Change to more difficult topics when you start getting comfortable at the level you are right now, to push yourself to learn.
  • The best language exchange partner is someone who isn’t interested in learning from you, but talking to you naturally (in his/her own language).
  • Have fun and enjoy your progress! Savour the moments of breakthrough!

I had originally written this article as a guest blogpost for my friend Luca on his blog www.thepolyglotdream.com

The biggest secret of learning a new language

The most difficult step in learning a new language is getting started. I have heard countless people say that they wish they knew how to speak another language, but that they don’t have the time, don’t have talent for languages or a million other excuses.

Have you have ever dreamt about being able to speak Spanish fluently, being able to follow Anime completely without subtitles, or understanding the songs in your favourite Bollywood movies? I am here to tell you that you CAN! You don’t have to be a genius, move to a different country or set aside hours every day to learn. My point is, if you want to learn another language, you can!

The only thing holding you back from being able to is that you haven’t started yet.

The problem is not that you can’t find the perfect material, find the perfect teacher or having the right circumstances to learn. If you want to learn, the only thing you have to do is start. Start right now.

Take a moment right now and think of what language you want to learn. This article can wait, just write it down somewhere. Write “I am learning” followed by the language you have decided on.

Now that you know what it is that you want to learn, you can start acting on it. Don’t give excuses for why you can’t, or why you should wait with it. You have been carrying it around for quite some time already, so why would you want to push it further into the future? Today is the day you start! Go on, tell a friend about it, write it on your Facebook wall, tweet it out, make it public!

Congratulations! You are now enrolled and you owe it to yourself to take the next step in learning, to find material. I promise you, it’s not that difficult. Google is a great place to start. Just start by typing “Learning [language]” and see what you get. You can even get a lot of material on YouTube nowadays, so you might want to check that out too. 🙂

Now suddenly you are not stuck in the limbo of wanting to learn. You can with confidence say that you have taken the first step. From now on, you just need to continue doing what you have started.

The next biggest secret to learning a language is to continue doing something every day. As long as you show up, you win. The day you stop, you lose. Don’t lose your language.

Goals for 2012

Hello everybody! I hope that you have had a great 2012 so far!

I have read many blog posts, newspaper articles, how-to’s and other things related to New Year resolutions or vows over several years now, and the general theme in them is that it’s difficult to achieve your goals, and that you probably didn’t achieve them last year. Whether it’s losing weight, getting stronger/more fit, saving up money or spending less, these are things that are difficult to do, and require dedication and a proper plan to succeed with.

I tried making New Year vows last year for the first time, but forgot all about it almost right away. The thing is that making a resolution for what you are going to do for the rest of the year is quite difficult, especially if there are multiple items on that list. And you really need to get started right away with the things that you want to achieve, unless you want to forget about it and just have a few things as “dreams”.  If you don’t get started right away, and at least do something, anything at all, chances are that you won’t get started at all. So if you want to start becoming more flexible (something I want) then start stretching every day. Don’t go to bed unless you have done it.

This year I am not going to make any resolutions at all! But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any goals for 2012, on a personal level. There are loads of things that I want to do, and loads of things that I have already planned for this year, but that’s what they are. Plans and goals. Things that I need to get started with right away! So I’m not going to call them resolutions or anything like that, but instead push myself to achieve as much as possible this year instead.

So this year, I am going to set up a few new goals to work towards;

    • Get married.
    • Finally take my drivers license
    • Get more familiar with Russian
    • Practice the other languages I know more often, especially Hindi, Vietnamese and Japanese
    • Get to a B2 level (or higher) in my Hindi, both speaking and understanding
    • Become flexible and start with martial arts again.
    • Reach my goal weight of 65 kg. (Through working out and subsequently eating more.)
    • Get my own company up and running. (The first stages are already in place.)
    • Take my story writing and filming to a new level. If possible, create a short film by the end of the year based on a self written story. (I have started a rough layout for a story/film idea.)

So, these are a few of my goals this year. I will keep you updated on how I progress, throughout the year. 2012 is going to be an interesting year for sure. There are going to be so many new things and experiences. I really look forward to seeing how everything turns out.

What are your goals for 2012 going to be? Have you already gotten started with something? Let me know!