Fluent in 6 Months Challenge: Success!

Update: I’ve since written a more comprehensive article on specifically what we did in our Korean study to meet our 6 month challenge, you can read that update here.

It’s now the 20th, which means that yesterday marked exactly 6 months from the day we set out on our fluent in 6 months challenge. So how did it work out? Um, did you notice the title…. Success!

So, let’s run through the criteria we set in the original challenge and see how we’ve managed.

  • Production – At this point, we’ve been able to have several conversations with native speakers, both verbally and written, in-person and over the computer. This, in my opinion, is the biggest triumph. We’ve chatted about a fairly wide range of topics, from food to politics to lots in-between and our longest conversation so far lasted for about an hour. That full hour of no English whatsoever is what I consider the biggest achievement. We understand most of the contractions/slang that we run into most frequently. We still run into words we aren’t familiar with, particularly in new topics, although since the meanings can be explained to us in Korean a raised eyebrow and cocked head usually are enough for the person to explain what we missed.
  • Written Comprehension – Our written comprehension is on par with our speaking level. We can get the meat of pretty much every news story we read, though each usually has at least a word or two we’re not familiar with (remedied by a quick dictionary check). Nearly all of our news has come in Korean for the past few months, though we didn’t get nearly as much of it before our 1,000 word challenge. We’ve also been working through a few books we picked up during our 2007 Korea trip. I feel confident I could pick up just about any book in Korean and read it without a dictionary and at least get the general idea.
  • Listening Comprehension – Lastly, listening comprehension. Like I said in the Production section, we’ve had more than a handful of spoken conversations. At this point we have no trouble understanding most people at a normal (that is to say, really fast feeling) rate of speech. We have had some trouble with a few of the southern dialects we’ve hit – particularly one person from Jeju, but other than that there have been no real snags. We’ve also been able to start watching Korean TV shows (something we did even before we started learning) without the use of English subtitles. Again, we don’t get everything, and sometimes a pause or two are required to reach for a dictionary, but overall we don’t have any problems in that department either.

    So, like I said before, big success overall. I’m compiling everything we did that I think worked, and everything we did that I think was a waste (though it’s looking like it may be several posts worth) so keep an eye out for those coming soon!

Adam is a former English teacher turned personal trainer and writer. He’s addicted to learning, parkour and martial arts. In addition to being a voracious bibliophile Adam’s fascinated by anything related to health, fitness and language. When not studying or training he can usually be found curled up with a good piece of fiction. You can e-mail Adam at Adam@RoadtoEpic.com

  • SungBBoguri

    This is incredible ! Can we have more information about how you proceeded? the “The Method” link doesn’t work …

  • Skeptical

    Did you really learn Korean in only six months? It is really hard for me believe to believe this. I do not mean to be offensive. I am just skeptical. I do not think it is possible to learn Korean in such a short time. I think it is possible to do it for German, Swedish or Portuguese but not for Korean. Maybe you could a make a video of yourself speaking with a native speaker without any preparation whatsoever ? I have been studying Korean for over a year and I am far from fluent. I just can fool the people around me because I can speak and most of the time I can guess what the other person is saying from the context so I can keep the conversation flowing.. But of course I cannot talk about complex subjects. And although I write and read Korean everyday, I can hardly read a Korean newspaper.

    • Yep, to a basic level of fluency at least. It’s understandable to be skeptical since it is something that’s considered to be super difficult (part of why I made it a challenge). To be fair it took us twice as long as it takes Benny over at Fluent In 3 Months (http://www.fluentin3months.com) to reach the same level.

      I’ll see if I can find someone on iTalki that I can chat with in Korean that doesn’t mind me recording / posting them. From what you describe it actually sounds like you would fall under the umbrella of what I would call fluency.

      I certainly wouldn’t be confused for a native, but when reading a newspaper / book or watching TV we can usually get the idea and maybe 80% of full comprehension on average with easier things being higher and more complicated things being lower. The six month fluency we reached is still very rough, but we can sit and chat with people about most things by talking around the words we don’t know. If I tried to sit in on a university lecture or something similar I’d be pretty lost though.

      It’s easy in conversation if I don’t know the word for ‘photosynthesis’ or something to just say ‘where plants turn light into food’ which is a collection of really basic vocab. Conversely if someone else uses the word photosynthesis I can stop them and ask what that meant and understand their explanation. This kind of circumlocution (another word I don’t know in Korean) is a big part of what makes fluid conversations possible.

      Like I said it sounds like you may be further on the scale of fluency than you give yourself credit for. Either way thanks for commenting and good luck!

      • Skeptical

        Thank you for your reply. I think I would be satisfied with my level of Korean when I can write it and speak it as easily as I do in English (not that my English is that great anyway….). At least, in English I feel quite comfortable, I can understand movies, read newspaper, understand lectures without too much trouble…. I guess when I reach the same level in Korean, I could call myself fluent in Korean. To reach such a level of fluency I think it will take me, in my opinion, at least to 4 to 10 years (4 to 10 years if I continue to study hard enough…). I am still amazed how sometimes I do not understand simple sentences in Korea (and I mean sentences where I know all the words…). Sometimes Korean says things in a way that it is very challenging to understand.

        Anyway I like to challenge myself and that’s why I decided that I could become fluent in Korean in less than a year.Retrospectevely I think this was totally unrealistic Still, .I do not regret my decision. I really learned a lot in a year. I can write, chat and talk with my friends, but I am still very far from the level I wanted to reach.My Korean is still too poor.

        But more important that reaching a goal, is to improve ourselves. If we reach our goal or not s irrelevant (of course you should try everything in your power to reach the goal that you assigned to yourself…)

        Have you ever read this article http://nojeokhill.koreanconsulting.com/2010/06/a-realistic-answer-to-how-did-you-get-so-fluent-in-korean-part-1-of-5.html ?

        • I’d never read that before but it was interesting! He seems to have a very different definition of fluency though, maybe what I would call ‘native level fluency’.

          My definition of fluency is closer to Benny Lewis’s (http://www.fluentin3months.com/defining-fluency-to-achieve-fluency/) where it’s more about ease of communication while Steven Bammel’s seems to be more about speaking ‘perfectly’ or like it was your first language.

          Either way what you said is right, the important part is that you’re putting in as much effort as you can!

  • Emily

    What did you use to learn the handful of basic sentence structure and common words?

    • Emily

      Such as references or links,

      • Thanks for commenting Emily! Since this challenge has been getting a lot of renewed attention lately I’m going to do another follow up post here soon going into more detail about everything I used (something I probably should’ve done a long time ago).

        For now though here’s a basic list:

        For grammar and basic sentence structures I used a combination of grammar books, having a Korean friend translate a handful of basic sentences (‘He eats the apple.’ etc.) and the site Talk To Me In Korean ( http://www.talktomeinkorean.com/ ). I highly, highly recommend TTMIK. The beginner handful of episodes do a good job of giving you an outline of the most common grammar points. I jumped around a little bit in the lesson order to find what I wanted, but most people can probably follow them in order.

        As far as the common words I used Anki at the time ( http://ankisrs.net/ ) and used one of the free ‘Most common Korean words’ flashcard decks. After I’d finished the challenge Memrise ( http://www.memrise.com/home/ ) came out with a free app for iOS and Android which I actually prefer of Anki now. It also has a handful of good pre-made flashcard decks of the most common word in Korean. I’d recommend either of these, although like I said lately I mostly prefer Memrise on account of the convenience of the free app.

        I’ll post a quick edit and another comment once I finish that follow up article with more detailed info in it. Hope this helps for now though!

  • ArtisticWatermelon

    Wow this is amazing.. Im going to give this a shot! Thanks for the inspiration