Contrary to what some people may tell you, you don’t have to move to a country that speaks your target language natively to become fluent.
For some reason a lot of people seem to treat moving to a country that speaks their target language as the ‘magic pill’ of language learning. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard some variation of ‘Well, if I had the money to go live in [country] for a year or two I’d be great at speaking [language]!’
I will admit, I can definitely see why people are fond of repeating it – you have plenty of success stories from people using this method, and since traveling to foreign lands is often seen as an expensive, difficult thing (a lie I’ll address in another article) it makes a perfect cop-out. There are plenty of ‘good excuses’ for why you just can’t travel right now, so no one can fault you for not learning that language you’ve been wanting to speak for years, right?
Being fairly well invested at this point in our challenge to learn to speak Korean in six months, we’ve decided to toss another minor challenge on top of it.
Learning 1,000 new words in Korean in 30 days
The motivation for this is simple, I just don’t feel our vocabulary is progressing quite as quickly as I would like it to for meeting our 6 month challenge. I’m also finding that in many cases our vocabulary is the limiting factor in the speed of progress in other areas of practice. I figure the best way to fix this is by learning the 1,000 most common words in Korean.
Why the 1,000 most common? Well, like I’ve said before, the 80/20 rule applies to language too. By focusing on the most common 1,000 words we’ll be taking the most efficient route and learning the stuff we’re most likely to need to know first.
f you’re familiar with anyone involved in the realm of Lifestyle Design (See our Recommended Reading list), I’m sure you’ve come across the Pareto principle before. For anyone who hasn’t, the Pareto principle (a.k.a. the 80/20 rule) essentially states that in almost every situation 80% of the effects are a result of 20% of the causes.
For example, 80% of profits come from 20% of customers, 80% of problems are caused by 20% of clients, 80% of the weight you lose is a result of 20% of your behavioral changes, etc.
Of course, actual ratios are rarely so consistent. It may be 95/5, 70/30, or whatever. The consistent part, the part that’s important to take away, is that in every case a majority of effects are brought about by a minority of causes.
So, why is this important?
It’s important because it means that, in general, there are two types of actions – those which fall into that 20% that cause 80% of the results, and those that fall into the 80% that are only responsible for that last little 20% of results. I call the first, the 20% with the big effect, High Return Variables and the latter, the majority responsible for that paltry 20%, Low Return Variables.
This will be a very quick update since things have been a little hectic lately. Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot to report as my efforts have finally fallen into a bit of a groove. One problem I’m noticing though is that my workouts are getting increasingly easier, and I currently have no easy way of scaling up the intensity.
That problem may be fixed soon if I can purchase a cheap weight set, but in the meantime I may have to get creative.
No stats this week, or lesson, but I will in the next check-in. I’m also going to start spacing them out a little bit more. Keep checking in for more updates, and articles based on what I’m learning.
So far I have learned to write in two syllabaries (Hiragana & Katakana) and two alphabets (Hangul & Cyrillic). That’s not counting English, German and Chinese since I learned English natively, the German is barely different from English’s and learning to write in a logography is an entirely different process. Mostly by accident, I approached the learning of each one in a completely different way and by doing so have figured out what the biggest roadblock is when trying to learn a new writing system.
Too much studying.
Hiragana and Katakana I learned almost entirely by traditional study. Cyrillic I learned with half study, half use and Hangul I learned entirely by use after trying to study it a year ago and failing. After my experiences with Hangul I realized that the harder I worked and the more I studied, the worse my gains were.
Hiragana / Katakana
I learned to write in Hiragana and Katakana in an environment that most people would think is the best you can get, a structured college course at a big university. Ironically, not only did it take the very longest to learn, but I still go blank on some of the Katakana at times. Since the textbook the professor selected used only Hiragana and Katakana after the first chapter, we spent the first two weeks of the class just learning the syllabaries.
Every lesson and all our homework for the first week consisted of essentially nothing but writing each character over, and over, and over, and over, and over again with the goal of memorizing them all. Can you guess how well that worked? Everyone did terribly.
If you’ve been through traditional language classes, you know how awful they tend to be. Chances are, unless you took measures outside of those classes to build up your ability, you barely speak the language that was being taught now that you’ve been out of the class for more than a year or two. I honestly think, in America anyway, that the poorly designed language classes we all go through are the main reason learning a new language is viewed as such a Herculean task.
The problem with these classes is they teach a second language like it’s just about knowledge. It’s treated the same way a history or math test might be. You’re asked to memorize and digest information and rules, and then regurgitate that information onto a test or vocally from time to time. As I mentioned previously when posting about the method I’m using for my language learning challenge, speaking a new language is a skill.
You don’t get to be a very good archer spending 90% of your time reading books on archery, memorizing techniques and watching other people shoot. Nor would you learn to be a very good swimmer reading books about swimming and watching other people swim to study their technique. Sure, those things might help. If you really want to get good though, you have to go out and do it.
Yesterday I introduced our latest challenge, learning fluent Korean in 6 months. Today, I’ll share the method we’re going to follow to try and accomplish that goal.
We’ve had a lot of experience with language learning (I even have a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics) and so far I think the most effect method for language learning we have found so far is to just start using that language.
After all, while our stated goal is to reach fluency, in the end learning fluent Korean isn’t really an end goal in and of itself. It’s a tool, and it should be treated the same way when you’re learning. A lot of people seem to make the mistake of treating the language they’re learning like it is the goal itself. They study and pour over textbooks and slave away in classes or listening to and repeating after recordings of native speakers as if they’ll eventually hit some finish line where someone officially declares they know the language. They may say they want to speak the language, but they go about it like all they care about is ‘knowing’ the language.
While I’m just barely at the end of my third week into my first challenge, losing 56 lbs. in under 4 months, Caroline and I were talking and decided that today we would like to start a second challenge:
Become able to speak fluent Korean in only 6 months.
Why Korean? Why in 6 months? How does this help us on the way to being epic? One question at a time.
We chose Korean for two main reasons. The first is that we’ve been wanting to learn it for a long while now, but have never really committed to it. We already speak some Japanese, Mandarin, German and Russian (though not nearly as well as we’d like) so it seems right to pick a language we know almost nothing in that we’ve wanted to learn for a while. The second reason is that right now we’re working on the side at a Korean restaurant, so we have tons and tons of access to native speakers to practice with, which is really important.
t has been pretty well established that the Pareto principle, or 80/20 rule, holds true for most things in life. Basically, the 80/20 rule states that in most cases 80% of the results come from only 20% of the causes. For example, 80% of sales come from 20% of customers, 80% of daily speech comes from 20% of vocab, 80% of the world’s money is in the hands of 20% of the population, etc.
The point of this principle isn’t to genuinely suggest that all things are arranged in 80/20 distributions, the end percentages aren’t really that important. The point is to get across the fact that things are almost never perfectly distributed. If things aren’t distributed evenly, than that brings us to a more important point.
There exist both high return and low return variables in every situation.
Why is this important? A person who wastes all their time with low return variables will not progress nearly as much (or as quickly) as a person who identifies and focuses on the high return variables. If you can figure out which things are high return and which are low return than you have just given yourself the best advantage you can in reaching whatever goal you’re pursuing.
As encouraging as the first week was, this week was every bit as disheartening.
To start with, at the beginning of the week I was stricken with a particularly nasty cold. I would say flu, since I did have a fever, but there was no nausea – just fun things like constant chronic coughing, loss of my voice, sinuses more congested than the Cross Bronx Expressway and an unstoppable crew of cranial jackhammer operators.
As of today few of these symptoms have abated. Needless to say, I have had no interest in working out this week and have not only not started my daily high intensity interval training as I had originally planned, but I didn’t even do a single strength workout this week.