Fluent in 6 Months Challenge: The Method

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.

In reality, knowledge of the language is just a tool with which to communicate your ideas and find out the ideas of others. Doesn’t it make sense then, if the goal is to be able to communicate with others, that most of the time learning/practicing be spent actually trying to communicate? After all, speaking a language is a skill, and you don’t learn a skill just by studying – you learn by going out and doing it.

Would you learn to swim by reading textbooks on swimming, memorizing all the different methods for swimming, practicing holding your breath and miming the different strokes in mid-air? No. You learn to swim by getting in a pool and trying to not drown. Maybe you have some help or some of those little arm floaties, maybe you have really mean parents and just get chucked into the deep end. Either way, you may learn a little bit before getting into the water, but you never really learn how to swim until you start trying to actually swim.

That’s how we’re going to approach completing this challenge. To keep the pool analogy, we’re going to learn a little first, and then jump right into the water.

We’re not going to bother with any classes, courses, or purchasable methods. Honestly, I have never met anyone who reached fluency from just a class. I personally think that’s because of fundamental pedagogical/methodological problems in modern language courses, but that’s a discussion for another time. The point is, I think they’re largely a waste of time.

We’re going to start by learning a handful of necessary basic grammar constructions (present tense, past tense, how to form a question etc.) and a handful of the most common words, and then we’re just going to start chatting with our Korean friends and coworkers as often as possible. We’re also going to immerse ourselves in Korean by watching mostly Korean TV and movies and listening to mostly Korean music (something we already do anyway) as well as writing entries in Korean on Lang-8, reading Korean newspapers online and, well, basically doing as many things as we can that we would normally do in English in Korean instead.

We may make daily vocabulary study sheets following a lemmatized frequency list in order to maximize the number of useful words we learn, but I’m no sure yet. In all likelihood just reading new material with a dictionary/iPhone nearby and constantly bugging our Korean friends by asking (in Korean) ‘What is this called in Korean?’ will introduce to more than enough new words, in context, with appropriate memory hooks, without needing to worry about lists and study sheets.

So what do you think? Sounds like a good plan or are we doomed to failure? Think we can pull it off in 6 months or less?

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