I was fortunate to have joined up to Korean language lessons through a programme, that has returned post-COVID, to help teachers feel a little more at home in South Korea. Personally, though, this is the first time that I have attended an in-person lesson and was unsure what to expect. However, being involved in the teaching of English and bringing UK culture to my students, it is great to be on the other side of the language learning fence.

Yet, before I share my experiences of learning Korean within a physical classroom, as insightful as it may, I would like to explain that I was able to register for Korean language classes through the local Immigrant Community Centre, free of charge. This local programme is very similar to the charitable ESOL programmes that are organised for immigrants to the UK, with volunteers as well as teachers doing their bit to aid or support the integration of certain members of the immigrant community to their new found land.

On Saturday, I attended a Korean language course where things were relatively structured, a coursebook was suggested, and a curriculum was followed. We learnt a variety of grammatical terms – much of which was a wonderful reminder of what I had forgotten since I had last lived in South Korea.

During the two hour online course on Saturday, we studied things such as countable units as well as connectives. Interestingly, in Korean, there are a variety of countable units such as how to quantify bowls, animals, pages, even houses. It was a wonderful reminder with the unique two counting systems in Korean. When having to tell the time, the two counting systems combine and minds are melted. Anyhow, fast forward a few days, and I had my first in-person lesson and I was expecting much of the same. How I was mistaken!

There were a few levels offered through our university for budding professionals keen to adapt to Korea and learn more about the culture. The first level was to help with basic needs such as learning how to read and write Korean (한글), while the next level was to learn more complicated grammatical constructions as well as a variety of verb conjugations.

When I first arrived to the class, I replied to the Korean teacher when she greeted me in Korean. And in front of the class, she placed me on the spot to read the title of a Korean song. Not sure whether it was charismatic charm or whether it was the provision of a Korean name to go with my English name when we were doing our basic introductions. Nevertheless, the lesson started immediately with the introduction of a rather melancholy song titled, “당신은 사랑 받기 위해 태어난 사람” (“You are born in order to be loved”), with this musical number being played in the background to the delight off all in attendance.

당신은 사랑 받기 위해 태어난 사람 – You are born in order to be loved!

The song was deconstructed with much less emphasis on grammar and more on communication – something that I relish with my focus with a Dogme-esque approach to teaching English – and the Korean teacher was attempting to explain vocabulary through context and explanation. The lesson was spontaneous, natural and, at times, reactionary which was wonderful to witness, and I was starting to gain confidence in communicating with my limited Korean and focus less on translating to or from English.

In terms of my learning Korean, my current notebook contains no English and when I find things so confusing do I resort to translating the most basic terms immediately into English. The less I translate, the more I feel the importance of communicating and, with our experience of teaching English to those who find it being their second or third language, the more we understand that immediate or automated translation can sometimes lose the essence or meaning. Thus, I attempt to learn Korean through interaction, communication and negotiation with other Korean speakers. This is more memorable than automatically translating vocabulary, much to the annoyance to English teaching professionals when we have to explain this to English language learners. So, I do hope this pays off in the long run, but I am finding myself having to deal with a variety of situations or receive phone calls and having to negotiate (and apologise profusely) Korean and achieve little milestones.

Many thanks for reaching the end of this post and I hope that it kind of chimes with others that have put themselves through learning Korean in the past. I shall keep you all posted at how I get on, but for now I need to take a break from my Korean language learning, with tomorrow being a new day.