Sunday, November 3, 2019

Learning a Language, 40 Hours a Week

What's it like to spend 40 hours a week learning a language? Well, it depends on whom you ask. (Though I recommend not asking M, who just doesn't enjoy studying foreign languages very much.) Each day, I'm in language class for five hours (at the Foreign Service Institute, also known as FSI) and I'm expected to study about three hours outside of class on my own. I usually squeeze in at least two hours between homework and vocabulary study, so I've stayed relatively on track so far. It helps that I'm ahead of the curriculum because I've studied Korean before, but I'm still learning an immense amount of vocabulary (about 100 words per week, and yes the first photo of this post is a typical sheet of my vocab notes from class).

At this stage, it feels pretty similar to me as some of the times I spent intensively studying Arabic abroad in Oman. There, I had about four hours of classes at most and then about two hours of homework each night. But on top of that, I also had to use the language more in "real life" to communicate with my Omani friends. Thankfully, I have my mom and others to help offer me free Korean practice--but my Korean still has a long way to go to get to that more complex conversational phase!

To be honest, I'm having a pretty good time in Korean class so far. The teachers are very knowledgeable and organized and the students have strong camaraderie. Moreover, the Korean department has incorporated a lot of cultural and linguistic immersion activities, like the Chuseok celebration I described in a previous post.

Probably the single biggest factor, though, is the fact that I simply love learning languages. I know not everyone does, so a lot of folks in language training are definitely not having as good of a time as I am. I find it to be a refreshing break from the typical grind and pace of work I've done in the office lately. I also enjoy challenging different parts of my brain that could use the exercise. I still struggle with mixing languages, and I deeply admire the polyglots who can flawlessly switch between many languages. (They are definitely my #goals.) For now, I'm accidentally dropping or thinking Korean words when I'm looking for French or Arabic, but hopefully with enough practice I can overcome that particular hurdle.

Two months in, I'm pretty impressed with my FSI language learning experience. My classmates are hard-working, the teachers are great, and the language training supervisor is good about setting clear expectations. To be honest, at first I was really disappointed that there wasn't space in the Korean department to create a more advanced course or to allow me to pursue a more in-depth self-study. (All the Korean classes at FSI start from 0 and go up to level 2, which is certainly not the case with other, larger language departments like French, Spanish, or even Chinese that can accommodate multiple levels simultaneously.) Now that we're past the alphabet (a grueling two full weeks) and the lowest-level basics, though, it's become much more interesting and fun. I'm looking forward to learning more and hopefully not burning out before I'm finished next year.

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