Every YouTube video, blog post or book I’ve read about language learning says that the biggest hump you need to cross over is getting confidence in speaking. I’m someone who suffers stage fright, even when performing something I know I’m good at. So, as you can imagine, beginning one-on-one Korean conversation classes with a native Korean speaking stranger was not entirely in my comfort zone.
However, this fear is something I’ve been prepared for through my training as a musician. I know that stage fright is common – every musician I know has suffered stage fright at one point or other. More importantly, I know it’s something I will survive. I’m not going to pass out, or be laughed at. Often, even if I play the wrong notes, I’m the only one who will care. However, the fear of being crap at speaking is still something I navigate every time I log into my Zoom class. Ollie from Korean Englishman put it best – although I know quite a lot of Korean, it feels like an unsorted spreadsheet and my mind is buffering trying to put it all together.
I think the main issue is that when you look through the internet’s language learning community, it’s dominated by people who can now speak the language to a high-intermediate or advanced level, and are recanting their learning journey with you. This is not to say they don’t have their language learning struggles – they absolutely do! But they are often struggles I can’t relate to. Their standard feels so much higher than mine, and I feel I will never reach their dizzying heights of fluency. Instead, I feel isolated, grasping for vocab and trying desperately to graduate to more exciting grammar structures.
As with most things in the social media world, it’s really hard to remember that these people will not be flawless every time they try. In fact, the only thing that separates us as non-native Korean learners is time and exposure. When they were the same standard as me, they probably had most of the same difficulties that I do. Instead of all these rational thoughts, the ugly head of Language Learning Jealousy shows itself, and once again halts my progress.
When I played netball, my coach would always ask us to focus on our own game. The only controllable aspect of the outcome is your mindset. This is also true of language learning. Someone else’s language learning experience has very little bearing on your standard. They can be an inspiration, or a motivation; but ultimately being jealous of their fluency does absolutely nothing to improve your own.
The more I learn Korean, the more these hacks and hints surface from other aspects of my life. Stage fright is normal. Focus on your own game. Most importantly, keep going. The only thing that will show you improvement is if you keep going.
The Rosie who started learning Korean 11 months ago would be astounded that I can now hold a conversation with a native Korean person, albeit a fragmented one. I can read a story, even if it is a short one. I can text my friend in Korean, and they understand me even if my grammar isn’t flawless. I can understand periods of dialogue in Squid Game. I can sing along to at least 5 K-Pop songs all the way through. All of these are such massive wins in my language learning experience, but are wins I only record when I focus on my own game.