Honors Enrichment Award: Learning Korean with a Millennial Twist

Thanks to RMU Honors Summer Enrichment Program, June has been the first month in my two month long crash course of the Korean language. When I first started thinking about this program some time ago, I knew it was going to be difficult. To help in my language learning endeavor Dr. Harold, one of the Honors co-directors, cautioned me on setting my expectations too high for such a short amount of time. I heeded his advice and set my goals to a reasonable level. I want to be able to read a random Korean children’s book with little difficulty and speak key phrases (Hello, my name is, etc.) with passing pronunciation. Before I could even begin to understand how to read in Korean, let alone speak it with understanding, I first had to learn to write in it.
Korea uses the Hangeu (한글), sometimes written as Hangul, writing system. While it may seem like insurmountably complex at first, it is actually quite simple. I first learned that Hangeul uses letters (twenty-four of them to be precise) arranged in syllable blocks to form words. To understand how to interpret this system, I sought instruction through two very different learning sources: the first being a more traditional language book and the second being a very unorthodox language app.
The book, written by a well-known company called Talk to Me in Korean, approached the process of explaining Hangeul in a manner not dissimilar to how a high school teacher would approach an English class. I learned the finer points in grammar like which letters were monophthongs and which diphthongs as well as completed practice drills. With this approach I delved into the world of grammar, a world I was not thrilled to be a part of. Knowing I wasn’t going to stick with Korean if I was bored by learning the very basics, I searched for a different method.
That search led me to an interesting app called Eggbun. While the name may seem a little odd for a language learning app, the instruction was exactly what I needed. The full name of the app – Chat to Learn Korean: Eggbun – does exactly what it says on the tin. Instead of focusing on extensive memorization and practice drills like Talk To Me in Korean does, Eggbun teaches through texing. You ‘chat’ with a little character who gives examples of a letter and the sounds it makes and you have to type it out. This friendly little guy also gives positive feedback and acts as a cheerleader through your studies. While texting your way to learning a new language seems like a very millennial thing to do, in my experience it is surprisingly effective.
Personally, I have found if I used both the book and the app in conjunction with each other I learn the best. Talk To Me in Korean’s traditional approach severs as good enforcement and Eggbun’s fun style grabs my attention. In this one month sprint through Korean, I have learned Hangeul to a passable degree. That is to say, if I am given a word in Hangeul I could correctly sound it out and I can write some words if they are spoken to me. To be able to take symbols that meant nothing to me a few weeks ago and be able to interpret them is more rewarding than I can describe. That being said, I still have a long way to go, I haven’t actually learned any Korean words or phrases nor can I write fluently yet. Honestly, I didn’t expect Hangeul to take so long to learn. I suppose learning an entirely new way of interpreting language would be quite the learning curve. In this second month, however, I hope to step my learning up a notch and start on vocabulary. At the pace I’m going I might just reach my end goal!
Jade Lu-Zoller
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