Studying a Foreign Language in Nairobi: My Korean Language experience

Hello. 🙂

I am currently writing this in the comfort of my bed, munching on some oats while sailing down the inspiration river. I hope you will gain something about learning a language from my experience.

I studied Korean for two years in a school,  at King Sejong Institute, and at Mahanaim College but I am still learning four years down the line. There is no finish line in learning a language. I imagine how many times a day I come across English words that ring no bells in my mind, yet I have learnt it since childhood.

So, learning Korean was and still is a very fun process for me. I started in 2014 and till date, I find myself learning something new.

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These are the steps I followed:

1. FIND PURPOSE FOR STUDYING THE LANGAUGE

Whatever your reason is, it is valid. whether you want to move there for work or study there. I say ‘valid’ because I fall into the category of reason that is constantly in question for validity.

I studied Korean because I like how it sounds, I love Korean dramas, I want to live in Korea at one point in life, I’d like to write a drama and act and many other reasons that sometimes were not solid enough for entrepreneurship-oriented Kenyans.

The reason you need a goal, is because it keeps you driven. So many times I was asked why I did not study Chinese or German or French which some Kenyans may argue are more economically viable. (Lemme just throw it in here that I won a phone and laptop at Korean speaking competitions. More than English has ever done for me!). I remember a constant statement that I always encountered ‘Sasa… Korean, si you are only going to speak it in one country, South Korea and not even North!’

I was studying it because I was drawn to it. And so I stuck with it. And thus my journey across the oceans began.

2. TAKE INITIATIVE

My interest slowly grew as I watched Korean dramas after high school and I became fascinated with their speech patterns.

I would constantly say how I wanted to learn, but ‘WHEN?’ was my main concern. I read a quote that says ‘always pursue something when you feel that conviction, because it reduces with time.’

I was at a cyber one day and I randomly decided to google and the Korean alphabet. I wrote it down and that was my first step because after that I started googling how to write other things and my interest gradually increased.

3. BABY STEPS

As I said, my interest started in Korean dramas. I would watch them with subtitles and learn the easy phrases like ‘Thank you’ and ‘sorry’, ‘excuse me’. It was interesting when I started googling those words that I misheard most of them.

I have a book where I would scribble words and phrases I would hear.

It is just a series of misspelling, and invention of new words. Also, it kinda looks like I started nursery all over again. Like in the second sentence I say ‘busu marinyang’ instead of Musun mariya?’ Just to put it in perspective.

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my scribbles as I watched dramas, after learning ‘Hangul’ the alphabet.

4. LOOK FOR A SCHOOL

There are people out there who are blessed with sufficient self-drive. If so, it is very easy to find online classes and a ton of YouTube videos that teach a foreign language.

From my experience, most of them were just beginner Korean classes and mostly for those who intended to just visit on vacation and needed a few helpful phrases. And the ones that were more complicated, I felt I needed to have someone else who was having a hard time like me, ‘ndio tusaidiane'(so that we help each other out).

There are many foreign language school in Nairobi. The popular ones are like;

Alliance Francaise for French

Goethe Institute for German

When I was learning Korean however, no one I knew had ever heard of someone studying it. I did not know where to start. I googled language schools in Nairobi. My search even led me to the Korean Embassy in Kenya website. I know it was stretch.

I made a list of all the language schools I found and went to town with it. Luckily I came across a page about about King Sejong Institute. The article was about how it was about to shut down and I was reading it a year and a half later. 😦

Thank God, it was still running. I was lucky enough to find that in one and a half months, they would be having interviews for a new intake and better yet, the classes were free. And my journey continued.

5. DEDICATION TO LEARNING: ATTEND CLASSES, STUDY

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Class photo King Sejong Institute, class of 2014

School was good. I had classmates I could share the experience with. It was a place where everyone came together because of Korean. I really enjoyed class. The teachers were interesting. They had so much dedication. You have to appreciate that. We would also learn about Korean culture and be told about life and practices in Korean. We even celebrated Korean holidays. And the food….the food was amazing! 2014 was the bomb.  I remember all my friends and I wanted to go to South Korea to study. This is how I studied.

 

  1. Attending class– This gave me a firm foundation in the language as we were studying a syllabus that took us step by step.

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  1. I watched a lot of dramas– with subtitles. But sometimes, I would try watch scenes without the subtitles and much I understand. It got better with time.
  2. Learning song lyrics. Our teacher Colonel Kim, would always suggest songs we could sing and would support our interest in the pop culture so my friend and I would sing almost every class. We even performed at a Korean event as a class.
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We were dripping with enthusiasm for Korean

Song lyrics helped me with pronunciation and help add to my vocabulary. It also helped me phrases sentences. Korean sentence structure is different. instead of saying ‘I am going to the shop’, it is ‘I, to the shop, am going’. That’s just an example.

Songs helped me learn to express myself, as they in themselves are someone’s expression. Learning similes and sayings. So it helps you know how to articulate your feelings and say exactly what you mean.

Songs were extremely helpful for my reading. I practiced reading Hangul, the Korean writing system, while having to follow a beat. That way my tongue adapted to saying Korean words quickly. I learned a lot of rap songs for this.

Songs also add to the enjoyment of the learning process. What I mean, is find something you like in the language and use it to learn. For example, if it is poems, stories. They all add to the overall experience.

In addition to that, for simple vocab and grammar, I would;

  1. Count my steps in Korean as I walk.
  2. Respond to people in Korean, then say it again in English.
  3. Read Korean writings on bags I saw people carrying on streets.
  4. Read the ingredients on items that had them written in Korean. I ate a lot of Shin Ramyon ‘noodles’ for this reason.

6. PRACTICE SPEAKING

I say this, because a lot of the time Language courses are aimed at improving your vocabulary and writing. That’s not always the case though.

I remember in primary school we had dictation to see whether we could pronounce words and read paragraphs correctly. I think the idea was to remove the fear of ‘what if I am saying it wrong?’.

So in practising speaking;

  1. Find Company. Find someone who speaks the language or is learning like you.
  2. Do not be afraid of embarrassing yourself when you make mistakes. it is all part of learning. Think about any time you have met someone speaking Kiswahili or any other language you know. If you are like me, you are mostly impressed and would help them if they make a mistake. The same probably goes for them.

I am usually so afraid of speaking. I always want to speak to my teachers or random Korean people on the road, but I never can.

It is probably the result of (my belief in Karma) multiplied to (all the times laughed when someone ‘shrubbed’).  I wonder if it is a common practice to laugh at someone’s grammatical errors and mispronunciation in other countries.

So, I have come the end. I am not fluent in Korean yet, mainly because, my conviction wavers frequently as I am not in school anymore and I still don’t know how I’ll go Korea. But the fear of speaking is one I plan on ridding myself of. Soon, hopefully.

I will share my first simple steps.

  1. Go to Korean restaurant and order a Korean meal in a Korean restaurant.
  2. Make conversation with a Korean person.
  3. Speak in Korean to my Korean language teacher. 🙂

I hope that after reading this, you are also encouraged to pursue the foreign language of your choice and enjoy learning it. Hwaiting! (keep the spirit!)

If by chance you have an interest in learning Korean

Korean Studies at Nairobi University

King Sejong Institute in Kenyatta University

Korean Language Course in Mahanaim College

I had a great time studying and I hope your study will be awesome!

 

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