Learning languages like I’m chasing waterfalls (learning log)

I’ve always been fascinated by languages and linguistics. It’s why I started learning languages in the first place, with a bonus of being able to learn about different cultures and communicate with more people.
I really enjoy reading, so I’ve gotten used to reading above my level in the languages I’m learning, since I always want to read more interesting, complex books.
After seeing a couple learning logs on here, I figured I’d join in! It’s always motivating to see what everyone else is doing, and that way I’ll have a record of my language learning journey. Plus, we can all share ressources!

English

The first language I learned, apart from my native language, French, would be English. Now the thing is, I don’t actually know how I could be described. Am I a native speaker? A heritage speaker? Or just a C2 learner?

I was born in the US, so up until age 4, I spoke both French and English, at toddler level obviously. The problem is, afterwards, my family returned to France and I switched to speaking exclusively French. I only got back into English at around 9 years old, when I started having some English classes at school. At that point, I’d forgotten all of the words I knew previously, and I pretty much had to learn from scratch. I persevered however, and by 8th grade I got into my school’s special English program, to have additional English classes. I was also binge watching Pretty Little Liars with ENG subs and reading a lot of webtoons, lightnovels and fanfictions. Fast forwarding to now, I’m at a point where for a lot of topics, I’m more comfortable with English than French. And really, it makes sense, after all most of my days are spent in English, as right now even my Master’s is fully in English. Currently, I’m lucky to learn one new word a week, and usually those are words where I don’t know the French equivalent (if there is one) either.

I’m still horrendous at bird names, but that’s a constant across every language I know, so it’s okay. Ah, that feeling when I come across a word in a Korean graded reader and the translation is a bird name in English that I don’t know, and then I look up the French translation and I don’t know it either.

So now, remains the question: should I say I’m a native speaker, a heritage speaker or a C2 learner?

Spanish

My second language (or third, really) is Spanish. I started Spanish in middle school, I had the choice to start either Spanish or German early, or to start Spanish two years after. I have some Spanish roots in my family and my hometown is rather close to Spain, so I went with Spanish instead of German. For three years, I progressed pretty slowly. I also took latin for three years, so that helped some, but it was also a little confusing at first because certain things really are very similar, and I kept mixing them up. In 9th grade, I decided to apply for a highschool that had a program to obtain both the French highschool diploma and the Spanish one. Only problem was, the minimum level required was supposed to be B2, which I was very much not. By that point, I was around A2.

I spent months intensively studying every available minute, and I would “rest” by watching Soy Luna, in Spanish of course. This is also when I read my first ever Spanish novel, Historia de una gaviota y del gato que le enseñó a volar. I also went through a sort of textbook, that basically records everything about grammar. It’s called L’espagnol de A à Z, and it’s a series that’s also made for other language, but unfortunately it’s only available in French. This, coupled with lots a one sided speaking practice with my non Spanish-speaking mother, where I would basically just explain here things and while she understood mostly nothing, got me to B1. Somehow, I passed the exam, which allowed me to mostly rest during the summer, not expecting what the following year would be like.

My first couple classes were hard. I had classes in both Lengua and Historia, with teachers who barely spoke French, and never actually did speak French in class. Everything was in Spanish, and I quickly realized that two thirds of my class were actually native speakers. I was far behind, and reading a part of Don Quijote already in the first week, that hit me hard. I managed to go through that year, with good but not amazing grades, for the simple reason that my professors limited us to two spelling or grammar mistakes per page. Any more than that and your grade was automatically capped at 14/20, which is what I got most of that year. And yes, accents counted as mistakes too. This year, I read Relato de un naufrago, and by that point I decided not to underline the words that I didn’t know, because otherwise it was just depressing. I learned pretty quickly how to get meaning from context and to read despite not knowing half the words in a sentence.

To get up to the level of the rest of my class, I spent one month in a language learning school, Colegio Delibes, in Salamanca, Spain. I tested as B2.1. The whole experience was great, because I was living with a Spanish family with another girl who only spoke Danish and Spanish. So, all day, I could only communicate in Spanish, and I had the Spanish classes as well. I even made sure to only consume media in Spanish, so this is when I read the first Harry Potter book and watched all the High school musical movies and the first season of The good doctor, all in Spanish of course. Ironically, I’ve never watched High school musical in any other languages.

Afterwards, I made a big jump with my Spanish. Finally, I was no longer making mistakes when writing, and I could speak a lot more comfortably. At that point, I was also regularly writing literary commentaries and reading novels of course. I also discovered the website Rincon del Vago, which has little summaries and analyses for books, and sometimes even summaries per chapter. It’s really a great way to check if you missed anything in a chapter.

Everything was going well until 2020. I got my two diplomas and graduated highschool, but I also mostly stopped Spanish. I watched a movie or a series here and there, but I wasn’t speaking, writing or reading anymore.

I only got back into Spanish in September 2023. I discovered that my University has some language exchange online meetups, so I decided to participate in the Spanish one. I was also motivated by the fact that one of my classmates is from the Dominican Republic, and doesn’t speak much French. So I figured that to be able to speak in Spanish with her, I needed to practice more. The group was nice, for a while, but I ended up stopping because it always conflicted with my timetable. I also started listening to more Spanish, mainly the Ted en español podcasts.

Finally, the recent release of Natively Spanish has motivated me to get back into reading. I finally read Diez negritos, the translation of And then there were none by Agatha Christie, that was given to me when I was in 9th grade. Since I realized that my speaking has gotten a lot worse because of the lack of practice, I decided to read Las 101 cagadas del Español. I can already tell that I’m speaking a lot more fluently when speaking to myself, and at least I no longer hear myself make mistakes. I’m slowly building up to reading Crónica de una muerte anunciada again.

Right now, if I had to rate my Spanish:

Reading: C1

Listening: C1

Speaking: B2? (I still need to get better. I have a weird problem, I have a tendency to speak very fast in Spanish, but because I’m no longer used to speaking in Spanish I still have to pause to think. So I end up awkwardly saying a fast part, then pausing, then speaking fast again… Kinda ridiculous, so I really need to fix it.)

Writing: ? (The problem is, I haven’t tried writing again in Spanish, the last time I did would have been a literary commentary 4 years ago.)

Korean

Now, onto Korean. Korean is a language that I’d been wanting to learn for a while. The writing system simply fascinated me, and I was getting really tired of waiting for my favorite webtoons and lightnovels to be translated into English. I only started learning Korean in summer 2021. That first year, I was exclusively self studying. I was learning some grammar from howtostudykorean.com and then intensively learning vocab on memrise. At that point, I also discovered a handy little channel, LearnyLanguage, that has drama extracts and teaches some simple words in context. I stuck to that for around 6 months, and then my health went a bit haywire so my Korean practice trinkled down to almost nothing. I was using Duolingo and watched the occasional drama with English subtitles, but not much more. I only seriously picked Korean back up in August, and by that point I’d forgotten most of my Memrise words. I’ve never seriously gone back to using Memrise, because I’ve realized that while I can actually get through the flashcards and exercises pretty quickly, I don’t actually learn the words, I can only pick them out among other words.

In September 2023, I decided to take Korean classes. I was still missing a lot of basics, like counters, that my brain just would not understand. I tested into their level 2 class, that you would take after a year of following their curriculum. Or well, the class was technically called intermediate 1, but it was really an A2 class. Those classes helped a lot, but I began to see what I disliked about group classes as well. There was one super advanced person, who had been learning Korean for 8 years but still came to this class because she wasn’t available at the time of the advanced or higher intermediate classes. Likewise, a person or two could barely read 한글. I liked the feeling of community, I got to meet a lot of Korean learners, and learned some nice recipes, but I figured out that structured group classes aren’t for me.

Summer of 2023, I started getting more serious with my Korean learning. I bought myself what I thought was the intermediate version of the textbook I’d been using with my Korean class. Turns out, I actually bought Korean Grammar in Use. Funnily enough, I already had the beginner version as well, but I didn’t use it much because my global understanding of Korean wasn’t good enough to be able to understand completely unfamiliar concepts and grammar points through two pages of explanations and exercises. I did eventually figure out a way to grammar that works for me though.

First, I started by booking some Italki classes at the very end of August. I had this realization that my Korean level was slowly getting higher and higher, and yet I still couldn’t speak at all! So, I picked a Korean tutor, who also speaks English, and who talked about how it was okay to make mistakes because mistakes are what help us learn in her introduction video. I was still pretty nervous, but I least I was confident that she wouldn’t just laugh to my face at my mistakes. The first couple lessons were hard, because I struggled to remember words, grammar, and occasionally my brain would just blank on sentences. Things like “날씨가 어때요?” that I’d known since week one somehow went right over my head sometimes. Still, I gradually got better, and pretty quickly I could have conversations with her about pretty much anything. From plastic surgery to the legal status of cannabis use across the world, and the weather and daily life as well, I got used to talking about a lot of topics. I still make a lot of mistakes when speaking, and I believe it’s my weakest skill. But hey, at least I can communicate with people and have a conversation, so for now that’s the most important.

September 2023 is also when I discovered the Go Billy Korean channel. Or well, not exactly, but more precisely, when I discovered his livestreams. Billy is not a Korean native speaker, however, he has been learning and teaching Korean for a very long time. Thus, he has a way of explaining things that is really meant for foreigners to understand, and is able to clarify even the most complex grammar points into simpler things. But what I would say really brought me the most is discovering his Discord, the community I’d been looking for! And most importantly, I discovered the Discord’s study group. Now, the study group is separated into several activities. When I started, we had two listening groups (on wednesdays and saturdays) and one reading group (on sundays) per week.

Through the listening group, I discovered 태웅쌤. He is Korean, and does gaming videos in comprehensible Korean. He has a way of making so many words actually understandable, even without knowing them, just using Korean and gestures and such. At two 태웅쌤 videos a week, that is to say, one hour a week, my Korean began progressing faster. At one point, 태웅쌤 created a Discord, which is where I heard about Natively. Through reading group, I also discovered 두루책방. Reading group also helped me get a lot better at understanding longer, more complex sentences. For me, translation (target language to native or other) has been a very useful tool when learning Korean. Through translation, I had to force myself to understand the grammar structures used, and it also helped me retain the vocab better.

The real breakthrough though, is when we started a B2 bookclub in November 2023. Now, I knew that I was nowhere near B2, and I’m still not, but I figured I would try. We started reading 춘향전. The vocab, as expected of a B2 graded reader, was extremely hard. So instead of directly going into the book club and attempting to translate then and there, I decided to read each chapter before the bookclub, and reread during the bookclub. I also started a vocabulary and grammar notebook specifically for 춘향전, where I marked every new vocab, expression and grammar structure. Somehow, that worked, and I was able to follow along. I still occasionally completely misunderstood some sentences, but the more I read, the less I did. Now, we’ve finished 춘향전 and we’ve started reading another B2 Darakwon graded reader, 전우치전. Looking back, I’m definitely glad that we didn’t start with this one, because while vocab is a lot easier, the grammar is also even more complex.

Meanwhile with Natively, I started reading a lot more. I went through a lot of the 두루책방 series, and I also read the first three books of the Darakwon graded readers as well (토끼전, 콩쥐팥쥐전 and 흥부전). For these, I stuck to only using the provided vocab, and didn’t look up any words unless I absolutely needed to. It was hard, but I made it, and I can see how much my reading skills have improved across the span of just a couple months. I also stumbled upon Bibliothecary’s review of Korean Grammar in Use and finally realized that I’d been trying to use it the wrong way. Now, my system for learning grammar is to mostly study grammar points that I’ve come across when reading. That way, I’m already somewhat familiar with them, and I know at least one situation in which it can be used. So now, I use Korean Grammar in Use as more of a review of grammar points I’m already somewhat familiar with. The only exception to that rule is Go Billy Korean’s lives, but again that’s different because of just how well he explains things. I don’t need to be familiar with that grammar point, because he’s able to relate it to other grammar points that I’m already familiar with, in addition to providing multiple example.

I also decided (in November or December 2023 I think) to start writing more. Occasionally, my Italki tutor gives me a prompt, and I can write about that and then we review everything together. That has helped a lot, and I’ve also now better integrated different grammar points, since I’ve used them myself.

Somewhere along the line, I started watched dramas in Korean with Korean subtitles. While I’d attempted it before, at the time, my Korean wasn’t good enough so I just ended up getting a headache and not understanding much. When I tried again though, I could actually understand quite a lot. Now, I still can’t watch law or medical dramas and understand what’s going on, but I can stilll follow along more slice of life dramas. I started out rewatching dramas that I’d already seen with English subtitles. Mainly, W, which is my favorite drama. The good thing is, I’d already watched it several times and I’d already pulled a lot of vocab from it, so even with the Korean subs, I could understand pretty well. I continued on with Business proposal, which I’d similarly watched already.

Now, back to the present. I’ve started two different book clubs for Korean on Natively, and the first 이상한 과자 가게 전천당 1 I can actually follow along with with little to no problems! Now, I am technically cheating a little bit, because I use LingQ, so I have a dictionary with me at all times, ready to be opened. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an accomplishment in itself, because a couple months back I would’ve never been able to read something like that. My second book club on the other hand, 또다시 같은 꿈을 꾸었어 is much more difficult to follow, simply because of the grammar used and combined in long sentences. I also bought the first Harry Potter book in Korean, for extra motivation. My goal, although it may be ambitious, is to be able to read it by the end of the year.

As of right now:

Reading: TOPIK 3-4

Writing: TOPIK 3

Speaking: TOPIK 2-3

Listening: TOPIK 3

Italian

My most recent language I’m learning is Italian. I actually only started learning it this January 2024, as a new years resolution of sorts. All of this, for a very simple reason: my grandmother is Italian, and she loves speaking Italian, but none of her children or grandchildren speak it. My grandfather understands it, but he can’t speak so she has no one that she can talk to in Italian.

I don’t have much to say yet. So far, I’ve been mostly listening and reading to the LingQ mini stories, and those have been pretty easy. I could almost say surprisingly easy, but actually, I could already somewhat understand spoken Italian before even starting to learn it, so it all makes sense. I’ve found that between French, Spanish and Latin, Italian is actually very easily understandable. I’m very used to taking educated guesses as to the meaning of words, thanks to Spanish, so that means that I’m able to read quite a lot.

I also bought a version of Pinocchio, a beautiful hard cover edition, that I’m hoping to be able to read by the end of the year. It sounds crazy, and if it were most other languages I wouldn’t even entertain the idea, but for Italian, it seems doable.

Funnily enough, I can hear my Spanish accent when I try to speak Italian. We’ll see how that evolves but at least Spanish has been very helpful, and I found a great channel that teaches Italian from Spanish.

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This isn’t me offering a definitive answer, just my opinion as a layperson.
Since you learned and then relearned English before adulthood, to me I’d just call you native. I say this because I’ve known a few people in the same position and while they often feel less confident calling themselves natives, I’ve noticed that they simply don’t make the errors I’d associate with learners but the ones I’d associate with natives. Comparing them to highly, highly proficient English learners who learned in adulthood, the latter group will make small but noticeable mistakes at times when speaking that are just… Not the sort native speakers make.

I’m sure there’s some linguistic definition here, but that’s how I’d approach as someone who is not :slightly_smiling_face:

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That makes sense actually. For mistakes, I would agree that I don’t make the typical learner mistakes, which is probably because my understanding of English grammar can be summed up to “this sounds the most natural”.

I still feel weird about calling myself an English native speaker, but it wouldn’t make much sense for me to take a standardized English test again either.

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A little update for this month. I have just started not one, not two but three bookclubs! Four even, if you count the one I have outside of Natively. I’m mostly focused on Korean for now, but the Spanish bookclub will soon be coming.
And before you say, oh this layout feels familiar, yes, I copied @bibliothecary 's because it looked nice :sweat_smile:

Book Clubs :books:

I honestly wasn’t expecting to participate in the 소리를 보는 소년 bookclub. Back in November, right after I discovered Natively, I attempted to read it, and let’s just say that the level was way too high for me. It wasn’t even a vocab problem, because I had the help of the vocab spreadsheet, I just was not understanding anything because of the grammar. I was too unfamiliar with the way grammar structures were combined to form longer more complex sentences, and if you add to that the fact that I didn’t even know a lot of those grammar points, it’s no wonder I failed at the time.

I don’t really know what I was thinking today, but I figured that since I’d been reading higher levels lately, I’d see how easily I can read 소리를 보는 소년 now. There’s a pretty big preview on Yes24, so I just went for it, and I really wasn’t expecting to be able to read it this easily! Now of course, it’s only easy compared to how it was before. However, going from barely understanding anything to being to read it, albeit slowly and with lots of vocab help and the occasional grammar check, in just a couple months, is really not something that I expected I’d be able to do.

I feel like I’ve improved my Korean more these past couple months than in the full year before that, and keep in mind, that’s when I was just a beginner! I’d been wondering how some people that had studied Korean for around the same time as me could already read so much, but I just needed to start actually reading in order to get better at it!

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This is really true :pleading_face: sometimes you just need to get started at something to actually learn and be able to do it. The hard part is finding fun books that are at your level, but I guess that is where natively comes in! :slightly_smiling_face:

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:laughing:

It would be useful if Natively had some kind of tracking for users’ book clubs… Perhaps an idea for a new product request. :thinking:

Amazing progress, btw! :+1:

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FWIW there is one already and it’s one of the big goals the first half of the year! Book clubs management will absolutely be added to Natively :smiling_face:

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I’ve just broken through the 3000 pages mark in Korean! This also means that my Spanish is lagging a bit behind, at 2885 pages currently. It’s crazy to think that I’ve read more in Korean since November than I have in Spanish since… 2013? Of course in Spanish I’ve read almost exclusively novels, so it’s not the same as the bulk of picture books and graded readers I’ve read in Korean, but still.

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Wowow! That’s amazing, congrats!

I do think it also goes to show how hard Korean is though. :joy: :sob:

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Wow nice! That’s such awesome progress! :clap:t2: For anecdotal data purposes, I’ve only read around 9,000 pages in Korean. I think you’ll definitely surpass me soon at that rate haha :rofl:

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Same, I’m at 12k but it’s mostly stuff <L20, need to read some actual novels! :rofl:

Every time I see this thread that TLC song starts playing in my head… :musical_note:

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I’d totally forgotten this song! That’s kinda the spirit though, I’m clearly reading above my level a lot. It’s hard, and a lot of people think it’s a crazy thing to do, but it works, so I don’t really care.

In this case, I’m definitely not sticking to what I’m used to and moving too fast, but again, as long as it works I’ll continue doing it!

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charli-xcx-aesthetic

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A little bit of a mid month update.

Spanish
I’ve passed the 3000 pages mark with Spanish! However the page gap with Korean has only gotten bigger, so I really need to read more Spanish. On another note, I feel like my Spanish reading has taken a weird turn. I’ve been trying to read mostly things that I can find for free, apart from what I already have. Hence, I’ve been reading very old books that went into public domain, and books that authors chose to publish for free for whatever reason. Short stories are nice, because I can read them in one sitting, and they’re more likely to be free, but they can also get very strange, very quickly. I never thought I’d ever read a story entirely focused on castration, but as they say, never say never!

image

Korean
For Korean, I’ve been reading a lot this month. I first noticed 바보 동자 | L22 in newly added books, so I read that, and then I went on a bit of a tangent looking for picture books to read. That raises the question: can I catch up to @bibliothecary 's book count? Probably not, but that won’t stop me from trying!

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I have a list for that! :sunglasses:

Is trying to catch up to @Naphthalene’s book count :rofl:

Congrats! :partying_face: I think it’s natural that there’s a difference since you’re reading at a higher level in Spanish - I’m sure you could blast through lots of Spanish picture books to bump the numbers if you wanted to, though it may not be particularly challenging or enjoyable. :sweat_smile:

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@Naphthalene is on a whole other level. That book count and that page count :exploding_head:. I’d be curious as to how many years they’ve been learning Japanese for though. They joined Natively before I’d even started learning Korean :joy:

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That’s without re-reads too. I have at least ~200 re-reads (mostly manga, though)

I started in 2007. It’s going to be 17 years in a few months. Although, I don’t think I’ve been doing any active learning for the past 5 years or so :thinking:
The first time I managed to read a manga was in 2009; the first time I finished a novel was in 2015. So, yes, numbers will pile up over time :sweat_smile:

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I’ve just hit some milestones for Korean. 100 books finished, 4000 pages read, and 1000 gradings! What can I say, I’ve been reading a lot in the past 10 days.

I’ve also realized that I’ve already read 64 out of the 124 두루책방 graded readers, so I’m slowly but surely getting closer to my goal of finishing all of them!

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