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!
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?
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:
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.)
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
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.