Module III: Korean!


Now that I’m completely fluent barely conversational in German and Japanese, it’s time for the third language: Korean!

Although Korean is unrelated to Japanese, it does have a lot of similarities. The word order is the same (Subject-Object-Verb), there are particles to mark the different parts of speech, adjectives and verbs are conjugated, and there are different rules based on the level of politeness and formalness required. This is all similar to Japanese.

A major difference is that Korean doesn’t have Chinese characters. As much as I enjoyed learning kanji in Japanese, I’m very thankful for the ultra-compact and logical Korean hangul alphabet which is easily memorized in 1 day. In the early 1900s, the language switched from Chinese characters to hangul and by the 1950s the use of Chinese characters was more or less phased-out. The hangul alphabet, which was designed in the 15th century, is extremely interesting. The shapes of the letters actually relate to the shape your mouth makes when saying them (see

That being said, Korean is supposed to be a difficult language to learn. The US Foreign Service puts Korean in category 3 (along with Japanese, Arabic, and Chinese) which ends up being about 4 times as many hours of study than category 1 languages like Spanish, French, and Italian. Keep in mind this is from the perspective of native-English speakers only — maybe Korean is easy if you speak Japanese natively!?

What did I learn from Module II: Japanese?

  • It’s great to have someone to work with one-on-one. Really it’s a must-have. In Japan, I was able to do language exchange with Sachiko for about an hour every day and also spoke with Yuka and Pon at the izakaya in the evenings. It was really a great situation for learning. That coupled with studying for a couple hours per day was sufficient to make decent progress.
  • Avoid foreigners. Even though there were a fair number of foreign visitors, Myoko Kogen is still very very Japanese i.e., it’s hard to find espresso. In Hakuba, it was easy to find espresso, i.e. not very Japanese. Go somewhere with less foreign influence and bring along a tin of Illy coffee.
  • Making flashcards is great fun. Daiso sells blanks.
  • Don’t spend a week reading reviews about ski gear instead of studying.
  • You won’t have 6-pack abs if you drink a litre of beer everyday no matter how much tofu and daikon salad you eat (see

Goals for Module III: Korean:

  • Find a place with a nice beach but few foreigners. Right now I’m in Busan which has nice beaches but too many foreigners.
  • Get myself into a situation where I can speak Korean for at least a couple hours per day.
  • Learn how to surf or go sea kayaking or do some other fun water sport.
  • Koreans love to hike! When in Rome…
  • Make as many KakaoTalk friends as possible and text them in Korean! Plus send them hilarious emoticons like these.
  • Drink less beer! As the name of the popular Korean beer, Cass, would imply, Korean beer sucks. Stick with soju!
  • Drive around in a baller Hyundai with my tinted windows rolled down while I talk on my giant waffle-sized Samsung phablet.
  • I will be hard pressed to have as an amazing experience as I did Japan, but I will try my best. がんばります!



5 languages in 5 cities for 6 weeks each….

Well that’s the plan thus far….

  • German in Berlin
  • French in Marseille
  • Arabic in Jordan or Turkish in, well, Turkey (somewhere)
  • Japanese in Japan
  • And Korean in Korea

List of doubts…

  • Is this a stupid plan?
  • What can you really learn in 6 weeks?
  • Why put all this effort into learning languages anyways?!
  • 5 cities and 6 weeks ends up being roughly 8 months
  • I could visit a lot more than 5 cities in 8 months.

The plan roughly was inspired by all the great things I got out of taking Italian classes in Rome during 2010.

Comments are welcome of course!