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30-Day Challenge

30-Day Challenge: Day #5 – Jackie Chan’s multi-disciplinary approach to language learning

Inspiration: Jackie Chan

In the above video, Jackie Chan talks about how he learned English and demonstrates some of the skills he’s learned in English.

  1. Talking on the phone (2:16)
  2. With music (5:01)
  3. With TV (5:12)
  4. With Sign-language (8:17)

Additionally, the following infographic from The Everyday Language Learner gives a few more suggestions for interesting ways to study a language. These are:

  1. Watching movies
  2. Playing video games
  3. Reading comics
Be sure to click through to see the whole thing.
Be sure to click through to see it more clearly.
Pick something interesting that you’re passionate about

Jackie Chan has been successful with learning English for two major reasons:

  1. He chose to learn through a medium that he is most passionate about. Toward the end of the interview, he says, “By the time I retire, I wanna be a singer. I wanna be a singer someday. If I’m reborn again, I don’t wanna be an action star.”
  2. He immediately put what he learned through the music to use. When discussing how he learned English, he says, “When you hear the [Willie Nelson] song, ‘You were always on my mind.’ Then, oh! Now I can talk to the girls.”

So below are some tips for how to use each kind of media listed above to greater advantage for learning language. Each of these will be covered in more depth (and include its own Challenge) as we continue this 30-Day Challenge:

1. Talking on the phone

Here are ideas for phone use:

  1. Learn how to order food to your house and practice at least weekly
  2. Try to keep telemarketers on the line as long as possible 😉
  3. Get a phone “buddy” who you can call regularly to practice
  4. Practice chatting via text message as well using SMS or applications like KakaoTalk
2. Watching TV (or movies) (TODAY’S CHALLENGE!)

I personally think that American TV is behind the times compared with Asian TV. Or at least they don’t realize how effective subtitling TV shows in the native language can be in helping non-native speakers quickly pick up the language.

Korean TV often subs keywords and phrases (not everything) with "emotive" text (that visually indicates the expressed emotion).
Korean TV often subs keywords and phrases (not everything) with “emotive” text (that visually indicates the expressed emotion).
Japanese TV subs many things with large letters, similar to Korean TV.
Japanese TV subs many things with large letters, similar to Korean TV.
China subs nearly every program because everyone reads the same characters but not everyone can understand what's spoken (Cantonese, Mandarin).
China subs nearly every program because everyone reads the same characters but not everyone can understand what’s spoken (Cantonese, Mandarin).

Here are some tips to make your video entertainment times more productive language learning times:

  1. Choose a TV show or movie with lots of dialogue (particularly if it’s evenly-spaced dialogue – news and talk shows are pretty good examples)
  2. Make sure the subtitles are in your target language (Korean)
  3. Read along as they speak and try to find the keywords to help you understand the context
  4. Write down anything you don’t know and look it up in a dictionary app (immediately is best, or just after the program finishes so that the context for those words and phrases stays fresh in your mind)
  5. Re-watch the same TV show or movie, this time with your notes beside you, and try to pick up on more than you did the first time
3. Playing games

Playing games fun and can be helpful for learning a new language – provided that the game you choose is at an appropriate language level so that it doesn’t hinder your “leveling up” in game.

(I once ordered Zelda: Majora’s Mask in Japanese for the N64 with the intention of playing through the entire thing and studying Japanese at the same time. I only knew the alphabet(s). I only read the first dialogue screen. Then I got a walkthrough to help me beat the game without reading anything…)

Here are some tips for better game playing in a second language:

  1. Be sure to choose something level appropriate.
  2. It might be wise to start with an action game, something with less language use. Learn the basics of the menus and commands, then move up.
  3. Next, you might try a game with multiple repetitive actions and simple menus until you get used to those. Then move up.
  4. After you feel confident playing through a few “low-level” games, it might be time to try a more “intermediate” level game – something with a basic story.
  5. But don’t get anything overly complicated (like Final Fantasy) until you’re secure and confident with the lower-level games first.
4. Reading comics

I recently wrote this post about Naver Webtoons and how Korean comics can teach you onomatopoeia (important stuff for the Intermediate TOPIK).

Here are some more tips for better comic reading:

  1. It might actually be a good idea to skip the comics at first and pick up some children’s books – like Pororo.
  2. After you’ve made your way through enough children’s books to be pretty confident with the language, ask some elementary kids to recommend you some.
  3. Use Naver Webtoons and the smartphone app to find comics.
  4. If you buy comic books, take notes in the books all over the place.
  5. Remember to review your reading to pick up more of the language.
5. Learning Korean sign-language (KSL)

Yes, Korean does have its own sign-language! It’s considered a part of the Japanese sign-language family (probably due to their similar grammar structures).

Here are some reasons why you might consider learning sign-language:

  1. It helps you learn how vocabulary words are visually represented.
  2. Body movement combined with vocab leads to better memory retention.
  3. There are certain phrases and word endings that have specific signs. Learning the signs will help you remember the phrases.
  4. You’ll be able to practice Korean with many more people and it will open you up to a whole new world in the language.
  5. Bragging rights: how many other non-natives can say they learned sign-language in their second language? (In fact, how many natives know anything about their own sign-language?)


Since Jackie Chan is primarily a TV and movie star (and I’d always heard he learned English by watching the news and repeating what they said), today’s Challenge is all about video.

#5: Choose a movie or TV show today that has subtitles in Korean. Follow the steps listed above (like taking notes) for effective video viewing. Then (like Jackie), immediately go out and use 5 of the new words or phrases you learned.

Today’s hashtags are:

#k2k305 #languagebyTV


Here are some links to TV shows in Korean you can use for today’s Challenge:

  1. Korean TV shows to help your Korean listening skills (a list of my favorites)
  2. (subbed in English, so it might defeat the purpose…)
  3. Goldfish Dosa (a great talk show with lots of subs) (Naver Search 무릎팍도사 토렌트 if you want torrents)
  4. GAG Concert (This is how I first started learning Korean – hours and hours of jokes. They often repeat the same phrases over and over again as their punch lines.)

Take notes while watching, then post a photo of your notes as a link in the Comments section below.

Do you watch TV and movies like this? Does it help you stay focused and learn Korean better?

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3 thoughts

  1. I like using media – it just takes a lot of time 🙂 … So on the subtitle topic, would you say no English subtitles? I watched the full season of 하교 2013 at the beginning of the year when I first started learning Korean. I did it with English subtitles, and when I heard/read in english something that I tough would be useful to know, I would pause and write it down in english, and then use Google Translate to try and find the word I heard in Korean… Without the subtitles I would have understood the story, but not the intricacies of what they are saying – it would have been like reading a cartoon’s pictures only…

    So what are your thoughts on these:
    1. Using English subtitles while watching Korean TV?
    2. And How are Korean Subtitles useful for words that you don’t know? Are they not just symbols that your brain will ignore because it has no reference to process them?
    3. And what about using both Korea and English subtitles? (I haven’t found any yet…)

    1. So, here are my thoughts. (You can also read my longer response at this post here. It includes images too.)

      1. Korean TV/movies with English subtitles:
      You have to ask yourself, which is your brain more likely to focus on? I, for one, have a hard time multi-tasking, particularly with language. Either my brain concentrates on the Korean speaking (which is difficult), or the English subtitles (which is easy and comfortable). It’s hard to make a connection between the two, though it is occasionally possible.

      Still, I feel that using this method only gives me 50% (at best) the concentration and productivity I would have had if I turned off the English.

      2. Korean AND English subtitles:
      This is slightly better – because then you can not only match up the spoken words with the subtitles, but you can also compare it to the English subtitles as well. But, in this case you’re not just double-tasking, your TRIPLE-tasking (asking your brain to focus on THREE unique things at the same time). I think this method would work much better if you could slow down the speed of the video to allow yourself more time to focus and concentrate on each individual part. But of course then you’d lose the enjoyment of the show. However, I currently do this with Running Man downloads with English subtitles from

      Still, I’d say that this method gives me about 70% concentration and focus than if I turned off the English. (Of course, I also get about 85-90% understanding, compared with 30-40% understanding with Korean subs, or 20% understanding with no subs.)

      3. How are Korean subs useful for vocab you don’t know?
      First off, you can’t look at using Korean subs as a simple one-time deal. It has to be a habit, and the power of Korean subs is cumulative, over time, rather than in a single sitting. It’s best to choose the SAME show (with different episodes) to watch over and over again to start getting a feel for how the show is put together and the common idioms and expressions they use there.

      However, on your FIRST viewing of a new show, I can understand how Korean subs would be difficult. But again, initially, don’t think about the Korean subs as a method to study vocabulary, but rather as a method to increase your reading and listening skills. It honestly doesn’t matter if you know the vocab or not. The fact that you can read subs that follow along with standard (or non-standard) pronunciations of the language will greatly improve your listening and spelling skills even if it doesn’t directly improve your understanding.

      To improve my understanding, I usually focus long enough until I hear and see something I recognize but don’t know, then I write that down. And I usually write it down with a context so that I can recall how the word was used later if when I look it up. Either that, or I immediately tune out the program completely until I look up the word or phrase in my dictionary and try to immediately understand the content. Then, I go back to focusing on the program.

      This method usually affords me 90% good concentration on the Korean being used and about 50% understanding of what’s going on. So overall, I prefer this method for using video to study Korean.

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