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120 Days to TOPIK #9 – Learn more now, Recognize patterns, Achieve fluency faster


(Paraphrase from Fluent Forever. I had the same experience.)

As a kid, I loved math because everything was connected. If you memorize 3 x 4 = 12, then you know 4 x 3 = 12, and you start to realize that ANY number in multiplication is interchangeable like that. This pattern becomes more subtle and nuanced with every new fact or example you learn. Soon you start to see how multiplication and division are connected; then multiplication and exponents; then multiplication and fractions. Eventually, all this interconnectedness becomes like a giant universe of math patterns in your brain.

As long as I could connect every new thing to this universe, math was easy. And for the students who struggled with math, I noticed that they didn’t struggle with math itself, but the connections and patterns. They were trying to memorize equations, but had never made the connection between the new material and stuff they’d already learned. They were trying to learn each different piece in isolation, so it was no wonder they struggled. It was so much easier if you could see how all the pieces were connected and fit together.

“Math can be hard for the same reason that languages can be hard.” Everything is connected; there are patterns everywhere. And if you don’t build a SOLID foundation from the start and learn how to spot patterns and make connections yourself, then the rest of the language learning experience will be harder.

Actually, by adding MORE pieces to the puzzle, you’re making your job of learning the language much easier in the long run because you’ll eventually be learning much FASTER. 

My experience this week with flashcards

Thus was my experience this week with flashcards.

  1. I made 30 flashcards per day
  2. I read the sentences and definitions for each word (I even wrote out many of the sentences by hand until it became too time-consuming)
  3. I looked up each word in Google Images individually – sometimes I used a personal connection I had to that word in English to find an appropriate image – then I created my flashcards with those – ONLY Korean on the front / ONLY a picture on the back
  4. It’s taken about 2 hours per day…
    (yes, I’m hoping to speed that up)

BUT, I spent SIGNIFICANT time with EACH word (about 3-4 minutes) building personal connections and visualizing different imagery and experiences connected with each word. So, now when I go back in to drill my flashcards and memorize them, I QUICKLY pass cards on to the next level because they are so EASY to recall! Wow! I’ve never had such a good experience learning new vocabulary before!

Moderation in everything

But as with everything, the key is relevance. “If you see something as useful, then it’s worth learning. If not, then not.” The more pieces you learn about new vocabulary will only help you so far as they are relevant to you. The less relevant or necessary something is, the less you need to learn/review it, and the more time you waste if you do try to relearn it.

So again, self-assessment here is key. Be sure to take some time to assess your own personal level of Korean and which areas YOU most need to focus on. (Like, if you already have a great accent and have no trouble spelling or pronouncing most words, then only look for help with the words you struggle with – don’t go back to the International Phonetic Alphabet for the basics if you don’t need it.)

I’ve noticed for myself that being able to ask a Korean teacher to SHOW ME the literal position of her mouth when she pronounces the words I struggle with is one of the MOST EFFECTIVE ways for ME to learn how to accurately recreate that word or phrase. One of my favorite times in class these days is the “따라해주세요” (“repeat after me”) time because it helps me to more accurately perfect my pronunciation AND it’s helped me begin to more easily pick up pronunciation patterns.


Recognizing Patterns

In this short series, we’ve already discussed a few different ways you can begin recognizing language patterns:

  1. With your ears
  2. With your mouth

And today, here are some more ways to recognize patterns with your EYES:

  1. Notice the shape of your teacher’s mouth as she pronounces hard to say words/phrases
  2. Notice the most common grammar points used in certain situations
  3. Notice the Hanja (Chinese characters) that are shared between certain similar vocabulary
  4. Notice the similar root words that are shared between similar vocabulary
  5. Notice how verbs are shared among certain words and not others

Challenge yourself today to try to become more AWARE of the patterns in the language and how everything you learn is inter-connected. Because what’s going on in your brain is “the neurons that fire together, wire together.”


Today I discovered some pretty great resources for both pronunciation and FULL online courses (FREE). Here they are below:

  1. Rhinospike has (38) transcriptions and (1043) recordings of phrases in Korean (currently) – here are the recordings
  2. Forvo is like a giant online pronunciation dictionary – their tagline is “All the words in the world. Pronounced.”
  3. The Fluent Forever website has a 4 video YouTube tutorial on the IPA
  4. COURSES: Live Lingua has a number of FULL FREE Korean courses online (in the public domain). These are primarily AUDIO files and include:
    1. The Foreign Services Institute (FSI) Course (Head Start / Volume 1 / Volume 2)
    2. The Defense Language Institute (DLI) Course (including the Special Operations Language Training (SOLT) Courses)
  5. also has a list of 13 FREE Korean COURSE resources (including 2 seasons of Arirang’s Let’s Speak Korean TV show)

Over to you

How goes the pattern matching in Korean? How goes your pronunciation practice? Are you sufficiently “accent-free” yet? Keep up the good work and share with me in the Comments below or using #120TOPIK on social media.

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3 thoughts

  1. I also found that the flash cards take about 2 hours to create 30 a day. That’s a considerable amount of time. Especially only on vocab… but the results tend to be the best. To bad that timing is taking away my motivation for getting it done regularly.

    1. Yes, my strategy these days for vocab looks like this:

      1. Wake up crazy early (like 4 or 5am – I’m an early riser anyway)
      2. Hit the vocab FIRST thing (I code websites or do design then)
      3. Read the words + sentences 3 at a time and try to hold the three in my brain as I Google Search
      4. TRY to use the FIRST page of Google Image results to find an appropriate image (i.e. spend only 2 min max looking for that “perfect image” – I found a GOOD image quickly beats a PERFECT image that takes forever to find)
      5. OR, if I know the English meaning and can’t quickly find an image of the Korean word, I switch over to English to search something I already know and love – case in point, one word I learned recently was “반복” which means “repetition” – so I searched for an image of “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson working out and used that. I’m a big fan.
      6. I TRY to check the time and keep myself to 15 words per 30 minutes. Sometimes I go long, but mostly I can finish now in 1-1.25 hours

      Hope some of those tips help you out!~

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