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Key to Korean #1: The Secret to Motivation


It’s no secret that Korean is a difficult language to learn. Although it has the easiest alphabet of all Asian languages (you can memorize its entire 24-character set in a single day), Korean is still classified as a “difficult” language to learn. I’ve seen studies that claim becoming fluent in the language can take between 1,320 and 2,000+ hours of study. That’s a lot!

If you studied Korean for just 1-hour every day, it would take between 4 and 6 years to become “fluent” (if you take every Sunday off). If you studied Korean in an intensive program – approximately 4 hours per day, then it would take 1/4 the time (theoretically). So, there’s definitely something to be said for immersion. But beyond the logistics of it all, the biggest questions remain:

  1. How do you stay motivated for this marathon of language learning?
  2. How do you stay focused and push through the tough (boring) times?

I recently read something Jon Acuff wrote in his book Quitter (about dream jobs). He wrote:

Focus on your passion first. Your passion will always fuel your plan. Rarely will a plan fuel a passion. It will contribute. It will shape it. It will most certainly help it. But the biggest leaders, the most successful people, will tell you a passion for something drove them long before a plan did.

The Secret to Motivation is Passion

If you don’t have a driving passion for something, you aren’t likely to stick with it after it becomes difficult (or boring). Motivation = passion. Passion fuels your motivation and keeps you pushing hard long after others have given up. And hopefully, your passion fills you with a sense of joy.

If I’m honest with myself, learning Korean in and of itself, just because it’s “cool” isn’t nearly motivation enough. It doesn’t make me passionate, nor fill me with any small sense of joy either. In fact, there are many things that DON’T motivate me to learn Korean:

  1. Talking with my in-laws more easily (though it would be beneficial)
  2. Navigating life in Korea more efficiently (it’s pretty easy to get around with minimal Korean skills)
  3. Communicating with my wife in her native language (we’ve already built our relationship around English)

In fact, all those things listed above feel like “work.” And nothing kills your passion faster than when something starts to feel like “work.” The reason passionate people keep pushing hard to achieve their goals is because (even when it gets tough) it’s still FUN.

FUN is the Driving Force of Passion but not its Key

Now, if we assume that FUN is all you need to be passionate about something, then we could all say things like, “I’m passionate about TV!” (or video games, movies, or even beer). Passion also needs a PURPOSE.

Eventually, you’ll get burned out even on FUN things if you don’t have a PURPOSE to sustain you through the difficult times. Additionally, there may even be some things that weren’t fun at first, but will become fun with a PURPOSE. Let’s see what I mean:

  1. Reading children’s books (appropriate for my level) was no fun until I became a daddy and started reading them to my son.
  2. Kpop was never any fun for me until I started finding and studying Korean ROCK (and posting about it here).
  3. TV was fun – then became purposeless (so I killed mine). But with purpose (and minus Korean dramas), I’m starting to enjoy it again.
  4. Journal writing was a difficult exercise, until I started to focus on getting ready for TOPIK (the topics aren’t bad, actually).

Interest Sparks Mindfulness Ignites Passion


The picture above illustrates an interesting point. It’s easy to go through life oblivious to certain things. For example, no one notices bad typography (or design) until they start being mindful of it (such as studying it, or when a bad one sits directly next to a good one). Likewise, it easy to live life in Korea oblivious to the many daily uses of Korean (for example, have you ever really paid attention to those signs next to traffic lights?).

Mindfulness causes you to notice things you would otherwise overlook. And mindfulness helps ignite passion and keep the fire hot (because you’re constantly, mindfully, discovering new things). For example, I recently started a “Daily Real World Vocabulary” Tumblr site where I post photographs of real world Korean that I see.

Putting it all together

  • Find some aspect of Korean that interests you and let that open your eyes.
  • Pay attention to the Korean around you – try to discover something new every day.
  • Allow your interest and mindfulness to ignite your passion for Korean.
  • Find the fun in Korean – whatever keeps you interested and enjoying it.
  • Find your purpose to persist even when the going gets tough.

What about you? How do you stay motivated to learn Korean?

Further reading:

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