How to Stay Motivated When Learning Korean

It's the key to unlocking any door.

It's the sledgehammer that will help you break through any barriers in your path.

It's the fuel that will keep you moving forward, inch-by-inch, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, until you can confidently say "Why yes, I do speak Korean!"

What is it, you ask?

Motivation.

More than any method, technique, or resource available in the language learning community today, it is ultimately motivation that will get you to the skill level you'd like to reach.

Fortunately, when you're just starting out, motivation comes to you easily. Everything is new, fresh, and exciting, so you have tons of momentum to keep learning.

Unfortunately, however, this initial boost of motivation doesn't last forever. Eventually, the material gets harder, the challenges get bigger, and it becomes harder and harder to see progress.

If you want to master Korean, you're going to need motivation to get you past that "beginner boost". And no one's going to give it to you—you have to find it for yourself.

To help you make that happen, I've compiled the following list of five ways to stay motivated when learning Korean.

1. Connect With Korean People

As a Korean learner, you might look up at the mountain of books, courses, and apps available to you and think that that's what language learning is all about.

It's a common mistake. After all, if you've ever studied a language in school, that's how things are. You study from one resource after another, and never really use the language with anyone other than your teacher or fellow classmates.

That doesn't sound very motivating, does it?

As human beings, we have an innate drive to connect with people like ourselves. To relate, share, and fit in.

That being said, you can't connect with a language course like you would an actual person. You can't relate to a grammar book, or share a story with an online dictionary. There's no fitting in among language apps.

In order to stay motivated in the long term, then, you must shift your focus. Don't try to study one resource just so you can move on to the next one. Instead, study so that you gain the language skills you need to use Korean with real people in your daily life.

If you don't have any Korean speakers in your life, work on finding some. You can do this most easily through online searches for language exchange partners or tutors.

Once you do find people to speak Korean with, you'll find that your motivation to learn the language will correspond directly with your closeness to that person.

If you know no Korean speakers, then you'll have little motivation to keep learning long-term. However, if your best friend, your tutor, your co-worker, your spouse, or your child speaks Korean, then you may never run out of motivation at all.

2. Explore The Culture

If you've lived in one place your entire life, then you may be surprised to know that life in other places can often be very different than what you're used to.

Life in Korea, of course, is no exception to this.

The Korean people have their own food, their own music, their own holidays, their own superstitions, their own sayings, their own history, and more. You name it, Koreans have their own version of it, and it may not be what you expect.

When an aspect of Korean culture runs counter to your expectations, don't close yourself off to it, or simply label it as something "foreign".

Instead, stay open, and stay curious. Take a bite of that 김치, drink that 소주, and celebrate 설날 with your new Korean friends. See every new and unfamiliar thing as a chance to broaden your horizons, both as a person and as a citizen of the world.

As the "Korean side" of yourself grows, you'll find yourself more motivated to keep learning and understanding, day after day.

3. Rediscover Your Passions Through the Korean Language

A common problem for language learners is finding motivation to learn when you already have other things you'd rather spend your time doing.

You want to learn Korean, but you also want to catch up on the new season of Game of Thrones.

You want to learn Korean, but you also want to practice yoga and get in shape.

You want to learn Korean, but you also want to play the latest video games to unwind.

The typical solution is usually to do one or the other; to learn Korean or do whatever you'd rather be doing instead.

Though this seems like an effective approach, it can often be demotivating, as Korean learning is relegated to the same mental space as dieting and exercise; it's good for you, but it feels like you're making a sacrifice.

That sacrifice, ultimately, is unnecessary and a waste of willpower.

You can have your cake and eat it too, simply through combining Korean with your pre-existing interests.

If you're set on watching Game of Thrones, watch it in Korean (왕좌의 게임) and write down whatever new words you hear.

If you're set on practicing yoga, look for a yoga studio that offers instruction in Korean, or buy some Korean books on the subject.

If you're set on playing video games, download or purchase digital games (e.g. on Steam) that have Korean language options.

With a little research and hard work, it is possible to tie nearly any of your major interests to Korean. Do that often enough, and you'll be motivated to learn even outside of your usual study time.

4. Make Plans that Require Using the Language

In the beginner and intermediate stages of learning, you may often feel a sense of "separateness" from Korean, like it is something you do rather than a part of who you are.

If you grew up speaking only one language, this is completely normal. Through force of habit, it feels like life only happens in your mother tongue, and language learning only happens in Korean.

A great way to create more motivation is break down the barrier keeping the Korean language and Korean culture from permeating what you do in your day-to-day.

Specifically, you should aim to make plans that will require you to speak Korean regularly.

This could mean a lot of things, including:

  • Shopping at a Korean grocery
  • Attending a Korean church
  • Participating in local Korean language and culture meetups
  • Tutoring Koreans in your native language
  • Planning travel to Korea, or areas where Korea is heavily spoken (e.g. local Koreatowns)
  • Volunteering to help Korean exchange students

When your plans heavily involve Korean people and Korean things, you will naturally develop a genuine need to know Korean, and know it well.

5. Share Your Journey with Other Learners

Let's be honest. Learning Korean isn't exactly easy, or even glamorous.

As a language, Korean bears few similarities to the most popularly-studied languages in the world. As a country, Korea is gradually gaining global reknown, but still remains poorly understood by most.

The combination of difficulty and relative obscurity can be challenging for learners who really want to know the language well. It's easy to feel alone, and in over your head.

The best way to avoid these discouraging feelings is to find and communicate with other Korean learners. You can do this by joining learner groups (like MotivateKorean's very own 스터디 방 on Facebook) or language challenges (like the Add1Challenge or the italki Language Challenge).

In these groups, you will find any of the following types of people who can help keep you motivated on your journey:

  • Learners at a higher level than you
  • Learners at the same level as you
  • Learners at a lower level than you

Interacting with people at each level can have unique benefits for your motivation:

  • Higher-level learners can act as role models and answer your questions
  • Same-level learners can provide moral support, as well as some healthy competition.
  • Lower-level learners can learn from your example; you can help them overcome obstacles you've already faced and beaten.

The more people you see learning Korean and working towards the same goals you are, the more motivated you will be to stay on the path with them, and keep pushing forward.

Conclusion

Motivation is one of the most elusive tools in a learner's toolbox.

It is necessary, but not guaranteed. It can be created, but not bought. It can be here one day, and gone the next.

The above five strategies will help you actively maintain your motivation to learn Korean. They will help you create deeper connection with Korean people, Korean learners, and the things you love to do in Korean, all to great effect.

However you use what I've taught you here, remember this: motivation is never fixed. Instead, it tends to ebb and flow. With these strategies, however, you'll now be able to control the tide, rather than letting it control you.