5 Ways to Learn a Language Without Studying

"Traditional Korean building" as told by a Korean person

"Traditional Korean building" as told by a Korean person

My middle name is "chocolate," because homegirl can't get enough. I know I shouldn't have been drinking a mocha choca latte at 5pm, but I wanted to, so I did. When the cashier gave me my whipped and frothy drink, she included a 맛있게 드세요 (mas-issge deuseyo), which means "Enjoy!". Every day, I hear my coworkers throwing this phrase around during lunch, and all I can make from it is the 맛있다 (mas-issda), which means delicious. After hearing cashier-girl tell me to enjoy my drink in Korean, I finally understood the meaning, and upon checking Google translate to make sure I wasn't fooling myself, I rejoiced in the street, emanating with temporary lunacy. I am actually getting it!

Before my move to South Korea, I downloaded plenty of apps to help me read Hangeul (Korean writing) and learn basic phrases. I would describe myself as an academic and did graduate top of my class at FIT, but girl, those studying-extra-hard-for-nothing days are over! There is no test at the end of the week; there are no midterms; there are no teachers I'm looking to brown-nose (yes, I do advocate brown-nosing - it gets you places, people). There's just me, myself, and my motivation. My intrinsic motivation to assimilate and feel more at home here than I already feel. Perhaps my desire to learn Korean stems from me wanting to do everything for myself: whenever I have official business to carry out here (like banking, tax stuff, immigration stuff, or dealing with phone plans) I usually need my Korean co-teacher's help. Well, time and experience has proven I cannot rely solely on her. Yes, it's her job, but she has no vested interest! If something doesn't make sense to her, I can be damn sure she's going to relay that misinformation over just as she (mis)understood it. Ever played that game of telephone in grade school? Yep, typically happens just like that.

I think language is a beautiful thing and holds such richness about a country, culture, and people.

So, there's a serious point of frustration for me, but as I said, also a major reason why I think learning Korean is so important while I'm living here. Also, being multicultural, I think language is a beautiful thing and holds such richness about a country, culture, and people. In one of my recent Facebook posts, I said that in six months of living in Korea, I'd know more Korean than I know Igbo (my native Nigerian language). I also said I think it's a shame, which I do. The major difference, though, is that I wasn't born in Nigeria and have only visited 5-6 times, not longer than 5 weeks. Whenever I'm home, I learn way more Igbo than I ever learn when I'm stateside - but that's because I use it. I'm not using Igbo when I'm in the states, unless I have made a deal with myself to study it fastidiously - which I never did.

I really give myself no choice but to use Korean while I'm here. I see the way a blank stare turns into a smile when I say 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo), or hello, to someone. I know that language brings people together and warms the heart. Because of this, I make it a habit to jot down new words I learn, even if they seem irrelevant to my life because just maybe, I'll end up using them. Here are some of the ways I'm learning this new language without dedicating study sessions to it (DISCLAIMER: It helps to be in the country where the language is spoken, or to be surrounded mostly by people who speak the given language.):


1. Be attuned to what people around you say often.

For me, people always say hello (안녕하세요 - annyeonghaseyo), welcome (어서 오세요 - eoseo oseyo), and take care (잘 다녀 오세요 - jal danyeo oseyo). I can gather the meaning through what's happening in the room - so be on the lookout!


2. If you can, find one person who can be your go-to translator.

Usually, people will feel good about themselves when they know they are a trusted expert. Use that to your advantage.


3. When you are curious about how to say a word or phrase in the given language, ask right away!

After lunchtime, I feel so full, so I asked my friend 인정 (In Jung) how to say "I'm full" in Korean, and she told me. Now I can say it to her every day after lunch and annoy her with the same phrase, like I'm supposed to be praised or something. :)


4. Write down what you learn, and keep it somewhere accessible.

Once in a while, I like to look to my scattered page of truly random Korean words and phrases and reflect on what I've learned so far. I love this method of light revision because you would have learned all these words/phrases through experience, and not from a textbook. Bringing back these memories through revision is a surefire way to plaster something along the walls of your brain and have it live there forever (or for a long time, anyway).


5. Use it or lose it, babycakes! 

This is so sad but so true. I took both Italian and Chinese in college and can remember little more than "Bella!" and "Ni hao." Okay, I'm lying, because that would be sad. I can remember more than that - but since my utilization of both Italian and Mandarin has gone from 86-94% to 0%, it's so hard to remember what I learned! It's difficult to learn a new skill, and learning a new language is really no different. Anything that stretches you is going to hurt - a growth spurt, a baby (so I'm told), eating too much food (from personal experience). In the case of learning a new language or skill, I'd say the pain is worth it. Don't be afraid of mispronunciation when you practice, either. That's how you get better!

This technique of immersion won't make me fluent anytime soon, but I'm learning what I need to know, and making memories along the way.


Have any other tips on how to learn a new language without having to dedicate precious time to it? Add them by leaving a comment below!