Becoming a Language Baby

Some of my toughest language learning experiences were in an introductory Korean class I took in college. By the time I began to learn Korean, I was already speaking enough Japanese to not only survive a week in Tokyo, but also help a group of classmates navigate trips on intricate rail systems and eat from all-Japanese menus.

I was glowing from these achievements, so finding myself in a full-immersion experience with the Korean language killed my pride in a grand way. I thought that my teacher went way too fast and I was frustrated when I botched chance after chance to express myself to her. Pouting one day at all of the progress I wasn’t making, I finally understood that I was being sent back to memories of learning English, my native language, for the for the first time. I was in the awkward state of being a language baby.

Honestly, learning a new language does involve putting yourself back into the shoes of a child. Think back to that experience of babbling and speaking nonsense, which people were willing to happily listen to up until the point you were no longer cute and cuddly! Maybe part of the reason we shy away from learning new languages and even new things about our own language is because we dread that return to incoherent dependency. We want to think of ourselves as capable and articulate, and surely we are, but in another person’s language, we have quite a lot of catching up to do.

Don’t let this be discouraging though. Realize that being completely new to a language, accommodating native speakers will allow you space to make mistakes. Besides, there are some pretty swell points to learning new languages with prior language learning experience.

You better understand what kind of learner you are.
Being that you’ve already gone through an education system in one way or another, you already know whether you’re a visual or an auditory learner. You know if you prefer to learn with books or with games or with videos. These tidbits of information can make it easier for you to open up to a language and stick with it even when you start to get a little discouraged.

You already know what your preferences are.
This works only if you don’t let those personal tastes get in the way of trying new things. If done well, you can easily find shared interests to bond over with a speaker of a different language. If you’re a hobbyist, chatting with a person from another country about it can be an easy way to make new friends. Even if your take on the subject is different, the similarities will be enough to kindle a more personal relationship.

You know more about what you want out of life.
Perhaps when you were a child you had to learn a language as a requirement, like us U.S. American kids who hardly remember our high school Spanish when we reach adulthood. Or maybe there was a language that your family spoke that you weren’t interested in until now. Whether you’re looking to regain your language skills to find work abroad or you’ve fallen in love with someone and want to share that with them, you as a non-native language learner have goals that clearly reflect passions.

So maybe I’ll take my own advice when I take another dive into Korean sometime in the future and follow my passion for food. And of course, if you need someone for your English learning journey, I’m happy to help you learn!