A Recipe for Fluency (Hopefully)

PUSH-UPS, CRUNCHES, COFFEE, TRANSLATION — it’s all a part of the new morning regimen. By 7 am I’m sitting sleepily in front my laptop, arms sore as the screen glows with headlines from Yonhap. A notebook on my desk and pen in hand, I scribble down unfamiliar Korean vocabulary.

I flip quickly between browser tabs; article, dictionary, article.

And I think to myself: I should have been doing this for years. I’m struggling now because I’ve let my second language get rusty — let myself be overwhelmed by daily demands and excuses. This is the great re-focusing, a test of self-discipline.

(Silently, I worry if it’s sustainable.)

A great daunting mass of foreign words has stood between my actual language abilities and true fluency for some time. The grammar, the basics, even the colloquialisms feel well ingrained by now — but I’m still drowning in an ocean of vocabulary. What I don’t know could (and does) fill a book.

So this is my recipe for fluency, I hope:

Read one Korean-language news article — aloud, twice. List every word I don’t know, then look it up. Listen to one Korean-language news broadcast — twice. Identify names, numbers and unknown words. Make flash cards for all new words. Take a break. Review flash cards. Speak as much Korean as I can (even to myself). Go to work. Eat. Blog. Sleep. Repeat.

As my anticipation for moving abroad grows, it’s all I can do to resist regretting the time I didn’t spend working towards this goal. Willpower takes time to forge, I tell myself, and learning the intimacies of any language is a process that takes years. And so I keep on keepin’ on, sewing meaning to sounds, sounds to letters — sticking words in my head and hoping that they’ll stay.

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2 Responses to “A Recipe for Fluency (Hopefully)”


  1. 1 Jeffrey Hayes April 9, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Hi, I’m new to your blog. This is definitely an interesting and inspiring post. Are you moving to Korea soon to work/study?

    I like the routine that you have proposed to yourself, and I am definitely considering picking up the same routine with my Portuguese-learning habits. I have never used flashcards before, but perhaps the methods you propose might work…reading the newspaper aloud (thus practicing pronunciation) and writing down the words you don’t know, and then drilling yourself with new vocabulary. I have a little bit more trouble listening to a language, but I know that a news broadcast would definitely help me understand the “intimacies” better.

    I wish you luck in conquering that ocean of vocabulary that awaits you!

  2. 2 dailytransit April 9, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Jeffrey — Thanks for dropping by! My fiancee and I are moving to South Korea this August. I’m searching for a job in the journalism field out there, hence the language prep.

    Flashcards seem to work well, but the key is review. Usually by the time I’m finished writing out a set I’ll have the vocab pretty well memorized, but if I don’t look over them regularly (or, even better, incorporate them into my daily speech) then all that hard work just evaporates. Listening to news broadcasts is tough; the speech is fast but at least words are enunciated.

    Best of luck with tackling Portugese, and keep on reading!


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