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How I Learned Korean in 90 Days [CASE STUDY]

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I’d like to share the story of how I learned Korean in 90 days.

Am I really fluent in Korean after just 90 days of study? I could say that depends how you define fluency… but that would kind of be dodging the question.

Personally, I wouldn’t say that I’m fluent. But I did have a 15 minute conversation, 100% in Korean after just 90 days. You can watch it here on YouTube.

I’m also proud that when I shared my day 60 video update another Korean learner commented that it had taken her years to learn the things I was saying in the video.

So how did I do it?

I took the Add1Challenge (now the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge). The Add1Challenge is a 90 day language learning challenge where you’re guaranteed to have a 15 minute conversation in your new language at the end of the 90 days (as long as you do the work).

Full Disclosure: I’m the Community Manager of the Add1Challenge.

I should also say that this wasn’t my first rodeo with Korean. A couple years back, I studied it for about six months with a study buddy. But despite focusing on it and giving it my all, it seemed like nothing about the language stuck. Not the writing system. Not the vocab. Not the grammar.

After six months of trying to sort it out, I could say “hello”, “thank you” and that I liked music, but that was about it.

When I returned to Korean for the Add1Challenge, it had been over two years since I last studied it.

Here’s my Day 0 video for the Add1Challenge, so you can see the level I was at when I started out:

As you can see, I got through everything I knew in just 30 seconds.

So that’s the background to how I did this. And actually, a lot of Add1Challengers have previously studied a language when they join the challenge, and they want to take things to the next level.

But Shannon, Aren’t You a Pro Language Learner?

Yes, I study languages publicly and share my successes (and failures) online. To date, I’ve studied more than nine languages. And with several, I’ve done pretty well.

But I don’t consider myself a natural at languages. I often struggle, as I did the first time I tried learning Korean. To many, it may seem that my motivation abounds. I wish that was the case! But to tell you the truth, it’s something that I struggle with, too.

As someone who does a significant amount of their language learning in public, it’s easy to feel nervous about sharing anything other than my successes. But as the Add1Challenge Community Manager, I know that it’s important for me to give other language learners a peek behind the curtain – to share my successes and my failures. Both of which I’ve experienced many.

I decided to give Korean another go. I wanted to see how far I could get in 90 days, and I knew that the Add1Challenge was the place to do it.

Learning Korean in 90 Days: Day 0 – Day 29

The first few weeks were awkward. It was like trying to catch up with an old high school acquaintance after too many years apart. There were things about the language that registered as vaguely familiar, but for the most part, I might as well have never studied it at all.

That discomfort meant that I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated to study the language, but decided to trust the Add1Challenge process of hitting my daily study goal. Gradually, I began to notice a change.

The change wasn’t big, but it was enough to signal that my hard work was making an impact. Here’s what I shared with the Add1 community:

As I began to feel happy with my progress, I started to feel good about learning Korean and I found myself wanting to study. Win!

Here’s the progress video I made of myself on Day 30:

As you can see, I managed to speak for pretty much a full minute — a big step forward from the 30 seconds I managed on Day 0.

The Korean Resources I Used from Day 0 – Day 29

When I started out, I used the same resources I use almost every time I begin a new language. Pimsleur (yes, I know Benny’s not a fan but I am!) and Memrise. I think it’s really important to start listening to the language and getting an ear for it right away. And I also think it’s crucial to start picking up as much vocabulary as I can as soon as I can.

These two resources kept me busy during my first month, but I also knew I needed to start speaking if I wanted to get to my 15-minute goal, so after about two weeks of studying on my own, I tried out a few different teachers on italki and found one that was a good match. For the duration of the challenge, she and I met once a week.

Learning Korean in 90 Days: Day 30 – Day 59

With that nice little boost, it was easier to stick with it between Days 30-59. I really started to believe that I could, in fact, learn Korean.

I found a teacher on italki that I enjoyed working with, and she provided me with really helpful materials that helped me learn a wide range of Korean vocabulary. I shared my progress with the Add1 community:

At the same time, almost everything that I was doing to learn Korean felt like “work” and as a part of the Add1Challenge, we encourage language learners to make room for both “work time” and “play time”.

To get that next motivation boost, I needed to figure out how to find more “play time” with Korean.

Here’s how I did that. In the Add1Challenge, I was part of a Korean study group (if you join the challenge, you’ll be assigned to a study group for the language you’re learning). Together with my study group I began playing word games using the Naver Korean dictionary. This helped me learn a lot of new Korean words. It was also fun way to add a touch of friendly competition and “play” into how I learned Korean.

I also decided to find a Korean television show that I enjoyed. The first couple of Korean TV shows I tried weren’t for me, so I kept searching. I wanted to find a Korean TV show that covered some of my interests. On my third attempt, I found a show that took place in a restaurant where food, cooking techniques, and ingredients were mentioned often. I’d found the one for me!

I wanted to understand the show without relying too much on subtitles, so I started watching episode after episode, back to back. Finding this Korean TV show that I enjoyed watching really helped!

Here’s the update video I made for day 60:

This time I spoke for over two minutes, double what I’d done on Day 30. I was still making good progress! Although it wasn’t an easy video to make. I’ll share some more about that in a moment…

The Korean Resources I Used from Day 30 – Day 59

When I started studying Japanese in the last challenge, I felt like I waited a little bit too long to start reading. Reading is a good way to see the language at work, so I didn’t want to make that same mistake with Korean. Once I had a few words under my belt, I started reading with LingQ.

I also wanted to get more structure, so I picked up a coursebook. For the challenge, I found Korean Made Easy. I found the explanations of Korean grammar simple and easy to follow, so for this challenge, it was exactly what I needed. I aimed to do one to three chapters each week, copying any useful structures or vocabulary into my Memrise flashcards for study.

Learn Korean in 90 Days: Day 60 – Day 89

When it came time to record my Day 60 video, I was nervous. I’ve completed Add1Challenges previously, and Day 60 had typically been when I hit a wall. Often, I found there was little difference between my Day 30 and Day 60 videos.

That said, I know we have a good reason to ask for the progress videos in the Add1Challenge. Documenting your progress boosts your confidence and your motivation.

So it was with a feeling of trepidation that I sat down and hit record on my Day 60 video. I was planning to say a lot of the same things as I said in my Day 30 video, but I hoped to say them better and to expand a little more. I took a deep breath and started. When I said all I had to say, I looked at the time stamp. Between my Day 30 and Day 60 video I had managed to double my speaking time.

That really unlocked my motivation!

But then I hit a HUGE obstacle…

Learn Korean in 90 Days: Day 90

For me, Day 90 came early.

Around Day 60, my Korean teacher sent me a message to let me know that she’d be out of town for the entire last month of the Add1Challenge. I panicked.

Who would I record my Day 90 video with? What if I wasn’t ready? Would not having a tutor during the last month keep me from achieving that 15-minute conversation?

I thought about where I was at and since I was still feeling extremely motivated, I decided to be courageous.

I sent my teacher back a message and asked her if she’d record the video with me before she left.

And then I set to work.

I threw out anything and everything “extra” and focused on studying what I’d need to know to hit the 15-minute mark in Korean. Scripting became my most important ally. I spent my time figuring out what I’d need to say and understand in my 15 minute conversation, then translate it in Korean.

On Day 63 of the Add1Challenge, I had a Korean lesson. Because my teacher knew I was preparing to record our conversation, she picked up the call as though we were already recording.

We got to 15 minutes. There were a lot of “umms”, “sorry I don’t understand” and blank stares on my part, filling up that time and I knew I still had ways to go. We then worked on expanding what we got through. After about 30 minutes, I was feeling pretty confident at how things were going, so I turned on the camera.

Suddenly I was a nervous wreck. I was checking the clock constantly to see how long we spoke, I had to review my notes and the messages she sent me, and couldn’t answer basic questions that I’d understood only moments before. We still made it past the 15 minute marker in (almost) only Korean despite all the difficulties I had. I got through it.

But I still knew I could do better. Our trial run had given me the push I needed.

I was feeling pretty confident!

The next day, on Day 64 of the Add1Challenge, I filmed my “Day 90” video of a 15 minute conversation in Korean with my tutor. It was 16 minutes total. A bit shorter than our trial run, but this wasn’t because we said fewer things or got through less material. It was because I had become better at understanding and replying right away, reducing the time our conversation took.

Here’s my full Day 90 video:

The Korean Resources I Used from Day 60 Onwards

At this point in the challenge, my hands were pretty full with the resources I was already using. And while they helped me improve my Korean overall, many of them weren’t helping me directly get to my 15-minute conversation. Because of this, I stopped using everything but my lessons and Memrise. And even there, I narrowed down what I was using, choosing to use the Memrise deck I created and not those created by anyone else (prior to this point I was studying Korean vocabulary with three different decks).

The focus definitely helped me prepare for my Day 90 video.

Day 90 and Beyond

After completing the Add1Challenge, I’d fallen back in love with Korean. This feeling was my reward for sticking with it, even with the extra challenges I faced!

I wasn’t perfect. I faced a number of stumbling blocks along the way, and there were a few days that my daily check-in read “nay”. But I trusted in the system provided by the Add1Challenge and as a result, I gained a new language that I will love for life.

author headshot

Shannon Kennedy

Language Encourager, Fluent in Months

Shannon is Head Coach for the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge. She is currently based in Southern California where she performs as a professional musician. Her passions are cooking, reading, traveling and sharing her adventures in language learning.

Speaks: English, French, Mandarin, Russian, Croatian, Japanese

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