This world really accommodates extroverts, which can make practicing a language daunting for introverts. However, you can still practice speaking Korean with a little creativity and maybe even by stepping out of your comfort zone. If you’re willing to risk a little discomfort, you can do this!
Back in June I participated in an online Korean Speech Contest (!) hosted by the Korean Cultural Centre of Canada. I’m not 100% sure what initially prompted me to sign up for it. I don’t even like to give speeches in my own language. The thought of doing a 3-5 minute speech in Korean, a language I had only been learning for just under a year by that time… well. It was terrifying.
However, I knew that I didn’t just want to learn this language for the sake of being able to say I’m doing it. Rather, I want to learn it so that I can communicate. I want to read in Korean. I want to be able to understand when I’m watching whatever K-drama is currently on my roster or when I’m listening to music. And yes, I want to be able to speak to people in Korean.
How else will I get there if I don’t practice speaking Korean by any means I can?
Sometimes you have to just go for it!
So I signed up. I registered for the beginner level and I put together my speech to the best of my abilities. I asked around for clarification on some grammar points. Then, I rehearsed my pronunciation over and over until I had my speech 90% memorized. And then I took a really deep breath and logged in on Zoom to do my speech in front of the other contestants and the judges.
Was it easy? Was it no big deal? Hell no to both of those questions. It’s nerve-wracking to speak Korean in front of actual Korean speakers. I was grateful to be sitting down on camera so no one could see my leg shaking. But I did it and I was so proud of myself.
I also won first place in the beginner level. I didn’t see that coming but I was ridiculously excited.
None of it would have ever happened if I hadn’t stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried something scary.
However, you don’t need to enter a big, organized speech contest. There are a lot of things you can try, as long as they get you talking!
Easy Ways to Practice Speaking Korean (even if it’s outside of your comfort zone!):
There are so many ways you can get started!
Do you enjoy watching Korean dramas? Or perhaps you love variety shows or listening to your favourite K-Pop idols do vlogs. Then you already have an excellent – and fun! – opportunity. It’s a language learning technique called shadowing and it’s actually very powerful!
It’s also super easy. Simply put on whatever media you enjoy (but no songs – songs don’t provide a natural speaking rhythm). Listen to a line someone says. Pause and repeat. Back it up and listen again. Pause and repeat again. Focus on matching their pronunciation first. Once you feel confident with that, work on matching their intonation. That’s really all there is to it!
I recommend mimicking lines that make sense for you. If you don’t normally talk about surgical procedures, don’t shadow a doctor in a medical drama who is explaining the operation they need to do. You’ll want to pick lines from topics you use in your daily life. Examples could be the weather, food, making plans, etc. There’s no point practicing how to say “as you can see, photosynthesis begins when…” if you would never have that type of conversation.
Another great tip for progress – record yourself! Use your phone’s camera to record yourself saying the line. Play back the original and then play back yourself. How close are you?
Talk to yourself
Talking to yourself is one of the easiest ways to practice. I like to narrate what I’m doing. Whether I’m washing the dishes, getting ready for work, or tidying up, there’s a good chance I’m talking to myself in Korean. My family no longer asks me who I’m talking to; they know I’m just trying to practice speaking Korean.
Another option besides narration is to pretend you’re having a conversation. Imagine someone has asked you what you’re doing right now (“지금 뭐 해요?”). Then respond to that “person” by answering the question – maybe by telling them you’re drinking some coffee (“커피를 마시고 있어요!”).
You may not want to do this in public unless you don’t mind a few raised eyebrows. Then again, a lot of people talk on the phone using ear buds while walking, so maybe no one would even notice. I know I practiced my speech over and over while walking my dog and no one seemed to care.
If you’re wondering how you will manage this if you still have a limited vocabulary or grammar knowledge, 걱정하지 마세요! (Don’t worry!) Start simple with the things you DO know. If you know how to say “apple” but don’t know how to say “I want to eat now” just say the part you know, and say the rest in English. So, tell yourself “I want to eat a 사과 now” and you can look up the rest later (지금 사과를 먹고 싶어요).
Talk to other people!
Okay, I know. This is the scary one. “What do you mean I have to talk to other people?!” Yes, it can make your knees feel like jello. I get it. I have anxiety and it freaks me out too. And if you don’t actually care about being able to speak Korean – if you just want to be able to read and to understand dramas or song lyrics – then you could skip it if you want.
But if you’re like me and you want to learn Korean for those reasons AND to communicate, there’s no dodging this one. Take a deep breath and let’s try it! Here are a few things I’ve done that you can use to speak to others:
- Is there a Korean market or restaurant nearby? Ask for help finding a product you need in Korean. Order your meal in Korean.
- Take a class. I do 15-week semesters of classes and being in an environment with a good teacher and other eager learners takes some of the edge off the nerves.
- Are you in a class already? Make sure you participate! Don’t worry about mistakes, that’s why you’re in the class. Your teacher will help you correct them!
- Join a language learning Discord server. What?? Yes! I’m in a few Discord servers and one of them does a weekly read-aloud practice on Sundays. It’s my favourite part of the weekend. I make a coffee, get comfortable, and join a small group of learners. We take turns reading lines from upper beginner and intermediate reading materials, then we translate to English. It’s fantastic!
- If you’ve made some friends in your class or in a Discord server, set up a time to practice speaking with them. You may not be able to correct each other with everything since you’re all still learning, but it is still beneficial to just speak out loud to someone who will respond back to you. It can be done in person or online, so it’s convenient either way.
- Find a language exchange partner on an app. This one is tough because sadly there are a lot of people who treat these apps like Tinder. If you can get past the “looking for love” people though, you may meet someone who wants to practice English while you practice Korean. The one-on-one aspect can be nerve-wracking but there’s not really any major pressure because you’re both learning and practicing. (I’m still working on this one myself and will write a post soon!)
Seek out and jump on any opportunities to practice speaking Korean
Those are just some of the ways you can create your own speaking opportunities. I’ve done (and am still doing) all of them. But there is really no limit. Sometimes you need to just jump on any opportunities that you come across. For me that included doing the online speech contest.
I also send in audio clips of myself speaking Korean to Arirang radio – they have a daily show called #DailyK and once a week they have a Korean teacher on the air. She provides three lines from a drama or movie, and I record myself, then send them via the KakaoTalk app. The show plays them live on the air and she critiques them. I have improved so much just from doing this!
I’ve also done a live streamed Korean class right on the air as well. That was a little nerve-wracking because it was on Zoom and we had nothing to prepare in advance – it was all on the fly, but it was so much fun!
Finally, I do work with an iTalki tutor whenever I get the chance. I was sweating and trembling the first time we met but she is so sweet and kind that I look forward to it now. She corrects anything I say that isn’t quite right and teaches me expressions I don’t know. It was a great and natural way for me to learn new words and grammar points for discussing topics I would normally talk about in English.
At the end of the day, only you can determine your motivation for learning Korean and what you want to do with it. However, if communication is one of your main goals, there’s no way around it. You NEED to practice speaking Korean. It’s okay if you’re scared at first, but the good news is that the more you do it, the easier it gets.
All I know is that not practicing is not conducive to meeting your communication goals. For example, if you’ve always dreamed of meeting your favourite idol at a fan meet & greet, in the hopes of telling them how much their music means to you in their own language, how will you ever pull that off if you haven’t practiced?
It’s okay to be nervous. But if you take a deep breath and start practicing, you just might surprise yourself with how much you enjoy it.
Let me know in the comments which methods you’ve already tried, or which one you’re going to try first! And if I’ve missed a great practice tip, tell me what it is!
This post is part of the KCC Canada Honorary Reporter project.
I will try shadowing first. I heard other people say it’s good too but I just didn’t try it yet. It sounds less scary than trying to talk to someone!!