Monday, June 27, 2016

The Challenges of Immersion Language Training- Hoyer- SNU-Summer Language Grant

I was fortunate to receive the Sigur Center Grant for Korean Language Study in Korea for summer 2016.  I have studied Korean for several years, to include completing the third level at GWU, and have not had the chance to study Korean in Korea until this summer.  It has been a challenging and humbling experience to study in-country at Seoul National University (SNU).  Having to operate in my language of study without an English-clutch to lean on gives me a whole new awareness of my language ability and a new understanding of what it means to be proficient in a language.

There are several challenges I’ve faced while studying Korean here that I did not face while studying Korean in America.  One of those challenges has been fully understanding new material, such as new grammar, as the class is entirely conducted in Korean.  Another challenge has been entering the program at level three of their six-level program.  Most of my fellow students begun their studies at SNU at level one and therefore have the same language knowledge base.  Various times throughout the course certain grammar patterns have come up with which I am not acquainted and upon asking for clarification, I am told that the class learned that material during the previous levels and that I am expected to know it as a level three student.

Another language challenge which I face is communicating with my peers.  I am not only asked to speak in Korean with my peers but have to speak in Korean with my classmates due to the language barriers between us.  We are a class of 14 students, 11 of which are native-Chinese speakers from China and Hong Kong.  When communicating in Korean with classmates in America, I have more room to make mistakes in Korean while still being understood.  That is because often times the language mistakes I make as a student are due to composing my Korean sentences based on an American cultural context or as a direct translation of a phrase in English, the meaning of which is understood by people with a similar linguistic background even if incorrectly formulated.  It has been challenging to be unable to express myself liberally and to connect fully with my peers due to our language barriers.

But it is these very challenges that have made my studies here impactful.  Korean is no longer a subject I study in an air-conditioned, stale classroom at the heart of DC.  Korean is alive around me and dictates my surroundings when I wake in the mornings.  Vocabulary is no longer particular to a chapter within a book assigned to a specific week on the syllabus but is the essential building block to conduct everyday activities such as going to a restaurant, buying clothing at an underground market, or communicating with a taxi driver.

I know my Korean is developing more profoundly here than ever before.  I only wish I had the chance to stay longer and to continue to see my language skill improve as it has here during the last three weeks.
Buddha statue at Bongeunsa Temple
Inside Bongeunsa Temple, first built in 794 during the Silla Kingdom.

My neighborhood and daily walk to school.

Verónica María Hoyer, B.A. International Relations 2017,
Sigur Center 2016 Korean Language Fellow,
Seoul National University, South Korea

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