For context, I first approached studying Korean in 2013. I mostly only actually studied when we were visiting Korea, so until recently, that was maybe one month every two years or so. Needless to say I made no progress. In 2020 we began spending more significant chunks of time here, and that's basically when I started seriously making an attempt to learn the language.
Up until recently, my main goal was just to be able to read close-to-fluidly in Korean. I told myself I was fine with not being able to really communicate. My thinking was that, eventually, I'd be able to read effortlessly. Then I'd work on subtitles or audiobooks to nail down listening. Then finally start speaking properly. But...I actually live in Korea now. I have kids who interact with Korean doctors, teachers, peers, etc. I'd like to be able to converse with these people around me. I spent a lot of time buying into the "just consume media and you'll naturally come out the other end speaking like a native" line-of-thought seemingly prevalant among some corners of the web (YouTube). Unfortunately, I made little-to-no-progress in the speaking department just waiting for it to happen. Really, I've made remarkably little progress overall with Korean for the amount of effort put in. And I can see that a big part of that is because I was allocating my efforts towards the least-unpleasant parts (reading) while ignoring basically everything else and waiting for magic that didn't come.
Outside of banging my head against the wall with Korean, one of my primary hobbies has been browsing this and other forums and plotting my language learning approach. One of the most important pieces of advice, that doesn't apply just to language learning and took me ridiculously long to properly internalize, is that you get better at whatever you spend the most time practicing. When I spent most of my study time reading, without much dedicated grammar or vocab study and no effort whatsoever put into productive skills, I did eventually make discernable progress with reading in Korean. I got much better at guessing, tolerating ambiguity, and just pcking up what I could and plugging along. But I'm still far away from being able to just read to fill in all the remaining gaps in my knowledge. The gaps are more like chasms.
My receptive skills for conversation are sort of OK. I can usually follow along in basic, everyday interactions but more than I would like of that is reliant on my guesses to fill in what I didn't quite comprehend fully. It's hard to properly assess my level of understanding in real world interactions, and lately I've been doing some more focused watching which lets me check understanding a bit more carefully. I can watch 똘똘이, a kids animation available on Netflix here in Korea, and understand pretty much everything in an 11 minute episode. I think the last episode I watched I encountered 2 unknown words (some episodes would certainly be more, but it's a fairly simple - though, at least for me, enjoyable enough - kids show, so you could probably argue you can understand almost everything without knowing a word of Korean). I would definitely miss more without subtitles. I've been watching some of 갯마을 (Hometown Cha Cha Cha), a K-drama, as well. There I can go stretches where I understand most of the dialogue, but only short stretches where it's fairly simple things. It's still a very nice feeling to be able to understand even that much. Then my vocabularly rapidly begins to fail me. Even with pausing and looking up words (or checking the English subs with Language Reactor) to eliminate the vocabularly weakness, a lot of the grammar I am way too slow to parse in real-time, even if I "know" the grammar patterns in question and would be ok reading them. At spoken speed my parsing falls woefully behind.
My spoken responses are horrible. Lacking grammar, unable to come up with the correct vocabulary words in a reasonable time, or just not knowing the required vocabulary at all. I struggle a lot with pronounciation as well (another area where listening to certain YouTube polyglots and becoming overly afraid of "fossilizing errors" did me no good). I've worked on this quite a bit in the last few months, and can finally get pretty much all of the sounds of Korean right, at least some of the time (I can apparently pronounce ㅅ and ㅆ, but I can almost never actually hear the difference). But when nervous speaking and pausing to find the words, my intonation is horrible and my ability to mostly pronounce the right sounds in isolation completely disappears. But when I am able to respond with some amount of "automaticity", it seems like I can usually be understood.
So, what I was doing up until recently: reading. My big "success" was reading The Endling by Katherine Applegate translated into Korean. It's a fantasy novel for middle-schoolers. I read the Animorphs series by the same author as a kid and have a lot of nostaligia for those. The Endling was not as good, or at least not as good as I remember the Animorphs. But it was fairly easy to read, nearly 500 pages, and there are two sequels. Ideal for extensive reading, as I understood it. I started out with the english text in parallel, but after a few chapters started reading farther and farther ahead in Korean, and read the last ~150 pages or so without looking at the translation at all. This was a good experience and I definitely learned something, but primarily that I could plow through and read a not-too-hard book with a decent amount of sword-fighting and talking animals and (kinda) enjoy the experience. I loosely followed some advice from rdearman here and similar advice from imron from the chinese-forums site and would occassionally read a page or two intensively, looking up all unknown words. I kept track a couple times, and I would usually know between 80-90% of the words on a given page: which didn't seem like it would be enough, but apparently I was lucky and my known words skewed heavily to the most important for this particular text (I could almost always figure out who flew out of the window to safety and who got captured by the guards).
I ended up with just under 1k anki cards (Kr -> En) from the Endling and some other reading over about a month long period. I semi-automated the card creation process from dictionary lookup -> Anki, so I was happy to create so many cards as deleting them later didn't feel like much of a loss, which has previously been a sticking point for me with using Anki. But I ended up with only about a 70% retention rate for these cards a month later. This is with a large number of learning steps, to try to make sure I would remember the words once they matured. What my experience was that Anki certainly didn't hurt, it wasn't enough to really solidly know the words unless I was reading enough to have encountered them multiple times since originally creating the card - I think this is a common experience, and is certainly not bad, but it also made me realize that just cranking the size of the deck up to 10k cards or so won't guarantee I retain all of the words just via SRS's "magic" alone.
What I slowly seem to have been realizing is that I need to use the language to learn it. And using it means a lot more than just reading and (sometimes) trying to passively recognize words via Anki. Using it is hard and I've been trying to avoid it, but that obviously isn't working
What I've been doing since these realizations:
- Pimsleur Korean 2: Did a few lessons. Was nice to discover that I could kinda-sorta do this while jogging, as up to now all attempts (e.g., audiobooks, podcasts) to learn Korean while exercising had been just way too hard for my level and of little benefit. Pimsleur is certainly useful and helped me get a couple more semi-automatic phrases, but I'm not sure they're the most efficient use of time compared to the next two items (given my status as a "false beginner", at least).
- Glossika-style prompts: English prompts followed by the Korean translation. This is also nice in that it can be done while exercising and seems helpful. Drawback is I basically am just practicing random sentences, so not systematically developing automaticity in any particular area.
- FSI Korean: These drills are hard. I finally tried them for the first time just last night. I've only done a bit of Unit 19, along the lines of "is X as easy as Y?" -> "Yes, X is as easy as Y". I could almost do these while walking outside, not at all while jogging. Much more intense than Pimsleur. But the initial experience plus a number of threads here containing advice from iguanamon have me convinced that these are the type of things I need to be doing. A couple drawbacks of FSI Korean that kept me from even really trying until yesterday:
- Unit 1's workbook is all in romanization, and a romanization unlike anything I've seen elsewhere, so I basically can't read the drill prompts at all. This can be overcome, but it does feel a bit silly learning to decode the romanization...alteratively, I could just improve my listening skills so I don't need the transcript, but that probably be awhile...jumping into Unit 2 is doable at my current level but definitely a big challenge.
- The audio recordings, according to my wife, sound a bit different than "modern Korean". Specifically, her initial thought was that the speakers were North Korean...however, given that I don't sound anything at all like any type of native now after many years of listening to Korean, I don't think a few hours of drills will have me sounding like these natives either, so that's not a major concern.
- Pronounciation/Intonation: I quite like the voice of 김선호 in Hometown Cha Cha Cha, so I've been experimenting with "chorusing" with some audioclips taken from the show. I have a couple pronounciation textbooks for Korean too that have been really helpful with improving my ability to produce/recognize the individual sounds properly. Those both have "intonation" sections that I should start looking at as well.
- Watching: I've mostly replaced reading with watching-plus-reading-subtitles. 똘똘이 has been great for that - it's a confidence boost to be able to understand most of the show, which previously was not possible for me with any type of media. I quite like the idea of just binge watching a show to improve listening, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet - if I don't know 10%+ of the words in a random K-drama, it's not strictly listening that's the problem.
- Textbooks: A lot of very reasonable advice has been given on this forum to buckle down and work through textbooks. It's not fun and I've ignored that advice for years, but finally the time has come. I'm going through Elementary Korean, as I like the exposition and the exercises are plentiful. There are two more books in the series after this one. Smallwhite's advice, in particular, about doing the exercises quickly and verbally has been really helpful, as it lets me do them even when not sitting down at a desk (e.g., when putting the kids to bed, although I just _think_ the answers instead of actually speaking at that particular time). This experience has been very humbling as well, as I basically understand 99% of the sentences used in the middle lessons of this beginner's textbook but can see how my productive skills are still challenged at this level.
- Production SRS: Inspired by some posts I came across by smallwhite about SRS and flashcard usage. I haven't wanted to make a deck from scratch yet, so I'm having a go with Evita's korean vocab deck, modified to be from English to Korean. I'm trying to keep the overall amount of time spent drilling vocabularly not too high, but my vocabulary has been a weakness for basically two years and recognition SRS + reading has not done the trick so need to try something.
- Speaking practice: I am now making a bit more effort here. I am surrounded by native speakers (including family), but currently limited by my own limitations...sometimes I am able to e.g. meet the parent of another kid at my son's school and exchange a few sentences (where are you from, what age are the kids, etc) and feel proud of myself for the success. Other times I am unable to make myself understood when asking the name of a dish I see at a restaurant. Either way, my "conversations" are at most a few sentences, at least for now.