Why I quit learning Korean

Before I landed in Korea, I wanted to learn as much of the language as I could. But with the interviews and goodbyes and all that comes with leaving home, I never carved out the time.

Once I landed, I quickly soaked up a few key words and phrases. Turns out, six or seven can go a long way.

  • “Hello.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “Please”
  • “Yes.”
  • “No.”
  • “Here.”
  • “How much?”

About the end of my first month, a friend and I talked about learning Korean. He said he definitely wanted to do it. He said he wanted to prove to himself that he could. I agreed to experiment for at least three or four months and then reevaluate if I wanted to continue.

The next week, I asked how much he’d progressed. He confessed that he hadn’t work on his Korean at all. That discouraged me, even if I didn’t want to admit it.

That friend went on to find a language exchange partner, something I’d tried to do but never actually met with anyone. That friend progressed much faster than I did. Congrats to him.

For me, though, toward the beginning of August, I realized I didn’t want to learn Korean – I just wanted to have learned it. I wanted the results, but I didn’t enjoy the process of studying the language.

I think that’s pretty normal, to want the results but not want to work for them. The difference for me in this case is that the cost of the process seems to outweigh the benefit of the results.

Observing my friends around me, I noticed that even if I studied my heart out, by the end of a year, I still probably wouldn’t have the skills to communicate with Koreans on any meaningful level. The first year would help me ask for directions or engage in some small talk, but that’s it.

Unless I moved in with a Korean family and spoke Korean exclusively, Korean wasn’t going to happen. My progress after three months extrapolated to the end of the year wouldn’t be worth the time and effort.

My friends now all speak English reasonably well. I can survive without any serious problems. And when I go home, I don’t see how knowing a year’s worth of Korean will help much.

Of course, all of this assumes I’m leaving Korea after a year. If I planned to stay longer, I’d have much more incentive to pursue the language. So even though I haven’t confirmed it officially, this is a sneak peek into my plans:

I switched to pursuing something else.

The hardest part about giving up on Korean is that I’ve wanted to learn a foreign language for a while, and this is the best opportunity I’ve had to tackle that goal. It’s tough to look opportunity in the face and say, “Later, dude.”

I think it helps that I’m actually saying, “Later,” not just, “Forget it.”