Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Language Exchanges? Why I Switched to Private Tutoring to Learn Korean

At Yeouido Park with a (good) language exchange partner and some of his friends
 This is my third year in Korea, and I've previously written about the steps I have taken to improve my Korean.

Well, the neighborhood class I was taking ended in June, and after that I needed to figure out another way.

Language Exchanges

First, I decided to find a language exchange partner. That would be a situation where I would help a Korean with their English, and in exchange, they would help me with my Korean. That sounds like a good idea, right?

I tried this site, called Conversation Exchange, because there were lots of Koreans on it. When I filled it out, I began to receive messages from Koreans, usually men, who wanted to improve their English. They either needed it for a job, or their university course, they would say. That sounded promising.

Another partner I had

I started meeting people to see what they were all about. However, I encountered some issues. Two men met me, decided they liked the way I looked and proceeded to ask me to have sex with them. I met one woman whose English level was so low, we were unable to converse with each other, so we ate awkwardly at a restaurant. I met one good partner who was eager to teach me, but he was constantly busy, and eventually his girlfriend didn't want us meeting. So, I was stuck in a rut.

Next, I tried a language exchange group that meets weekly, called the Language Exchange Cafe. Basically, this group holds meetups in Hongdae and Gangnam, and you pay 10,000 won to show up and practice your language skills. They support a variety of languages, but 98% of people there speak either English or Korean. I would be lucky to find anything else if I wanted to. I've been to their meetings both in Gangnam and Hongdae.

Lots of people seem to come to their meetings on Sundays, and the majority are Korean folks there to practice their English. Sometimes it would get so crowded, it was tough to find a seat. A major downside is that most people are there to learn English, and have never spoken to a foreigner learning Korean before. The other foreigners there (mostly men) aren't actually learning Korean, but are only there to meet locals. I felt like there was no place for me.

When it came to language exchanges, I just said, "forget it." Here's why:

I'm an English teacher, but they're NOT Korean teachers. The job I do every weekday is teaching English to Koreans! I know how to speak to people when they're learning English. I know the common mistakes learners make, and how to explain these to them. I know my grammar (mostly) inside and out. On the other hand, most Koreans I was exchanging with have NO IDEA how to teach their language to others. They know nothing about grammar, and it's a bother just getting them to slow down while they speak. They talked over me instead of listening to me, thinking that was helpful.

My Korean ability is low, but their English ability is high. My Korean conversational skills aren't so good, so that gives my Korean partner a huge advantage. They likely have been studying English for many years, while I've only started learning Korean. I try hard, but one must be patient to listen to me. I found that partners spoke to me quickly and used slang, then were genuinely confused when I didn't understand. I have to explain that they have been studying my language for much longer.

When they were decent, they eventually started flaking out. Many people are simply busy. There's nothing wrong with that. It just seemed pointless if we could never get together, however. I could run out of energy searching for a new partner, yet again, and going through some frogs before finding someone good. It didn't seem worth it.

It may be called a language exchange, but it felt like an unfair exchange. They seemed to be getting more out of the deal than I did. As a result, I called it off and went another route.

Private Tutoring

I met another young American woman like me, and I noticed that she spoke Korean very well. Naturally, I asked her how she got to that point. Obviously she studied and memorized words, but she told me that private tutoring had really helped her. It's not free, but she told me it was well worth it. It's one-on-one, so you get plenty of chances to improve your speaking. You're also working with someone who is a teacher, and is used to teaching Korean to non-native speakers and can explain the grammar very well. They were also reliable, since you're paying for it.

The service that both she and I currently use is from the popular website, Talk to Me in Korean. Basically, they set you up with a teacher, you pay for a certain amount of hours, and you choose the time and day you want to speak with the tutor. You meet at that said time on Skype.

I talk to a teacher once a week, and I've honestly improved wonders with her. I can actually put sentences together now and have mini conversations with my Korean friends in Korean. It was exciting to see myself improve. I would totally recommend it.

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