I have never been good with languages. I am not good at English and even more in Dzongkha, in Bhutanese Language. During school days, language subjects would always drag my grades down. I still remember how lucky I was to qualify for the scholarship as my English score just hit right at the margin. Language was never my cup of tea nor had I shown any inclination towards learning it. To this day my friends laugh at my weird pronunciation. But, then somehow I managed to learn Korean and got a good grade on the Korean proficiency test two years ago.
Just a small background, Korean universities requires a minimum of Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) level three to undergo a bachelor’s degree for all aspiring students. TOPIK is a Korean language proficiency test which measures your writing, listening and reading abilities in Korean. Looking back, it felt like climbing a mountain within a time constraint, only a year. However, it actually turned out to be the best time of my life. I began learning Korean from scratch in a language institute, which consisted of only foreigners in Korea, and our language institute had only two buildings, which did not have any computers, televisions, and even electronic tables. The first lessons were never easy and the worst part was I did not know why I was even studying, and most importantly I pondered why I was doing this to myself. Things got so overwhelming that I decided to go for a slower class.
Anyways, I advanced to level five which meant I was regarded as an advanced speaker, in a year; it still feels like some achievement to brag on. But the point here is, this test measures only your problem solving skills- that is it. I still remember there were people speaking fluent Korean and yet just fetching TOPIK three to four. Not to say, all high scorers are not fluent. But, in my case, I became so good at solving Korean grammatical question that on my last school exam in an advanced level I easily managed to get through without even studying. I was literally feeling the grammar and vocabulary with my senses. On the contrary, I was not even good at starting or speaking simple conversations like ordering a pizza or asking for a haircut. On the other hand, I had this high vocabulary and advanced grammar in my mind solely for exams which did fetch good grades. It did make me realize how grades can be exaggerated.
Today, it is been almost two and half years and I feel my abilities have remained stagnant. My pronunciation does suck, and my friend who barely passed the Korean proficiency test back then, now speaks almost like native. So, if you are learning Korean just for the sake of getting into university then forget about seeking a Korean language partner or a magical website. Since, you would be just wasting your time. I recommend you to learn basic concepts well, and move to solving problems from previous year’s question. I have somehow realized after coming to Korea that, solving questions is more important than understanding concepts to ace an exam. I highly recommend to start solving questions related to TOPIK.
I would like to advise you some tips of learning Korean. If you are genuinely trying to learn Korean. Please start slowly! And precisely. Do not move forward until your pronunciation for consonants is perfect. Learning language surely is not a competition. I would really emphasize you to learn slowly and precisely. Because the slower you move, the deeper you feel and vice versa. Finally, I have not regretted learning Korean for a moment now. Korea is a great country and Koreans are the best to be surrounded with. Best of luck whilst learning Korean.