The Fun of Learning a Foreign Language

“Hallo”… It could be the simplest way to start conversations. It works for me. Always. There is fun in knowing new people. Talking to them makes it feel that my world has expanded a little. It is never the same.

Growing up I really marveled at the world. It started with the mundane of thoughts; how big it was, how many people were in and how many existing cultures were there for an individual to experience if he/she wanted to. Well, reflecting on this last thought it is basically inexhaustible in a lifetime. I mean 5 continents, 196 countries, 6500 languages, 7 billion people. It left me with a fascination at how much my world could grow.

Being the adventurous type, I took a liking for the Asian culture and started watching their documentaries, shows and music. It was fun but I couldn’t understand the languages. Therefore I took the plunge to learn an Asian language and that is how I got into learning Korean language, which is quite interesting.

Korean is quite different from English.It has its own alphabet and pronunciations. The first Korean class was more like going back to kindergarten to learn the basics. It was a funny and ridiculous one, because as our lecturer intoned,our prowess levels were close to that of 6 year olds back in Korea. We learnt how to pronounce and write the vowels and consonants, then progressed to simple vocabulary, to sentences and finally to paragraphs. This took us 4 months at the end of which speaking was still a challenge but manageable.

If you are into watching/reading, you know the satisfaction that comes with listening/noticing something from a movie or book and understanding the meaning. I like watching Korean Movies and I enjoy their sense of culture, so imagine my joy when I was watching and understood some word I had learnt without resorting to subtitles. It was amazing, magical. I felt like some kind of a genius.

Learning a new language helps in understanding the culture of a people. The world has many cultures, each unique and valuable. Cultures are portrayed in the cuisine, clothing, social habits, religion, music and art. All these are accessible from learning a language. Someone said, “Civilization isn’t a result of a single dominant culture but the product of mergers and interactions between diverse cultures, interacting enough to benefit from each other but not so much as to lose themselves in the other.” This is proven.A look at the best civilizations in the world shows that they derive their success from diversity. Americans have ties to almost all nations in the world either by ancestry or assimilation and were aware of their level of civilization. Down to my own experience, I learnt a lot from the Korean culture, my best being the unwavering work ethic. South Koreans really believe that hard work is worthy of reward and this says a lot given their claim of the 4th largest economy in Asia and the 11th largest in the world.

Additionally, learning a new language connects you to others that could be sharing the same interests. We all understand the feeling when you come across people who share your love for football or movies, or a theory you like. You can practically talk for hours. Such conversations are probably the most satisfying. It feels good to be understood. Which brings me to an experience I had with close friends, when I began learning Korean culture. I was surely an odd bird. They couldn’t understand why I did what I was doing. However, things changed when I walked into this class, with students excited to start learning Korean Studies. It has never been the same again. We are now a family. We challenge, teach and learn from one another. It is fun. We recently finished a 1000 piece puzzle that took us 10 days. We really treasure that puzzle and the memories it gave us. A year ago I never thought I could have friends who were fascinated with Korea as I am. Now I can say that if I travel to Seoul, I won’t be worried because my friends will be there to receive me. Or if I want to practice Korean I can just call a friend and chat hours on end. The possibilities are endless.

By Andreas Mutuku

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