I was standing at a bus stop today. My phone was dead. So I started making sentences in Korean as a way to fill the time.
저는 버스를 기다려요 – I wait for the bus
저는 버스를 기다리고 있어요 – I am waiting for the bus
발이 다져서 못 걷기 테문에 버스로 왔어요 – I came by bus because I hurt my foot and I can’t walk
It took me a good few minutes to piece together that let sentence. I kept stopping and rearranging the pieces in my head: conjugating 다지다, ordering the sentence, deciding whether to use the subject or object particle for 발, applying the ㄷ irregular.
By the time I had constructed the sentence, the bus arrived, and I was pretty discouraged.
I still wasn’t sure if it was correct, and even if it was correct, if it was the most natural way to say it. And regardless, I realized that there was no way I would have made myself understood to someone else. Not only did it take me forever to arrive at the completed sentence—the person would have been long gone by then—but my pronunciation is atrocious so any mistakes would have thrown the listener off completely.
I tried to be happy with what I was able to make the sentence at all, and to have more reasonable expectations. That sentence has three clauses, and about 6 or 7 grammatical principals in it at least!
But it made me wonder if I’m okay with progressing in my reading/writing much faster than listening/speaking, and potentially having that always be the case. I could very easily see a scenario in which I can read a Korean news story, but can’t even ask for teokkbokki without freezing.
When I started studying Korean, I told myself I wasn’t trying to become fluent, because that’s ridiculously hard, and I have nowhere in my life where I can hear or speak Korean without significant effort. But now that I’ve put in the work for a few months, I wonder if I should embrace my read-only approach, or I should be more intentional about speaking.
Because as much as being able to passively take in Korean culture is amazing, I wonder if it’s cowardly to engage in a language completely alone. I can improve my reading/writing/listening sitting alone in my apartment. But the only way to improve speaking is to have an audience, and that’s requires a whole different set of skills.
Anyway, I don’t have the answer yet.