Well, it's official: I can speak Korean! (sort of). On Friday, I passed my final language exam! So according to the Foreign Service Institute, I can now speak Korean well enough to do my job in Seoul. And to think, nine months ago, the only Korean words I knew were "Bulgogi" and "Gangnam Style"*.
Although I speak Spanish fluently, I've never considered myself a good language learner. I know colleagues who can speak 7, 8 even 10 languages fluently, with every little effort. Meanwhile, my language learning experiences have been less than successful: My one college semester of Russian ended with the only 'D' grade I ever got in my life. And although I studied French for 3 years in high school, today I can barely put together two sentences in le français.
Of course, FSI language training is a lot different than your average high school or college foreign language class, where students might get 4 hours of classroom time a week. At FSI, I was in class 5-6 hours per DAY, often involving 1-on-1 instruction, followed by 2-4 hours of homework and study time every night. Every day. For nine months!
Studying ANY foreign language is difficult. But Korean isn't just any foreign language. FSI classifies Korean -- along with Chinese, Japanese and Arabic -- as "super-hard languages". That is, they are the most difficult languages in the world for a native-English speaker to learn. And among those super-hard languages, some linguists (arguably) consider Korean to be the hardest!
So there you have it: proof that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!
I'm now enrolled in Basic Consular Course (a.k.a. ConGen). Because my brain is a sieve, I'm also taking Korean refresher courses to ensure I don't forget my hard-earned language training. I can now hold a basic conversation in Korean and even discuss some complex issues. Not bad considering that it's been about 18 years since I was in a classroom. And "Trilingual" sounds pretty cool! I'm addicted to language learning now, and hope we have the opportunity to return to FSI to learn another new language!
* Bulgogi: Korean-style BBQ
* Gangnam Style: An infectious song by Korean pop star Psy. "Gang-Nam" -- literally meaning "South of the Han River" -- is the name of a wealth neighborhood in Seoul.