Hitting the Wall and Running Through the Finish Line

Distance runners often refer to “hitting the wall” during a long race.  This is  the point where your body is so exhausted that all you can do is focus on putting one foot in front of the other and hope to make it to the finish line.  I hit the wall recently in the Couch to Korean Challenge.  I had embarked on the Challenge a year ago with the goal of learning as much Korean as I could, using only freely-available resources.  After the 6th water stop I panicked, realizing that I had only a little over a month left before reaching the finish line, which was coming in the form of our long-anticipated Lexplorers team trip to Korea.  While I had made a lot of progress over the past year building up from zero, I knew that I had a lot more to learn and time was running out.   My vocabulary and reading comprehension were mostly acceptable, but my listening comprehension was abysmal.  So I put my head down and focused on doing what I could to improve my conversation abilities in the short time remaining.    Most of the time in this final phase was either conversation with native Korean speakers, listening to Korean news, or reading Korean books.   As I cross the finish line, I’m still not happy with my listening comprehension ability, but I have made some good progress over the last month.   In the final 38 days of the challenge, I logged 92 hours of Korean study.  This is broken down by category below, including the total number of hours over the course of the Challenge.

  • Language basics and resources: 3 hours (43.75 total)
  • Grammar: 7.5 hours (115.25 total)
  • Vocabulary: 4.75 hours (123 total)
  • Listening comprehension: 11.25 hours (54.75 total)
  • Reading comprehension: 36.75 hours  (137.25 total)
  • Conversation: 28.75 hours (52.25 hours to date)

The table below shows the final totals for the Couch to Korean Challenge, broken down by category and phase.   In the end, I studied at least 15 minutes on 371 of 420 days, with a total study time of 526.25 hours.  This total was heavily weighted toward the second half, as the frequency and duration of study increased as the Challenge progressed.

The comparison of language learning to training for a running race was always an imperfect analogy.  There is no finish line when learning a new language.  There are always new words to learn and conversation to improve and practice.  Officially the Couch to Korean Challenge now ends with our trip to Korea, and I look forward to putting my “training” to the test on the streets and restaurants and trains of Seoul.  But in reality this past year of studying Korean is just the start of a longer training regimen, and I intend to run through the finish line and build on this foundation to continue learning and practicing Korean.

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