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Steve and Alex discuss language learning and travel, including Alex’s recent trip to Korea, Steve’s recent trip to Europe and what it means to learn a foreign language in your own country.
Alex: Now, I would say in that regard I would assume that my situation here in Vancouver is quite unique and I think that most people would be more like you, where if they go to a country they would, in fact, benefit more from it.
Having had already so many Korean friends here it didn’t make a big impact on me, but I would say in several regards of when I came back here yesterday.
I got off the airplane then I went to the information booth to ask where I can buy a bus pass.
I was like oh, I can speak in English.
You know, this was just a revelation to me.
Alex: Where for a month I was like okay, well, I have to say this in Korean and that just became something natural for me where I speak in Korean if I see someone.
Steve: Which is good…
Alex: Right, exactly.
Steve: …which does something to the brain.
Alex: Yeah. It does, absolutely.
Steve: It does something to the brain beyond the actual exposure, because so much of language learning is tied up with the attitude that we have.
So, if we say it’s natural.
I’ve got to speak Korean.
Things are flying around in Korean.
It’s like that’s the world.
Steve: And if you’re open to that that turns a switch.
Steve: Whereas, if you say gees, I wonder, will he understand me?
I don’t know and I’ll never learn the language and all these negative things that many people carry around with them.
Steve: So, to that extent.
I think it’s like if you’re open to the benefits of visiting the country or living in the country then you will take advantage.
Steve: If you’re not open to them it won’t help…
Alex: Yeah, that’s very true.
As I was there I attended what’s called “Languagecast”.
It’s a meetup that’s put on by Hyunwoo Sun from Talk to Me in Korean and his gang of people there and there are about 100 people who attend every time.
Steve: That’s a lot.
Alex: Various different backgrounds, Koreans, Hispanic people, you know, Europeans and so on and so forth.
Alex: You know, Americans, Canadians and the whole bunch of them.
From the people that I met there, there were actually quite a few who were very comfortable not speaking Korean.
They were comfortable living there within their, I guess, English bubble where everyone talked to them in English.
Steve: So why do they go to the Language Cast?
They’re trying to learn Korean now?
Alex: I guess some of them.
You know, different motivations, whether it be to meet people or so on and so forth, but it was interesting.
And it’s not that they don’t want to learn the language, but it’s easy to get comfortable when you have a… I mean if you go to the Language Cast meetup you meet very similarly-minded people, but also you can meet a lot of Americans and Canadians and continue your English streak as you’re there.
But, what’s funny to me is, with all that in mind, it’s so much less in my mind about specifically being in a country and more about what you surround yourself with regardless of where you are.
Steve: Okay, but I mean how realistic is it for people?
Like for my Russian there’s this Philosopher’s Café Organization here.
So, they have meetups around the city and they have a Russian language one in Richmond, so I once went out there.
First of all, it’s like an hour to get there.
Steve: And then I get there and there are a lot of people in their 70s — nothing wrong with being in your 70s – that I don’t necessarily have a lot in common with.
I mean it would take me a long time.
And then if I were to get involved with them socially that is again a commitment of my time.
Like I’ve got lots of stuff that I’m doing between the work and the family and all this kind of stuff.
Steve: So, how realistic?
I mean I know I had my conversation with Susanna Zaraysky who suggested that I find a Russian to go grocery shopping with.
I can’t possibly imagine doing that.
Even when I have these random encounters with Russian people that I see and I start speaking to them in Russian, their reactions vary from being not very interested to being very interested in how come I’m learning Russian and stuff like that.
But, I mean I’m not going to say oh, what are you doing next week?
Can we get together socially?
It’s just a big step.
I mean you developed this group of friends when you were younger so you have them, but to deliberate go out and…
Alex: Well, I wouldn’t say that because when I came back here three years ago I didn’t know anyone.
Steve: Oh, okay.
Alex: Right? So I went to a specific place to try and meet specific people.
I mean of course I probably have a benefit in the fact that I’m quite a bit younger, you know university age.
Alex: I’m still of the conviction that living in a country is probably more beneficial overall, but I don’t think it’s day and night.
Steve: Oh, okay.
Alex: I don’t think it’s like “This is eight times better” or something.
Steve: As long as you are able to create your own little language world.
Steve: You’re saying that you have to create this little social community.
It’s not sufficient to just…I mean I also believe this.
Even though I always push listening and reading, I know there comes a point where you have to speak.
Steve: The listening and reading is only to get you to the point where you’re not a burden on someone, but then at some point if you want to be really good in a language you have to use it a lot.
Steve: A lot.
Steve: So, you’re saying that at least in Vancouver we have a large Asian population.
Steve: Now, if you lived in Medicine Hat chances are you will not find, but any large city.
I mean in Barcelona, Spain or Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo, Japan certainly you can find lots of Koreans.
Steve: But, how easy is that to do; to actually create that little social network?
Alex: Well, I mean there are websites such as Meetup.com.
Steve: And Meetup is great, yeah.
Alex: And I think a lot of people aren’t aware of it, but there are hundreds of meetups going on probably in your very own city.
Steve: Okay, but meetups…all right?
Steve: I’ll respond right there.
I went to a French meetup here because I was interested in talking to them about LingQ.
There were six people there.
I went twice, not very lively.
There was a Russian meetup, but they specifically said we don’t want foreigners who are learning Russian.
Steve: This is only for true-blue Russian speakers.
Steve: There was…I think…what was it…maybe there was another one.
That’s Vancouver; that’s two million people.
Alex: Well, yeah, but I think at the same time there are other French meetups, you know?
Steve: Perhaps, yeah.
Alex: It’s not to say there’s only one.
Steve: There’s a Francouver, by the way, which is more of a Quebecois one.
Alex: Oh, is there.
Steve: They got more people.
Steve: So that’s settled.
Alex: I think it all depends on…
Steve: Yeah, Yeah. There’s a Latincouver.
Alex: Yeah, yeah.
Steve: So if you want to learn Spanish you could do that too.
Steve: Yeah, for sure.
Alex: I mean not everyone has all the opportunities to do that, but I think…
Steve: But Korean would be more difficult.
Like you’ve got to have a bit of a level in Korean; similarly, Chinese.
You can’t just show up and say hi.
Alex: I did that though.
That’s the thing.
Steve: You started from zero?
Alex: Yeah. I started from zero, yeah.
Steve: Why were you interested in Korean?
Alex: I had some Korean friends in high school.
Steve: Oh, okay.
Alex: But I think…I mean I really will say that…
Steve: So it started from the social.
Alex: Yeah, it did.
Alex: It did.
Steve: Yeah, which gets back to your earlier point.
There has to be a genuine social desire to connect with people.
You can’t use people as free tutors.
Alex: Yeah and I think that was my experience in that I didn’t want to meet these people so that I could improve my Korean, but I genuinely wanted to hang out with them, spend time with them, be friends with them.
Steve: Right, right.
Alex: Right. And so it made it less of a burden of, you know, my Korean sucks and more like hey, I want to talk to you so let’s work through our bad language skills and continue to grow.
Steve: Right. And because they’re your friends they would have a little more patience than if you just accosted them on the street.
Alex: Yeah, exactly.
Steve: Hello, sir or Miss. Miss, I like your dress.
Can we talk Korean?
Alex: And the thing is I remain friends with a lot of the people that I met three years ago.
Alex: More than three years ago now, so yeah.
Well, look, that may be a subject of interest to our listeners and so if people want to hear more on this subject I’m sure as on most of these language-related subjects we can talk on forever.
Steve: Okay. Well, glad to have you back.
Alex: Yeah. Thanks. Good to be back.