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Strategies for Learning a Language Quickly

Hi Ben,

I’ve been following your work for years now but this is my first time writing to you.

I was really moved to listen to your reason for going to Korea and learning Korean. It hit me that this is exactly what I need to do to break through resentment that’s been weighing me down for most of my life. I’m also second generation Korean, grew up in Irvine.

Could you tell me how you went about learning Korean to a point where you could have deeper conversations with your mom? I know I can take the course at Yonsei university like some of my friends have, but I’m curious to know how you did it.

Thank you so much,



Thanks for your message, Julie.

I’m happy to share how I went about it. For me, it helped that I had a clear goal, which was to be able to communicate specific thoughts on life issues that my mom and I saw differently for most of my life.

I did study from Korean language textbooks published by Yonsei University, but what I found most helpful was to read Korean translations of some of my favourite books. The two that I remember spending the most time with were The Diary of Anne Frank and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

I looked up passages in these books that I remembered connecting with, and found these sections in the Korean translations. It was labour intensive to look up many words I was unfamiliar with, but once I had these passages marked up to a point where I understood the key words, I enjoyed the process of reading them many times over. Many of the words and ideas that I wanted to express to my mom were in these passages, so it was almost like having a customized program to learn what was most important to me.

I discovered that for my learning style, to repeatedly go through a limited number of books and passages that I personally connect with is more effective for learning words and phrases that I want to use in everyday life than reading many different books just one time through.

It also helped to stay in a dorm-style building off campus where I was able to mingle with and have conversations with native Korean speakers.

I also printed out screenplays and scripts of a few favourite Korean movies and TV series and followed the same approach of highlighting and repeatedly reading sections that I especially enjoyed and related to personally.

I’m sure that if you systematically go through the entire language program at a place like Yonsei University, you’ll become as proficient as you’d like to be in speaking, reading, and writing. I took a different approach because my personality is better suited to independent study. Also, I had a budget to follow - I ended up staying for six months.

Thinking about how to answer your question prompted me to revisit the Korean translations of Anne Frank's diary and Dr. Covey's book on habits of effective people Given that a good number of our readership are of Korean descent, I thought it would be worth sharing one of my favourite passages from Anne Frank's diary:

신앙을 갖고 있는 사람은 기뻐해야 합니다. 모든 사람이 숭고한 것을 믿을 수 있는 기회를 얻는 건 아니니까요. 사후에 받을 벌을 두려워할 필요도 없습니다. 연옥이나 지옥, 천국을 받아들이기는 어렵겠지만, 그래도 무엇이든 신앙을 가진 사람은 올바른 길에서 벗어나지 않을 것입니다. 문제는 신을 두려워하는 것이 아니라 스스로 명예와 양심을 지키는 일입니다.

모든 사람들이 매일 밤 잠자리에 들기 전에 그날 하루 동안 일어난 일을 돌이켜보며 무엇이 좋았고 무엇이 나빴는지 반성해 본다면 그만큼 숭고하고 훌륭하게 살아갈 수 있겠지요. 그러다 보면 자기도 모르는 사이에 자신을 향상시키기 위해 노력하게 될 것입니다. 그런 노력을 통해서 많은 것을 얻게 된다는 건 말할 필요도 없죠. 이것은 누구나 실행할 수 있는 일입니다. 비용도 들지 않고 실제로도 많은 도움이 됩니다. "맑은 양심은 사람을 강하게 만든다" 는 걸 모르는 사람은 경험을 통해 배우고 발견하길 바랍니다.

그럼 다음에 또, 안네로부터

English Translation:

People who have a religion should be glad. For not everyone has the gift of believing in heavenly things. It's not about being afraid of punishment after death. Not everyone may believe in purgatory, hell, and heaven. But having a religion helps a person stay on a good path. Rather than fearing God, it's about connecting with one's own honour and conscience.

If all of us, before falling asleep each night, would look back on the day and consider what went well and not so well, imagine how noble and good we would be. Then on a gradual basis, we would work to improve ourselves. Through this steady effort, it goes without saying that we would gain a lot. Anybody can make this effort. It doesn't cost anything and yet it can help us so much. "A clear conscience gives a person strength" - I wish that those who don't know this would discover its truth through experience.

Until next time, Anne


It continues to boggle my mind that Anne Frank had such thoughts when she was 13 to 14 years of age.

If you have children or grandchildren who you would like to share this book with but they aren't quite ready to read the unabridged version, I can suggest the following graphic adaptation that our boys enjoyed reading:

To Julie and anyone else who is looking to learn a new language: I hope some of the suggestions above prove to be helpful.

With best wishes,



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