How to Learn a Second Language! Interview with Haixuan Lee, a student from Korea

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Hello everyone, this is Yoshino from the iU Blog. In the second installment,following the  interview with Yuto Inoue, I would like to write about how to learn a language.I had the pleasure of interviewing Haesun Lee, an iU sophomore from South Korea. We spoke about how to study a second language.

Q: What kind of English education do you receive in South Korea?

It might seem strict, but I had to memorize 200 English words every day. (laughs) In  my English textbook, there were sentences about the length of a novel, and I had to memorize all the grammar and vocabulary. When I started learning English, I didn’t understand any of it. During the class, the teacher would tell us the meaning of grammar and words, and we would take notes.. The exams were based on the application of the grammar and vocabulary that we learned. I just kept doing that every day.

As for studying, I had a question booklet that contained the learned grammar and vocabulary in class, and I read and completed it every day. I did the review at home because I couldn’t do it at school. So, if I skipped my homework, I would be left behind and be in trouble. (laughs). In short, I learned new things at school and reviewed at home. I think this is a characteristic of English education in Korea.

Q: What made you decide to study Japanese and come to Japan?

There  was no particular big reason. (laughs). A friend of mine was studying Japanese at a cram school That’s when I decided to attend the cram school with her . I love Japanese anime and the natural scenery of Japan. In South Korean cities, there are many big buildings and not much nature. So, when I tried to look for the sky, I had to lift my head up, which hurt my neck. (laughs)So I had a longing for Japanese culture and natural scenery. That’s when I decided I wanted to learn Japanese.

I originally  attended a university in South Korea, but my friend came to Japan to study, so I decided I wanted to follow her example. It was all because of my friend. (laughs) I had no fear. Because I thought that if I  have friends in Japan, I can rely on them if I  have any problems, and I could manage life. (laughs)

Q: How did you study Japanese?

Almost the same way I studied English. (laughs) I just memorized a lot of words and grammar, and then reviewed them. I studied by just repeating that. For speaking training, I watched anime. I started by reading Japanese subtitles, then I listened to what was said. Then, I actually tried to speak it out loud. I continued this as my main speaking training.

The reason why I used anime as my speaking training was because it was more interesting than the study materials. I like Japanese anime and watch it often. If it’s something that I like, it’s fun to learn, and I can continue without getting bored. I started learning through anime in my second year of high school and was able to continue for about three years. 

For those three years, I used anime for speaking training, vocabulary books to learn vocabulary, and grammar books to solidify the basics. I think I can speak Japanese now because I have been able to keep doing this. In fact, there is one thing I noticed my ability to speak Japanese has improved, while watching Japanese anime. During the first year, I had to look at the Korean subtitles to understand the meaning. So, I realized that the study method I was using was in fact helping me. Now, I can watch anime without subtitles! (laughs)

Q: Is there anything good about being able to speak Japanese now?

I was able to learn about the Japanese way of thinking, which was not possible in South Korea. For example, gyoshiryokuis a concept that didn’t exist in South Korea either. (laughs)The other thing is that after coming to Japan I am able to practice speaking Japanese. When I was in South Korea, I had a longing for Japan. It is great that I  am able to actually experience the culture and nature of Japan. Also, I  am able to speak more languages, make Japanese friends, and  communicating with them a lot. I learned a lot of new things that I didn’t know before, so I am glad that I can speak Japanese now.

Q: What do you think is the most important thing to learn when learning a language other than your mother tongue?

The most important thing is to be able to hear a foreign language. To do that, it’s good to learn vocabulary and grammar. You don’t have to memorize 200 words a day and you don’t have to memorize a lot of grammar in a day. (laughs) It’s good to acquire vocabulary, grammar skills little by little,. and it’s important to continue that.

Once you have developed your vocabulary and grammar skills, then it is time to actually listen to the foreign language.It’s a good idea to use materials that you like to listen to. It can be anything like cartoons,  movies,  or dramas, and listen to your favorite foreign language.  In my opinion, the language used in cartoons, movies, and dramas are similar to real daily conversation. I think these sources  are very useful. If you do this, you will surely be able to understand a foreign language. If you can listen to it, you can speak it. I can say this with confidence.  It is what I actually experienced.


What  do you think? When you learn a second language like English, other than your own, are the study methods similar?  In this article, I have learned that there are quite a few similarities in the way we learn a language. That is to say, “keep at it every day.Do what you like and memorize lots of words.

Is this something that you were aware of when you were studying English?

Maybe you are studying a language such as English with the goal of taking an exam or getting a good score on an exam However, please think about it. Think about why you are studying the language . If you can find it, you may be able to study English in a way that fits the three common points I mentioned above. I sincerely hope that one of you who read this article will be able to speak a language other than your native tongue.

In my next article, I will interview Hisahiro Abekawa, who actually teaches English at the university I belong to, iU (the Professional University of Information and Management for Innovation University (aka, iU). We will discuss about his English teaching methodology.

See you soon!