One of the problems I've identified with myself psychologically as far as my language studies are concerned, is that learning Korean feels like an open-ended commitment that will last the rest of my life. I'm very objective-oriented as a person. I used to write software for a living, and then became a financial trader - both these activities produce definable end points, whether it be in terms of a completed function in a program, or a trade which is closed for a profit or a loss. There's no definable end-point in learning a language. Yes, you can say it's attaining fluency, but what is that exactly, and how far off into the future is it?
As a trader, I live my life by numbers. So when Tim, the host of Inside Out Busan, told me on the show that he'd read that it requires 4,000 hours of studying Korean to reach competency, I began to think about the number and how much progress I was making towards that goal.
So inevitably before long I'd created a new worksheet in the spreadsheet I use to record the results of my vocabulary tests, and into this worksheet I entered 240,000 – that's the number of minutes in 4,000 hours. I studied for an hour, and entered 60 into the box next to it - leading to the spreadsheet reporting that I'd accomplished '0.03%' of my target. It wasn't much, but it felt like I was a little closer to my goal. It's oddly satisfying, and will remain so for as long as it takes me to realise that my rate of progress means I'm going to reach 100% in 2021. Yes, I worked that out.
I don't believe it's as simple as just putting the hours in though, because in my life I've found that the real benefits which accrue from studying language come from studying it in a reasonably concentrated period. When I was studying Japanese, in my first year I ended up in a class with a couple of people who'd been doing it for eight years, and it wasn't long before I felt that I'd surpassed their level. But they had jobs, and I was only working part-time back then. It gave me an incredible advantage.
My life in Korea has never been like that. Some of it has been my choice – but like those people back in the Japanese class – I have a job too – and just because I work for myself it doesn't make it any easier to quit – like them, I still have to pay the bills at the end of the month.
I feel that this year is a make-or-break year for my Korean studies though. Time is moving on and my abilities are clearly not. So I've decided to set myself that 4,000 hour target. I don't even care if the academic research backs this up or not - it feels about right. It's also merely indicative - it's a mistake to chase hourly targets because the most important thing is to put in good quality study time.
I started my hours off at zero - partly because I haven't recorded how much time I've put in before now, but mostly because at this point in time I feel it was largely worthless. My 4,000 hour target is not going to be achieved in one year; 4,000 hours approximates to two years working the hours of a full-time job with no holidays. Even as a trader, I only work about 2,750 hours per year, and those are long hours I'll never want or be able to do with the language.
So during the course of this year I'm going to publicly shame myself by placing a Korean-language competency progress meter after each post, you can share in the unfolding horror. Right now, I've done 480 minutes in the last week, reaching 0.2% of my target, meaning that the bar on the progress meter below is undetectable. Some may view setting such a difficult target as counter-productive, but for me, with my kind of background and character, it really does feel like setting any kind of target - even a large and possibly unattainable one - is putting some sort of limit what otherwise feels like an endless infinity of language study.