This year, a lot of people have been experiencing online learning because of school in pandemic times. Since I graduated university over 2 years ago, online school is not something I have to deal with. However, about 6 years ago I started learning something online that seemed insignificant at the time, but ended up affecting my life more than I expected.
What happened was I started learning a new language. It stemmed from feelings of insecurity and thinking I was too boring and had nothing interesting about me. I thought speaking or learning a new language might solve that. So I started learning Swedish on a whim. A lot of people ask me why I chose Swedish, and I never have a good reason to give. I just felt like it. I didn’t want to learn Spanish, and because of social anxiety, I wanted a language I probably would never have to actually use. So Swedish it was.
At first, I only used Duolingo. I was quite diligent with it and some 2 or 3 years later, I was through with the course. It was a good way for me to learn vocabulary and basic grammar. I often complemented the course by looking up pronunciation details or extra information on concepts I wasn’t sure about. I wasn’t fluent by any means when I completed the course, but the process did give me more confidence. People around me are often impressed that I’m learning Swedish, and it makes me feel good about myself. It also taught me that I like learning languages. I like finding bits and pieces about where it stems from, I like learning about the country and the culture, and I like discovering words that are specific to a certain language.
After Swedish, I unexpectedly took an interest in Korean dramas 4 years ago. From watching dramas with subtitles and seeing the Korean alphabet, I became curious about it. I looked it up and found out it’s an alphabet that’s fairly easy to learn. So I thought I could just learn the alphabet and that would be it. But like a K-pop fan thinking “I’ll just learn their names”, I fell down the rabbit hole pretty fast. I started wanting to learn more and more, until I was once again looking up apps and online resources to learn. For Korean, my learning was much more diversified, since it’s a language and culture that has much more representation online and in media than Swedish (at least where I live). What’s fun about learning online is that whatever you’re looking for, there’s usually a way to find it, and usually for free, too! Of all the resources I used, here are a few:
● apps: Memrise, LingoDeer, Duolingo
● websites: Talk To Me In Korean, How to Study Korean
● dramas: DramaFever (which sadly doesn’t exist anymore), Viki, Netflix
● music: Spotify, YouTube (great for lyric videos with translations!)
● YouTube channels: KoreanUnnie, Talk To Me In Korean, Korean Englishmen/JOLLY
YouTube channels eventually led me to online communities of people learning Korean. I met a lot of people that way and made a lot of friends around the world I would never have met otherwise. It’s even thanks to that that I’m part of the Little Victories crew! What a turn of event!
As I was learning Korean online, I ended up thinking it would be nice to have penpals, or real Korean people I could communicate with to practice. That’s how I found a website called Conversation Exchange. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a great way to find people speaking a language you’re learning, and learning a language you’re speaking. At first, I only communicated with people who lived far away, but living in a big city, I eventually also found people living in my city or passing by and wanting to meet up. I was really nervous the first time someone asked to meet, but I eventually did agree to it. It was just someone passing by, but it did open me up to the idea of meeting new people in real life despite my anxiety. There was a certain thrill to it, I suppose. After that, I started meeting Korean people living in my city to study together in cafes or libraries. Most people came and went and we only saw each other for a few months, but some of them did last a lot longer, namely one Korean family I met 2 years ago and still meet every week or so to this day. I never thought I’d get to live something like this. We did become quite close, and when they offered me to travel to Korea with them last summer, I knew I couldn’t pass on this opportunity.
I had never travelled much before, and never without a school group or my family. This time, I would be mostly on my own. I had some money since I had started working right after graduating, and I had some vacation days I could use. I wasn’t necessarily “ready” to travel based on my standards, but knowing myself, I might’ve never been ready on my own. Korea also seemed a bit scary. It was far, it was quite foreign, and I didn’t speak that much outside of the basics. But I thought “If not now, then when?” I was really excited about the idea of this trip, and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t go. So I said yes and spent a week and a half in Seoul, South Korea at the end of spring 2019.
It made me fall in love with travelling. I loved it so much, from the excitement of planning everything beforehand, to actually going on the trip and getting to experience the food, the sights, the cultures, the shops, the people, the life there… I loved it all. I woke up excited every day with figurative stars in my eyes and the good kind of stress, and I went to bed tired with my feet sore but my heart full.
Along with meeting Korean people, I also started meeting Swedish people as well. This did open me up to more of the culture and resources like books, music, TV shows, etc. I met very good people that way, and after my trip to Korea last year, I was actually planning on going to Sweden this year. But we all know what happened there, so it’s postponed for now.
From downloading Duolingo 6 years ago to visiting Sweden in a year or two, I really came a long way. Of course I still am a socially anxious person. Small talk is the death of me. But I’m not as scared of meeting people now. I’m practicing my social skills, and even though it’s not always easy, and some days I would really rather stay home, I always push past it and go anyway, and I always have fun, which reinforces the idea that there’s no need to feel so anxious about it. I suppose one day my brain will understand that.
By now, language learning is really woven into my life. The people I met, places I went, books I read, TV shows and videos I watch, music I listen to, the app I developed myself to help me memorize vocabulary. It’s everywhere, and it’s a learning process that never stops. And online learning doesn’t stop at languages for me. I also like using online resources when I’m interested in starting a new hobby, like painting, drawing or growing plants and keeping them alive.
Whatever you’re looking for, I’m sure there’s a lot you can find and learn from online, and it could really end up taking you places you never thought you’d go, both in terms of geography and personal development. September 15th is #OnlineLearningDay, so why don’t you take up something new and study something online. I think learning is a vital aspect of life, and once you’re out of the school system, it can be hard to do sometimes, but online is a good place to start!