Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Teacher and Blogger Living in Korea
We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Katarina—a native speaker of Serbian and English who’s also learning Japanese, Korean, Spanish, ASL, and Bahasa Indonesian!
1. When was your first experience learning another language—what inspired you and how did you get started?
My family and I are war refugees from the Balkans, so learning English was more of a sink-or-swim for me as a kid.
In high school, I studied Spanish and found language study to just be… fun. Most people were just doing it for the requirement, but I was super into the study! I was excited to learn more and be able to use it in class. It wasn’t until I started studying Japanese in college that I got really serious about language study though.
Once I saw how much could be lost in translations it motivated me to study until I didn’t need translations. I’m still learning, but I feel like language study is just a lifelong thing. I love going back to shows or movies I originally saw in English and realize just how much I pick up in the original Japanese version.
It’s difficult to fully understand a place, culture, or people without knowing the language.
Language is so intertwined with culture and vice versa. Even learning something as simple as family vocabulary for different languages gives you insight in how family relationships work in that culture. The more you learn about other people the less you find things to be “weird” (or any assortment of adjectives people use to describe things they don’t understand) and the more you just find them to be a different way to see the world.
2. You hold an undergrad and graduate degree in linguistics, as well as have completed a minor in Japanese and a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). How was studying linguistics and language at university? What advice would you give to other language students?
Oh I loved it. It was like finally finding “my thing.”
It was finding something that I loved so much that I didn’t care what other people thought of my major.
I loved linguistics and language learning so much that I would make it work. Whether I failed or not. I was going to give my all into it. (Can you tell I’m someone who had the validity of my major questioned a lot?)
It goes towards any industry, but I feel like it’s especially necessary for anyone studying something in the liberal arts. Market yourself. Network. Be so confident and fierce that it leaves others in awe. I have social anxiety, but you bet I went to local and national conferences in my field and put myself out there. I (very politely and confidently) shoved my pretty pink business cards into so many hands over the course of one weekend.
3. You started your own blog documenting your adventures abroad and language learning tips—can you give us some of your best language learning tips?
Study your language every day. I’m a language teacher, so the quality I always found in my best students was consistency. It’s something I always try to strive for in my learning as well. Whether it’s a couple hour grammar review or a few flashcards on the train, it’s worth it. Of course this also means you need a whole lot of discipline. Because when your motivation is low, discipline will keep you on track. It’s super cheesy, but my favorite yoga teacher always says “your daily practice is your strongest practice.” I keep that in mind when I feel super lazy.
4. What do you enjoy most about the process of learning another language?
I love the progression of knowing absolutely nothing to literally learning a new way to speak about the world.
Even as a beginner, there’s so much happiness that fills me when I start to learn a new language. You just know you’re going to learn so much about about a culture, people, media, all of it. (Also, I may be a total loser… but I love writing out conjugations and vocabulary. I kept a little whiteboard at my desk to write and rewrite kanji.)
5. Can you share your favorite experience using another language with others?
Growing up as an English speaker in the USA comes with a lot of privilege. You’re rarely ever expected to take on the “burden” of speaking your second language. Even if you’re pretty good at your second language, chances are the other person’s English level is way higher.
After graduating with my bachelor’s, I spent a month in Japan by myself. I didn’t stay in a popular neighborhood and didn’t visit many tourist spots, so it really forced me to use my Japanese language skills. Even though my vacation had been pretty good up to this point, I was having some trouble with my anxiety and spent a lot of time at my hostel.
One night, in the common room, I was invited to eat by a few people who had been staying at the hostel long-term. At first we spoke in English. (That’s pretty typical for any foreigners who meet abroad—just start with English.) I learned they were from Indonesia and hoping to get hospitality jobs in Japan. I also realized that the reason we were sharing a meal so late was because it was Ramadan. We kept up short conversation in English but struggled to understand each other very well. They didn’t really study English, and I didn’t know a word of Bahasa Indonesian. It wasn’t until partway through the meal that we realized all of us were studying Japanese. So naturally we started speaking in Japanese.
And it was this crazy amazing moment of finally hitting a point in my language learning where I was able to get better use out of my second language than English. None of us were native speakers, but we were able to have a conversation, make jokes, and share a meal together. Learning a language, any language, connects you with people. Japanese was able to connect an Eastern-Orthodox Serbian and Muslim Indonesians over a Ramadan meal.
BONUS QUESTION: What advice would you have for someone who wanted to learn one, but couldn’t decide which to start with?
Learn your national/local sign language! You will never regret it!
Learning American Sign Language was not only totally fun and unique, but it gave me so much perspective on Deaf culture. It really changed how I viewed the connection between language and culture. It also taught me so much about accessibility that most people never really think about. I became a lot more serious about considering accessibility for everyone in my work and daily life.
What’s next for Katarina: How will language skills play a role in your future career/life?
“I can’t see my future NOT having languages included in some kind of way. I love teaching languages, so I can see that playing a large part in my future. If given the opportunity, I would love to work in a company that focused on language learning. Contributing my linguistic and language pedagogy knowledge to help others would be amazing.”
Explore language scholarships, university programs, and student testimonials by Choosing Your Language to find a host of curated resources on our site. You can also follow Katarina’s adventures on her blog, Lasksa in Lashes, or on Instagram @_laskainlashes.
And, as always, don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!