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Elaborate Spreadsheet for Studying Korean Courtesy of Excel V2

On and off, for the last few years, I’ve been using Microsoft’s Excel to track how I study Korean.

My motto/tagline for studying the language: “one hasn’t a why or because or although.” People like to ask me why?! as in why do I study Korean? It’s a fair question and there is a story, but it’s a convoluted, extraordinarily long, and doesn’t-make-a-lot-of-sense kind of story. The simple truth of the matter is that I like it. I don’t have a reason. Some people feel as if they were born to write, read, paint or … Me? I study languages, play instruments, read, write, and volunteer because if I don’t do those things, all of them (which is a lot, trust me) life feels wrong. I’m not the person I want to be.

Why I Made the Charts &c. Below (My Justification for Using Excel to Track my Progress in Korean)

  • I majored in history → I love records. Korean has also been a lot of work and I want to record that. I want to be able to say that I learned Korean in a very simply way: I put hours into it. I don’t have any special talent for languages. Still, I haven’t done that much. I spend a lot of my “study” time watching TV and reading comic books. Doing those things at a leisurely pace hasn’t made me progress quickly, but they are enough for progress.
  • Math is my BFF → I like pretty charts and statistics, but more than that, I like analyzing statistics, seeing things as numbers, and seeing those numbers grow.
  • It’s motivational → I made the spreadsheet to record things. If I have nothing to record, the spreadsheet goes to waste and I’m annoyed.
  • It keeps me realistic → I’m ambitious. At times, I can be too much of a perfectionist. I get frustrated easily and there’s something magical and sobering about seeing numbers. If X requires approximately 100 hours of study, I can’t get mad at myself for not being there when I only put in 20—I’m not broken; I’m not stupid; I just didn’t put in the time. If I put in the time, I’ll get there.

How I Use Excel to Keep Track (2013 Version)


The first two boxes, “Days Studied (Chain),” is of how many days I’ve studied in a row. The more the number grows, the more annoying I think it’ll be to see it suddenly drop to zero. Average time per day comes after that. If that drops too low, I think I’ll feel the same annoyance I’d feel at seeing the other number fall to zero.

I prefer keeping track of most things in minutes as opposed to hours. I can get something worthwhile finished in 1 minute. Minutes also grow 60 times quicker than hours.

Thanks to Excel, all the statistics in the chart above are automated and I don’t have to manually do a thing. The numbers on the Y-axis track time in minutes.

I divided my studying into five categories because it’s important for me to engage Korean in different ways.

  • Purple → novels (and perhaps non-fiction and probably other books; I haven’t decided yet)
  • Blue → textbooks, books made for people learning Korean (these are for native speakers and non-native speakers)
  • Teal → news (articles on the Internet written in Korean)
  • Olive Green → TV (TV shows, movies, dramas, &c.)
  • Orange → review (recently, I haven’t spent any time reviewing anything, but I still think reviewing is important, so I threw it up there to remind myself: reviewing is important, maybe)
  • Red → misc. (random stuff like classes, workshops, language exchanges, manga, &c.)


This second chart is similar to the first. It’s just easier for me to see the categories this way.

My Korean spreadsheet is public. It’s a work in progress. I may change some categories. I may delete other parts of it. I may add things. I want to keep track of as much as I can without letting the task of tracking become a burden. If you have any suggestions, let me know. Thanks!

If not, you can still stalk my studies by viewing the sheet. It’ll change whenever I update it. For the curious, here’s my 2011 version.


A Foray into Korean Literature


During the beginning of this month, I went to a store and bought a book. The book turned out to be Weathered Blossom (마른 꽃), one of Park Wan-suh’s novellas, but at the time I didn’t know that. I only wanted a thin and pretty book with depth, so that’s what I picked. I didn’t read any descriptions or reviews or anything else besides the title. My concern didn’t extend that far.

I told myself that if it were thin, I would read it. Even if the plot and characters were horrid, the work, as a whole, was bound to be fascinating because it represented a genre I’d never experienced: Korean literature in Korean. An English translation even came with it, which meant that I would keep dictionaries far away from me.

Weathered Blossom is told from an often ignored perspective. Its protagonist is a grandmother. Teenagers saving the world, 20 year olds coming into their own, Prince Charmings marrying poor young girls–none of that overdone stuff has anything to do with this.

Still, when I was about 27 percent into Weathered Blossom, I decided that it was going to be a “love story.” I confirmed my suspicions by finally reading the description on the back cover: this was a “love story.”

Mere moments before I finished the “love story,” all of my conviction about it being a “love story” disappeared. I didn’t even know what conviction was. I only had my blank reaction that had been caused by confusion and a buffering brain trying to find sense in the scanty information the protagonist gave me. Basically, I had no idea about what it was that I had just read and I didn’t like that I didn’t get it because I get stories—I don’t blank out in confusion—but this one had been different from beginning to end and it insisted on being difficult too.

Determined to get something, I read the analysis of the story and even a translation, but the translation didn’t have any meaning. It contained words, of course, but their arrangement was so awkward and foreign that despite them being in English and grammatically correct—in the context of the story, it was hopeless. Phrases like “sensible politeness,” “charming facade,” and “sentimentality” were too vague. They meant nothing.

But then I saw this:

Even with careful thought while reading, it’s difficult to know what’s truly going on inside the elderly woman’s mind.

(작물을 읽는 동안 내내 눈치를 살펴도 그 진정한 속마음을 읽어낼 수는 없었던 것 같다.)

I had been trolled. Ironically, what I didn’t get was that there wasn’t something to get. People are complicated. They have baseless fears and strange motivations. Sometimes, things end reasonlessly, abruptly.

At any rate, reading about Korean characters in Korean is fun because Korean characters have a tendency to dwell on things that Americans have trouble simply conceptualizing and it turns into an awkward bloody mess when translators go after them (family terms, I’m looking at you).

I already picked up another book. I went with the same method, except I switched “pretty” for “interesting.”


What*s Up?

A couple of random things:

FIRST—I’m thinking about going to Ghana in 2014.

While thinking about that and while looking at videos on Africa, I found this gem. I want to learn how to make proper, well gorgeous, videos with my DSLR like this.

RWANDA from MAMMOTH on Vimeo.

SECOND. I passed my Korean test (TOPIK) with the score I wanted, a 4!

How I passed: I watched Korean TV for at least 1.5 hours a week for an entire year. I studied a little bit every 3-4 months (no more than an average of 20 hours a month, including TV time). I crammed during the month of the test.

Despite my waffling in posts here, I am a visual learner. During the last two weeks before the exam, I learned more than 875 words—yeah, it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had—which probably made all the difference in the world. About 200 of those 875 terms were learned two days before the test. After that, I just reviewed to make sure I was retaining them. I was. My retention rate was 97%.

Most of those words were rather technical (e.g. nuclear energy, division between rich/poor, low birth rate) but I’m always happy when I can expand my vocabulary and they appear often enough in the news. Moving forward, I hope to do a lot of reading. When it comes to language learning, I’m all about input (reading + listening) as it makes for a strong foundation. The rest seems to come fairly naturally.