In part two of our interview with Oliver Grant, we talk about learning the Korean language, tips for learners of English, and plans for the future. Oliver is a US-born English language teacher, residing in Seoul and reaching big audiences in Korea through YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Catch up with part one of the interview.
You seem to have mastered the Korean language. Was that tough?
I struggled the most with learning Korean grammar, because Korean is a Subject-Object-Verb language, and some types of grammar don’t have an equivalent in English. I invested a lot of time in reading and practicing with Korean grammar workbooks. I also spent a lot of time using what I learned when I went out with Korean friends and co-workers. At the end of the day I would go on a walk while ‘shadowing’ Korean podcasts to improve pronunciation and listening skills.
Shadowing is basically where you put on headphones and try to imitate everything being said in a radio talk show in your target language. I got so into the whole shadowing thing that I’d be shadowing three-person radio shows. I was so focused that sometimes I didn’t even realize that I was in the middle of a group of people at a crosswalk as I cracked jokes and laughed with me, myself, and I. People didn’t know whether to compliment me on my Korean or run the other direction. I guess you have to really push your sanity to the limit if you want to get good at anything.
Most of your videos are in Korean, rather than English. Why have you taken that approach?
I studied Spanish and linguistics in university and the class I enjoyed the most was bilingual education. I applied what I learned when I taught beginner English learners in Spain and it felt incredible to be able to conduct classes in both languages.
When I came to Korea and started teaching, I was met with quite a bit of opposition from Korean co-teachers when I used Korean in the classroom. They didn’t like it, but as I became more fluent, they started to accept it as they saw how it improved the students’ attitudes to English class. I felt like I needed to use Korean because the students I taught sometimes had no idea what I was saying and would zone out completely. The second I switched to Korean, I was able to get their attention and build rapport with the classroom as a whole. The positive feedback motivated me to improve my Korean as much as possible.
The reason I continue doing my videos in Korean is because that’s how I would teach a lot of the lower-level students when I worked at school. Most of them didn’t have the chance to attend a private school and mostly felt intimidated by English. So, if I spoke nothing but English, we would get nothing accomplished. I apply the same logic to my videos because I’m able to reach a very wide audience of Koreans and can engage with people who gave up on English a long time ago.
In your experience, are some people naturally better at learning languages?
I think that some people are, but in the end, it still takes a lot of hard work to really master a language. I’ve met people in Korea who didn’t take any language course, yet they had near perfect Korean pronunciation. The problem is that they were never motivated to put much effort into learning the language.
On the contrary, I’ve met people who had a horrible time adapting to the language, but they were consistent with their Korean studies and it all paid off. Their accents weren’t perfect, but they had no major issues with daily Korean conversation.
And how about tips for learners of English thinking of studying or working abroad?
The internet is a wonderful tool. I would recommend finding online language exchange partners that are from the place you’re interested in living. You can develop friendships before you even get there and practice your English skills at the same time, and learn about the culture so you don’t suffer too much culture shock. It’s a whole lot easier to take a leap of faith when you’ve already got friends waiting and cheering you on when you arrive.
So, what’s next for you?
The blue screen in my house is getting really boring so I’d like to eventually take my viewers on a trip around the US and other English-speaking countries. I think that including new landscapes, cultures, and dialects in my videos would be an exciting experience. Doing something like that would most likely lead to new adventures. I’d also like to learn a new language and teach English, or maybe even Korean through that language, as a new challenge. Hopefully I’ll have enough time to do these things sometime in the future.
Read the first part of our interview with Oliver Grant to find out about his journey from Texas to Korea, and his tips for those thinking about broadcasting their own video content.