Khushi Vaid, New Delhi
Era Kaundal is a professional Korean Language Teacher and a YouTuber based in India. She has been learning Korean language since 5 years and has helped her students to connect with the culture and practices of South Korea using a Korean perspective that she has developed over years of study. Era has completed 2 years of Korean Language Diploma from Delhi University and 1 year of Advanced level studies from the Korean Cultural Center. She has been teaching Korean for 2 years on various popular platforms and has taught more than 1500 students.
She uses very simple, practical and logical methods that she has attained through experience to make this difficult language quite easy for her students. She uses English as well as Hindi to create connections between structure, grammar and pronunciations in Korean which helps students learn this language with a lot of ease. She also loves creating video content on social media about Korean culture and language. Let’s take a look at her conversation to know more about her journey.
First of all, thank you so much Ms. Era for taking out time for this interview. Please tell us how you got acquainted with the Hallyu Wave or the Korean culture?
EK: Back in 2013, when K-Pop was just taking its flight and K-dramas were starting to become a trend, my sister gave me a CD of City Hunter and requested me to watch it. She promised I would be hooked. And, she was not wrong. It was the first time I saw a Korean drama. After that, I got my hands on more K-Drama CDs. Just like every other K-Drama enthusiast, I would watch dramas all night long. Those starting days were the ones when I started to develop an interest towards the Korean culture.
As Korean-culture enthusiasts, we all feel connected and get hyped whenever we listen to anything related to South Korea. There are so many things that attach us to this country. Would you like to share any such precious possessions or memories that remind you of your love for Korea?
EK: To be honest, the language itself fills me with a certain nostalgia of times when I was quite lost in life and needed something to hold on to. I started learning this language in 2016 and since that time, it has been closer to me than any best friend in all ups and downs in life.
I remember the college days when my best friend and I used to plan out our budget so that it could fit at least one Korean meal in a month. Afterall, Korean food is so costly in India! And as it turned out, we would end up in the nearby place called Mr. Kim’s Restaurant EVERY single week. It was as if we were splurging money on Korean food. But you know what, it was so worth it-being around the distinct Korean fragrance and acting like Korean people with chopsticks in our hands! We had some very special meals and sometimes not very special ones too like Octopus for the sake of trying everything. It’s quite soothing and yet funny as I look back to those days.
What was the reaction of your parents or anyone who knew you when they came to know that you wanted to learn the Korean language? Who or what was your inspiration that you decided to learn as well as to teach this language professionally?
EK: To be honest, I never had any inspiration for starting Korean language. I started it during a tough time in my life as a hobby since I was very much into it anyway. I was in awe of the country. Through studying Korean language, I completely fell in love. There is no reason bigger than this to follow this path.
My parents have been quite supportive. They were definitely a bit suspicious in the beginning when I told them that this is the ONLY thing I wish to do in my life. My father, having a para-military career, surprised me completely when he told me that he was okay with me doing what I wanted as long as I gave it my heart and tried my best. Without his support, it wouldn’t be worth it.
And ofcourse my mother, who convinced him to let me follow my path during times when he was unsure of where I was really going! Without her, I don’t think I would be here today. And my sister, who always told me, ‘Hey, you DO what you want to do! Ignore the people who think Government jobs are the thing nowadays.’ That really did it for me! I dropped all backup options and decided to do only this. That was when opportunities appeared magically. You may call it manifestation.
How did you start learning Korean and how long has it been? What were your go-to resources for studying?
EK: I started learning in 2016. I did a Basic and Intermediate level Diploma program in Delhi University for 2 years. I also completed Intermediate and Advanced levels from the Korean Cultural Center in 9 months. But obviously, Korean language includes lots of self studying even if one studies from an institute. Hence, I always made sure I was exposing myself to various Korean resources like TTMIK videos, Korean podcasts, interviews, K-dramas, Webtoons, etc.
When you started with your Korean language journey, was there any initial hurdle that you faced in terms of reliable material or resources? How is that situation compared to now?
EK: Since Korean is a challenging language, it can be a bit difficult to understand various grammar points in the beginning. There was also this doubt that what I am studying in books might not even be natural when spoken since book language is so different from spoken one. And so reading from books was not an easy part for me inspite of having a teacher since I was always unsure whether what I learned was useful in real life. But today, being very familiar with Korean, it’s quite easy to make sense of awkward grammar formations through a natural instinct rather than using any logic.
I have grown familiar with sentence structures and how they make sense even if we can’t find similar examples in our language for comparison. Also, through lots of podcasts and videos, I now know which material or vocabulary requires study and which can be ignored. There are so many words in any language. It’s a game of picking the right one according to its usage. I have learnt that over the years through hit and trial.
Learning a new language and altogether teaching the same is not easy. A lot of effort and hard work goes into it. We would like to know what challenges do you usually face while teaching Korean to your students?
EK: My teaching style is extremely easy. I would say that I am grateful for having a knack for explaining difficult things quite easily. Also, Hindi is a miracle language for me since most of the Korean grammar can be understood quite smoothly via Hindi. Hindi and Korean sentence structures are quite similar. But sometimes some grammar forms can be a bit tricky to teach to students because they can be so similar to other grammar forms. So, students end up mixing them up! Patience and practice is always the solution.
We have a lot of young readers who take an active interest in Korean culture and are always keen to learn Korean for the purpose of pursuing it as a career. Do you have any advice for them based on your own experience?
EK: Your choice is the right one. If you wish to study Korean, I would say, go for it. I am a major example of someone who is using this language as a source of inspiration and income. So, you may pursue it with absolute faith. But remember, this language is fun and yet quite challenging. Hence, my advice would be to take it slow. Korean is not something that you can be good at just because you study too much too quickly. It’s concepts require time and patience. If you wish to really be good at it, please trust the process and take one step at a time. Celebrate small feats.
The career opportunities for Korean learners are plenty in India and abroad in various fields and trust me when I say, it pays quite well. But if you wish to make a career in this language, study hard and give it your best.
In your opinion, what values does learning the Korean language add for learners in today’s time given that every year the number of people showing interest in learning the language has been increasing drastically? Please share your perspective on learning Korean as an academic subject as well as a practical skill.
EK: I always believe that a language is a door to a whole new world, a different perspective with which you can look at life. You may think of it like this- you have been wearing yellow glasses and so the world looks yellow. Suddenly you have blue glasses. The world is the same but the view has changed and you kind of like that too. It feels so different and amazing. Language is like wearing different coloured glasses.
It is not just a mutually agreed upon composition of symbols for communication between people of the same region. It also contains the essence of an entire culture and values. When you learn a language, you also learn how the people of that region view life and it can be quite amazing to realize the similarities and differences and use the knowledge gained to bring positive changes into your own life.
“The language teaches you about the history, culture, polity and way of life of an entire country! What is it if not a door to a whole new world? It makes you more humble, more open to life and people.”
And no, reading about a country in your own language still cannot compare to learning the language and getting direct exposure. Think it like this- a novel always loses something in the translation process. No matter how fine and accurate the translation is, the essence of the original words and the emotions put into it cannot ever be retained in the translated text. Hence, if one truly wishes to learn about a culture in its originality, learning the language can help them to attain that goal.
Do you find learning and teaching Korean is comparatively easier or more difficult in comparison to other languages? What tips would you give to someone as a beginner?
EK: As compared to languages like French, Italian and Spanish, Korean can be a bit overwhelming and difficult, mainly because it is a language isolate. The former has words so similar to English and hence, more easily understood. Whereas. Korean has very unique words and symbols.
For beginners, I would suggest avoiding overexposure, that is, trying to do too much in a short period of time in an attempt to learn the language QUICKLY. The most common question I get from language learners is about the time it takes to be fluent. Rather than focusing on fluency, I would suggest early learners to first get comfortable with basics and build a foundation which can be used for further study. Most students try to mug up a lot of vocabulary which they end up forgetting after a week anyway. So try to do less vocabulary, 7-15 in a day but give each word enough time so that you may not forget it. Creating sentences using new grammar and words is a good way to memorize new concepts.
What aspects of the Korean language or Korean culture in itself do you appreciate the most and why?
EK: There are two aspects of Korean culture which I like the most. First is the food culture. Korean people take their food very seriously. Relationships deepen over meals. People treat each other to meals. The palate itself is quite vibrant and healthy. Second, is the Confucian principles which drive Korean culture. Respect for elders and importance of family; friendship is priority and I like this aspect a lot.
We do appreciate your active enthusiasm in taking a step further and sharing your knowledge with everyone. Please share with us what all platforms you use for teaching Korean and what kind of content do you share with the students, so they can get an insight about it?
EK: I give group classes to students every month and help them in being able to speak, write and understand Korean in quite easy ways through live classes, my personal notes, assignments, speaking practice and workbooks. There are active group discussions among students who can use the whatsapp group I make to clear all their doubts. The classes happen in English but concepts and pronunciations are explained in Hindi and English simultaneously. You can check my website to get in touch with me or book a class here: Era Indiekor
How does teaching on social media platforms such as Instagram different from the formal lessons that you provide to your students? How do you manage and prepare for your content?
EK: On social media, there are a lot of people and so teaching cannot be as focused as the way we can do it in classes with small groups. Also, since the formal classes are an hour long at a time, a lot of concepts can be explained in depth. With small focused groups, it’s easier to share specific notes, do active discussions, engage with everyone which can sometimes be quite difficult on social media. We also have whatsapp groups which provide a lot of ease for group conversations regarding doubts. You may say that formal classes prepare you properly to be able to converse in Korean and express yourself with learnt concepts.
We hope this is the dream career you are having right now since you get to work at your own pace, without the hustle of a 9-5pm job, working online, as well as teaching the language that you love so much. What do you have to say about it, as it might inspire someone else too to take a leap of faith and do what they love to do?
EK: The new generation is stepping out of the old beliefs that one needs to have a government job to secure their future. More and more people are pursuing their dreams. Many are even quitting their 9-5 jobs to pursue their life-long dreams. We are living in an age where one can skyrocket their career completely if they have the right skills and are giving value to the audience. If you love doing something and feel that someone can benefit from your knowledge, please do not be afraid to take a step towards it.
Making a career out of what I love is the most precious thing I have in my life. This feeling is so beautiful that I cannot express my sheer joy and contentment in words. However, I would only say one thing to you in the end-try giving your best to that thing which has been on your mind since so long. Give it a chance, I did. Trust me, it will be worth it. I promise!
You can find Ms. Era Kaundal on her social media handles:
YouTube: Era IndieKor
We would like to thank Ms. Era for her valuable time on behalf of our entire Hallyuism team.