Desi Cochrane and tackling advanced Korean

Desi Cochrane


In our next installment on exploring the benefits of learning an Asian language, we sat down with the Co-founder of Goshipages Desi Cochrane in Seoul.

Following a recent interview with Wendy Haydon from the Australian Trade Commission in Seoul, I concluded that intermediate fluency in an Asian language carries similar weight as advanced fluency in finding a job in Asia. This is because in most cases foreigners are not hired to undertake complicated tasks requiring advanced language skills.

Many notable language ‘hacks’ such as Tim Ferriss also argue that there is a diminishing rate of return on learning a second language past an upper intermediate fluency. But in my recent interview with Desi, I was reminded of the benefits of advanced language proficiency.

Desi is a double degree Commerce and Arts student at Queensland University and has studied in Korea on a number of occasions. Desi is currently studying on exchange at Yonsei University in Seoul where he is taking classes with native Korean students and working around the clock to launch a new website update for Goshipages.  

Desi’s motivation and commitment for improving his Korean fluency is part personal—as he has already come “this far over the great chasm”— and also because he is “no longer competing with other foreigners, but competing with Koreans.” As an entrepreneur in Korea with a company providing housing information for students, Desi faces tough competition from other local competitors. Desi, therefore, has full faith in his dedication to studying advanced Korean.

If I want to start a business in Korea, I want to have an edge and speaking advanced Korean will give me that edge.

In a bid to take his Korean to the proverbial next level, Desi is currently preparing to take the Korean Topik 6 Exam—the most difficult level of the six-tier exam for second language speakers. Desi also regularly finds time for personal study including private reading and meeting with Korean students to practice discussing advanced topics, including current affairs.

Desi explains that he and his language partner typically prepare an article to discuss before their meet-up and together they help each other decode difficult grammar points and discuss related issues. Desi has found this to be a very effective method to push past basic conversation and to progress his own fluency in Korean.

On the question of “language struggle”, Desi asserts that the most effective method is to be honest. The language struggle relates to English speakers who are sidelined from practicing their target language by native speakers who insist on speaking English. To combat this problem, Desi recommends being upfront with your language partner and asking them to alternate between languages. This method is most effective with those whom you already share an established relationship with.

In the case of an ad hoc meetings with those who insist on speaking English, you need to enter it like a battle. The first person to cave will determine which language will be spoken. In some ways it’s like staring at a bull. You have to fight it out.

Desi believes the other secret to learning your target language effectively is dating a native speaker and the wisdom of his Korean teacher remains fresh in his memory.

On the first day of class our teacher told the class that the best way to learn Korean was to find a Korean boyfriend or girlfriend. One girl answered, ‘That’s a terrible reason’ but the teacher replied, ‘No that’s your homework.’

Learning an Asian language to advanced fluency is certainly no easy feat and dating is one option. However, there are many methods of learning an Asian language and it’s also the motivation and vision you sense when talking to people like Desi that will ultimately see you over the chasm.
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Olly Theobald

Director at Asia Options.
Olly works in Hangzhou China and is enthusiastic about entrepreneurship, e-commerce, Asia education, data science, and foreign languages. Olly is a graduate from RMIT University and the Hopkins Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies. Olly speaks Mandarin and Korean.

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