28 August, 2015

What 200 Hours Buys You

Today, I attended UC Berkeley’s Korean 10A class. Korean 10A is the 3rd level Korean class in UC Berkeley, and would normally require you to take 2 semesters of Korean classes at Berkeley (Korean 1A and Korean 1B), but I blew through both level’s material through the course of summer.

I started learning Korean at the beginning of summer. I had started taking classes at the local Korean community center in San Francisco. I started out in the introductory course, Introduction to Hangeul. By the end of summer, I had skipped four levels and finished the fifth level of Korean. How did I do it? Simple, I spent over 200 hours studying Korean.

During my internship in the summer, I lived in Berkeley and commuted to San Francisco every day. Commute takes about 40 minutes one way, and during my commute, I worked through a spaced-repetition flashcard deck on the BART instead of browsing my Facebook news feed or Reddit. In 60 weekdays of commute I have accrued 80 hours. Korean class is three hours a week once a week for 15 weeks, giving me 45 hours of practice. The rest of the hours I completed in my own time. It took about an extra hour a day, and a lot of the time was completed by eating Korean food and practicing Korean with my Korean friends.

I’m not any smarter than any other Berkeley student who has spent two semesters studying Korean nor any other fifth term Korean Center student.

The Berkeley Korean class is five days a week for an hour. Class is 15 weeks, and you can expect three hours of homework a week. Do the math:


(5 weekdays/week) * (1 hr/ day) * (15 weeks) + (3 hrs/week) * (15 weeks) = 120 hours of Korean


Double that number for taking Korean 1B class and you end up with 240 hours of Korean, within the ballpark of the amount of time I spent learning Korean.

The KC Student takes an “Introduction to Hangeul” class that spans two hour sessions over 12 weeks. Subsequent classes are three hour sessions a week for 15 weeks with half an hour of homework every week, and there are four of them that span the topics roughly covered in the completion of the Korean 1B class in Berkeley.

Again, do the math:


(2 hr/wk) * (12 wk) + (4 classes) (3 hr class/wk + 0.5 hr hw/wk) * (15 wks/ class) =  234 hours of Korean


As you can see, they all roughly land in the same number of time spent studying Korean. Of course, there are differences. Because I studied more on my own, I probably have stronger command of vocabulary, reading and writing, but have more trouble listening and speaking.

So where can you dig up these 200 hours? Easy! According to my RescueTime stats, I have already spent 80 hours watching Youtube, 80 hours watching Netflix and cartoons, 130 hours on Facebook, amongst other distracting things this year. This doesn’t count the amount of time I spend on my mobile phone, since I don’t have activity tracking on my mobile device. I’m sure 200 hours is not difficult to dig up.

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 4.36.10 PM

I didn’t intend to write this to teach you how to learn a new language. I documented my progress to illustrate 2 main points:

  1. I believe it is unmotivating to measure progress by any other measure. Our modern generation is extremely impatient, and extended periods where no progress is made frustrates the modern man, even when that frustration is often part of the learning process. Measuring progress by time prevents people from wasting their time trying to find the “best” learning methods and resources when usually those methods and learning processes are discovered and refined as you work through sub-optimal solutions.
  2. “I spent X years doing Y” gives me little information about how skilled someone is at something. Three years of Spanish could mean once a week for two hours or living in a Spanish speaking country for three years. Yet we expect two people with “three years of Spanish” to reach the same level of fluency. The best way I can think to measure skill level is the number of hours people spend.

Some other things I bought with time:

  • ~200 hours of swing dancing lets me feel comfortable social dancing and teach swing classes at Berkeley.
  • I’ve spent about 150 hours for every computer science class I’ve taken at Berkeley so far.
  • According to this Quora answer, to reach fluency, you would need about 600+ hours studying a language to reach fluency. “Not hard, but long.”

I started a “Hobbies Calendar” spreadsheet that will help me keep track of new skills I learned. I would suggest something similar to track your own progress.

Normal calendar spreadsheet:

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 5.02.57 PM

Hobbies calendar spreadsheet:

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 5.02.39 PM

I just started this this summer, but I’ll start adding more hobbies as I pick them up.

To find out how you can put in the time to make your goals happen, read my Productivity Hacking Guide!

한국어 말하기 연습하면 연락해 주세요~

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2 Responses

  1. Louis Marchant says:

    Hey James, great post, and I agree completely.

    I am a Brit living in Denmark, and have been learning Danish since I moved here little under 3 years ago. I have reached a level of fluency that means I have now passed the highest Danish foreign language exam, and have now just begun on a Computer Science course here in Denmark, in Danish.

    Almost everyone I meet on my course is very surprised when they hear that I’ve only been learning Danish 3 years. They say such things as “I had 5 years of German at school, and my German is rubbish!” So I’m very used to the sentiment. Does it ever bother you when people attribute your hard work to luck/innate skill? I do sometimes. I am not the most productive person in the world, but I worked very hard on my Danish, and people often tell me that “Wow you must just have an ear for languages”. And in one sentence my hard work is reduced to talent and luck. I know they don’t do it out of spite, but sometimes I wish I could tell them how hard I worked without seeming like a jackass! :D

    Great post though! As always I feel inspired to be more productive in my own life. I have your productivity guide bookmarked and I check back every few days to use it as motivation. I find it very hard to be productive, I start strong and end up burning out and falling back into bad habits. But I’ll keep on trying my best.

    Best regards,


  1. 27 December, 2015

    […] We also talked a little about how T. wants to learn Korean and how he saw J.’s blog post on how he learned Korean over one summer. After our conversation, T., right then and there, messaged J. over Facebook messenger. (Later, T. […]

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