They say “Let your haters be your motivators”, and this month’s Man Crush seems to agree! Meet Nathan Thornton, the multilingual creator of the first Black-owned online Korean language school and expat. Read on to find out more about his language learning journey and the poetic justice he received along the way.  

BGLL: Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

Nathan: My name is Nathan Thornton, I’m originally from Los Angeles, California, but I currently live in Warsaw, Poland and as the creator of SmarterKorean, the first Black-owned online Korean language school. I serve as an Online Korean Language Coach and Korean Expert. My native language is English. I have a bachelor's degree in international business from IPAG Business School in Paris, France. During my 3rd year at one the best universities in South Korea studying Korean literature I decided to transfer to a business school in Paris. 

BGLL: Which other languages do you know? How did you learn them? 

Nathan: I speak Korean, French and am currently learning Russian. I first started learning Korean and going to a Korean language school when I was 14. I was a completely different person. I was very shy and quiet. And on top of that, whenever I did try to speak in Korean with my Korean friends, they would laugh at my accent or make fun of me. It definitely discouraged me, but it also put this fire in me to prove to everyone that I was capable of really learning Korean. I would come home every day after school and study Korean for hours, watch Korean TV with no subtitles on repeat, fill up notebooks with Korean words, etc. I would use an online penpal site to talk to Koreans back then, and this helped me improve my confidence in speaking. By the time I was 18 years old, I was asked by the principal of my Korean school if I would accept an assistant teaching position as a Korean teacher. It was one of my proudest moments as a teenager. I ended up teaching some of the exact same Korean kids who used to make fun of my Korean years before. 

I had to learn French while living in Paris, because life in France without knowing French is unbearable and frowned upon. I learned French for survival after moving to France with basically zero French and no friends or family there.  I learned French by myself while living in Paris. I had originally moved to Paris to change my major and also for love. But within the first couple of months, I was living in a new country I had no idea about (besides the Eiffel Tower and baguettes) and had broken up with my then-first boyfriend. I was completely alone and needed to figure out how to survive in France, so I bought a bunch of French-language books, a notebook, and turned on French Netflix. I would go to language exchanges and try to make French friends as well. Going to university there definitely helped expose me to the French language on a daily basis. 

I am currently learning Russian and may be planning to move to Kyiv, Ukraine in the summer to attend a Russian language school. 

BGLL: Tell us more about SmarterKorean. What services do you offer?

At SmarterKorean, I work as an online Korean language coach & Korea expert helping people live, travel, and work in South Korea with confidence. I also do business strategy coaching to help others create location independent businesses that align with their passions. 

BGLL: What opportunities were you able to take advantage of because of your language?

Nathan: Learning Korean opened up a multitude of doors for me both professionally and personally. Korean has helped me stand out in my job applications, work for international companies in both South Korea and Spain, ask for competitive salaries, and allowed me to open my own online business. Being able to speak Korean allowed me to experience living in South Korea on a much deeper level with a different understanding of the culture.

BGLL: Which of your foreign languages is your favorite and why?

Nathan: Korean will always have my heart first and foremost. A lot of people don´t know that Korean is more than just a ¨ language¨ for me. It is a part of who I am and my life. I used the Korean language as a way to escape my abusive household and create a better life for myself. Learning Korean as a teenager helped to develop confidence and discover a new culture. I was determined to learn Korean well enough so that I could escape my violent home life, apply for a scholarship and go to university abroad. Now, I have fallen in love with the Russian language and am excited to see where it takes me in the future!

BGLL: What are 3 tips you can offer those who are trying to learn another language?

Nathan: First, don´t be afraid to make mistakes when learning and practicing your new language. Let me tell you: the more mistakes you make in the beginning, the better. It's the people who aren´t afraid to just ¨speak¨ that improve the fastest! 

Next, create a language learning notebook. It’s what I teach all my students in the beginning when learning Korean. Keep it well organized with new vocabulary, grammar, and phrases that you learn on a daily basis.

Lastly, use post-it notes. My bedroom as a teenager was filled with small post-its with Korean written on them. Such as a post-it on my mirror in Korean with the Korean word for mirror.

BGLL: How can we keep up with you on social?

Nathan: You can find my personal story and my Korean classes at: SmarterKorean.comAlso, be sure to like the SmarterKorean Facebook page for our weekly live Korean classes! My personal Instagram if you want to keep up with my crazy adventures and stories is @Nateabroad

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