Let’s start this week’s progress report off with a giant, heartfelt “감사합니다” (Thank you) to my teachers: Jae, Jae-Young, and Liz. Last night concluded as most do, with me walking to the local 백화점 (department store) for more cider. (I gave up soda a couple weeks ago, so cider is the only thing I can drink besides water and tea.) I was checking out a local restaurant that’s always packed (seriously, I’ve been passing that place for years now and it’s always hopping) when I was stopped by a talkative stranger.
He asked where I was from, the usual greeting. The conversation soon transitioned to whether I knew any other foreigners (not many) before settling on the topic of meals (식사) as a means of communication. We may not have all the proper foods to communicate, but over a plate of chicken it really won’t matter.
I was doing what I’ve started doing in most of my conversations with native Koreans; which is listening to their English and trying to translate what they’re saying into Korean. It’s brilliant because it: a.) makes you a more active listener, and b.) provides you with immediate feedback on your own performance. Also, native Koreans seem to get a kick out of hearing someone having as much trouble communicating as they are. It levels the playing field.
So my new acquaintance 안 was telling me about the six months he spent living in LA, and how uncomfortable he felt there because he couldn’t communicate. He asked someone, “Where is the McDonalds?” and was met with blank stares. At which point I immediately asked him, “맥도날드는 어디에 있어요?”
안 was shocked. “Oh! Your pronounciation is so good!” At which point it was my turn to bow and profusely thank him (감사합니다) for being so kind. (He had done the same when he expressed doubts about his English and I told him I was having no trouble understanding/following his conversation.)
So again, a hearty 감사합니다 to 안 for the ego boost, Jae-Young and Liz for working with me so much, and Jae for making me dissect my Korean book’s recorded passages to learn the pronounciation/intonation. It’s apparently working!
Translation: Where is the McDonalds?
Intonation was on-point, and “맥도날드는 어디에 있어요?” also used the location question I’ve been working on for the past couple weeks, along with this week’s topic of subject markers.
While Korean sentences generally follow a pretty basic structure once you get the hang of it (Subject – Object – Verb); like most languages there’s no real hard, set rules governing it. Which is why they have subject markers -이 (subject word ends with a consonant) and -가 (subject ends with a vowel) added onto the end of your subject to indicate its importance. There’s also object markers -을 and -를 respectively to indicate who is the object in the sentence.
“But ShenaniTims,” you’re wondering, “you said “맥도날드는…” not “맥도날드가“!
Well, there’s also contrastive/topic markers which are -은 and -는, which seem to generally be used to mark the subject after it’s already been identified in a previous sentence. I likened it to our articles – a, an, and the. “I have a cup. The cup is brown.” Apparently Koreans are writing Ph.D.’s over the proper use of the contrastive marker, but my teacher told me that my explanation seemed to cover (most of) the salient points.
The above was also a load of dumb luck, as for some reason I always mistakenly default with -는 or -은 as subject markers instead of the proper -이 or -가. Clearly I have this week’s work cut out for me.
Another week, another 60-70 cards studied per day. Please ignore the Review Counts’ average of 110 cards/day. There’s hardly ever that many cards. The only explanation I can think of for it is that I usually do my cards in two sessions. The first is in the morning; I wake up and usually the first thing I do is work through the deck. That’s usually a 60-70 card session.
Later I may add new cards, which I guess technically counts as another session though mentally I don’t consider it as such. So working my way through the new cards (which, depending on how familiar I am with the new words, can take awhile) is probably what’s causing my daily average count to be so high. But I don’t count the new card overages because how else could I learn them except through repetition?
Neither “puppy” (강아지) nor “little” (새끼) are gonna learn themselves!
Another interesting insight gleamed from these data sheets is the upcoming influx of Mature cards. (Mature cards are cards whose repetition is spaced at least a month out.) Last week I saw my first Mature card show up, but now it looks as if I’ll be seeing at least some Mature cards every day from here on out! As you can see, I find this rather exciting, because I can’t think of a better gauge for knowing if you’ve learned a new term than to review it after it’s well out of recent memory. (I had intermittent “success” here; coming in at with a 50% average for the Mature cards I saw this week.)
My intervals are progressing nicely too, with that big spike sliding ever so slowly out from three days to four. At this rate, by the time “ShenaniTims Vs. Anki: Round 3,541” rolls around in December, that mass of cards will all be Mature!
Translation: (Go) Straight ahead.
We changed things up on class this week, as my teacher was a bit late showing up. But the one teacher whom I swear I scared away the last time we worked together (her last appearance was waaaaay back when) came around, so we spent our time practicing pronounciation and vocabulary.
A beneficial change of events as I think I discovered a way to hit the ever elusive “으” sound consistently. From watching my teacher’s lips I noticed that she didn’t seem to be moving them at all when she was making the “eeewww” sound. Which is really tough if you were to try it. So I’ve found to make it (at least semi-properly) you have to make the “eee-eew” sound with your tongue resting on the bottom of your mouth while your lips are stationary. It’s a pet project of mine to figure these tougher sounds out; we’ll see this coming Sunday if my super-sleuthing has paid off.
In a classic case of “one step forward, two steps back” I was then hit with the word “behind.” Behind as in behind you, (sadly) not as in rear ends. Behind (you) is 뒤 or “dwee” phonetically, which is also extremely tough to master correctly. I was dfaulting by saying “do-ee” but it’s not two syllables. So using the same slack-jawed tactic I’m using against “으” I’m thinking I figured it out. After a lot of trying.
Most of the rest of the session was spent using the skills I practiced last week. Last week’s theme was asking the question, “Where is…?” so I spent much of this week asking “where is the convenience store?” (백의점은 어디에 있어요?) and learning the aforementioned new vocabulary; most of which concerned directions.
A theme I had unconsciously started earlier that morning when I loaded in “left” (왼쪽) and “right” (어른쪽) into my Anki deck. I had gone bike climbing with my Korean friend Saturday night and felt it would be good to learn some words that I might use everyday while riding. Even if most Koreans apparently will understand me if I just tell them “Left! Left!” or “Right!” as directions. When in Rome…
So all in all not a bad week even if it did leave me extremely light in terms of actual homework. A point of contention as, over dinner this week, my two teacher got to talking. This week’s teacher was concerned that she had somehow overloaded me with vocabulary. A fear my regular teacher did her best to eliminate.
“But I think it’s too many words.”
“Oh no, I don’t think that’s even possible. He’ll get it all done.”
She wasn’t joking. All of it and then some.
Last week I had a host of new words to learn in addition to dissecting my book’s recorded dialogue every day to improve my fluency through intonation and the like. This week I was tasked with learning less vocabulary; which left me initially feeling a bit undermotivated.
Monday I loaded 1/3 of the new vocab. into my Anki deck and went to work. Not feeling the challenge adequate, I then decided to continue my morning bike ride routine of dissecting the previous chapters’ dialogues to further improve my fluency/intonation, while also (on Thursday) cracking open the old 명작동화 (fairy tale book) every night.
Last night I made a huge discovery known to practically every other foreign language learner. Basically using your finger to follow the text as you’re hearing it is a HUGE aid in comprehension. A lot of words I was missing when just following with my eyes started jumping out at me. “좋아, ah 좋다 is “to be fine” so 좋아 must be one of its conjugated forms!” I’m onto you Big Bad 늑대!
Translation: It is a blue hippo.
I love it when my mission to review the week’s lesson before class mutates into an adventure. Yesterday’s adventure commenced when I woke up and found out that I’m once again an uncle (삼촌). Which natutally awakens the “Oh my God, I have to buy presents!” bug that is always looming just beneath my skin. So off to Hanok Village I went!
(Actually, I would’ve gone to Hanok Village anyway because I buy some corn on the cob there weekly (옥수수), sit on the mountain and practice Korean. In that sense, this was just another ordinary week.)
Then I saw the 하마 pictured above. If anything ever SCREAMED baby’s first present, it was this guy. But the vendor did not have a price sign posted like all the other vendors. A mystery! Also a perfect opportunity to use my infant-level Korean! The past few book units had prepared me for this moment.
“안녕하세여.” I chose to start with the respectful “Hello” instead of the more traditonal “저기요 아줌마” because I’ve had a number of teachers tell me that calling someone an 아줌마 can be disrespectful; despite the fact that it’s used in all the textbooks. I guess no one likes to be called a “middle-aged lady.”
It doesn’t matter though, because the ice was broken and I was speaking!
“이것은 얼마 입니까?” Translation: How much is this? Pointing to the blue 하마.
“이하마는 만오원.” [This part’s a rough translation from memory. I’m positive she said it correctly.] Translation?:This hippo is 15,000 won.
A bit more than any of the other vendors, but it is a blue hippo. And slightly bigger than all the other stuffed animals. The price really isn’t the problem here (even though I do get the sinking feeling she tacked on a few extra won just because I’m a foreigner who’s struggling with the language. Well played 아줌마, well played).
The issue here is my mindset. I still think in terms of dollars. 1,000 won (천원) is roughly equivalent to $1. But when I hear prices, I still expect them to be using multiples of 10 (as we do in the US) rather than the Korean base system of 1,000. So when I heard “만오원” I was immediately thrown for a loop because it was the base 10 number I was expecting. I was expecting to hear 일, 이, 삼, 사, etc. (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), not 10,000!
Meaning it took me a lot longer than I’m proud of to be able to figure out what 만원 is and agree to it. And dutiful readers will note that I just wrote “만원” and not the previously recorded “만오원.” This isn’t an error though, because in real life I completely missed the “오” (~$5) tacked on after 만 too.
Leading to the hilarity of trying to buy a $15 blue hippo with $10. And see? I just did it again! REWIND – that should’ve been “[l]eading to the hilarity of trying to buy a ₩15,000 blue hippo with ₩10,000. ”
But I’m thinking once I get over this (numerical) hurdle all the other (shopping) pieces should fall into place. And I’m still counting this as a victory, as the vendor didn’t break into English nor did she pull out a calculator to type the price (the common way that non-English speaking Korean vendors do it).
This will stand as my first fully Korean conversation, even if it was (painfully) rudimentary and the ending was botched. Whatever, I still ended up with the blue hippo.
So I changed things up this week and tried to keep a daily drip feed of new vocabulary going into Anki. I did this for two reasons: 1.) I had a ton of vocabulary to learn from last week’s class, and 2.) I figured I might retain the new words better if I learned them in reasonable amounts. ~10 new words or less a day is an easier pill to swallow than 20-30 words all at once.
And I think I managed the workload pretty well, as I only missed a few when quizzed in class today. And, as you can see in the Interval graph, the lion’s share of words are now transitioning out of the next day bracket and (slowly) marching into the mid-field.
Also of note was that today was the first time a Mature card came back to me after being scheduled a month out. And I nailed it. Which is why my Answer Button graph is my favorite this week. More proof that I’m actually retaining a lot of what I’m learning.
Translation: Wait for it…
“Tim, can I ask you to do one favor for me before I leave?” Class was ending and everyone, including my teacher and myself, were packing up. “Can you just say it one more time?”
“Yes,” teacher giggles as she falls back into her chair laughing.
“Here, I’ll throw in a ‘정크 푸드’ and ‘치즈’ for good measure too.”
Poor teacher’s practically catatonic now.
Our unit this week involved locations. One of which, restaurant, has two terms. One, used for Korean restaurants, is 식당. Nothing really special there. The other though, the aforementioned 레스도랑, introduced Konglish. See, my teacher tried to explain/translate 레스도랑 as a simple ‘restaurant,’ and, on the surface, it makes sense. ‘레스’ translates to “res,” “도” breaks down into “do” with a door intonation, so not too far off… And then, and then it all falls apart.
Now I don’t know if my teacher was just trying to not bring Konglish into our discussions, or if Koreans honestly mispronounce their own spelling of what is essentially their own, new version, of a word. But “랑” is not “rant.” The “ra” is there, but “ㅌ” and sometimes “ㄷ” make our “t” sound. “ㅇ,” when placed at the end of a syllable, makes a “ng” sound. Meaning “레스도랑,” though well intentioned, will always translate to “restaurang.” Which is as hilarious to say as it is for a native Korean to hear me say.
There’s an inherent pause at the end there, when you have to override your brain into saying a food that’s part of your natural vocabulary glaringly wrong. The tacked on “정크 푸드” and “치즈” are two others that I’ve learned that I can’t quite forget. (“Junk Poo-duhl” and “Chees-say” for those keeping track at home.) All of which kept my poor, suffering teacher in spasms of laughter.
For the record, I did have one beloved student in the past who used to say “cheese” as “chees-say” in class. Sadly, all that ever did was send me into fits of rage.
Translation: Robot (more cyborg than R2D2).
One unheralded but certainly apparent added bonus to teaching in a foreign country is using their textbooks. While there’s tons of blogs about the cultural differences between here and there, very few ever talk about anything larger in scale than “Oh my God, they call oranges ‘orangji’ (오란지) in Korea!” I’m not throwing shade, because
I’m sure I’ve done it too my next Learning Korean post will be centered around Konglish.
But the books, oh God, the textbooks. They’re such a breath of fresh air. I often find myself having to look up the daily topics after a class so that I can give the students visual references the next day. Sometimes it’s a forest that stretches for miles and yet is all one colossal tree (each tree leading back to one main root).
Today’s after class study session concerned robotic suits. The book mentioned that there’s three countries in the forefront of bridging the cybernetic gap: the US, Japan, and naturally, Korea. So I hit Google Images and started looking. What I found wasn’t much of a surprise.
Here are the results for Japan. As you can see, pretty utilitarian. Suits to help people walk, lift heavy things, and (given that it’s Japan) even a $20,000 robot suit for your child. Dressed in a school girl outfit, because of course she’s dressed that way.
Korea’s results are even more utilitarian. Frankly half of the examples deal with dock workers wearing suits so that they can work faster and stronger. Also, safety workers get in on the robotic action, and Cinderella and Ripley (Aliens) show up because: Korea. Living here, I’m not surprised by these results either.
The United States
Frankly, I can’t say I’m surprised by the US’ results, just disappointed. Since, as you can see, nearly all the results concern military applications. You hear the US is a blood-thirsty nation a lot, and I don’t believe there’s anyone in the US who doesn’t agree with that statement to some extent, but it’s still a bit jarring to see front and center.
One nation wants to build, one nation wants to cross-pollinate its fetishes, and one nation wants to crush, kill, and destroy.
But wait, you say, there’s clearly some kind of paramilitary suit on Japan’s page!
Nope, that’s a suit of robotically controlled power armor so that nuclear technicians can wear heavier lead suits when working on reactors. It looks military grade, but in function it’s all humanity.
The biggest change between my performance last week and this week is the rapid growth of my Maturity deck. As you can see on the Forecast, (daywise) the upper 20s is steadily growing with the mid- to late 20s filling out nicely. As far as stats go, my total number of Mature cards increased from 31 cards (12%) to 75 (26%). All this with only a very small drop in my Learning decks (Last week: 217 Young-Learning cards vs. 214 for this week.)
As far as Intervals go, the majority of cards are now falling in the 4 to 5 day range, rather than last week’s 1 day range. I feel like I dropped off on adding cards this week (I photocopied a lot more of my students’ vocabulary worksheets to learn than I loaded into the Anki). I feel this way, but I averaged a 70% when quizzed this morning, and hit 70% when quizzed by my teacher in the evening. So Anki’s accuracy percentage does seem to be a legit.
A score that will undoubtibly crash this week, as we actually had class and I was given a slew of new words to learn. So my Young-Learning cards deck should bump skyward for this upcoming week. (I loaded about half the straight vocabulary terms tonight, will load the rest tomorrow, and then continue adding in key phrases throughout the week.)
My homework from two weeks ago (or my last “real” class) was to get more comfortable listening to spoken Korean. Which, at least according to myself and one of the guys I work with, is real hard considering how fast native Koreans speak. Listening to the audio tracks of my Korean textbooks gives the impression that they’re all motormouths who never pause to think of what word to say next. It’s all just seems like an unending stream of CVC syllables.
Except when you hear 한국어 spoken in the wild. Today I found that spoken Korean, while it can pick up the pace when needed (for instance, when emphasizing a point) often doesn’t have that mechanically fast, scripted feel to it.
As with most of my stories, this one too begins in a bathroom… Korean public restrooms are a thing of wonder. They’re generally always (pretty) clean (maybe a bad smell or two; it IS a bathroom after all), but nothing so bad that you’ll turn around and refuse to use it. Add onto that the fact that they’re open 24/7 and, with Korea’s low crime rate, extremely safe to use at all hours of the day or night, moves them straight into “modern marvel” territory.
Needless to say, I love the ones along with bike route. When your daily, average bike ride is 3+ hours, it’s good to know where all the rest stops are. Bonus points if they’re not part of an actual store. Today’s adventure concerns the one sitting next to Jeonju’s zoo (전주동몰원.
As you can see from the picture above, I stopped to refill my water bottle and take a piss. Nothing really unusual there. Until mid-piss when the man using the urinal next to me turns his head and asks where I’m from. I do my best to remember the proper line, “나는 미국 에서요” but end up with the generic “미국.” For you non-Korean speakers, essentially how I answered was “America” instead of grammatically correct “I am an American.” One makes me sound like a four year-old with a limited grasp on the language, the other makes me sound like someone who’s trying to learn said language. My apologies old man!
After the piss break, as I was strapping my bike helmet back on, the old man called me over and asked if I had some time to join him and his friends in sitting around, smoking, and (I assume) talking shit. (That’s what my friends and I do when we hang out.) It’s Saturday, so what the hell.
What I found out as I was sitting there was that Koreans talking with their friends talk like normal human beings. Not the superfast linguists the audio CDs that come with language books would have you believe. They pause, think about words, all the things we do when we talk. You’d just never know it from their digital representations. I ended up only recognizing around 1 out of every 20 words, which isn’t the best percent (5%), but hopefully it helped acclimate my ears to hearing spoken Korean.
Me being me, I naturally argued with one of the guys. He was talking about how he lived in DC for 6 months, and was remarking on how we have everything in America. Lots of fruits, vegetables, water, meat, anything you could want. (This conversation obviously took place around lunchtime.) And it was all cheap!
Which is where I disagreed. While fruits and vegetables are certainly cheaper in the US (because they don’t have to be imported), meat, well meat that’s not beef, certainly seems cheaper here. I can get four decent-sized chicken breasts for under $5, which is a deal that’s very hard to find in the US.
Unfortunately he pulled out the trump card and mentioned how you can get a fully cooked chicken for $6 at Wal-Mart. Which is where I had to cede defeat. “Wal-Mart’s a special case. Everything they sell is super cheap.” (I don’t think explaining the true costs behind Wal-Mart’s “savings” could’ve been translated easily.)
I picked up the word “Soldier” out of the exchange, and as you can see that my first attempt at writing it phonetically didn’t work out so well. (The blue text.) Neither did my attempt to read the Korean man’s handwriting. But, in the end, we made it through, and I’m one word richer.