In this Language Loves Me series, I will be featuring language learners from all over the globe. They will expound on their tempestuous (or tepid) linguistic love affairs. This week let’s dive into the delicious details of…..
Rachel’s’s love affair with 한국어
The Important Things
Who are you?
When did your love affair with Korean begin?
I liken my love affairs with different relationships in my life-so I will say that Korean and I had a very rocky start, but now we are in a committed relationship. I didn’t take it very seriously until almost 2 years of living in Korea. Once I moved to Yangsan, a suburb of Busan, a whole new side of Korea was revealed to me and I realized that I really wanted to express myself in the native language of this country I grew to love. The more of the language I learned, and the more I interacted with people here in their native tongue, the more I learned about the people and country, and the more I wanted to learn. It was a snowball effect, really, and now I can’t imagine how I lived here for over a year without really speaking any Korean.
What do you love about learning Korean?
I think Korean is a really fun, playful language. At least with spoken Korean, I don’t think the language takes itself too seriously, and I really like that. I love the dialect of Gyeongsangnam-do province, where I live, it’s very emotional and expressive, just like me! Some languages just fit your personality more than others, and Korean is one of those languages for me!
Is it a monogamous relationship, or are there other languages in your life?
There are old flames, yes, but right now I’m in a committed relationship with Korean. 🙂 I studied French almost my whole life, and studied Modern Standard Arabic for 4 years in college. I also fell in love with Moroccan Arabic during my semester abroad in Rabat in 2008.
Where are you studying, and why?
I am just self-studying right now, which I prefer. It depends on each person and their learning style, but I am motivated enough to put in the work every day without the direction of a teacher. It’s a lot easier though because living in Korea means I am in the classroom all the time, so to speak. As long as you’re paying attention, intentionally listening, and having interactions in Korean daily, you will pick things up and start making connections.
How do you study? (any tips, books, programs, apps)
I think the biggest and best resource I’ve used over the years has been Talk to Me in Korean. They have online audio lessons, and free pdfs in 9 levels, as well as an active youtube channel with helpful videos. They also have some paid services like harukorean, where you can have your Korean writing corrected by native speakers, and TTMIK live, where you can reserve online tutoring sessions with native speakers.
What cultural medium helps you most, and how? (books, music, film)
I feel like I am in the minority when I say that I am not a fan of Korean TV, music, or movies. I often wish I was, because I feel like it would help my language skills improve. But I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t force anything while language learning, and that you should always be enjoying yourself. I’ve tried countless times to watch a drama series but I just can’t sit through it, and I’ve stopped trying. I do, however, occasionally check out books from my school’s library, which can be a fun way to practice reading!
What are some fun facts (things people might not know, or things you like) about Korean?
– grammar – There’s nothing fun about grammar, especially when everything is the opposite of your mother tongue!
– vocabulary – I really love that a lot of the words for things in Korean are just 2 words put together that explain what the object is in a fun way. For example, 물(water) and 집(house) make 물집(blister), or 발(foot) and 목(neck), which means 발목(ankle). It’s very logical and it makes vocabulary easy to remember! If you learn one word, you’re actually learning 5!
– spelling – Much like English, there are a lot of silent letters in Korean. But I think the most interesting thing about Korean letters is that historically, Korean was spelled with Chinese letters until 1446, when King Sejong commissioned a new alphabet, Hangul! It’s an easy alphabet that helped the mostly illiterate Korean population back then to be literate.
– pronunciation – One thing you’ll notice when you hear Korean for the first time, is that there only a handful of word endings, which denotes the level of formality used. A lot of adopted English words have similar pronunciation, but they add an extra syllable on the end, 으(uh). So it’s fun to tell new people that if they’re trying to say something in Korean and they don’t know the word, just try adding ‘uh’ to the English word–oftentimes they’ll be understood!
When do you consider a person fluent in a foreign language?
This is a controversial topic in the language world, but in my opinion I think you are fluent when you can easily navigate everyday life in the country of the language’s origin. If you can talk to the local people, then you’re fluent. I also think if you have the confidence to say that you’re fluent, then you’re probably fluent.
In your own words, what are your thoughts on the relationship between language and culture?
Well, it comes down to the age old question about the chicken and the egg, right? I can chat about this with other linguaphiles for hours, but my opinion is simple. Language is culture, and culture is language. They both feed into each other, and that’s why I love languages so much! You’re not just learning another way to communicate, you’re learning about a people in a much deeper way. It’s my way of connecting myself to the world. That’s also why I love teaching, because by teaching people English, I’m also revealing a bit of my identity as an English-speaking American from the South, and exposing them to that culture.
What is your favorite word or phrase, why (can be an idiom, or something that doesn’t translate well) ?
I like saying 헐 (hul) a lot just because it’s really fun and expressive. I would say that it means everything and nothing, haha! It’s said in either positive and negative situations, or when something is unbelievable. Obviously it’s hard to explain in English, which is another reason I like it! 😛
Can you tell an amusing story about a miscommunication or mistranslation you experienced?
I’ve had a hard time thinking of a specific time, but I think that’s because when you’re trying to become fluent in a language, you can’t be afraid of making mistakes. I feel like miscommunications are so commonplace that nothing is really sticking out in my mind. I guess that’s a good sign that I can’t think of anything, but it’s more likely that I don’t get embarrassed very often! The overwhelming feeling from Korean people is gratefulness that you’re interested in learning their language. The embarrassment is easy to forget.
Thank you Rachel, We appreciate the glimpse into your Korean Romance!
Are you learning a language and would like to share your story with the rest of us? Don’t be shy, we all need encouragement and inspiration!
If you have a linguistic love story to share, please email me at: aplacelikemeinagirllikethis(at)gmail(dot)com