Friday, April 20, 2012

Find a language friend

I have to say, making friends with a native Korean speaker (via was one of the best things that could have happened for my language learning process. I highly recommend finding a native language partner/buddy in your linguistic endeavors (preferably one who is learning English, so that the teaching and learning process is not one-sided). In case you aren't convinced, here are a few perks:

Perk #1: Having a Cool New Friend
Really, who doesn't like having a new friend? Unless you're a total grumpy old grandpa, the idea should sound at least mildly appealing. Furthermore, it is a friendship that might otherwise be unlikely due to cultural differences and/or language barriers. I stand by the notion that friends are like Jell-O: There's always room for more.

Perk#2: Instant, Interactive Language Feedback
A real live person is ALWAYS way more interesting than a language textbook, as well as way more useful and interactive than the glossary at the back of that textbook. For instance, a textbook probably won't tell which words you should be careful NOT to say (ex. The number 18 is a very bad swear word in Korean). And that kind of stuff is good to know so that you don't wind up making major social faux pas and ostracizing yourself from a culture you're trying to embrace.

Plus, if your language partner is up to speed with the technological world, you can do fun things like texting back and forth in the target language(s). See for yourself...

To the left is literally the first all-Korean text I've ever written. Very simple language, but boy was I proud!

Korean Friend: Hi Kristy! Are we still on today? Do you have time?

Me: Hello! Yes, I have time. What do you want to eat?

Me: (wow that took a long time to type out, hahahaha)

Korean Friend: Hahahahahahaha really? Hahahahahahahaha

Korean Friend: Um (um)... I want to eat spaghetti. What do you want to eat, Kristy?

Me: Ooh! You asked the right girl! There is an Italian restaurant in Harvard Square...

I have to thank my new smart phone for being smart enough to handle various languages. There is actually an option to turn on other languages' keyboards on the iPhone that you should use if you speak or text in another language. Very useful and cool.

To the right, is a text I sent today using THREE languages at once. Yes, you read that right. Three. What that heck would I call it? Span-kor-glish? En-spa-rean?

Two great things are happening here. (1) My friend is acting as an instant human dictionary who--by the way--is complimentary and encouraging of my risk-taking. (2) He is teaching me fantastic new smiley faces that I can use in future texts to American friends, so that I can wow them and make myself seem even more awesome than I already am.

Kristy Friend #1: Dude, where is Kristy learning about all these amazing smiley faces? She must be in on some trendy information loop that we're not aware of.
Kristy Friend #2: Yeah, I know. That chick is seriously rad. Seriously.

I mean, that sort of stuff definitely makes people cooler, right? Like when people roll down their car windows and blast music at red lights. I don't know about you guys, but I always think, Who's that cool guy playing Metallica? He has GREAT taste in music.

Perk#3: Interest Level
You're only kidding yourself if you think that a real live person won't inspire you to study on the days that you're not meeting up. I mean, it's not foolproof, but it certainly helps. As I sadly found out yesterday evening, if I don't study, there is nothing for my friend to help me with. So, we just sat around sort of awkwardly staring at my notebook while I made promises to him that I would study specific things for next week's practice session.

It reminds me of playing trumpet in seventh grade. I stopped practicing at home at one point. When it came time to play the songs in school with the other trumpet players, I had to fake it and move the valves, pretending that I was playing along. Surprising part was, I started to get nothing out of it. Who knew? Not long after (and much to the dismay of the music teacher), I quit band.

Perk#4: Plane Ticket Justification
This is, perhaps, my very favorite reason of all to make friends from different countries! Now I have a friend I can visit when I finally make a trip to South Korea. I'd like to aim for next summer. At that point, my goal is to be conversational and impress his socks off when I open my mouth and actual Korean sentences come out. Goals = good.

In Conclusion
If you are studying a language, want to resume studying a language, or want to start studying a new language from scratch, go find a friend! Trust me on this one. You don't have to wait until you know how to say anything. The plus side of knowing nothing is that anything your new friend teaches you will be helpful and useful.

It's a decision you will thank me for later. You're welcome.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The death of my enthusiasm

Well, here it is, ladies and gentlemen... I have hit a wall.

My studying for Korean has been suffering lately because of what I call the dreaded "shoulds." Now, "the shoulds" are pretty scary. Consider what they did with my ability to create artwork. I set these impossible goals and expectations for myself based on past successes. I expect so much from myself artistically that I fear I won't be able to deliver. I should make great things. I should inspire and impress others. I should be drawing and painting in my spare time.

So I don't bother to create. Too much pressure.

And that seems to be what has happened this week with my Korean. I stopped advancing through the levels because I was feeling this drag... this pull on me to go back and review and make flashcards of all the words I've been learning. I should be going back and reviewing. I should be studying in my spare time. I didn't have a place for "the shoulds" before because I simply didn't have to motivate myself to study language. Right now, though. I'm tired. I'm tired, I'm ready to be on work vacation, and what used to be fun for me (studying Korean) has become a task that I should do, but am too tired to enjoy or understand now.

How can a tired person even think to try reading stuff that looks like this? 보스톤에 현존하는 가장 오래된 공공 건물로, 신세계에서 최초로 선출된 의회가 활동을 시작한 곳이다. 지금은 보스톤 소사이어티가 사용하고 있으며, 프리덤 트레일을 따라 둘러 볼 수 있는 많은 역사 유적지 중의 한 곳이다. Aaaack. Blargh. Makes my head hurt more than it already does.

Here is the problem that I think led me to the sudden halt in funness (지금 재미 없어요. = Now it's not fun.):

Basically, I haven't been retaining anything because I'm not in a class with a teacher or anything, so all the nouns and the verbs I've been learning are getting stored in my short-term memory for the duration of a lesson, and then getting carried away in the current before they make it to my long-term memory. I feel like I have zero recall. And, really, why would I? When do I use Korean? Next to never.

The only good news is that I wound up watching a YouTube video today and reading a random sentence (image at top of post). I heard the sentence read aloud and read the words. I actually didn't realize that I had fully understood the sentence as is (untranslated) until the video put the English translation below it a few seconds later: "I am twenty years old." I then thought to myself, "Why are they telling us what it means a second time? We already know." Then, I realized, that it was the first time the video was telling me what it meant. I had easily read and understood the sentence by hearing and reading it. Nice.

Okay, I'm going to bed. I hope I regain my language gusto. One more day at work and then I can sleep in for a week. Almost there.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Are you a bad speller or a good speller?

I think we've all known some bad spellers in our lives. Perhaps you are a bad speller yourself. In English, the spelling rules all willy-nilly as they are, I believe we have a certain amount of leeway that is acceptable as far as spelling slip-ups are concerned. It's not our fault! Truthfully, I admit it's a hard freaking language to master, even when it's your own. (By the way, let me know how good of a speller you are in the comments section below.)

These mistakes, in my opinion, can be chalked up greatly to the variation of letters and letter combinations that can stand in for one sound or to the letters themselves that can sometimes represent multiple sounds (just watch this I Love Lucy clip to see what I mean).

For a moment, I'd like to draw a parallel between sounds and colors. Once, I was in a linguistics class with a girl who did a report on a language (I remember it being related to Dutch) that did not have a word to distinguish between green and blue. Namely, they were considered variations of the same color. While this seems odd to us, it shouldn't be too hard to see that the names we give colors are far from black-and-white (pardon the pun). What we consider "red" has a very broad range. For each person, there must be a varying range of colors that would classify as "red."

All you have to do is go to any paint store and listen in on a conversation. You will quickly gather how up-for-interpretation color really is:

"I like that red over there."
"That one looks orange to me."
"Well, it's not red-red. It's more like an orange-red. But it's still red."
"Really? I see the red in it, but I still think it looks closer to being orange."

The same is true for sounds. Let me elaborate. Consider the English letter "s." In some cases, the letter has a soft sound, as it does at the beginning of the words "soft" and "sound." In other cases, the letter has a hard "z" sound, as it does at the end of the words "as" and "does." And, in many words, the letter "s" can take on two personas all together, as in the word "cases" and "personas" (first "s" has a soft sound, second "s" has a "z" sound). In any case, both sound variations are represented by the same letter. That leads to native English speakers occasionally arguing about how to pronounce or spell uncommon words. Again, I insist that it's not our fault that so many of us are awful spellers. It's our crazy language.

Well, the same stuff has come to haunt me with my Korean studies. In Korean there are letters that allow for certain acceptable variations in pronunciation that are different from the acceptable variations in English. This has been difficult to adjust to. Let me illustrate...

Hangul Spelling:
Romanized Spelling: m
Variations in Sound: In the middle of words, ㅁ sounds like "m," but at the beginning of words spoken at regular conversation speed, this ㅁ sounds more like a "b." The word "sorry" that is supposedly pronounced "mian-he" sounds a lot like "bian-he."

Another example...

Hangul Spelling:
Romanized Spelling: n
Variations in Sound: In the middle of words, ㄴ sounds like "n," but at the beginning of words, ㄴ sounds more like a "d." The word "yes" which is "ne" often sounds like "de."

This happens A LOT... it happens in Korean that the following sounds are variations of each other and are represented by the same character:

ㅁ = "m" or "b"
ㄴ = "n" or "d"
ㄱ = "k" or "g"
ㄷ = "t" or "d"
ㅂ = "p" or "b"
ㅈ = "j" or "ch"
ㄹ = "l" or "r"

The thing is... THEY don't hear it. Native Korean speakers, that is. When I protest and say that "mian-he" sounds like "bian-he," they don't hear what I hear. Therefore, I have had some low spelling self-esteem with my new foreign language. Despite the fact that the spelling system is faithfully true to the phonetics of the spoken language, I have a difficult time knowing which silly little characters to use after simply hearing a word. Sigh. Practice, I suppose will iron this out.

As a teacher, all I can do is tell your students to keep reading and learning from mistakes. And use spellcheck for goodness sake! Your welcome.*

How good of a speller are YOU?!
(*Bonus points if you noticed that "your welcome" should be "you're welcome.")