Latest Posts

먹칠하다

It’s so strange to realize that 성균관 유생들의 나날 was one of the first Korean novels I ever bought, at a time when it was still wayyyy too difficult for me to comprehend.

Six years later (!!), I can finally read entire chapters without having to look up words and still understand what’s going on. Plus, I know an astounding number of words related to Confucian scholarship and education. (Oh my god I found the blog post I wrote when I first bought the books.)

Anyway, that’s how I came across the word 먹칠하다.

Read More

懐かしい

I love the word 懐かしい (natsukashii).

It’s one of those words that most people learn through anime, that’s usually translated as “how nostalgic” or “I miss when I used to experience such-and-such.” I don’t think I really got the essence of the word until I started going to Japanese conversation club, back when I was taking Japanese in college. One woman was talking about going to onsen when she was younger, and the other responded with 懐かしいね.

I don’t think there’s an equivalent Korean word that has the same kind of connotation and is used in the same kind of way. The dictionary tells me 그립다 is the closest equivalent:

Screenshot 2017-05-07 at 06.07.26 PM

It’s interesting that the words aren’t exact equivalents of each other. I’ve only ever seen 그립다 used in songs or poetry, or used in literary or scholarly speech, usually when talking about something really sentimental. 懐かしい can be used in those cases too, but also more casually–like when you describe a childood anime, or when you hear an old song, or eat a dish you grew up with.

A couple weeks ago, I went out with my Korean language class classmates for dinner and karaoke. I tried to sing some “old” K-pop songs and failed miserably because I didn’t remember the melodies at all. (Honestly, I was kind of shocked at myself–yeah, it’s been years since I really listened to K-pop but to not recall some of my favorite songs? Sob!)

A few days following that, I plunged myself into the songs and idol groups I used to like (and learn Korean from) back in the day and spent hours watching old variety shows and dance practice videos, channeling the long lost fangirl buried with in me…. The best way I can describe how I felt is 懐かしい.

Speaking of which, I’ll be back in Japan during the first week of October this year. Is anyone else going to be there? I’d love to meet up!

Translating Korean relative clauses

Ahhh, Korean prose. It’s so amazingly different from its English counterpart.

I’ve spoiled myself when it comes to translation because, before now, I’ve only translated what I enjoy translating or what I think naturally translates well into English – avoiding passages with dreaded idiomatic expressions or puns.

For the past couple months, though, I’ve kinda sorta taken up casually translating a Korean e-book into English, and over the course of thousands of words, the translation challenges are becoming more and more persistent and unavoidable.

Case in point: relative clauses.

In English, a relative clause is a phrase that modifies a noun and is usually preceded by a relative pronoun (i.e. who, whom, which, that, or whose). Note, Korean doesn’t have explicit relative pronouns; at the end of verb, adjective, or noun preceding the noun you want to modify, you just add -는 (for present-tense verbs/adjectives), -(으)ㄴ (past-tense verbs), -았/었/였던 (past-tense adjectives),-(으)ㄹ (future-tense verbs/adj), or -인 (nouns).

Now, obviously I can’t generalize writing style, but given the range and number of things I’ve read over the years, I’m comfortable saying that standard Korean writing uses a lot of relative clauses. And, man, are they hard to translate.

First off, in Korean, relative clauses can modify personal pronouns (i.e. I, they, we, us) which quickly gets strange and awkward to translate in English:

별에서 그대
lit. You who came from the stars.

Not… wrong, necessarily. But there’s a reason why the official English translation of this drama title is My Love From the Stars instead.

Relative clauses in Korean can also get long, like beyond what actually sounds decent in English. Now combine that with point 1 and you might see things like:

요즘따라 내꺼인 듯 내꺼 아닌 내꺼 같은
lit. You who seem like you’re mine these days, who aren’t mine, who are like mine.

(Okay, so these are song lyrics, so not totally representative of normal prose. LOL.)

I struggle with sentences that use a lot of descriptive clauses because it makes English-translated Korean sentences sound homogeneous. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s a stylistic thing that bothers me a lot. So much tone, mood, and pacing comes from varying sentence length and structure. It gives prose an overall movement and cadence.

Side note – I love writing, it’s my day job, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what ‘good’ is writing to me and developing my craft.  I tend to hate using adverbs and overwrought descriptions in my own prose, so when I encounter relative clauses in Korean, I think I exercise a little too much creative freedom in translating them.

낡긴 하였으나 깨끗한 도포를 입고 갓을 쓴 곱상한 선비가 두 손으로 보자기를 함겹게 들고 서책이 빼곡한 책방 안으로 들어서며 주인을 찾았다.
lit. The handsome scholar who wore an old, although clean dopo and hat, clutched with difficulty a cloth-wrapped bundle in both hands, and, stepping into the bookstore crowded with books, looked for its owner.

Yeah, nope. If this was the first sentence of an English novel, I would not be shy about using a red pen all over it. I’d break that sentence up into at least two, if not three sentences.

An interesting and unintended consequence of translating Korean is that my own writing (especially in fiction) has also changed subtly. I find myself using a lot more relative clauses and adverbs than I used to. Make it stopppp.

(Photo by João Silas via Unsplash)

First ever Korean class

So after many months of not really studying Korean (despite what it looks like on my blog, I rarely pick up a textbook and study. Almost everything I write about comes from random one-off things I read in Korean.) I decided what I really needed was external motivation to take my skill to the next level.

SO! I signed up for Advanced Korean classes at San Jose Language Center. I really feel like I struck gold here because it’s incredibly close to where I live and it’s a language school designed for adults – which means all classes are after working hours.

Screenshot.png

There are only two other students in the class and they’re both of Korean heritage. At first, the instructor said she was worried when she saw me (clearly not of Korean heritage) on her roster but we conversed for a bit, and then afterward, she said I might actually be too advanced for the class. Welp?

Either way, I was really nervous about taking an actual class for Korean that’s also completely taught in Korean. In my 7-ish years of learning the language, this was the first time I’d ever taken a class in a formal setting. I also hadn’t actually had a conversation in spoken Korean since my first trip to Seoul about 2.5 years ago.

I had my first class last Friday and… it was really, really great. Yes, I’m fairly familiar with all of the grammar we’re supposed to cover over the next seven weeks, but I’m getting so much more value than that out of this class.

  • Speaking practice: This is a huge one. Since there are only two other students and the instructor, we get to converse a lot amongst ourselves. I’m finally getting some very much needed speaking practice.
  • Proverbs: Yeah, I’m pretty terrible at learning proverbs. I’ll look them up and then immediately forget them. I think learning proverbs and idioms in a classroom – especially in one this small – will be really effective because of all the practice we do with each other.
  • Nuance: In the first class, we covered three different ways to express reason or cause: -느라고, -는 바람에, -고 해서. Though I’m familiar with all three, the instructor provided a lot of insight into the nuances of each and the different types of situations each one would be appropriate for.
  • New friends: Yay new IRL language friends!
  • Expert knowledge: I’m so used to researching/looking up all the questions I have about Korean grammar or vocabulary on my own that it’s incredible to be able to just ask the teacher when I don’t know something.
  • TOPIK prep: Because I hate reviewing TOPIK papers on my own. And (as with any kind of test prep) there are tricks that can help you master certain types of questions that are just not covered in textbooks.
  • Accountability: This is really the main reason why I wanted to take a class – so I’d be forced to study, do homework, review… or else be forever shamed in front of my teacher and peers, heh. Already since my first class, I’ve spent more time reviewing grammar/vocab in the past several days than I have in months. And by the time the course ends, I’m hoping that I will have developed a daily cadence for studying Korean that I will continue to follow.

I’m a huge proponent of self-studying languages and I always will be. If you have the drive and you can find the right resources, I think you can go far studying on your own. But I’ve come to realize (not just regarding language learning, but also other things), if you feel stuck in some part of your life, figuring out a way to shake things up really helps. I realized that I just wasn’t motivating myself to study Korean even though I really want to get better in the language (yay for the 욕심 coming back); getting myself into a classroom setting was the right way to kick my brain in gear.

Goodbye 2016, hello 2017

 

I love this:

예전에 친구 은혜에게 내가 일 년을 낭비한 걸까? 라고 말하니, 괜찮아. 1년 더 살면 돼- 라고 덤덤하게 말했다. 고민하던 나는 묘하게 설득력있는 이 말에, 그래, 무병장수가 답이라고 외치며 껄껄 거렸다. 전에도 한번 올렸었는데, 난 이 기억이 참 좋다. 2016년이 끝나가는 요즘. 가끔은 나 혼자 우두커니 서있는 것 같을지라도, 모든 일이 마음처럼 잘 되지는 않았을지라도, 우리의 노력이 언제나 보상받은 것은 아닐지라도, 삶이 언제나 합리적일 수는 없고, 때론 낭비도 할 수 있는게 아닌가. 그러니, 낭비한 순간들은, 까짓것, 무병장수로 메워보자. 난생 처음 살아보는 삶속에서 고군분투하며, 서툴었던 우리에게, 용서와 축복을. ㅡ 얼마 전에 했던 작은 크리스마스 이벤트. 당첨자는 다음과 같습니다~ @jyseong0323 @aram_j_141227 @yu_chocopie_ @hana_kku @ji__h2__s2 @euniehwang @hyun_ssoou @yukinoyoousa @jiminkaaaang @snowy._.s @tomato8709 @hiss_g @heeyas20 절반은 제가 뽑았고, 절반은 책임 분담을 위해, 친언니가 대리 추첨 했습니다. 당첨되신 분은 지인 분을 다시 태그해서 소식을 전해주시와요ㅎ책 받으실 분께서 제게 다이렉트로 주소를 보내주심 됩니다~ 당첨이 안되셨다 해도 서운해하지 마시구요.ㅠ 그럼 다들, 메리 크리스마스입니다! 감사합니다~🎅ᆞ ㅡ #나는나로살기로했다 #그림에세이 #책속한줄 #글귀 #에세이 #글스타그램 #북스타그램 #에세이추천 #책스타그램 #일러스트 #illustration #illust #그림 #공감 #일상 #graphics #drawing #artwork #공감글 #공감글귀

A post shared by 김수현 / writer&designer (@217design) on

I always get melancholic at the end of the year, wishing I had accomplished more, grown more as a person. 2016 was a hard, harsh year for the world in general. Sometimes the greatest accomplishment is simply surviving one more year and celebrating that even though you might’ve not done anything ~remarkable~, you’re still alive.

낭비한 사간은 무병장수로 메워보자.

217design is the Instagram account of Korean writer and designer 김수현. She shares thoughtful prose and illustrations from her book 나는 나로 살기로 했다, and her words always make me smile. Highly recommend following her if you don’t already!

In my heart of hearts, I know I didn’t waste away 2016. I actually accomplished a lot. I grew to be a much happier, healthier person compared to where I was in 2012-2014 (shudders). I advanced in my career and nurtured a number of meaningful relationships. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone more than once.

But I think when it comes to language and writing, I have severe expectations for myself. While it’s disappointing that I accomplished almost none of my personal language and writing goals for 2016, I still made progress towards them. That’s still an accomplishment, in and of itself.

In 2017, I’ll be making small steps toward making Korean more than just a hobby (gasp). I’ve already started in this endeavor and don’t want to jinx anything so I’ll keep the news to myself for now, heh.

I’m also hoping to revisit TOPIK II. My one accomplishment last year was actually taking it even though I had no time to prepare; this year, I’ll focus on improving my score.

In terms of writing… well, I won’t get optimistic and say I’m going to update this blog more often. But I’d like to. I may. I have a feeling 2017 is going to be a big language year for me.

무용지물

Does anyone else experience this phenomenon of learning a new word or phrase and then immediately seeing it pop up everywhere?

I recently bought a copy of 덕혜옹주: 조선의 마지막 황녀 (Princess Deokhye: The Last Joseon Princess) which, now I’m reading it, is actually so depressing I don’t even know why I bought it in the first place. But it’s a change from all the other… uh… historical romance novels I keep buying without restraint.

Anyway, I was a few pages in when I first encountered the word 무용지물 in this context:

빗소리가 우산을 찢을 듯이 요란했다. 자정이 가까운 시각이었다. 서둘러 길을 건너야 한다. 여인은 휠체어 위로 우산을 받치며 걸음을 옮겼다. 그러나 사나운 빗줄기 앞에서는 우산도 무용지물이었다.

And then when I pulled out my TOPIK book, I saw the word used in a sample exercise. The next day I read it in a news article. Chances are I’ve probably encountered the word several times and looked up its definition but I never truly learned it until just now.

As with a lot of the words, idioms, 사자성어, etc. that I know, I learned this one through context. In fact, the only reason it stuck out as something special this time around is because it’s a word that I inferred the meaning of based solely on my knowledge of Hanja.

The only Hanja I know is what I’ve picked up organically from reading (in other words, not much at all). That’s probably why this felt like such an accomplishment to me.

무용지물 means “good-for-nothing” or something that’s useless.

Breaking down the word into its Hanja components, we have:

  • [없을 무]: not; nonexistent

  • [쓸 용]: use

  • [갈 지]: to go (can also have the definition ‘to use/utilize’)

  • [만물 물]: any kind of thing

I think 之 is the only Hanja for which I can’t recall a word that I know. For the other three, even though I never really made a effort to memorize the Hanja (I happen to only know the Chinese characters because of Japanese), I was already familiar with several words that used that root.

Examples of words using 無 [없을 무]: 무관심 (apathy, indifference); 무표정 (expressionless); 무시하다 (ignore, disregard)

Examples of words using 用 [쓸 용]: 이용하다 (to use, to take advantage of); 소용 (usefulness); 용도 (use, service)

Examples of words using  [만물 물]: 건물 (building); 식물 (plants, vegetation); 동물 (animal); 물건 (things, goods, items)

So given that vague knowledge plus reading the word in context with the rest of the paragraph in 덕혜옹주, I was able to figure out the meaning of 무용지물 without a dictionary.

I’ve put off learning Hanja even though I know it’s something that Korean school systems require their students to know because I hate memorizing… but learning a few Hanja here and there “organically” isn’t very efficient. In fact, this encounter with 무용지물 revealed to me just how valuable memorizing Hanja can be to improving your vocabulary in general. Not only can you piece together definitions of unknown words, you can remember words better, and improve spelling too.

So… I’m probably not going to ever seriously study Hanja. But if you’re the type of person who can memorize like crazy (and retain that information) more power to you. You’ll probably expand your Korean vocabulary much faster than I ever will.

Clazziquai Project – #Curious

I’ve had Clazziquai’s new album Travellers on repeat since it came to Spotify (bless). I love the new single so much. The lyrics and instrumentals kind of remind me of Ra-on and Yeong’s early friendships/shenanigans – though that might just be because I’ve been thinking of Moonlight Drawn By Clouds too much these days! Heh. (Seriously though. If I made a Moonlight mixtape, this song would be on it.)

Lyrics translation below!

#궁금해

같이 먹을래
같이 걸을래
요즘 들어서 왠지
난 같이 하고 싶어
너의 사소한 일도
난 모두 궁금해
네가 없는 날은
너무 지루해

너와 함께라면
오늘도 특별한 하루
I keep sayin’
여기도 특별한 장소
Don’t you know that
나 또한 특별한 사람
I gotta tell you, do you mind?
Do you mind?
Everybody knows

다시 말해줘
다시 말해줘
요즘 들어서
왠지 니가 좀 달라 보여
너의 사소한 일도
난 모두 궁금해
네가 없는 날은
너무 지루해

너와 함께라면
오늘도 특별한 하루
I keep sayin’
여기도 특별한 장소
Don’t you know that
나 또한 특별한 사람
I gotta I tell you do you mind?
Do you mind?
Everybody knows

Give me love
Give me love
I can give my love
너와 함께 난 왠지
늘 같이 하고 싶어

오늘도 특별한 하루
I keep sayin’
여기도 특별한 장소
Don’t you know that
나 또한 특별한 사람
I gotta I tell you, do you mind?
Do you mind?
Everybody knows

Everybody knows
#Curious

I want to go out to eat with you
I want to walk around with you
For some reason, these days
I want to do these things with you
I’m curious about
every little thing about you
Days without you
are so dull

If I’m with you
This day can be a special day
I keep sayin’
This place can be a special place
Don’t you know that
I can be a special someone
I gotta tell you, do you mind?
Do you mind?
Everybody knows

Say it again
Say it again
For some reason, these days
You look a bit different
I’m curious about
every little thing about you
Days without you
are so dull

If I’m with you
This day can be a special day
I keep sayin’
This place can be a special place
Don’t you know that
I can be a special someone
I gotta tell you, do you mind?
Do you mind?
Everybody knows

Give me love
Give me love
I can give my love
When I’m with you, for some reason
I want be be with you forever

This day can be a special day
I keep sayin’
This place can be a special place
Don’t you know that
I can be a special someone
I gotta tell you, do you mind?
Do you mind?
Everybody knows

Everybody knows

All the feels for ‘Age of Youth’

Yay long weekend! I just finished a 6 hour binge of 청춘시대 (Age of Youth). The last 4 episodes were such a rollercoaster – I think I cried in every single one. Ha.

20160829131306

Given that I generally don’t like “slice of life” type shows–and the fact that the last Korean drama I actually finished was 마을: 아치아라의 비밀 (The Village)–I’m kind of shocked at how much I enjoyed this one.

The plot is pretty simple: Five young women in their twenties share a house together. We follow their trials and tribulations as they each navigate through their lives, and grow to cherish each other (and themselves). Each character has her own inner demons (almost literally) to face and overcome.

This show isn’t flawless by any means. The idea isn’t original; the writing, frankly, isn’t superlative either. There were some odd genre-bending shenanigans going on, which made me wonder at certain points whether I was watching a makjang or a mystery thriller or a romcom? In retrospect, it’s probably because the nature of each character’s inner demon is so different that we got a bunch of varying, and sometimes disjointed, tones in one show. There were plot holes and a couple of instances of really cringe-worthy writing (I’m shaking my head at some of Jong-yeol’s red-flaggy “romantic” one-liners) , but. BUT.

The one major thing this show does well, it does oh so well.

It is A+ at evoking the viewer’s empathy. The characters each have their foibles–and not insignificant ones–but ultimately you’re cheering for them. In my mind, that trumps all of the smaller narrative flaws the show may have.

The importance of empathy is actually a running theme throughout the show, and each character realizes it at some point. This sort of surprised me because I think that’s not something that comes easily to twenty-somethings, especially when you’re trying to get your own two feet on the ground, but the show pulled it off well, without sounding maudlin.

One of my favorite parts of the show is this exchange between Eun-jae and Ji-won:

ageofyouth08-00431

The show’s true OTP <3

(source)

사람마다 죄다 사정이란 게 있다는 거야. 그 사정 알기 전까지는 이렇다 저렇다 말하면 안 된다는 거고.

Every person has their own situation they’re dealing with. That’s why until you know their situation you can’t tell them to live this way or that way.

It’s easier to empathize with someone if you know what their “situation” is, but even if you don’t, it’s important to try to understand them anyway. Such a great sentiment.

There are parts of this show that would’ve hit me really hard had it come out 3-4 years ago. It’s interesting watching this as someone who’s close in age to these characters, but also just past the stage that most of them are at, and reflecting if the show really captures the worries and joys of 청춘 (youth). I’d say it does.

すみません vs. すいません

So, I’m not crazy.

I was re-watching きみはペット (incidentally, one of my favorite Japanese dramas) and I confirmed a long-standing suspicion. A lot of Japanese people pronounce すません as すません.

For years I’ve thought my brain was somehow not computing the み sound correctly until I actually saw it spelled with い in a manga I was reading.

The general consensus from all the language forums I’ve combed through seems to be that すません is a colloquial and more casual way of pronouncing すません. The latter is always used when you’re being exceptionally apologetic (as opposed to simply trying to catch someone’s attention) and/or speaking formally to superior.

Probably because I don’t know the language that intimately, I’ve always assumed Japanese to be a really rigid language compared to Korean. There aren’t any complex pronunciation rules like in Korean, hiragana/katakana spelling is pretty much 100% phonetic, and verb conjugations are shockingly regular…. I guess that’s why this ‘mispronunciation’ surprised me so much.

I am getting to the point in Japanese where I’m finally starting to pick up on colloquialisms and slang, which is kind of cool. (The first bit of Japanese slang I picked up was the word 「ちょう」). At some point I should graduate from reading manga to actual novels so I don’t sound like a middle schooler the next time I’m in Japan.

***

On a related note, anime has been holding my attention far better than Korean dramas these days. (I couldn’t even make it past episode four of 마녀보감, the last drama I attempted to watch. Sigh.)

download (1).jpg

ReLIFE has been my favorite this season (definitely one of my favorites in the last couple years too). The story hits home–a 27-year old man, recently unemployed, gets the chance to participate in an experiment that lets him redo his senior year of high school. The webcomic is also available to read for free on comico! I know I’ve written a ton about webcomics/shows that I never actually finish (heh), but this one I can recommend wholeheartedly.