Chrome Add-On: Pop-Up Dictionary (via Jeanne’s Korean Learning Journey)

This is seriously the best thing I’ve ever come across. Thank you so much, Jeanne!!

Chrome Add-On: Pop-Up Dictionary Ever since my Japanese-learning friend bragged about pop-up dictionary Rikaichan or something, I’ve been looking around for something similar for Korean, in vain… Until now. Seriously, why didn’t anyone tell me about it? A free Chrome add-on (though I’m pretty sure that other browsers have it too) allows you to double-click on a Korean word and have its dictionary entry opened right away, in a little pop-up window. Easy-peasy, and you’re not ev … Read More

via Jeanne’s Korean Learning Journey

욕 (辱)

욕 [yok] is an interesting word.  I hear it in a lot of Korean songs and, more often that not, it’s a word that’s awkwardly translated into English.

As a noun, it means a “swear word” or “curse.”  In the verb form [욕하다], it can mean “to swear at,” “to curse at,” “to speak ill of,” “to slander,” “to [verbally] abuse,” “to badmouth,” “to revile,” etc.

It’s not that hard to translate the word when it’s in it’s present, affirmative form; the awkwardness comes when you’re using the imperative (i.e. commanding or prohibiting someone to do something.)

For example, I’ve seen 욕해 translated as “curse me,” where “curse” sounds more sorcerous than slanderous.  Curse at me would be more accurate but that sounds odd in English.  As does “revile me,” “speak ill of me,” “swear at me,” etc.  Personally, I’d go for a looser translation and use “hate/despise me” or “scream/shout/yell at me” depending on the context, because the sentiment is the same (i.e. you don’t speak ill of someone to their face unless you (a) dislike them (b) are angry/frustrated.)

욕하지마 presents a similar problem.  I’ve usually always seen it translated as “don’t curse me” which makes me cringe (again, it should be “don’t curse at me.”)  But I think it’s more natural to say “don’t despise me” (and hence say bad things about me, etc.)

My translations aren’t perfect but it’s taught me one thing: a word in one language does not always equal a word with the same definition in another language. Translation is about capturing the meaning AND the sentiment of the original language.  Literal translations are just plain gross, people.

How many is too many?

As much as I love languages, I’ve always limited myself to learning ONE or TWO at a time.  I’m not sure I admire people who say they are learning six languages at the same time.  Mostly, I’m just skeptical of them.

Personally, I think it’s okay to learn multiple languages at the same time if you’re definitely at different levels in each language.  For me, my Korean isn’t impeccable or anything but my Korean abilities >>>>>>> my Japanese abilities.  Now, when I learn new things in Japanese, I liken them to things I already knew in Korean and that actually helps me learn better.  It also helps that Japanese and Korean have quite a bit of similarities, both in terms of vocabulary, SOME general grammar constructions (though I find that most Japanese grammar is quite different from Korean grammar), and even some expressions.  So studying Japanese sometimes helps me reinforce what I already know in Korean; at least, it forces me to think, “Hm. Is there an equivalent expression in Korean?” or “How would I express this in Korean?”  I think it might actually be helpful to learn two somewhat related or linguistically similar languages at the same time rather than learning just one or two completely unrelated languages.  That way, if you get exhausted or frustrated studying one language, you can switch to the other one but still somewhat unconsciously be reviewing the other one.  Does that even make sense?  Haha.  At least, that’s the kind of relationship I have with Japanese and Korean.  Also, once you’re quite comfortable with one language, you could use that language to learn another linguistically similar one.  For example, learning Japanese using Korean (or vice versa) is probably an infinity times easier than learning either one from English, just because English is SO different from Japanese and Korean.  (But, of course, you’d probably want to stick to using English to learn languages French or Spanish, rather than any East Asian language.)

But suppose you’re learning like two NEW (zero-experience) languages at the same time.  If they’re completely unrelated to each other, personally, I feel that you’d be doing a disservice to yourself.  You’d hinder your progress in BOTH languages.  It may take you longer to digest different sets of vocabulary and completely different grammar points.  And I feel that the time that you divide between two languages (specifically if you’re at the zero-experience, BEGINNER level in both) could be better spent in progressing faster in ONE language.  Once you reach a certain degree of comfort in one language, I think it’ll be worth starting a new one.  That way, like I said, if you ever get tired of one, you could take a break and study the other, even if the languages are unrelated.  On the other hand, if you’re starting from ground zero in two “similar” languages – like Hindi and Marathi or Korean and Japanese, again, I think you’d be at a disadvantage.  It’s possible you could easily get mixed up and hinder your progress in both.

Honestly, I’m VERY skeptical of people who say they’re learning Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, French, Spanish, etc. etc. all at the same time.  I just don’t think it’s a fruitful way to become proficient in ANY language.  But that’s just my opinion.  What do you guys think?  (*SOB* Not that anyone leaves me any comments anymore…)

東方神起 – 忘れないで 한국어 번역

TVXQ’s 忘れないで (“Don’t Forget”) is one of my favorite songs ever by the first K-pop group I ever liked (*sob*) and now… I’ve tried to translate it into Korean!!  My Japanese is deplorable so looking up every single grammar point and vocabulary word I didn’t know was time consuming, but in the end I managed to get a sense of what the song was about.  Please be warned, this translation was only for practice.  I still have a long way to go before my Japanese (and Korean, too, for that matter) is good enough to provide a decent translation.  After I did my translation, I compared it to one I found online and I was surprised to see that a lot of the lines matched!  That sure raised my confidence in understanding Japanese and writing Korean.  Video below and lyrics after the break.^^

video credit:  


Continue reading “東方神起 – 忘れないで 한국어 번역”

Beware the dictionary

I’m having fun writing in Korean.  Whether it’s lang-8 entries, fan letters, random tweets, or me2day updates, I’m really enjoying the fact that I can construct a decent sentence without laboring over it for a long time.  In fact, I LOVE that Korean grammar allows me to write longer sentences that would sound like absolute nonsense if translated into English.  As it is, I tend to have long, adjective- and adverb-ridden, clause-filled sentences in English, but because of the glorious overuse of relative clauses in Korean, I can make my Korean sentences EVEN LONGER than my English sentences!  Haha.  I’m sure few native speakers actually write like that these days, but I like it.  In fact, I actually think that’s part of the reason some native speakers have told me that my writing sounds natural.  I might not have acquired a broad vocabulary yet but because I’ve somewhat figured out the cadence of Korean writing, I think I have a better “ear” for how a sentence “sounds” – and I think Korean sentences on average tend to be longer and use descriptive words more generally than English.

But aside from that, whenever  I write, I almost never look up words in the dictionary.

Don’t be misled by the title of the post – I love the dictionary.  And it’s pretty much impossible to learn a language without one.  When I’m reading, I’m always using my crappy Korean-English dictionary app on my iPod or the Daum 영어 or 국어 dictionaries.

But I avoid using the dictionary when I write.  I only want to use words that, I guess, come naturally to me as I write. Sometimes I do check the definition of a word to make sure I’m using it correctly but I never try to use a word that I’ve not learned.  I never “compose” a sentence in English in my head and then try to translate it into Korean; obviously, I did write like that at one point, but now I compose what I want to say in Korean itself and then write it down.  That means limiting myself to the vocabulary I truly know.  The only exception I sometimes make to this rule is looking up specific nouns (for example, I looked up the Korean word for resume, 이력서, when I was writing about graduate school interviews).

I keep harping on about nuances of words but honestly that’s what this comes down to as well.  I just don’t think it’s possible to accurately use a verb or adjective (especially adjectives), sometimes even nouns, that you’ve just looked up in a dictionary.  For example, if you look up the word “mistake” in an Eng-Kor dictionary, you’ll get words like 잘못, 틀림, 착각, 오해, 실수 – ALL of which have different connotations and are used in different scenarios.  If you tried to ask a Korean person to correct your “오해” or “착각” in something you’ve written… it’s just weird.

I know people are eager to spice up their writing using pretty new words (I’m guilty of that) but sometimes it’s painfully obvious people have looked up words in the dictionary without having any idea of whether native speakers use that word in that manner.  Just because some word “X” is used in some manner in English does NOT mean it’s used in the same way in another language.  And sometimes it’s just awkward… imagine writing a simple sentence with the grammatical complexity of an elementary school student, but throwing in a complicated, rarely-used word?  That’s why I think it’s important to limit the words you use in writing to words you feel you know really well – even if it means that you just use 좋다 or 대박 or something over and over again.  READING will help build a broader vocabulary better than writing and context will help with recognizing the nuances of certain words.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong in using wrong words and making mistakes.  I know I do.  Some people may even prefer to learn by making mistakes and being corrected.  Personally, I prefer to not make mistakes when I write – that way, I can confirm what I really know well, both in grammar and vocabulary, and I can move on from there.

Finding a voice

How many years of study does it take, I wonder, for one to develop a “voice” in a foreign language?

When I wrote literature or history essays in college, I never sat down and thought about how I should “sound” in my paper.  I wrote the way I thought my paper should be written to address the specified topic.  Depending on the topic, my choice of words would vary, but in the end, if you compared a paper I wrote for my Jane Austen literature class to my honors thesis about host-microbe interactions, I think you’d be able to tell that it was by the same author.  Clearly there are qualities in my writing that are different from others’ writing and vice versa.  My written voice – that is, the style, the choice of vocabulary, the cadence of my writing, general sentence structure, and tone – is unique to myself.

I’ve been told (somewhat generously) that my Korean writing is good, but by that I’m assuming people mean that it’s “good for a foreigner” (i.e. “understandable with minor mistakes”).  But mistakes aside, I’m always curious as to how my writing “sounds” to a native speaker.  For example, sometimes when I’m browsing English entries on Lang-8, I read impressive entries in nearly perfect English but… it’s bland.  Don’t get me wrong!  I wouldn’t consider lack of voice as a valid criticism ( native English-speakers themselves have this problem, hello) – obviously, proficiency should come first before anything else.  Only when you’re proficient in a language can you even think about developing other qualities expected of a writer.

Can a language-learner ever truly develop a voice in a foreign language?  It seems a formidable task to me.  Obviously, you have to know grammar.  That’s a given.  But personally I think voice is developed mostly through words.  In that case, one must have a vast vocabulary as well as an acute understanding of  the nuances of words.  One must also be able to use figurative language to some degree (adds flavor to the writing) but stray away from cliched language.  But the most important thing – the hardest thing – is finding the ability to uniquely express words in a language that is not your native tongue.  That’s the challenge of finding a voice.

Heh, well, I was just randomly thinking about this stuff.

For now, I’ll focus on how to handle my problem of knowing a lot of useless words but having a sadly limited knowledge of basic vocabulary (e.g. I know how to say “acute appendicitis” but not “brush my teeth”).

One day, I hope I’ll be good enough in Korean to actually start worrying about developing a voice in my writing.  For now, I’ll just focus on spelling my words right and getting my meaning across.  Haha.