Author: Archana


Yesterday, I finished watching Devil Beside You – which, quite possibly, might be the last Taiwanese drama I’ll ever watch.  For reasons I won’t go into here.  Heh.

Anyway, I watched DBY with little to no knowledge of Chinese, other than basic “A is B”-type sentences so I was intrigued by the way the characters addressed each other.  Why did everyone call Jiang Meng “Ahmeng”?  Why was Yuan Yi so offended when Ahmeng called him “Ahyi”?  Why did Qi Yue’s friends alternatively call her Qi Yue and Xiao Yue?  Why was Yuan Yi the only one who called Qing Zi “Xiao Zi”?  You see what I’m getting at.

Well, I kind of figured out through context that ah (阿) and xiao (小) were diminutives, basically forms of words (usually names though they can be other nouns) that are used to signify either smallness or endearment/intimacy.  In fact, in Chinese xiao (小) actually means “small.”  What is interesting is that some languages, like English, do not have a strict way of forming diminutives while other languages, like Chinese, Korean, and Japanese do.

A lot of diminutives for proper names English (i.e. nicknames) end with an “-ie” sound.  Examples:  Christine = Christie; Samantha = Sammy.  Some other nouns follow this pattern as well, like cat = kitty.  But English doesn’t really have set rules for forming diminutives of proper nouns (nicknames just are what they are, I suppose).

Indian languages (e.g. Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, etc.)
Of course, I can’t forget to address my own native language…  Most Indian names have diminutives ending in a u (or sometimes ee or ya) sound, unless they are very short.  Since Indian names are usually quite long, the nickname is most commonly the first syllable + u.  Examples:  Ramachandran = Ramu; Ashwini = Ashu; Namrata = Namu.  BUT names like Satya, Puja, Meera, don’t usually change.

I have to say, however, unlike English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, Indian diminutives are almost always reserved for very close family members and sometimes very very close family friends.  Of course, a degree of familiarity is a prerequisite for nickname use in all cultures… but I just feel that most Indian people would not have even their closest friends call them using their diminutive nickname.  It’s almost always reserved for parents and grandparents; and once you get older, people tend to leave it off anyway.  (As an example, my mom and dad call me by my childhood nickname but my aunts and uncles do not.  Incidentally, you might be able to guess what that nickname is from what I’ve said here!)

Suffixes like kun (くん) and chan (ちゃん) are usually added to male and female names respectively to make them diminutive.  Sometimes ちゃん can be added to other nouns to make them sound “cute” (e.g. 猫ちゃん = kitty)

Like Chinese and Japanese, Korean has a pretty standard way of forming proper name diminutives – add 아 (ah) at the end of names ending in a consonant and 야 (yah) at the end of a name ending in a vowel.  In the case of Korean (though not in the other languages I’ve mentioned), this diminutive is also the vocative case – this is basically the form of the proper noun that you use to call a person.  In most languages, the diminutive and can be used either as the vocative case or not but in Korean, the 아/야 diminutive MUST also be the vocative case.  Korean also has a diminutive that is not vocative –  for names ending in consonants, you can add 이 (i).  This is how I understand it:

  1. 혜원가 김밥을 먹는다. (O)
    [Adding 이 to 혜원 makes it diminutive but it’s still nominative – meaning, it’s the subject of the sentence and therefore marked by the subject marking particle]
  2. 혜원,  김밥을 먹어라. (O)
    [Adding  아 to 혜원 makes the diminutive now vocative – meaning you are calling Hyewon to come eat kimbap.]
  3. 혜원, 김밥을 먹어라. (X…?)
    [Now that I think about it, I wonder if this is really wrong?  It sounds odd to me and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say something like this.  Hm.]
  4. 혜원 김밥을 먹는다. (X)
    [This is definitely wrong because you only use 아 when you’re calling someone, not when that person is the subject of a sentence]

Whoops, sorry for the grammar overload.  I just find stuff like this interesting.  One of my favorite things to watch in Korean dramas is when 2 characters go from addressing someone as “so-and-so 씨” or by the full name  to the diminutive.  I remember feeling all giddy at the end of Full House when 영재 addresses 지은 as “한지은.. 지은아…”

Just another thing I enjoy about the Korean language, I guess.


My penpal Dina assured me that if I learned Korean, Japanese would be easy.  LIES!  Strangely enough, I know a lot of Korean learners who struggle with Japanese and vice versa.  I can’t pinpoint what my problem is with Japanese but I know that it started before I started learning Korean.

I tried to teach myself Japanese in high school but only got as far as learning hiragana and the basic “AはBです” type sentences before I got sidetracked with Kanji.  Kanji was a whole other beast… I got so into trying to learn Kanji that I forgot that I actually had to understand some Japanese grammar before I could use it.  Then, I stumbled into Korean (with no intention of learning it!) and it came so naturally to me that I abandoned Japanese until last year.

I thought maybe formal instruction would help me with Japanese but it doesn’t.  It’s not that my grades are bad; I just feel sluggish.  It takes me a long time to memorize things and I forget sentence patterns easily – stuff I’ve never had a problem with in Korean.  Why can’t I seem to find my momentum with Japanese?  These might be some of the reasons:

  1. The regularity of Japanese frightens me. (Only 2 irregular verbs?!)  This is probably a positive thing for most people but… I don’t know, it just seems unnatural to me.  It’s easier for me to deal with irregularities in Korean because I liken them to English.
  2. It’s hard to look up Kanji. I don’t know how to look up Kanji using radicals (is that how you do it?) so when I encounter Kanji that I can’t read, I’m stuck.  Even simple sentences like 今晩は時間がありません becomes hard when you don’t know what all that Kanji is!  (Incidentally, yes, I do know those particular ones.)  In Korean, I learn a lot of grammar and vocabulary just by reading stuff that’s beyond my level.  But Kanji prevents me from taking this approach in Japanese.
  3. I have a weird inability to recall and write Kanji. I can recognize Kanji with no difficulty.  Give me Kanji that look similar – like 読 and 話 I have no difficulty distinguishing them in meaning.  But then ask me to write sentences using that Kanji and… I can’t remember how they look exactly.  Like yesterday, I forgot how to write 金 as in 金曜日!!  I mean, I learned days of the week years ago and I have no problem recognizing that 金曜日 = きんようび  but I couldn’t remember the strokes for 金 and 曜!  So frustrating!
  4. There are 3 types of verbs and 2 types of adjectives.  Korean has really spoiled me.  I REALLY love the fact that adjectives are pretty much verbs in Korean.  I hate how much Japanese grammar patterns change based on the type of verb and type of adjective you want to use.  It’s really hard to memorize.
  5. I can never remember て-form.  Guess more practice is the solution for this but, seriously, we learned this last semester and I STILL have to keep looking up how to make the て-form of  う-verbs.  If you can’t master て-form and plain form, you’re pretty much screwed for more advanced grammar.
  6. Plain form is more complicated than polite form.  And I need to master plain form if I want to understand anime, dammit!  No, but seriously.  I always have to pause and think when I want to use plain form. It’s embarrassing.
  7. Japanese seems more rigid.  This is just based on the two semesters of beginning Japanese that I’ve taken, but I guess with regularity comes rigidity.  With Korean, I love the fact that you can move around different words in a sentence and choose to omit certain particles without greatly affecting the meaning of the sentence (obviously this doesn’t work in all cases).  But with Japanese, the sentence patterns seem fixed and you will be struck down if you leave off a particle!  (Or at least that’s how my textbook makes it out to be.)
  8. My mouth feels funny when I speak Japanese.  Is it the consonants that are tripping me up?  I don’t know.  A lot of people find Korean, which is a relatively vowel-heavy language (all those i, eu, eo, yeo, yo, yu, u, o sounds), more difficult.  To my untrained ear, Korean has a more gliding, guttural sound than Japanese which sounds very crisp and staccato.  But for some reason, the consonants make it harder for me to speak fast in Japanese.  It’s like the words just get stuck in my mouth.
  9. I just wanna study what I wanna study.  This is more my gripe with formal instruction.  Every chapter in our textbook (and most language texts out there) is “themed” so we learn a lot of related vocabulary at the same time.  Next chapter, for example, we’ll be learning about seasons and weather.  My immediate thought was, I’m not going to be a meteorologist in Japanese, why do I need to learn this?  (Rain, snow, etc. is fine but why do we have to learn stuff like “the air pressure is rising”??)  My brain shuts off when I see vocabulary that I’m not interested in.

Calling all Japanese learners out there!  Did you have similar issues when you were starting out with Japanese?  How did you overcome them and hit your stride?  Do leave me a comment and let me know.

로서 vs 로써

I was reading 세상에 너를 소리쳐 a few days ago and came across a particle I wasn’t familiar with: 로서.  Obviously 로 is used in a variety of situations, but what I wasn’t sure if 로서 was used in a similar way or if it was completely unrelated to 로.  So I did a bit of research and came across an English blog post that did quite a poor job of explaining how to use 로서, 로써, 로인하여 and then went on to conclude that 로서, 로써, 로인하여, as well as 므로 could just be replaced by 로 colloquially.  Well, that sounded a bit suspicious so I brought up the question with CoreanBigSis on Twitter and, sure enough, that was incorrect.  As 언니 explained to me, there are SOME situations where 로 can colloquially replace the other particles and some situations where it simply cannot.  So, I googled something in Korean about those particles and came up with a really excellent explanation on when to use 로서 vs 로써 (which, I assume, are mixed up quite often by native speakers.  Like when English speakers mix up “your” and “you’re”).

Continue reading “로서 vs 로써”

Korean grammar terms

When I just can’t find good explanations of more advanced (?) Korean grammar points in English, I resort to searching for explanations in Korean.  I’ve also started to use the 국어 사전 more these days to look up words I don’t know (and to learn new words while I’m at it!)  Anyway, I’ve begun compiling a list of Korean grammatical terms that’ll hopefully make it easier to understand dictionary entries and grammar explanations in Korean.  I’ll probably add more to this list in the future but here’s what I have so far.

Edit:  I decided to make a separate page for this topic.


Anybody else out there watching 49일?  I’m enjoying it so far.  It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s entertaining and… I don’t know if the dialogue is relatively simple or if my Korean is getting better but I’m starting to realize that I don’t need to rely on subtitles as much anymore!  But then, when I inadvertently start to glance away from the subtitles, I freak out and look down at them again (it’s like riding a bicycle – the instant you realize you’re riding without training wheels, you start wobbling again.)

So, until recently, I was really confused about the whole seal thing.  What was the seal?  (I kept imagining the old-fashioned way of sealing letters – you know, with hot wax and a signet ring).  Why was the seal important? Why did Ji Hyun mix it up with a tube of lipstick?  What does it have to do with her land?  Why are Min Ho and In Jung trying to steal it???  So I decided to do some research on the 인감도장 (“registered personal seal”) that the characters kept obsessing over and now I think I have a fair idea of why it’s so important.

I learned that the personal seal, used in Japan, Korea, and China, is equivalent to a signature on an official document.  Although, “equivalent” might not be the right word here since many documents can require both a signature AND a registered seal to be considered “valid.”  Apparently, there are different types of 도장 (personal seals) of different levels of legal importance.  The 인감도장 is officially registered and is used for more important business transactions.  So basically, in the context of 49일, Ji Hyun’s land (which was part of the business deal Min Ho was trying to close) couldn’t be sold without her seal on the documents.  And the reason Ji Hyun mixed it up with a tube of lipstick is… well, it really looks like a tube of lipstick (not a ring like I thought, haha).

Anyway, this is just something I found interesting because I’ve never heard about it before (forgive my poor Westernized education) and I don’t really know anything about it, so feel free to correct me if there are any mistakes.  And, GO WATCH 49일!




Where I live, we don’t have four seasons.

In the summer, it gets very hot and stays warm until the end of November.  Then, out of the blue, in the middle of December we get sleet and ice.  It stays cold through February and then BAM one day in the middle of March it gets up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 deg. Celsius).  Then it proceeds to get hotter and hotter through the summer.  While I was walking around in short sleeves last week, I heard (through Twitter) that it was raining and snowing in Korea. SNOW. IN MARCH.

My friend Jeannie said it was 꽃샘추위.  I wasn’t entirely sure what that was so I looked it up and found that it’s roughly translated as “spring frost.”  Well, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with that explanation so I found an article about on (the Korean) Wikipedia:

꽃샘추위는 초봄에 날씨가 풀린 뒤 다시 찾아오는 일시적인 추위를 가리키는 고유어이다. 꽃이 피는 것을 시샘하는 듯이 춥다고 해서 이 이름이 붙었다. 꽃샘추위가 오면 갑자기 쌀쌀해진 날씨에 사람들은 옷을 두껍게 입고 다닌다. 꽃샘추위는 시베리아 고기압에 의한 것이다. 즉 겨울의 한기는 시베리아에서 유입되며 겨울에 시베리아 고기압의 영향을 받는 곳(중국이나 일본)에서도 꽃샘추위 비슷한 늦한기가 있다. 일본에도 ‘하나비에(はなびえ)’라는 유사한 뜻의 단어가 있다.

꽃샘추위 (kkot saem chuwi) is a word native to Korea that refers to the brief spell of cold weather that comes around in early spring after it gets warm.  The name stuck because it was said that the cold is jealous of the flowers blooming (Translation note:   꽃 = flower; 샘 = jealousy; 추위 = cold). During 꽃샘추위, the weather gets suddenly chilly and people go out wearing bulky clothes.  꽃샘추위 is due to the high atmospheric pressure from Siberia.  That is to say, while the chill of winter comes in from Siberia, when it is winter in Siberia, the places affected by the high atmospheric pressure (China and Japan) also experience a later chill similar to 꽃샘추위.  In Japan, “hanabie” is a word of similar meaning.

Source:  Wikipedia

I am fairly certain we don’t have anything like the Korean “spring frost” over here, but this entire week is COLD. (Relatively at least). It was in the 70s and 80s last week and this week it’s 20 degrees colder, rainy, and windy. The weather has been really schizophrenic this year.

I supposed I should get used to the cold, though.  Chances are I will be in a much colder place come this fall, wherever graduate school might take me.

My penpal

Compared with my reading and listening comprehension skills, my Korean composition skills are pretty much laughable.  I tried to translate a relatively simple English song into Korean and while I think I got the grammar right, I managed to suck all the emotion out of the lyrics.  Sigh.  Anyway, I’ve been trying to improve my writing ability by commenting on TTMIK, tweeting some native Korean speakers, and emailing my Korean penpal, Dina.

Dina (her Korean name is 도희) and I have been penpals for about a year now.  She was actually my younger sister’s friend back when they were both in the 1st and 2nd grade here in the States, but she moved back to Korea at the end of 2nd grade.  She’d been in touch with my sister and when my sister mentioned my interest in the Korean language, she immediately said she wanted to be penpals with me.  So we’ve been emailing back and forth since then and it’s amazing how my emails have progressed from being half in English, half in Korean to almost 100% Korean.

We talk about random things.  Mostly about things like school, food, and the weather.  I also learn a lot of interesting words and slang and emoticons from her as well.  For example “바2” and “빠빠이” are both cute ways to say “bye.”  Once I tried to fangirl about boybands (i.e. Big Bang) with her but clearly she’s more mature than I am because she said:

나는 boyband에 관심은 없지만, 빅뱅이 좋아~~ 언니는 멤버 중에서 누가 제일 좋아?? 한국 친구들은 빅뱅 중에서 g-dragon을 제일많이 좋아해!

관심 없다고?!  How is that possible?  Haha.

I love being an 언니 to my Korean penpal and I hope we can stay friends for a very long time!

Learning Korean Through Translation

I’m a huge proponent of learning a language through translation.  In fact, most of the vocabulary and grammar structures I know now are thanks to my attempts to learn Korean by “translating” K-pop songs.  Not only did I learn new things, I also figured out what the song meant!  But, please note, these are all still amateur translations.  A successful translation captures both the meaning and style of a work and if you use translation as a means to learn a language, you can only hope to master one aspect at the beginner level (meaning).  Once you’ve mastered the language (if there is such a thing), you can learn to capture the style of the original work as well.

Continue reading “Learning Korean Through Translation”


I am currently SUPER EXCITED because the Korean novels that I bought online last week just arrived in the mail a few days ago!  On Shanna’s recommendation, I bought Big Bang’s biography 세상에 너를 소리쳐! I’ve already paged through a bit of it and I’m surprised how much I can understand.  It’s awesome getting to know more about my favorite K-pop boys AND learn some new Korean words while I’m at it.  Obviously reading prose like this is more complicated than reading 만화 so it’s sometimes a challenge getting through long, dependent-clause heavy sentences.  But for a beginner, this can be great reading practice.  I also bought 성균관 유생들의 나날 volume 1 – the novel that inspired one of my most favorite dramas ever Sungkyunkwan Scandal (KBS 2010). I’ve read a couple pages of this novel and I already know it’s WAY beyond my reading level.  I’m usually okay with the dialogue bits but in the prose, I have to literally look up every other word.  But it’s okay.  I’m sure it’ll get better as my Korean improves.

I bought both of these books from HanBooks, a division of AladinUS which is the largest online Korean bookstore in the U.S., catering to Korean Americans who want to purchase products in their native language.  The only issue with AladinUS is that the entire website is in Korean which may be difficult for some people to navigate.  The HanBooks site, on the other hand, is entirely in English.  You can find a variety of products – everything from popular Korean novels (written in Korean of course), 만화책, dramas, music, electronic dictionaries (like the iRiver Dicple), and even Korean language learning material.  This site is a dream come true for people like me who aren’t willing to drive two hours to get to their nearest Koreatown bookstore.  And although the pricing is in USD, it is possible for them to ship outside of the U.S. as well.  More info:


  • You can purchase pretty much any book, CD, DVD, etc. sold in Korea.
  • If they don’t have it, you can get them to import it for you.
  • Great customer service!
  • FAST (if you live in the U.S.).  Although it states on the website that your order ships between 5-10 days, my order was shipped in 3 days and I received it 2 days later.
  • I was really excited about this:  You can buy individual books from a book set.  For example, 성균관 유생들의 나날 was actually packaged as a 2 volume set.  I only wanted one volume so I just stated that in the “comments” section of the order form and the cost and S&H were adjusted accordingly.
  • Products arrived in great condition.  They were even bubble-wrapped even though they were just books.


  • Pricey.  The products are a bit more expensive than what they would originally cost in Korea and the shipping and handling cost is a bit high too.
  • The website is outdated.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell if certain products are in stock or not.

Overall, I give this store 4.9/5 stars!!  It’s really great.  I was so impressed with the speed of their delivery and the quality of the products.  I’m looking forward to buying more from them in the future.


I think 만화 (Korean comics) is a great way to practice reading and build vocabulary at the same time.  The grammar doesn’t get too complicated because 만화 writing is mostly conversational so it’s easy to focus on the adjectives, nouns, and verbs that you don’t know.  Plus, if things do get confusing, you can fill in the gaps by just looking at the drawings.  Granted, you should have a grasp of rudimentary grammar before giving it a try – maybe 6 months to a year of consistent study.  If you’re at that level, I would recommend first starting with a 만화 that’s been made into a drama you’ve seen before (there are a surprisingly large number of them) so at least you’ll have a basic idea of the plot.  Funnily enough, I didn’t do it this way.  I started reading 매리는 외박중 (Mary Stayed Out All Night) back in September 2010 BEFORE the drama started airing and I’m a good way through it – far enough to know that the 만화 is nothing like the drama (which was a complete train wreck, but I won’t get into that).


Obviously it takes more effort to read something in a foreign language and learn from it.  I read through a single chapter about three times.  The first time I read just to see what I can pick up – which is surprisingly a good deal!  (Sometimes if I can understand enough to be able to fill in the rest with context clues and pictures, I’ll just continue reading the next chapter but this is a bad way to study).  The next read-through, I’ll have my dictionary with me and I look up every word I don’t know and write it down in my vocabulary notebook.  I’ll also occasionally look up some grammar points if I’m not sure of them.  The third time, I mentally “fill-in” the words I looked up in the dictionary in their appropriate places and read for overall comprehension.  It’s a very long and tedious process and, no, it’s not worth trying to memorize every word you looked up in the dictionary.  But the great thing is that certain characters will have a distinct way of speaking and you start to pick up the words and expressions they use a lot.  You’ll start retaining more and more new words and your vocabulary will grow.

One of the best things about 만화 is that a lot of them were originally webcomics, which means you can read them online for free!  Check out these two that were also made into popular dramas: