Blogging resolutions for 2016

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I think people can and should resolve to improve themselves throughout the year. (Besides, most people end up giving up on their resolutions mere weeks into the year, so why set yourself up for failure?) Dividing up time into years and such is a human construct and celebrating a new year is actually meaningless.

But no need to get nihilistic about it, right?!

Joking aside, I get it. What with the holiday spirit in the air and days off from work/school and time spent with family, people get nostalgic at the end of the year. They reflect and realize things they could have done better. Things they will do better in the coming year.

On that note, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can be a better language blogger in the coming year. So here we go. These are my blogging resolutions for 2016.

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  1. Post more.  I’ve been fairly regular with my blog posts, averaging about 1 a month. What a sad number though. I’m not going to get too ambitious and say that in 2016 I’ll post once a week (though I’d really like to!), so let’s say – one post every 10 days.
  2. Engage more.  If I’m following you, chances are I’m checking out your blog and reading your posts on a regular basis. I creep. I very, very rarely leave comments; when/where I leave comments has nothing to do with the quality of the post either. For all the blogging and social media that I do, at the end of the day, I’m an online introvert so I rarely take the first step to engaging with others. I’ve only just gotten better at replying to comments (I’m not ignoring you – I’m just shy!) and in 2016, I want to initiate more. Honestly, seeing the proof (in the form of comments, likes, sweet emails, etc.) that people are actually reading and getting something out of my blog is one of the greatest feelings in the world and I want to return that to my fellow bloggers.
  3. Update travelogue. It’s been months and I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the stuff I saw and did in Korea (in 2014!) and Japan. I also have a bunch of posts on travel tips that I haven’t gotten out yet. The latter, I think, will at least be useful to people. I don’t profess to be a great travel blogger (let’s be honest – I’m a pretty bad one because I hate taking photos and I don’t post in a timely manner) but at least for the sake of my own memories, I really want to share my experiences in Korea and Japan.
  4. Book reviews. I HAVE SO MANY BOOKS, both Korean and Japanese, that I want to talk about. Some of them are textbooks, some of them are novels, a lot of them have a story behind why I bought them. Each and every one of them is a part of my language learning experience and I think they’re worth sharing with my fellow language learners.  The main reason I haven’t been more diligent about this?  I’m really lazy about taking photos (which you’ll see if you check out my sporadically updated Instagram).  Ugh. I need to get over that. No one likes to read huge blocks of text.
  5. TOPIK preparation. I swear I am cursed when it comes to TOPIK. I have tried for about 3 years to try to take this exam. Other life things have always gotten in the way (graduate school examinations, job search, grant submissions, trips, and – most inexcusable excuse of all – missing the  deadline to apply). It doesn’t help that there are only two TOPIK exam dates in the U.S. This year, I will hold myself accountable by blogging about my TOPIK preparation throughout the year and hopefully take it in the fall.
  6. Single space after a period. English class has apparently failed me all these years.

This blog means a lot to me.  I was scrolling through some of my old posts and came across a post titled “10 Favorite Korean Songs of 2012” and it just hit me like, wow, I have been keeping up with this blog for so long, through so many ups and downs, so many life changes. (And I probably hate all of those songs that I listed in that post. Haha). I don’t care about monetizing or getting thousands of views.  I care most about being a part of this community – making friends and nurturing relationships with people all over the world,  bonded through our mutual love of language. Here’s to 2016.

The problem with self-studying

It’s not a problem per se.  More like a challenge, and one that can be frustrating and amusing in equal measures.

When you’ve moved past the beginner stuff and are now immersing yourself in the books, TV shows, music, etc. of a certain language, you’re probably going to develop a very specific – and sometimes irrelevant – vocabulary.  Unless you’re super diligent and make an effort to diversify what you’re reading and watching, you’re going to find yourself learning words like autopsy and murderer and suspect instead of normal words like… uh…  mailman.

Maybe that’s just me.  (I like watching crime shows.)

Case in point:  I can’t believe I went six years not knowing the word for mailman in Korean.

That’s like one of those words I roll my eyes at when I find them in textbook vocabulary lists (e.g. “Chapter 3: Your Neighborhood”) because do I really need to know how to say words like bank and grocery store when I’m probably never going to live in the country where the native language is spoken?  Just teach me the good stuff!

I’m not even kidding when I say that I learned my numbers in Korean and Japanese only when I was physically in said countries.

The simple, basic vocab lists found in textbooks are just so difficult for me to learn because I don’t have any context for them; make me memorize them and I will forget immediately.  The words that I learn through immersion are the ones that stick around – but if the only context I’m getting is crime thrillers, I end up with a very skewed vocabulary.

So that’s why, twenty-something pages into 엄마를 부탁해, I had to look up 우편집배원 in the dictionary and then facepalm myself.  In my defense, I totally know what the word for post office is in Korean (우체국).  In my long and undisciplined pursuit of Korean vocabulary, I must’ve found appropriate context for that one to stick.

Okay, but this is getting to be a serious problem.  At SOME point I want to be able to take TOPIK and not miss questions because I don’t know ridiculously common words.  It’s also kind of embarrassing when you’re talking/writing to a Korean friend using moderately complex sentence structure, but suddenly realize you don’t know how to say chopsticks.

Instead of picking genre fiction (I think it’s pretty well known that I have a weakness for Korean historical fantasy novels), I think I need to read more contemporary- and/or non-fiction.  엄마를 부탁해 is great pick for that, I think.  More on the actual book in a later post but suffice it to say that I’ve come across a ton of words that “I should” be knowing.  And I’m gratified that there are a ton more that I do know well!

World Connections

Yes, yes, I know – and you do too if you been following me on Twitter or Instagram – I got back from Japan a whole week ago so where be all the Japan posts?!?  All in good time, friends.  I’m not even done writing about Korea from a whole year ago.  Spoiler alert:  I only slightly fail at writing travelogues.

Anyway, a few days ago, I was at a job interview for a position that is heavily focused on writing and communication (EDIT:  I GOT THE JOB).  One question I got was “Why writing?” – aside from the fact that I must be a fairly good writer, being an ex-PhD student and all (not universally true, by the way), why was I choosing to make writing the focal point of my career path now?

I hadn’t thought about that question at all, really.  The duh answer is that I’ve always loved writing and language.  And writing about language.  Naturally, I brought up this blog.  This blog is the perfect marriage of my two greatest passions and being able to do both in one space gives me boundless satisfaction and joy.  I’ve said it over and over again: I don’t think I would’ve ever entertained the idea of blogging had it not been for the other language bloggers I had silently followed before starting my own.

Blogging hasn’t just brought me personal joy, it’s brought me connections to people all over the world.

Real talk:  By Internet stats, I’m not a popular blogger by any means.  My daily page views are practically negligible and I only have a few hundred followers.  That being said, I’m incredibly lucky.  I have come to know many of my followers through my blog and social media and through language learning itself.  The majority of us may not have met in person, but these are still true, meaningful connections.  Last year, I met my wifey Jeannie for the first time in Seoul after years and years of getting to know her online.  This year, I stopped in Nagoya to meet another online friend in person.

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I first met Haruna through Theo’s Japanese-American friend, who had met her through a language-exchange site.  We Skyped a few times after that, talked for a bit on Facebook (she introduced me to Sakanaction hehe) and Line and when I mentioned that I was coming to Japan and would love to meet up with her, she agreed!  Haruna commuted something like 2 hours from her hometown to meet Theo and me at Nagoya station where she took us to eat donburi.

We didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, but it was incredibly touching to know that through my language learning endeavors, I had made a friend in Japan – and we were both really excited to see each other!  She may have plans to come to California next year so hopefully we see each other again.

It just feels really awesome that I have friends that I’ve made through language learning and blogging in all these different pockets of the world.  I feel kinda like a global citizen.

I love writing, but in all honesty, I never thought to make it a part of my career.  I’ve been “writing a novel” since seventh grade or so, and it’s always been on the side.  It never felt like I was doing enough.  Now I know exactly what is so satisfying about writing and why I want to make it the center of my career:  I love that my words can reach other people.  And that we can inspire each other as a result!  That’s pretty damn powerful.

Brief Update

So I see that I have been getting in at least one post every month and I don’t plan on breaking that flow (though I really would like to post more often though).  I have SO many posts still stuck in drafts because they take thought and energy to write and… honestly, I’ve been lacking in that department for a few weeks now.  I’ve made no secret about the fact that I struggle with depression and, yes, I’m going through a bit of a low at the moment.

But for those of you who may be curious, here are a couple general updates about the state of my life, this blog, etc.

1) For various reasons, I deleted my tumblr a few months ago and I’ve been much happier without it.  The downside is I’ve lost all the casual translations that I’ve posted on there for the past 4 years so many of the links on my “Translations” page are dead.  Boo.  But not to worry – I have started a portfolio of my translations on Google Drive and will be updating links over the next couple months.

2) I still have a (very infrequently) updated Korean language diary on tumblr here.

3) I was in the Motherland (i.e. India) for two weeks in August.  Overall it was a very unremarkable experience.

4) I’ve been reading a lot, LOT more (not Korean) and have thus mostly given up on television – including Korean dramas and anime.  This makes me so happy because I’d always loved reading but then graduate school sucked all the enjoyment out of it for me.  I’m finally falling back in love with books.  Are any of you avid readers?  Friend me on Goodreads!  The slight downside to this is that language-learning has taken a backseat for the time being.

5) A big hug and THANK YOU to all the people who have followed me on this blog, sent me sweet emails/messages/tweets, and have stuck with me from the beginning.  You guys are the ones who keep me writing and learning.

Status update

It’s 12:30 AM and I may or may not be eating Cheez-Its out of the box at this very moment.

Lots of stupidity going on in my life.  Things have been tailspinning since February and I feel like I’m falling deeper and deeper into a hole I won’t be able to climb out of.  I think I’m going to have to make a major decision soon but, for once, I’d like to have the chance to choose one way or the other, and not be forced into one direction.  I dunno if I’m going to get that chance.

Anyway, this is a little potpourri post about what I’ve been up to with regards to my Korean studies/immersion.

1)   I’m starting to regularly watch things without subtitles. It’s liberating.  I find that often I don’t even notice the lack of subtitles.  This is nice because many of the drama sites I was using in the past are shutting down (RIP Dramacrazy), and it’s much easier to find raw episodes elsewhere within hours of it airing in Korea.  The only exception I make to this is mystery-thrillers because I want to get every detail of the plot revealed in the dialogue – though subtitles don’t always help in this case because they aren’t always accurate.  That aside,

2)  I am profoundly bored with almost everything that’s airing in K-dramaland at the moment.  Except Monstar which is so precious and endearing and refreshing and basically all the positive adjectives ever.  I watch 최고다, 이순신 bracingly, with one finger poised over the FF button, but I adore every second Jo Jung-seok’s on-screen.  I tried 너의 목소리가 들려 briefly but there’s something about it that just strikes me as… contrived?  I dunno.  Maybe it’s because I don’t like any of the actors.  The first few episodes did not get me emotionally invested whatsoever.

3)  I watched 파수꾼 recently and it shook me to the core. It’s up there as one of my top 5 film of all time.  It’s everything I could want in a film.  I don’t have proper words for it.  I’ve always felt more of a connection to Japanese films than I have to Korean films, but this is the first Korean film that’s really gripped me.

4)  I switch between Korean novels a lot but currently I’m reading 바람의 화원 and translating a bit here and there.  It’s fun learning art- and geometry-related vocabulary.

5)  My most recent auditory obsession is Dynamic Duo’s 7th album ‘Lucky Numbers.’  It is F-L-A-W-L-E-S-S.  If you haven’t already, check out their new single here.  Not sure if I’ve expressed how much I love Korean hiphop (and especially Amoeba Culture) on this blog, but there it is.  I’ve been listening to a lot of old Epik High lately too.

6)  As for idol music, I don’t really know what’s going but I think a few groups (B2ST! Which, tbh, I’m extra excited because of Monstar)  that I follow are planning on making their comebacks soon.  B.A.P. kind of blew me away with their new single.  I don’t even know what to think about these boys anymore – is there any concept they can’t pull off?  Other than that… I’m still listening to a lot of SHINee.  Still super impressed with how strong they came back this year.

7)  I’ve been listening to a lot of 유인나의 볼륨을 높여요, while I’m walking to lab, on the bus, while I’m doing experiments.  It’s nice to fall asleep to too.

8)  I skype regularly with my language partner.  When we talk, on her part, it’s roughly 50% Korean, 50% English (though it varies – when she’s excited it’s like 3% English.)  On my part it’s 5% Korean, 95% English because I still struggle with having a real-time spoken conversation in Korean.  But my language partner’s good at forcing me out of my comfort zone.  She’s often like, “Okay for five minutes, let’s use Korean only!” One thing I’ve noticed about my language partner.  Personally I… I think I’m pretty decent at Korean for a self-studying, non-Korean person, but my language partner compliments me only very rarely.  It’s nice!  If I show her something I’ve written, or I say something, it’s like she acknowledges it for what it is without the label of ‘oh this is good for a non-Korean person.’  If that makes sense.  I feel like she holds me to the same standards as a native speaker, which might seem a little unfair, but then again I do the same for her in English.  That’s the best way we can improve ourselves.

9)  A couple months ago, I tried making a facebook page for this blog… and then promptly took it down.  I decided it was kind of boring and I’d rather not log in to facebook more than I need to.  Heh.  Instead, y’all can talk to me as much as you want here.

10)  THANK YOU to M and Curioser and Curiosor for nominating me for the Liebster Award – the post has been sitting in my drafts for months now and I just haven’t had the drive to finish it yet.  Someday!

Okay that’s it for now.  More coherent posts to come in the future (hopefully).

Korean pronunciation II: Colleagues & Pomegranates

Immediately after I learned Hangeul, I stumbled across a long, complicated list of Korean pronunciation rules.  It set off mental alarm bells.  Unlike Japanese kana, which I was learning at the time, Korean apparently wasn’t as simple as learning the alphabet and pronouncing what I see.  My reaction to these “advanced” rules was decidedly not to whip out a deck of flashcards and write out every consonant combination and pronunciation and spend hours memorizing them.  Rather, my reaction was to quickly close the webpage, forget about it, and get back to the Korean drama or podcast or whatever it was that I was listening to.

Because, unsurprisingly, the key to really learning how Korean words are pronounced is to constantly listen to them.  Watch enough dramas, films, and variety shows and you will inevitably begin to pick up commonly-repeated words and phrases.  Throw in some light reading or textbook studying, and you’ll figure out how to spell some of those words and phrases (or vice versa).  Soon it will become apparent that some words have funky spellings.  The first time I noticed this was with the word 연락.  연락해/연락 줘 was a phrase I’d heard many times before discovering its unusual spelling.  That’s how I figured out that the ㄴㄹ combination was pronounced ㄹㄹ.  Then when I came across ‘원래’ – no problem because I knew it was pronounced [월래].  Of course the dictionary helps too!

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Daum 국어사전 informs me that 동료 is pronounced ‘동뇨’

Over the three years I’ve learned Korean, I picked up most of these advanced pronunciation rules through this kinda-sorta-but-not-really studying technique.

A few weeks ago, though, the word for ‘pomegranate’ stopped me.  For the first time, it dawned on me that even though I couldn’t recall very many words containing aㄱㄹ combination, I had correctly pronounced it anyway.  The Korean word for pomegranate, 석류, is pronounced [성뉴].

It’s a small matter, but it felt like a breakthrough:  No longer was I relying on known associations to learn these rules, I felt I knew why these pronunciation rules were in place.  As redundant is it might sound, it goes back to Hangeul.

I think most people realize how awesome Hangeul is early on in their respective Korean-learning endeavors.  Sejong the Great invented it almost entirely for the benefit of commoners, and therefore it was designed to be simple to learn and no-nonsense.  In fact, a famous line from 훈민정음 해례본 illustrates just that:

슬기로운 사람은 아침을 마치기도 전에 깨칠 것이요, 어리석은 이라도 열흘이면 배울 수 있다.
An intelligent person can acquaint himself with it before the morning is over, a stupid person can learn it in ten days.

Also to help the commoners, the shape of each consonant reflects the way it is pronounced.  Supposedly.  I’ve spent enough time puzzling over how certain strokes in certain characters are supposed to indicate where my tongue is supposed to go and I used to concentrate so hard on how to move my mouth, you could practically see the gears turning in my head.  Again, it was listening (also watching peoples’ mouths) that helped me realize that ㄱ was further back in the throat than ‘g/k,’ that you put your tongue between your teeth to pronounce ㄴ and that’s why sometimes it doesn’t sound exactly like ‘n,’ that you only bring your lips lightly together when pronouncing ㅁ compared to ‘m’ and that’s why it can sometimes sound more like a ‘b’.

Coming to know where those consonants fit in my mouth helped me deal with those pesky rules of 발음.  How?  Because I knew the number one feature of Hangeul is elegant simplicity.  Simple to memorize, simple to read/write, and simple to pronounce, even when certain odd combinations of letters dictate otherwise.

Take the simple word 학년.  I knew this was pronounced [항년] because early on I’d learned that 막내 was in fact [망내].  Therefore ㄱㄴ=ㅇㄴ.  But why isn’t it [학-년]?  Now I think about where ㄱ falls in my mouth.  It is near the back of my mouth, like I’m getting ready to gurgle it.  But ㄴ forces me to push the sound to the front of my mouth and press my tongue to the roof of my mouth.  When you’re speaking quickly, the ㄱ gets pushed further back into the throat where it morphs into ㅇ and this makes it much easier to move your tongue to the upcoming ㄴ position.  The example of 연락[열락] also suddenly made sense.  Physically it’s possible to say [연-락] but if I tried to say the word five times fast, my tongue naturally twists to make the double ㄹ s0und.

Does marveling at all this make my Korean pronunciation flawless?  I wish.  But it helps me understand why (seemingly) complicated pronunciation rules exist.  I’d rather reason things out for myself than memorize charts any day!

Korean pronunciation I: 파리(빠리?) 바게뜨

A Korean bakery called Paris Baguette.  I’m going to pretend this makes sense.

This post is not a review, but I will say I find Paris Baguette to be fairly underwhelming and overpriced.  Does not stop me from popping in and buying about five red bean buns every time I’m in downtown though.

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My language partner Kwang-im and I have been here a couple times and she always makes fun of my 500% Americanized pronunciation of its name.  Parisssss Baguette.  Yet when we speak in Korean, I make conscious effort to pronounce it the way it’s written in Hangeul (파리 바게뜨), while internally chuckling at the fact that I am in fact saying Housefly Baguette.  Yum.  The pronunciation took effort, not because the Korean sounded so different from the American English pronunciation but because, for some reason, the aspirated 파 felt weird in my mouth.  After a couple times of forcefully emphasizing the 파 in 파리, Kwang-im gently told me that it is, in fact, pronounced 빠리.

WHEW.  Strangely, my ears and mouth had both wanted me to use the tense 빠 in the first place.  I suspect this is because my mother tongue (and many Indian languages?) use a lot of tense consonants; i.e. if I were speaking in Marathi, I’d use a tense “p” rather than the aspirated “p” I’d use in English when saying the word ‘Paris.’

Anyway, moral of the story is:  Do not be fooled by Hangeul.  While many words are pronounced the way they are spelled, a good many are not.  There are special pronunciation rules when certain letters are next to each other, liaisons in some cases and not in others.  And some inexplicable instances, like this one, of spellings not matching up with actual pronunciations.  Language wouldn’t be language without exceptions to rules, right?

More to come in Part II.