Category: Korean

The most useful phrase to know in Korean (and any language)

Literal ‘did that just happen?!’ moment last week.

A friend of mine reached out to me last week, saying a coworker of hers needed help placing an order for 떡 for her child’s 백일 from a Korean bakery in Santa Clara.

I’m not sure what this person’s situation was–whether she was Korean(-American) or married to Korean(-American)–but I was more than a little baffled when my friend reached out to me.

Turns out this particular bakery (for fellow South Bay residents it’s 이화당 떡집 – Ehwa Dang Rice Bakery down in Korea Town Santa Clara, if you’re curious) isn’t English-friendly. It seems that they don’t have any English-speaking employees at all, in fact, which I found astounding–but I guess that just shows you what an arrogant American I am. Heh.

Anyway, said coworker’s dilemma was three-fold: her Korean wasn’t good enough to place a phone order with them, the owner’s Korean was too fast for her to understand, and her Korean relatives couldn’t help because they didn’t understand her English. So, I guess that’s where I came in.

She emailed me a bunch of specifics for her order–the date of the event, preferred pick up time, amount she required, questions about payment, etc. And I made the call to the bakery.

Making phone calls in English gives me anxiety, but making this phone call in Korean almost gave me a panic attack. There was a very real possibility I would ruin this complete stranger’s child’s 백일 forever, and that was terrifying.

But long story short, I was able to place the order according to all the specs I was given. And few days later, I heard back from my friend that her coworker’s party was a success!

The whole thing was kind of a small victory, but it made my week nonetheless. It also made me realize something.

The phone call in Korean was a challenge, but not so much as I feared it would be. The thing that helped me get through the anxiety was just staying humble while I was on the line. Instead of pretending like I was totally fluent in Korean and stretching myself to the max of my ability, I downplayed it and really made sure the bakery employee and I understood each other.

I started out in Korean, explaining my situation that I was trying to place an order on someone else’s behalf. And then I said the one phrase that has pretty much helped me in every challenging Korean speaking situation that I’ve been in:

저 한국말은 잘 못해요…

“I’m not that good at Korean….”

Nine times out of ten, if you’re in a situation where you have to speak Korean but you feel intimidated or overwhelmed, this phrase works wonders.

I was amazed how the bakery employee (who, indeed, spoke incredibly fast) just slowed down and listened a lot more carefully, let me finish my sentences without interrupting, and encouraged me when I stumbled, after I told her that I wasn’t that good at Korean but that I would try. She encouraged me to use the little Korean that I knew, instead of struggling to communicate in English. And she even used the opportunity to teach me some new words!

Admitting that you don’t know Korean that well often triggers one of two scenarios: 1) The individual you’re speaking with switches to English because they’re more confident in their English skills than your Korean skills or 2) The individual trusts your basic Korean ability and continues to speak Korean, but it’s less stressful and the interaction turns into a learning opportunity for the both of you.

That latter scenario was definitely what unfolded for me during the bakery phone call; I walked away from that conversation feeling so much more confident in my speaking abilities.

***

Ever since TOPIK II, I’ve been…. feeling really apathetic toward Korean. It scares me, because I used to be so invested in the language and culture. I still am, to some extent, but the 욕심 is gone.

Self-studying a language in a bubble is challenging because you’re not only expending energy studying on your own, you also have to actively pop the bubble you’re in and create an environment where you’re immersed. And lately, I’ve been redirecting that energy into other things.

Helping out this stranger with her bakery order was the first time in a long time that I did something related to Korean outside of books and the Internet. It reminded me of the ‘humanness’ of language, so to speak. And it made me really really want to go back to Korea. Maybe some day soon.

What I learned from taking TOPIK II without studying

I almost didn’t even show up for the exam. Aside from a couple hours of reviewing grammar back in January, I didn’t prepare for TOPIK at all. I didn’t even spend time looking over old tests. But, as painful as I knew it was going to be, I knew there was still value in just taking it, regardless of whether I do well or not. I paid for the exam, might as well try to learn something from the experience. So… it happened, and these are the things I know I should work on for October.

  1. Spend more time studying for the listening section. I consider listening one of my strengths in Korean, but this section made me realize I need to diversify the topics I listen to. (Granted even our test proctor said she found some of the dialogues difficult to understand!) Listening to the news more would definitely help, for example. I need to make a serious, focused effort to study for the listening section. I have a lot more resources for studying grammar and vocabulary, so it’ll be hard to not spend all my time studying for the reading section. Speaking of which…
  2. Learn how to speed read. The reading section could have potentially gone worse–I had to guess on like 5 questions near the end because I didn’t have time to read the passages. I’m hoping this won’t happen once I’ve practiced more with past exams and once I’ve started reading more without looking up every single word I don’t know. I think my reading speed has actually gotten worse over the years since I started prioritizing learning vocabulary (i.e. looking up every single word I don’t know, writing it down, etc.) over overall comprehension. Speed reading would’ve also helped me a ton in the listening section, so I could have better scanned the answer choices while listening to the dialogues.
  3. Practice writing on 원고지. I think out of all the sections, I did best in writing. Time was the biggest challenge. I know I would have done much better (and written more) had I practiced ahead of time writing on 원고시. I also didn’t know that you use special pens for the TOPIK (yes… they actually say ‘TOPIK’ on them). I found them pretty easy to use, but it wouldn’t hurt to practice with the next closest thing–Sharpie pens, in my opinion–to really emulate the testing environment.
  4. Take more practice tests. Even though I have a couple of great books for reviewing TOPIK grammar, I think the number one way I can improve is simply by taking more tests. Pretty much every type of skills exam–SAT, GRE, etc.–has its own style and vocabulary and by focusing on that content, I can focus my studying. It’s tempting to spend hours and hours just studying everything I don’t know, but it’s just as important to study how to take the exam.

Overall, it was hard, as I expected it would be. But I’m glad that I decided to take it. As our test proctor said, regardless of what scores we get, just showing up to the exam was impressive enough.

I’ll preemptively say that I won’t publicly post my results for this exam or for future exams, but I will try to post tips and progress updates as I study (in earnest) for the October exam. Onwards!

Studying Korean on Instagram

It’s hard to believe that just a decade ago we were limited to learning languages from instructors, textbooks, and the occasional audio recording.

Social media and the Internet as a whole has been such a central part of my own self-studying process that I can’t imagine getting to the level that I’m at with just textbooks. It all started with Twitter and Me2day (remember Me2day?!) about 5 years ago and since then, I think I’ve found useful Korean resources on all types of social media.

Back in December, I added Instagram to that repertoire. I can’t remember how I found @hangulove, but it’s now by far one of my favorite Instagram accounts.

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Hangulove is an account for native Korean speakers looking to correct some bad habits they might’ve picked up while growing up with their language. The account covers correct grammar, spelling, spacing of words (띄어쓰기), and examples of pure Korean words (순우리말, as opposed to Sino-Korean words).

The admin posts once a day, with a simple image (like below) and an extended explanation of the lesson in the comments. All the explanations are in Korean, so you have to be at least an intermediate/upper intermediate level to get the most value out of it.

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Korean spacing is so confusing.

It’s interesting to find out what constitutes “common mistakes” for native Korean speakers. I’m a stickler for spelling – both in English and Korean, so it always shocks me when I see misspelled words in webtoons or on Twitter. I used to think it was done on purpose, like some kind of text-speak (like writing ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ online), but now I have to wonder.

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I don’t make this mistake.

This account reminds me a lot of 국립국어원’s offical Twitter account (@urimal365) which I wrote about a long time ago here. I actually thought @urimal365 was dead because I never saw them on my Twitter feed… but they’re apparently still alive and posting frequently! (My feed has become overrun with non-Korean related Tweets over the years).

It’s a lot less overwhelming though. The “lessons” are simple enough to digest, but still provide the detail you’d want to learn something. Plus it’s just one post a day, stuck in the middle of all the #catsofinstagram posts running down your feed. I do wish they would post more vocabulary in the future – 순우리말 has always fascinated me. And I could always do with a vocabulary boost.

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Happens to me every morning after my alarm goes off at 6:00 AM.

Does anyone else use specific social media accounts to learn/study Korean (or any other language?). Share your thoughts below!

 

Cheese in the Trap – 2

So I just finished reading season 1 of Cheese in the Trap, which is kind of a big accomplishment for me because I tend to drop webtoons pretty quickly. That, or I forget to check an update/ author goes on hiatus and it drops off my radar forever.

I like this one. I have no idea how close the author is to finishing it so the possibility may be high that I get caught up and it ends up dropping off my radar anyway, but hopefully not.

I think this is the first time I’ve read a webtoon where I actually really like the main character. Seol and I are actually very much alike. She’s smart but also hardworking, too busy to care about how she looks, struggles with her hair (see below), and is generally well-liked. There’s a part near the end of season 1 that I really identified with – Seol has to complete a big group assignment/presentation for one of her classes and all of her group members bail on her at the last minute. She ends up pulling an all-nighter and doing the whole thing herself… and still ends up failing the assignment.

 

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RUDE.

Seol is very much a people-pleaser. She’s non-confrontational; so much so that even if she’s not okay with something, she stifles it until she explodes. She will go out of her way to check her own behavior and desires to put the other person(s) at ease. It’s part of what makes her so likable but it’s also to her own detriment. She’s very attuned to peoples’ reactions to her and to others. It’s a harsh kind of empathy that makes her question everything she does and says.

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Actually me.

At the moment, I don’t really care for Jung. In the latter half of season 1 we get some insight into why he is the way he is. He’s from a really wealthy family; everyone is on their toes around them and for the sake of preserving the status quo, he has to be gracious at all times, even when he’s upset. When people upset him, he can only afford to get angry behind closed doors, so to speak; his comebacks have a particularly sadistic nuance to them.

Seriously, with friends like Jung who needs enemies? Luckily Seol has a wonderful group of friends. I freaking love Bora. When she overhears random guys “evaluating” how dateable Seol is, she completely flips out on them and then decides to set Seol up with the greatest guy in existence, Jung be damned!

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엄친아 스타일로ㅋㅋㅋ

I’m guessing there’s going to be an eventual romance between Jung and Seol? Jung definitely seems interested in her (whether that’s in a romantic sense or otherwise). Given the way season 1 ended, I have a feeling the happy times are coming to an end and the webtoon might turn rather dark, rather soon.

Overall I’m still having a ton of fun reading this. Onward to season 2!

Cheese in the Trap – 1

Okay, so I am BLOGGGG-ing about Cheese in the Trap. Only the webtoon, though, not the drama.

(I’m feeling meh about dramas these days. I’m almost finished with 마을 아치아라의 비밀 – a drama that is seriously making me question my liking for Moon Geun-young and one that I would’ve given up if it weren’t so deliciously melodramatic. But I digress.)

So anyway, Cheese in the Trap.

We’re following the story of Hong Seol, a college student heading back to school after a long leave of absence. She’s pretty normal. She’s smart (though the circumstances behind which she received her full scholarship is one of the mysteries of the story) and has a decent social life with a tight-knit group of friends. Surprisingly she’s not dirt poor like most K-drama protagonists, but she’s trying her hardest to not burden her parents with tuition fees (there’s a story behind that too).

There’s one thorn in her side though – the campus Mr. Perfect, Yoo Jung, who happens to be the reason she ended up taking a break from school in the first place.

This dude is weird. Outwardly, he’s bizarrely perfect: good-looking, smart, polite, kind… all the girls love him and all the guys want to be him. Except Seol notices some inconsistencies in his behavior. Sometimes he’s nice, sometimes he seems cold and condescending, and sometimes he’s outright mean to Seol. I’m 30 chapters into the webtoon and I don’t know what this dude’s deal is. Seol thinks he’s playing mind games with her by orchestrating situations that make her highly uncomfortable. But she has no proof and sometimes she just thinks she’s being overly sensitive. That was a year ago. Now she’s back in school, and he seems like he’s trying really hard to be her friend for some weird reason….

So there are basically two different timelines being told in parallel – we’re privy to Seol’s flashbacks from one year prior ago as well as the present day storyline, so I don’t know (yet) what it was that made Seol quit school, but it definitely had something to do with Jung.

I’m still at the start of this series (about 75% of the way through part 1 of 3) but I’m enjoying it so far. There’s a touch of mystery, touch of comedy, touch of romance…. The characters are great, including Seol. She’s hilarious.

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Seol freaking out about selfie she took with Jung.

Also this random sunbae of hers. I don’t know if he’s going to play a bigger role later in the webtoon, but look at him. You can’t not like that face.

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입이 찢어질 듯

It seems like figuring out what the heck Jung’s deal is will be the focus of the bulk of the webtoon. My guess is that he’s the really sheltered son of a mafia boss who is on some kind of undercover mission at the university. Never mind, Jeannie tells me this isn’t true. I could’ve sworn… he’s so good at those arcade shooting games too!

I’ll probably blog on and off about the webtoon here. Is anyone else reading this or watching the drama? Let me know what you think (but no spoilers please).

And if you’re not comfortable with reading it in Korean, there’s an English translation too!

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!

Q&A: How to start learning Korean

Ishani asked: Hi Archana! I am dying to learn Korean! I know a bunch of random Korean words but cant frame them in sentences…I want to start from ABC of Korean..but how and from where do I start? Please show me a way…kamsahamnida!

Hi Ishani!  Thanks for the question.  There are lots of different ways to start learning a language.  I can share with you how I got started and point you in the direction of some resources, but if this doesn’t work for you, don’t get discouraged!  There are tons of blogs out there about language learning and there many different approaches.  This was my approach.

  1.  Listen to a lot of Korean.  I am a very auditory learner and I’m guessing you are too!  I started learning Korean the same way as you – by picking up random words from songs and TV dramas.  I kept a word document with a list of words I “learned” through listening to dialogue.  This was before I even learned Hangeul, so my list was just romanized approximations of the words.  For example: sarang – love, chingu – friend, bap – food/rice, etc.
  2. Learn Hangeul.  Romanization can only get you so far.  After you’ve familiarized yourself with the sounds of Korean, I would immediately move on to learning Hangeul.  Hangeul is super easy to learn.  Flashcards are probably the best way to go if you want to memorize them quickly, but I never bothered.  Instead, I went to my romanized list of words and tried to spelling using a Hangeul chart and then using a dictionary to see if I spelled it correctly.  Another thing I did was to look up romanized lyrics to Korean pop songs, put them side by side with the Hangeul lyrics, and basically memorize the way each syllable looked and sounded for each word.  I wrote a more detailed post about how I learned Hangeul here.
  3. Listen to TalkToMeInKorean.  Hands down, this is my favorite resource for beginning to intermediate Korean.  TTMIK is an education podcast founded by native Korean language teachers.  ALL the podcasts and their accompanying notes are completely free.  Again, I’m an extremely auditory learner, so listening to a couple episodes a day on my iPod worked beautifully for me.  Since my days as a beginner, TTMIK has evolved from being solely a podcast to a multimedia Korean language learning experience.  I highly, highly recommend them.
  4. Invest in a good textbook.  I’ll be honest – I don’t really like language textbooks.  I buy too many of them thinking I’ll use them, but inevitably, I learn more from watching TV shows and listening to podcasts.  There are a couple that I did use consistently while I was a beginner/intermediate learner.
    • KLEAR Integrated Korean:  A really great series of books.  I did a review of the intermediate books here.
    • Beginner’s Korean:  This was my very first Korean textbook.  Even though it’s supposed to be for beginners, I would highly recommend listening to TTMIK or using KLEAR before getting this textbook.  I think the grammar explanations are quite good, but it’s poorly organized, in my opinion.  Better used as as reference than a learning source.
  5. Find a language partner.  As you start learning new grammar patterns, you’ll want a place to practice your writing and speaking.  I suggest finding a language partner – there are lots of different venues for this.  Most of my Korean language partners are people I’ve met in person or through blogging.  I connected with some on Shared Talk (which, sadly, was shut down on September 1, 2015!  The cofounders are working on a new language exchange platform, so keep your eyes peeled.)  I highly suggest writing posting regularly on lang-8 too!  It’s also a great place to meet language partners and new friends.
  6. Learn how to type in Korean.  This is essential if you want to use online dictionaries, message/email/chat with your language partner.  Get yourself a set of Hangeul keyboard stickers and practice, practice, practice.  Luckily, there are lots of different typing games available online – like the one I talk about here.  I can touchtype Korean without stickers now, nearly as fast as I can type in English!
  7. Take notes.  Carry a notebook around and jot down new words and grammar points as you encounter them in dramas, songs, and reading material.
  8. Practice reading.  Don’t be discouraged if material is too difficult for you.  If you’ve done some beginner Korean, you will be able to recognize new words and sentence patterns and, if you can type in Korean, you can look them up online yourself and take notes!  There are a lot of blogs and resources online that can help with learning new words and grammar, which will advance your reading fluency.  Most Daum and Naver webcomics are free and a great place for beginners to start.  More on reading in Korean here.
  9. Do a little bit everyday.  Don’t try to cram in hours and hours of study in one day – you won’t retain anything!  Spend some time studying, but also spend time exploring what you love about the language (music, variety shows, idols, movies, etc.)  That will motivate you to get better and better everyday!  And when things get busy with school and/or work, make sure you to spend a little time immersing yourself in something Korean everyday, even if you can’t bring yourself to pick up a textbook.

Hope that helps, Ishani!  Good luck!

Interview with Park Yoochun (Marie Claire 2015)

Given that I know zilch about what’s happening in Korean entertainment these days, it came as a mild surprise to learn that Park Yoochun (of K-drama & K-pop fame) is off to serve his mandatory two-year military service.  Very soon in fact.  Like, today.  Or yesterday.

I chanced upon this short interview while scanning Korean celeb magazines for quality reading content and – well, normally I’m rather indifferent to Yoochun but sentimentality got the better of me.  I’d just resumed reading 셩균관 유생들의 나날 for the umpteenth time, which got me thinking about Sungkyunkwan Scandal, (still one of my favorite dramas to date, by the way), which made me think about JYJ and DBSK and OT5 4ever, etc. etc.

I found this interview pretty funny actually because the interviewer/writer can’t start a single question without talking about how PYC is going to be gone for TWO YEARS – it’s like s/he is so desperate for Yoochun to talk about how crushed he’s going to be to give up the spotlight, but Chunnie’s having none of that.  Full translated interview under the cut!  And the usual:

(Disclaimer:  All copyright belongs to the original source.  I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.  In fact, I’ve taken a few liberties with my translation this time by prioritizing meaning and written fluency over more literally representing the original text.)

Yoochun

Continue reading “Interview with Park Yoochun (Marie Claire 2015)”

The thing about 책임감

Let’s talk about 상류사회 (High Society).  That show should win some kind of award for creating two of the most precious side characters in a drama full of people I couldn’t care a whit about.  Changsoo and Jiyi’s flirtationship is, at least in the first six episodes (and honestly I don’t see myself continuing with this show in the future Edit: I am no longer following this show), everything that Joongki and Yoonha’s relationship is not.  It’s honest and transparent, a little bit silly and awkward and, golly, the characters actually communicate about their feelings and insecurities!  Go figure!!

Granted, I’m speaking from what I’ve seen of the Changsoo-Jiyi dynamics up till episode 6.  I’m sure the writers will screw it all up with stupid misunderstandings and heartbreak and such now that all the cute is out of the way.  I know their relationship is bound to have drama but it’s just a question of whether the characters suddenly devolve into frustrating idiocy or continue to communicate openly like they have thus far.  Please don’t ruin this couple, 작가님!

Anyway, I love this couple.  Certain silly, unrealistic K-drama lines still make me swoon on occasion (despite having a heart of ice, or so I’ve been told) and there was one such exchange between Changsoo and Jiyi in episode 5.

Jiyi says she knows he’s a “bad guy” – as in, he dates around without the intention of getting married.  She pouts and tells him not to do nice things for her because she’s starting to like him more and more.  They go back and forth a little and then…

High Society Ep 5
Image credit:  Dramabeans

창수:  이건 뭐냐?
지이:  좋아지고 있어요.  안 좋아하려고 했는데 넘 귀여워요.  
창수:  …
지이:  만나면 꿈 꾸는 것 같아요 […] 세상에 공짜는 없지만 사랑에 공짜는 있잖아요. 본부장님은 점점 좋아지는데 나는 점점 싫어져요. 이럼 안되잖아요.
창수:  넌 남자한테 책임감 끌어내는 능력이 있다?

Changsoo:  What are you doing?
Jiyi:  I’m starting to like you.  I wasn’t going to like you, but you’re so cute.
Changsoo:  …
Jiyi:  Going out with you is like being in a dream […] Nothing is free in life, but love is free, you know.  I’m starting to like you more and more, but I’m starting to hate myself more and more too.  That’s not okay, is it?
Changsoo:  You have a talent for dragging a sense of responsibility out of a man, you know?

책임감 is literally defined as a sense of responsibility.  Obligation.  Duty.  Those are words are associated with the different roles we play as a person i.e. my “duty” to my family as a daughter or sister, my “responsibility” as a tenant, my “obligation” to pay taxes as law-abiding citizen, fulfilling my duties at work and owning up to them, etc.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I rarely associate the word responsibility/obligation/duty with friends or lovers.  Is that individualistic Western thinking?  I will do things and act a certain way to my friends because I cherish them and care for them.  If they ask for help, I will always do my best to help them, but I don’t feel a sense of “responsibility” for them.  I do what I do for my friends out of love, but not responsibility.  I don’t see my friend and think, “I have a duty to do x or y for this person.”  I think, “I will do x or y for this person because I care for them.”

That’s not to say that love and responsibility are mutually exclusive!  But they certainly do not always overlap.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been fascinated by the Korean concept of couples vowing to “take responsibility” for each other.  When you tell someone you love them, I guess it’s implicit that you will support each other come what may, etc. but (and this may just be me reading too much into it) there’s something deeply serious about the idea of having 책임감.  Taking responsibility for a person.  It’s something I would expect out of a marriage but not out of friendship or courtship; and yet, it is not unusual to hear Korean couples say “책임 질게” to each other.

To me, 책임 질게 connotes an earnestness, gravity, and a depth of love that’s lacking in a mere “I love you.”  These days, “I love you” is so overused it’s practically meaningless.

Now, I think the phrase is mostly used by the man and said to the woman in the relationship, though not always.  The feminist in me protests, “Men and women should be responsible for themselves!” but then I think, how truly comforting it must be to hear those words from a best friend or lover, regardless of your gender.  It’s like saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything.  Just depend on me.”

On those especially stressful days when you aren’t strong enough to take on the world, sometimes just hearing those words is enough to take the weight off your shoulders.