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!
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:
Rote memorization would probably be the simplest way of learning a new alphabet. Take some flashcards, write the character on the front, sound on the back, and then drill yourself until it’s branded into your memory. I tried this with the Japanese syllabaries and it worked. I tried it with Hangeul and failed miserably. No matter how many times I went through it, I would get ㅏ and ㅓmixed up, ㅗ and ㅜ mixed up and, sometimes, if the cards flipped directions as I shuffled them, I would get all four mixed up with each other. With Hiragana/Katakana I could make a sort of visual-auditory connection because the letters looked so different but Korean was too difficult. So, I ended up learning Hangeul in a weird, roundabout, organic kind of way without really TRYING to learn it through rote memorization.
Continue reading “How I learned 한글”
That’s a question I get a lot these days, especially at graduate school interviews. Why Korean? I have no family ties to Korea, I don’t live in a place populated by a lot of Koreans (and those who are Korean prefer to communicate in English), and I don’t plan on visiting or living in Korea any time soon. Sure, there are K-dramas and K-pop which I love and obsess over 26 hours a day but that’s not the reason I started learning Korean. So what was it exactly? I’m not even sure I know myself.
Continue reading “Why Korean?”