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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.

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Thoughts on Thai

When I’m feeling down, I go overboard on movies and dramas. Actually since I started watching K- and J-dramas my movie watching has slackened a bit but once in a while I do get around to watching some good ones (e.g. The King’s Speech!) Anyway, today I watched a Thai movie: สิ่งเล็กๆที่เรียกว่ารัก (A Crazy Little Thing Called Love) and it cheered me up considerably!

Aside from the plot (which is simple, sweet, and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside), one of the best things about this movie was just the language it was in – Thai. It was my first time hearing the Thai language and I was pleasantly surprised. I guess I thought it would sound more like Vietnamese but to my untrained ear, the tones sounded more like Chinese? (I don’t know. I could be wrong – the only Vietnamese I’ve really heard is when my friends talk to their parents. Interestingly, I know that Vietnamese has a lot of words that have Chinese roots but a Vietnamese friend of mine said that Chinese was very difficult for her because the tones were different.) If I ever decided to learn Thai, the tones and pronunciation would be a big problem for me. Most native Thai words are monosyllabic and differ only in tone and distinctions in pronunciation.

Even though this is the only exposure I’ve had to Thai, I already feel attached to it because of its linguistic roots. The Thai language is related to Sanskrit, Pali (the “official” language of Theravada Buddhism – the Buddhism that originated in India from Hinduism), and Khmer (Cambodian, which also has roots in Sanskrit and Pali). The Thai script, which I think is one of the prettiest scripts I’ve ever seen, is derivative of Brahmic script – the “great grandfather” of many South and Southeast Asian scripts. Take a look at these examples:

മലയാളലിപി (Malayalam – spoken in Kerala, India)
ಕನ್ನಡ ಲಿಪಿ (Kannada – spoken in Karnataka, India)
อักษรไทย (Thai)

What is interesting is that the writing for all three of these languages is derived from “Southern Brahmic” script. And actually, Malayalam and Thai are actually one generation closer because Thai’s parent script Khmer shares a parent script with Malayalam. This might not be as surprising as it sounds; the spread of Buddhism from India to these parts of Southeast Asia probably facilitated the spread of its script as well.

I don’t know what it is about the history of languages that is so fascinating to me… It might be because the evolution of language is so similar to the evolution of science. They are both such interesting topics and they both take my mind off graduate school woes!

Drama: Biscuit Teacher & Star Candy

I like watching two dramas at the same time – a new one that’s currently airing and an old one to watch while I’m waiting for episodes/subs.  In the middle of Dream High, I started watching 건빵선생과 별사탕 (SBS 2005), which is literally translated as Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy but is often also known as Hello My Teacher.  Oh my gosh.  I love this drama so much.  I can’t even articulate how much I love it, especially the adorable, happily-ever-after ending.  It’s easily one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen!

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Learning Japanese?  Have an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad?  Then you have to check out this app!  Kotoba! is one of the best electronic dictionaries I’ve ever come across – scratch that, it’s possibly the best overall app that I’ve ever come across.  I use it almost every single day and it’s helped me tremendously with my Japanese.


  • Look up words in either Japanese or English
  • Look up a word using Kanji (make sure to install the Traditional Chinese keyboard on your device), kana, or Romaji (yes, even Romaji!)
  • In each entry, you get the reading, the part of speech, the major conjugations (if it’s a verb), the type of adjective (い- or な-), example sentences, and Kanji decomposition.
  • If it’s a verb you can view the following conjugations:  present/future tense, past tense, continuative/て-form, presumptive, past presumptive, provisional, conditional, and alternative forms.
  • If it’s a compound word, you can click on the individual Kanji and get 音読み (onyomi) and 訓読み (kunyomi) readings IN ADDITION to pinyin and Korean readings!
  • MY FAVORITE FEATURE:  Animations of Kanji stroke order!  I love using this to learn how to write new Kanji!
  • Search for Kanji based on reading, Korean, pinyin, meaning, or Chinese radical
  • View Kanji compounds, stroke count, JLPT level
  • Browse JLPT Kanji
  • Browse Japanese “school grade” Kanji (that is, the Kanji that Japanese students learn at each grade level)
  • Does not require internet

And the best thing about this app is that it is COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY FREE. Yes, you read that right.  It’s unbelievable.  I’ve seen super-expensive apps and electronic dictionaries that can’t do half of the things this app does.

For more information and screenshots, check out the official website.

Like what you see?  Download from iTunes.

Seriously people, this app is a dream come true.


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:

Big Bang – 4th Mini Album

This post isn’t directly related to Korean learning but since other seasoned language learners have said that fangirling plays an important (and necessary) part of foreign language study, I have no qualms about dedicating this entire post to my biggest K-pop bias – Big Bang.  Specifically, Big Bang’s 4th EP, which released a few days ago.  I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited for ANY album release – Korean or otherwise – and let me tell you, the EP is WELL worth all the excitement.

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