Random Thought

I watched Hello Baby for a whole fifteen minutes before realizing that I was watching without subtitles.  It was awesome.  I still like subs even though I can usually understand the gist of what I’m watching without them.  I rarely have time to watch dramas and reality shows and when I do, I want to enjoy them 100000%, meaning understanding all the dialogue and no guessing.  My brain’s tired as it is.

Honestly, though, I’m not sure how much subtitles are actually benefiting me because, more often than not, I hear key things being left out of the subtitles, especially if they’re subbed hastily.

Case in point:  Episode 8 of The King 2 Hearts.  Hangah was being all cutesy in front of Jaeha, calling him oppa

… causing him to protest, “동갑끼리 왜 그래, 징그럽게?!”

I remember the English subtitles left off the 동갑 part entirely, perhaps because I suppose it’s too complicated to explain that “oppa” is used by younger females to older males and not between people of the same age.  Fine.  There has to be some give and take in subbing things, I understand that.  The point is, I was able to catch that line even without subs and it gave me a greater appreciation for Jaeha’s character and the way he perceives his relationship with Hangah.

Anyway, I’ve come to realize that I don’t even remember what it’s like to think of Korean as a foreign language.  There was a time for all of us that Korean was just a series of sounds with no meaning or structure associated with it.  I’m always conscious of that when I post Korean music or interviews in places where it can be seen/heard by my non-Korean-learning friends.  How do their ears hear the language?  What do they think of its sounds, its cadence?  Will they enjoy Korean music regardless of not being to understand the lyrics?  I certainly liked Korean music before I was able to understand Korean, but now that I can understand a lot of it, I’ve come to appreciate it so so so much more.

I dunno.  Sometimes I just like stepping back and reflecting on stuff like this.  Amazing how far we’ve all come.

Technical language

When I was an undergraduate working in the lab, my former boss was Spanish but was very strict about everyone using English and only English in his lab, which I can understand.  Research is a collaborative effort and it doesn’t help anyone if you’re alienating other members of the lab by using a language they don’t understand.

Most of the scientists I worked with last quarter are Chinese and converse mostly in Chinese with each other and, everyday, I’m amazed that they can talk science in practically 100% Chinese.  It’s funny and interesting at the same time to hear things like “Something something something TRANSGENIC MICE something something BIOTINYLATED something….”  It makes me wonder how flexible a language is about “inventing” new words as science and technology evolve.

Japanese, for example, seems to be pretty generous about adapting English words (considering that they have an entire alphabet for foreign words).  On the other hand, I remember being highly amused when my mother said that a language institution? organization? of some sort actually invented Tamil words (not just “Indianified” pronunciations of the English words but actual words) for “computer,” “e-mail,” and “television.”  Ha!

Oddly enough, though, there do seem to be foreign word equivalents even for technical scientific words.  For example, both Korean and Japanese have words that mean “gel electrophoresis” – a molecular biology technique that uses electricity to separate fragments of DNA by size.  It’s especially fun to look at the Kanji for this word because the characters that comprise it pretty much tell you the meaning.

gel electrophoresis = ゲル電気泳動 (ゲルでんきえいどう)

  • ゲル  = gel
  • 電気 (でんき) = electricity
  • 泳 (エイ) = swimming
  • 動 (ドウ) = movement 

Gel electrophoresis has been around since 1975 but I wonder how long it took to actually coin the Japanese equivalent for this word.  Was there a transition period of time during which just the English was used  (with Katakana, perhaps) before the appropriate Kanji were selected?  Or was it immediate?  Who came up with the word, scientists or linguists?

Is society moving toward more or less homogenized language?  Personally, I think the global pressure of English will soon force inventors and scientists from non-English speaking countries to use Latin roots to coin new words; it’s only a matter of time before we see the breakdown of native “invented” technical words, especially in science and technology where international collaboration and the necessity to be understood is so key.


So today, as I was taking the bus back home, I inadvertently overheard the couple sitting behind me having a very interesting conversation.

The girl (her native language was probably Spanish, by her accent) was talking about the challenges of taking Japanese and Chinese courses at the same time.  She clearly had an interest in both languages but was having a hard time dedicating enough time to Chinese and her grades reflected that.  To that, her companion said sympathetically, “You just can’t fake a language.  You either know it or you don’t.” 

I feel like this has occurred to me at some point or another, but for some reason, it struck me as especially profound today.  Maybe it’s because of where I am and what I’m doing and how I currently feel about what I’m doing….  Science, in my opinion, is very easy to bullshit.  With enough arrogance, people can seem like they know more than they do and mean more than they say.  Some even consider it a merit if you’re good at faking your way though it.

Learning a foreign language, on the other hand, is different.  Even if you know the “rules,” you can’t “fake” your proficiency.  Without persistent study, your abilities will deteriorate.  At the beginner level, at least, it seems that language learning has an inherent unfakeability about it.  You’re not going to fool anyone (especially a native speaker) into thinking you’re better than you really are.

In a way, it’s refreshing to know that one’s level in a certain language is at least a direct, if not proportional, outcome of the amount of work one puts into it.

Just realized this is kind of a meaningless post but something I’ve been thinking about a lot regarding my own career choice.  Cheers, everyone!


Interview Week came to an end on Friday.  It was an exciting time for me because I still have vivid memories of my own graduate school interview circuit (has it really been a year since then?!) and I was definitely looking forward to experiencing it from the other side of admissions this time around.

Most of the graduate students in the program participate in Interview Week as student hosts – basically, our job is to accompany the interviewee to his/her nine interviews, answer questions about the program, entertain, and (most importantly) pitch the school.

I chose to host Yekyung, a post-graduate student from Yonsei University.  I had an incredible time showing her around campus and by the end of her four-day stay here, we had already become fast friends.  In fact, we’ve still been in touch through Kakaotalk and Skype since she went back to Korea!  It just goes to prove that there are some people you can make an instant connection with, even if you haven’t known them for long.  I know regardless of where she goes to graduate school, she’ll always be a good friend, a wonderful 언니, and a great language partner!

After finishing her interviews, we took a walk around campus and chatted for something like 2.5 hours in a mix of Korean and English and had a really great time just relaxing and talking about Korean, English, entertainment, and culture.  When it was time for her to leave, Yekyung asked me if I knew what 아쉽다 means.

I think 아쉽다 is one of those multi-layered words that can take on subtly different meanings depending on the context.  I’m not sure if there’s a single English word that can be used in all the contexts that 아쉽다 can be used in – but I always thought of it as feeling like you’ll miss something or don’t want something to end or go away.  The dictionary definition is “to want for,” “to miss,” “to feel inconvenienced by the lack of.”

But Yekyung phrased her definition of 아쉽다 beautifully:  “Feeling like you wish time would stop.”

I was so touched when she put it that way. :’)

Drama Dialogue @selfstudykorean

Many of you are probably already aware that a couple of days ago, Shanna of Hangukdrama just launched selfstudykorean.com, a brand new website aiming to bring together and unite the rapidly growing online community of Korean language learners.

Selfstudykorean seeks to pool the knowledge and experiences of several Korean language bloggers, which will hopefully motivate others to find and develop their own effective method of self-studying Korean.  As of now, there are around nine main bloggers (myself included!).  Each of us will be contributing content from a variety of sources as well as from our own personal experiences as regularly as possible, in order to not only bring more content, but also to highlight that there are multiple ways to go about successfully self-studying a language.  If you’re interested in contributing, check out this page!

I will be writing a (hopefully) weekly feature entitled “Drama Dialogue,” where I will take a few lines from a scene in a K-drama and then expound upon a single word, phrase, cultural or grammar point – similar to what I did a few posts back with 칠거지악.  I’m aiming to have my first post up by this Saturday!

That being said, I’ll still be active on this blog so (though I don’t have a very extensive readership), please continue to check out panjjakpanjjak for more randomness about Korean, Japanese, language learning, and language in general.  And, of course, be sure to check out selfstudykorean.com!  So excited and honored to be a part of this community.


My interest in Japanese has continued to wax and wane for about, oh, seven years now?  But I never seriously tried learning it until I took two semesters of introductory Japanese in college last year.  I didn’t hate it, but considering I was at the peak of my Korean studies and in the throes of graduate school applications, I just could not immerse myself in Japanese as easily as I could Korean.

But, at very very long last, I think I may have found the right stimulus.

credit:  rkgsflumpool

Flumpool.  Flumpool.  Flumpool.

Where have you been all my life?!

I feel silly because I’d known of Flumpool for ages but never bothered to listen to them because I used to kind of have this mental block against Japanese music (not sure why; it’s a beautiful language but maybe I’ve just been listening to the wrong things till now).  It’s very rare for me to stumble upon a band I like so much that I can pretty much enjoy every single one of their songs – and Flumpool is one such find.  I will unabashedly admit that I have been looping the song above for the past three days.

I’m excited because this is the first time I’ve been really excited about something in Japanese entertainment and, initially at least, I’ve found that a good dose of fangirling can be quite conducive to language learning.

And good music makes me happy wheeeeeee!

But I won’t jump the gun and say I’ll start studying Japanese wholeheartedly again.  I need to re-accustom myself to the language by ear first and I have no idea how long that will take.  I don’t even know if this will be enough to get me to started in the first place, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.

In any case, until then, MOAR FLUMPOOL~

Tips on reading in a foreign language

So this post is a sort of addendum to the post I made a while back about my experiences reading 해를 품은 달.  Unfortunately, for the time being, my Korean “studying” has dwindled down to reading a page or two every night out of the couple Korean books I own.  I haven’t touched a grammar book in six months or so (this I do not advise) and, yet, I still feel myself improving.  Slowly, yes, but there’s improvement nonetheless and that’s much better than stagnation.

I think once in a while, it’s probably a good idea to take a break from grammar books and their “artificial” passages/dialogues and switch to primary reading material.  News articles, short stories, novels, nonfiction books, magazine articles etc. can really broaden your knowledge in general, not to mention your knowledge of the language you are learning. There are a couple things worth keeping in mind if you want to maximize your learning through reading primary material (novels, in particular) without getting bogged down and discouraged.

  1. Choose something above your reading level.  I know it’s tempting to go for the easy stuff.  I’m guilty of that.  But you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you choose to read something you can fully understand!  I like reading manhwa just for fun but I barely learn anything except for a few words here and there.  해품달, on the other hand, is clearly above my reading level but I understand enough to keep me motivated to continue reading; and at the same time, I’m learning a lot!  I would not, however, suggest reading Charles Dickens or something equally “heavy” in Korean because it could get really discouraging.  There’s a lot of trial and error involved in choosing the right book.
  2. Choose something that you are familiar with.  For example, a book that you’ve read in English that has been translated into your language of study.  I, personally, prefer to read material that was originally written in Korean as opposed to translated into Korean, so I tend to go for novels that have been made into dramas (e.g. Coffee Prince).  I find that having at least a vague idea of the plot prevents me from feeling completely lost in the middle of the book.
  3. Don’t wait until you’re “ready.”  By this, I mean don’t put off trying to read primary material until you feel like you’ve reached a certain degree of fluency in your language of study.  In Korean, I would say maybe six months to a year’s worth of study gives you sufficient familiarity with the language to allow you to start venturing into the world of manhwa and short articles.  Of course this depends on the foreign language, but I think you need to be comfortable with at least basic grammar before jumping into reading books and such.
  4. Read and re-read.  You’ll probably misunderstand a lot of things in your first round of reading.  Take notes and look them over.  Then put them away and come back after two weeks, re-read the same passage/article, and see if you have processed the new vocabulary and grammar.  I often find that what I read the first time around is not exactly what I read the second time around.  I usually have a better grasp of the content after re-reading.
  5. Take copious notes.  Just in case this was not obvious, it is important that you do not read passively.  Since I usually don’t read my grammar book when I’m reading novels and vice versa, I have to make up for that lack of “instruction” on my own by looking up words and grammar points online.  I usually only read a page or two out of 해품달 everyday but that amounts to about 40-60 minutes of study.  My reading “cycle” usually goes something like this:

(a)  Read the passage.  First, I simply read straight through and try to grasp as much as I can without looking up anything.

(b)  Re-read and look up all unfamiliar words and grammar.  I jot down every single one of these in my notebook and look them up online.  Blue ink for new words, red ink for new grammar.  I separate my notes by paragraph and add the page number of the original source next to it too.

(c)  Re-read again.  This time, I read for overall comprehension.

(d)  Repeat.  And finally, I move onto the next couple pages.

It may seem like brute force but it definitely works for me and it’s a welcome change from those grammar books.  (Though I really should get back to my Integrated Koreanit’s been far too long.)