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All the feels for ‘Age of Youth’

Yay long weekend! I just finished a 6 hour binge of 청춘시대 (Age of Youth). The last 4 episodes were such a rollercoaster – I think I cried in every single one. Ha.

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Given that I generally don’t like “slice of life” type shows–and the fact that the last Korean drama I actually finished was 마을: 아치아라의 비밀 (The Village)–I’m kind of shocked at how much I enjoyed this one.

The plot is pretty simple: Five young women in their twenties share a house together. We follow their trials and tribulations as they each navigate through their lives, and grow to cherish each other (and themselves). Each character has her own inner demons (almost literally) to face and overcome.

This show isn’t flawless by any means. The idea isn’t original; the writing, frankly, isn’t superlative either. There were some odd genre-bending shenanigans going on, which made me wonder at certain points whether I was watching a makjang or a mystery thriller or a romcom? In retrospect, it’s probably because the nature of each character’s inner demon is so different that we got a bunch of varying, and sometimes disjointed, tones in one show. There were plot holes and a couple of instances of really cringe-worthy writing (I’m shaking my head at some of Jong-yeol’s red-flaggy “romantic” one-liners) , but. BUT.

The one major thing this show does well, it does oh so well.

It is A+ at evoking the viewer’s empathy. The characters each have their foibles–and not insignificant ones–but ultimately you’re cheering for them. In my mind, that trumps all of the smaller narrative flaws the show may have.

The importance of empathy is actually a running theme throughout the show, and each character realizes it at some point. This sort of surprised me because I think that’s not something that comes easily to twenty-somethings, especially when you’re trying to get your own two feet on the ground, but the show pulled it off well, without sounding maudlin.

One of my favorite parts of the show is this exchange between Eun-jae and Ji-won:

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The show’s true OTP <3

(source)

사람마다 죄다 사정이란 게 있다는 거야. 그 사정 알기 전까지는 이렇다 저렇다 말하면 안 된다는 거고.

Every person has their own situation they’re dealing with. That’s why until you know their situation you can’t tell them to live this way or that way.

It’s easier to empathize with someone if you know what their “situation” is, but even if you don’t, it’s important to try to understand them anyway. Such a great sentiment.

There are parts of this show that would’ve hit me really hard had it come out 3-4 years ago. It’s interesting watching this as someone who’s close in age to these characters, but also just past the stage that most of them are at, and reflecting if the show really captures the worries and joys of 청춘 (youth). I’d say it does.

すみません vs. すいません

So, I’m not crazy.

I was re-watching きみはペット (incidentally, one of my favorite Japanese dramas) and I confirmed a long-standing suspicion. A lot of Japanese people pronounce すません as すません.

For years I’ve thought my brain was somehow not computing the み sound correctly until I actually saw it spelled with い in a manga I was reading.

The general consensus from all the language forums I’ve combed through seems to be that すません is a colloquial and more casual way of pronouncing すません. The latter is always used when you’re being exceptionally apologetic (as opposed to simply trying to catch someone’s attention) and/or speaking formally to superior.

Probably because I don’t know the language that intimately, I’ve always assumed Japanese to be a really rigid language compared to Korean. There aren’t any complex pronunciation rules like in Korean, hiragana/katakana spelling is pretty much 100% phonetic, and verb conjugations are shockingly regular…. I guess that’s why this ‘mispronunciation’ surprised me so much.

I am getting to the point in Japanese where I’m finally starting to pick up on colloquialisms and slang, which is kind of cool. (The first bit of Japanese slang I picked up was the word 「ちょう」). At some point I should graduate from reading manga to actual novels so I don’t sound like a middle schooler the next time I’m in Japan.

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On a related note, anime has been holding my attention far better than Korean dramas these days. (I couldn’t even make it past episode four of 마녀보감, the last drama I attempted to watch. Sigh.)

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ReLIFE has been my favorite this season (definitely one of my favorites in the last couple years too). The story hits home–a 27-year old man, recently unemployed, gets the chance to participate in an experiment that lets him redo his senior year of high school. The webcomic is also available to read for free on comico! I know I’ve written a ton about webcomics/shows that I never actually finish (heh), but this one I can recommend wholeheartedly.

Q&A: New site name

Jeannie asked: Omg why did you change your URL?

Astute readers of this blog might’ve noticed that my URL is no longer https://panjjakpanjjak.wordpress.com – gasp!

Five years ago when I first created this blog on WordPress, I decided to go with my favorite Korean word (at the time) as its site name/URL. I was one year into learning Korean and was fascinated with mimetic adverbs (의성어/의태어 like 두근두근, 찰찰, 말랑말랑, 졸졸, etc.). For some reason, I really liked the word 반짝반짝; there was also the small matter of 반짝반짝 also being the title of an old Big Bang song that I liked. Heh.

At the time, I didn’t really think about the URL from the perspective of the blog’s future readers. I didn’t consider whether the name/URL would difficult for people to remember or if people would have a hard time Googling the blog’s name in Korean or whether it would just be off-putting or unapproachable to have a non-English site name. Thinking about it now, I realized people can’t even really tell that this is a blog about language from just the URL. Despite the name, which I think may have harmed rather than helped grow my audience, I’ve managed to build up a small readership over the years.

Recently, though, I’ve had more and more people ask for a link to my language blog and they’re puzzled when I tell them the URL. If they don’t already know a bit of Korean, the URL is hard to remember, sounds kind of clunky. Plus I usually have to give some kind of explanation as why I went with it, which became kind of annoying to do over and over again.

That’s why I decided to change my blog URL to a loose English translation of 반짝반짝 한국어. The domain name was super cheap too. Never fear – the old URL still maps to shiningkorean.com and if I decide to give this new one up, I’ll still have panjjakpanjjak.wordpress.com, so no big concerns there.

Things have generally been looking up in terms of how I’m feeling about Korean lately. I’m starting to redefine where Korean falls in my list of priorities in life and what it means to be successful in a language. That’s taken a lot of pressure off me. I started listening to Korean music again and I’m still sufficiently entertained by 마녀보감. I’m reading again too! In a way, buying a shiny new domain name for this blog feels like turning over a new leaf… I’m a lot more motivated than I was a few months ago.

I’d love to know if any of you out there have a favorite Korean word. What is it, and why? Let me know in the comments.

마녀보감 and the 3 episode test

I’ve recently gotten more impatient when it comes to TV shows. If you can’t hook me in the first 30 minutes, I’m out. My circle of drama-watching friends are a usually more forgiving, though. They do a “three episode test” for every TV show and anime they watch, meaning no matter how mediocre the first episode is, they’ll give the show at least 2 more episodes before deciding on whether to give it up or not.

In the spirit of trying to rekindle an interest Korean dramas I decided to give 마녀보감 (Mirror of the Witch) the three episode test.

…And, well, it’s caught my interest.

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Can we talk about how Kim Sae-ron is fifteen years old?! When did that happen? (Won Bin fans might remember her as his co-star in 아저씨–she was a tiny when that movie came out!). Also I haven’t seen Yoon Shi-yoon in anything since Unstoppable High Kick which was. ages. ago.

God, I feel old.

Anyway, let’s see if keep up with this one. I know sageuks aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this is a good one if you like your historical dramas with a side of supernatural and a dash of folktale. It’s a good combination.

This seems to be the running theme of the show. It’s a good sentiment.

세상에 태어나지 말아야 할 사람은 없다. 어떤 사람이든 태어난 사람들은 저마다 하나씩 이 세상에 도움이 되는 이유를 가지고 태어난 것이라고 했다. 그것을 찾는 것이 인생.

There is no one who shouldn’t have been born in this world. No matter who they are, everyone who is born is born for a reason and purpose in this world. Life is about finding that purpose.

For the past couple years, when it comes to learning new Korean words, I’ve noticed that I’m relying less on memorization and more on Hanja. I’ve definitely been able to figure out the meaning of certain unknown words by breaking it down into its Hanja parts. (Studying Korean proverbs helps a lot too).

Take the word 마녀 (witch), for example. I don’t think I knew the word as a whole, but I did know the Hanja 魔 (마귀 마) and 女 (여자 녀). So 마녀 was ‘evil spirit/magic’ + ‘girl,’ or ‘witch.’

I think I first learned  마귀 마 (evil spirit, magic) after watching 마왕 (oh my god, that was also eons ago.) It’s amazing how many 마 words just naturally cropped up after that, especially after I started reading Harry Potter in Korean. Heh. Couple examples:

  • 마법 (magic + law): witchcraft
  • 마술 (magic + ability): sorcery, conjuring, spell
  • 마술사 (magic + ability + self): magician
  • 악마 (evil, bad + evil spirit): Devil
  • 마왕 (evil spirit + king): Satan

Back to the drama. Kim Sae-ron’s character is rumored to be a witch because she’s doomed to cause the death of everyone who loves her and everyone whom she loves. Yikes. It’s pretty clear from the first three episodes who the real witch is, though. It’ll be interesting to find out what her motivations are.

I haven’t gotten to the mirror part of things yet, though we’ve seen some hints of it here and there. Either way, I’ll probably keep watching and hopefully learn more words along the way.

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.

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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!

볼장 다 보다

Sometimes there’s nothing harder than being honest with yourself.

As much as it pains me to say it, looking back on the past couple years or so, I’ve noticed my… 욕심..? for Korean deteriorating. I’m frustrated by my lack of improvement. I’m at a level where improvement doesn’t come in leaps and bounds anymore; it comes from dedicated, daily study, which I don’t make an effort to do. Korean dramas don’t hold my interest as they used to, I barely listen to Korean music or podcasts, and I can’t focus long enough to start and finish a novel in a decent period of time either.

Leaving Seoul after my first trip there, back in 2014, was far more depressing than I thought it would be. Immersing myself in the language was so effortless there… then coming back to the U.S. where I had to make an active effort to immerse myself everyday… Bleh.

So in an effort to stop whining and being lazy, I thought I’d kick myself into high-gear and sign up for TOPIK. The good news is, this year I actually submitted my application in time to be accepted for the April exam. The bad news? I studied for two consecutive days and then never picked up a book or looked at a practice exam since.

The actual exam is in less than a week.

I’m at a point where the following idiom has become sadly, hopelessly relevant to me.

볼장 다 보다

(사람이) 관계하던 일이 더이상 어떻게 해볼 수 없을 정도로 잘못되다.

Basically, everything that can possibly go wrong in a situation has gone wrong and you’re finished. Done. Ruined. Screwed. The jig is up.

This is kind of an interesting idiom because, when you consider the literal definition, you’re basically using it ironically. Literally, the phrase means ‘to be done with everything that needs to be done.’ Note: 볼장 is written together often enough that it’s found in the dictionary–it means ‘something that needs to get done’–but it’s easy to parse out the meaning if you write it with the correct 띄어쓰기, i.e. 볼 장.

So, literally, the phrase has a positive connotation. You’ve done everything that needs to be done. The idiomatic meaning comes from using this phrase ironically. When you’ve messed up something so bad, that there’s nothing else you can do to mess it up, that’s also 볼장 다 보다. You’ve done everything that can be done wrong, wrong.

So… that’s why this idiom struck a chord. Every place I could’ve fallen short in my preparation of TOPIK, I fell short. I didn’t do anything to prepare. Possibly the only thing I can do worse is spend hours cramming the night before the exam.

I’ll still take the exam, though. I’m hoping maybe that’ll be a wakeup call and get me to prepare for the October exam better. Meanwhile… I’m still in a slump. I don’t know how I can reconnect with the language. Maybe putting pressure on myself to do well on TOPIK is actually pushing me away from what I love about Korean? I don’t really know. What I do know is that I sorely miss this community of language learners and language bloggers! Thanks for sticking around while I’ve been MIA.

Language Tag

Well, this is fun! Riccardo of Kaito Monogatari tagged me in this language learning questionnaire. Of all the people I know studying Japanese, Riccardo is the most prolific reader of Japanese literature that I know of. I hope I can be just as good some day.

Anyway, thanks for tagging me, Riccardo! I’m always happy to talk about myself (heh).

What would you consider your native language?

English and Marathi (of the South Indian variety, but who’s nitpicking?). Marathi is my mother tongue; my entire extended family speaks it and I’m still attached to it, though I’m not very good.

What was your first language learning experience?

French class in 5th grade. I don’t know why my elementary school offered a second language, but I’m glad it did, and I learned a lot, surprisingly! Pretty much all of high school  French 1 was a repeat of what I had learned in 5th grade.

What languages have you studied and why did you learn them?

Oh gosh. Where do I even begin.

  • French  – I studied this for four years in high school (and that one year in elementary) because it was part of the curriculum.
  • Japanese – I’ve studied Japanese on and off since high school and took 1 year of it in college. I’m still really really not that good at it. I can speak it well enough to get around Japan and I can read manga more or less, but Kanji kills me.
  • Korean – To this day, I don’t have a straight answer as to why I decided to study Korean. It’s more like… Korean chose me. I started off being intrigued by the way the language sounded and then started actually learning things after listening to TTMIK’s podcasts.
  • Sanskrit – My grandfather is a Sanskrit scholar. I spent a whole summer learning the alphabet and some basic grammar. I have a bunch of books too, but haven’t revisited the language in a long while.
  • Italian – It sounds so beautiful! Also one of my best friends knows Italian quite well so I wanted to learn it too. I’m not that good at it, nor am I learning seriously. I’ve just been playing around with it on Duolingo.

How does your personality affect your language learning?

I lack focus when it comes to my hobbies. I always want to do a million different things all at the same time. When I’m studying Korean, I all of a sudden start thinking about studying Japanese or writing my novel or blogging or coding… my mind starts wandering. I find it really hard to focus in front of a textbook. I basically fail at studying, which means I can never advance past a certain level of fluency in any language. Sigh.

Do you prefer learning a language in a class or on your own?

On my own.

What are your favourite language learning materials?

Novels.

How much time do you spend on language per day?

I always do something that relates to Korean everyday – whether that’s reading a webcomic or novel, listening to music, watching a variety show/drama. But as for actual studying? Hahaha….

What are your short-term and long-term language goals?

  • Short-term: Pass TOPIK Level 6 in October.
  • Long-term: Become fluent in Korean.

What is your favourite language?

Korean

What is the next language you want to learn?

Hindi

What advice could you give new language learners?

Be proud of every small thing you accomplish. It all adds up!

And now I shall tag some fellow language learning peeps:

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!