Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Korean is hard

My Korean... sucks. I was reminded of that on several occasions over the last couple days...

#1 Can you say that again?

I swung by my local Baskin Robbins to pick up some ice cream to-go on my way home, and for some reason or another, I could not for the life of me understand what the employee was trying to communicate. She even resorted to English, clearly annoyed with me, stammering, "Time! Time! Time!" And I still had no idea what she was trying to say. As my guilt started to sink in, she repeated it slowly one last time, and luckily, a little light bulb went off in my head: "Ohhh, you want to know how long it'll take for me to get home, so you can pack my ice cream accordingly? Why didn't you say that in the first place? ; )" Ding Ding Dong!

Lesson #1: Stop eating ice cream; you need to go on a diet anyway.

#2 Nash equilibrium... how do you say that in Korean again?

Flipping through notes from a friend's economics class, my mind almost instantaneously shut off as it entered shock-confused-lazy mode, begging me to cease all attempts at comprehension. Perhaps upon seeing the graphs I could have faked a conversation... "Oh, I see you're studying game theory now?" Oh, crap. I don't know how to say game theory (게임이론?) in Korean...

Lesson #2: Drop in on a summer business lecture at Yonsei. This will create even more confusion, and hopefully lead to an increase in motivation to read more articles from the piles of 매일경제 collecting at the front door.

#3 Debating... in Korean

We had a "debate" on 성형수술 (plastic surgery) today, and the gap between what I wanted to say and what I ended up saying was about as wide as... 한강? 재주도? 동해?

Lesson #3: Work on my "I'm nodding like I totally understand everything you're saying" look. I should start blogging in Korean for practice!

#4 Stop laughing at me!

There are some people that I don't normally speak in Korean with, for various reasons - i.e. we're used to speaking English to each other b/c that's what we did in the States, their English is 99.9999% fluent, and... I hate to admit this one... but I can get a bit shy. Therefore, K-E combo convos are pretty common, and I can only imagine it's at least somewhat amusing to listen to from the outside. An acquaintance recently asked about that #1 barrier...

왜 웃어요?!
부끄럽다고? 하하하하!
뭐가 웃겨요?

At this point I gave up, until his laughter subsided. Apparently, 부끄럽다 isn't used as much as 쪽팔리다 in this situation. So I asked good ol' Mom, who in turn gave me a 10 minute lecture on the appropriateness of certain vocabulary (and prefers that I don't incorporate 쪽팔리다 into my everyday speech.) Then again, I also told her I learned 그닥 (a shortening of 그다지) from my pal YS, and she said she preferred to stick with 그다지 because it sounded nicer than 그닥. Hmmm.

Coincidentally, I recall a recent conversation about Korean grandparents not understanding the lingo of today's youth (and perhaps, vice versa). Ah, times a changin!

Lesson #4 comes from Ask a Korean, who brought up a good point in his latest post:
Neither of the English editions of the two papers contained a headline that was on the front page of Dong-A Ilbo, one of the largest newspapers in Korea in circulation. The lesson: even if you keep up with the English media coming out of Korea, you will only get about half of Korean news, which sometimes miss very important news. If you wish to really understand Korea, you have to learn Korean and read the Korean media. Until English-language media in Korea becomes a lot more exhaustive, there is no alternative.


Grace said...

well, at least the ice cream lady was being considerate enough to bother thinking about your enjoyment of the ice cream! :-)

Richard said...

Don't start blogging in korean!! Cuz then I'd only be able to read it and I would have no clue what you were saying!

Unfortunately my korean ability only extends to being able to read Hangul. I desperately need to start practicing Korean. Unfortunately its a bit hard to do that in the US and in Africa.

christy said...

don't blog in korean. i'm pretty sure extreme frustration would result on my end since i wouldn't understand a word. as it is i already have trouble with all the dish names...

JW You said...

What's a combo convo? Never heard of the expression

Oh, and do blog in Korean if you can. It's one of the best ways to practice and improve your Korean, and seeing that your language ability is outstanding, I'm sure you'll be up and running in no time.

JW You said...

Oh I get it. You meant a Korean and English combination conversation. Duh