Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Adventures in Korean

This sort of post shouldn't be written. I should be using Korean with relative facility. I should still be learning vocabulary, but after 6 years of living in Korea, I should have some sort of ease with Korean. When I lived in Croatia, I was on my own capably using Croatian within a week - going to the post office, getting directions, talking to students.

I got off to a terrible start in Korea - which is to say that I actively tried not to learn the first two years. I would just fall back on the "foreigner card" and basically fumble around like a helpless person until someone bailed me out. And they did, because it was clear that I'm clueless. I really think that my failure to try to learn had some sort of a distorting effect on the language center of my brain because it's as if I'm trying to undo that programming now, and learning Korean continues to be a great struggle.

Since 2012 I've spent a lot of time and energy learning Korean. For financial reasons I haven't had a teacher. I have had to learn by reading books. Sometimes the people who've helped me have disagreed with the books I've used to learn which is disruptive when one is learning steadily, if not spectacularly. Also the conditions might not have been the best. It's very rare that I have sat down at a desk at home or in a coffee shop and, in nice relaxing conditions, tried to study the book. Usually when I was studying I was hanging onto the strap on the subway with one hand, my bag hanging from my shoulder, book in the other hand, trying to learn Korean.

When I use Korean I'll get most of the word right or I'll change the first letters of two syllables - or whatever....I'm so close. Close, however, is not all the way there.

And I'm not patient which just makes it worse.

I learned other languages - French, German, Croatian - very easily and so I'm not used to struggling at it. I feel like my Korean is like a gallant but ultimately losing sports team. They indisputably put forth effort, and it's admirable, but the results are still the same.

To illustrate my awkwardness with Korean, I just wanted to share a story. The first one happened over the course of a year. I had come back to Korean in 2012 and I worked for a woman at a hagwon (a school for getting extra instruction in English). Her name was Seongil Kim but never mind that. I called her Wonjangnim which is the Korean word for boss at a hagwon. So when the kids would ask why we had to study until a certain time or they'd ask why they had to something and the answer wasn't mine, I'd say "ask Wonjangnim".

I thought that was her name!

It sounds like a Korean name!!! Well, that's the story I'm sticking to anyway! I don't believe it caused any confusion. The kids knew her in that relationship also, so when I said wonjangnim, it wouldn't have confused them. Anyway, it was a couple of years later that it dawned on me that I had been referring to her title rather than by her name. Yep....a bit slow at times.

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