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Learning Korean Gets Easier

Blog Entry 1

After a month in Korea, I was starting to feel low that I hadn't learned much Korean beyond just a few words. Yes, I did learn the Sino-Korean numbers, but I had been in Korea for nearly a month before then. Well, I've now been in Korea for two and a half months and I am happy to say that I am learning more and more faster and faster. To help learn the language, I'm now spending time with my students between classes. Yes, I have to speak English and they speak English to me, but I am starting to recognise a few of their Korean words to one another. To spend more time with my students, I have started playing 딱지 (ddakji) with them. I enjoy spending time with them, though I'm not very good at it, yet. I've lost many 딱지 to the kids.
To help learn new words, I'm utilising my phone's built-in Korean-English dictionary. It has a great feature to link between entries. So I look up "where", for example, and it has a lot of Korean I don't know, but I can have it take me to 어디 to discover "well; now; well now; just; let me see" and then go over to 어디 and find "what place; where". And there you go, I have successfully learned to say "어디" (eodi, "er-dee") whenever I need to ask where something is.
However, I cannot just look up any word and remember what it means. I have found I remember a word very quickly if I have some immediate need for it or am looking at it in context. For example, I already knew 남 (nam) is "south/southern" and I was told that the name of the bus terminal in 남마산 (nammasan, South Masan) is 남부 (nambu). Looking up 부, I discover it means "extension, addition". This makes sense as the south terminal must have been built after the main terminal in North Masan (북마산, bukmasan). So there you have it, I have immediately learned 무 :)
This means that I now know how I am to spend my next ten months learning Korean: spend time with Koreans using Korean and keep using my phone dictionary. As long as I have a need to use a word and keep reminding myself of its associations with other words, I will learn Korean!
In other news, my Korean students get such a kick of the little Korean I do know. Like in one advanced class, they just kept giving me various Korean words in Latin and tell me to write it in 한글 (Hangul, the Korean alphabet). I also learned from when I'd play hangman with the younger kids that "moshiki" (don't know how to spell that one) meant "blank, something, anything" and the older kids laugh when I use it.
Though I want to learn Korean and my time with my students is the best, sometimes only, time to practice the little Korean I know, I keep in mind that my job is to teach them English and the whole point of bringing in all these foreign native speakers is that them not knowing Korean (and all the proper subtleties) forces the Korean children to speak and listen to English and thus better internalise the language. In my last job at KDLP, it was very much frowned upon to use any Korean with the kids as that school really promoted itself as an "immersion" school. Here, though, the director does not speak English very well sometimes and is always speaking Korean with the children. I think he wouldn't mind that I was learning Korean from them, but I still tell myself that my primary objective in these class periods is to get the children speaking and listening to English.
In my most advanced class with four middle school boys, the book we use gets them to learn and "use" five new words each day to improve their vocabulary. It doesn't work very well. So last month I started to try to teach them to write poetry. They don't give a fuck about that... I started easy with haikus, but they wouldn't write any as homework and they didn't make anything creative in class. Sure, it doesn't help that their Korean tongues keep adding syllables to even the smallest words, but I had hoped they would try. Nope.
So then I moved on to rhyming, but they weren't impressed. Then came the simple couplet, but that was "too hard". Plus it was now time for them to spend all their time studying for the uber important July "suh-ker" test. (er, "school" they meant. I can't believe no one had taught them the proper pronunciation of that one before me. I kept thinking they were talking about "soccer tests" for a couple weeks.)
So now I'm in the slow process of reading Edgar Allen Poe's The Cask of Amontillado. It has a lot of big words and difficult grammar structure that they don't really know. Other than them complaining every night with being "tired", I hope they're enjoying the text (or they should when we get to the end), though I feel the need to paraphrase every paragraph.
Next, I'll need to find something easier and I need to find a better way to get them to use the English language.
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6 Jul 2009