Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Learning Korean

Keegan and I have started taking language lessons at the shipyard on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  The class is mostly shipyard employees, but there are a few other women, from Brazil and India.  We have a good Korean book - the best one I've seen so far.  It's actually geared towards absolute beginners like us, with much more modest dialogues and smaller vocabulary sets.  The other book that I've been working with is way too fast-paced for self-study, so I'm finding the class much more manageable.

So far in class, we've just been focusing on the alphabet.  I had already learned the alphabet letters, but having the sounds pronounced over and over again by our teacher is very helpful.  There are still some sounds that are very difficult to differentiate, though.  For example, the consonants p, t, and k each have three corresponding Korean letters:  a "plain" sound, an aspirated sound, and a tensed sound (glottalized, for you linguists out there). They all sound basically just the same to us.  There are also two o's, one that sounds like o with the lips very round and one that sounds more like aw.  Spelling is definitely going to be a challenge!

Overall, I'm finding learning Korean to be pretty difficult.  I've never studied a language that uses a different alphabet, and I think it's making it unusually hard for me to remember vocabulary.  The basics of verb conjugation are not too complicated, but I'm not very confident, and I know very few verbs, so making sentences is nearly impossible.  I know how to ask for things, and I think I'm beginning to have a very basic grasp of restaurant vocabulary, but it's often easier to get by in English.  Fortunately, we have lots more time to listen, read, and learn more words!

It's definitely true that you can get by here without learning the language, as many of the Americans here have done.  But I think it's already clear that knowing the language will make things much easier.  In many stores, I could request larger sizes or different colors if I knew how to ask.  I could ask which dishes the waiter recommends at the restaurants.  I could ask the pool attendants if there was a lost and found where my missing goggles ended up.  I could tell irritating teenage boys in my lane at the pool to please stay out of my way.  And if there's ever a problem or an emergency, knowing a few words could make things run much more smoothly.  Overall, making an effort to communicate in the native language is a very good way to show people you are invested in their country and their culture, and not just biding your time until you leave (think of the controversy over Spanish in the U.S.!).   So I will soldier on and keep working out my memory.

1 comment:

Stephen P. Plaskon said...

Ellen: Thanks for the update on the language learning. Sounds like you are giving it a good effort. The main thing that is going to work in your favor and is going to be a tremendous help is the fact you live there! According to all I've read and learning about second language learning is that having the daily opportunity to experiment with phonemes and vocabulary in real contexts is a tremendous help in learning the language. I know when I went to Europe and spent time in Paris my French improved dramatically. Question: Are you using the Rosetta Stone program at all? Is it helpful? Let me know. SPP