Thursday, October 16, 2008

Korean Language Learning Update

Keegan and I continue to make slow progress in learning Korean.  Our beginners' class will finish at the end of November, and then we'll take a test to move up to the intermediate level.  I'm guessing that those classes will start after Christmas.  Recently we've learned how to introduce ourselves and to tell people where we're from and what our job is.  Now we're working on asking where someone is going or asking where something is.  Apparently asking Eodi gayo? (Where are you going?) is a very common question in Korea, like part of a greeting.  Our teacher explained that many foreigners find this odd and a little nosy.  But she told us "Don't worry, Korean people do not want to follow you.  They are just being polite and making conversation."

We've also learned how to say good-bye, which is more complicated than you'd think because Korean makes an interesting distinction.  If you are leaving somewhere, and the person you're saying good-bye to is staying, then you say good-bye one way:  annyeonghi keseyo (literally, please stay well).  If both you and the person you're talking to are leaving, then you say annyeonghi kaseyo (literally, please go well).  This kind of thing is what I love about studying foreign languages - choosing the right words forces you to look at common situations with an eye for distinctions you don't usually think about.

Our Rosetta Stone Korean disk finally made it to Korea, and we're back in business learning on the computer.  I am fascinated by the process of learning with this program because it relies completely on implicit language learning with no explicit explanations of grammar rules or pronunciation.  Each lesson consists of a series of pictures with descriptions in Korean, either spoken, written, or both.   Your task as the learner is to figure out how the words paired with the picture work.  You have to pay attention to the differences and similarities among the pictures and make hypotheses about how those match up with the differences and similarities among the words.  In this way, the exercises are similar to what babies do when they are learning their native language, except that the baby's environment is usually much less controlled than this program and full of many more examples of language use.  Figuring all this out is fun, like a puzzle, so I'm definitely motivated to sit down and spend some time using the program.  Some of the rules and associations I figure out using Rosetta Stone are more likely to stick with me because I am proud and excited about figuring them out myself.

However, I think that it would be very difficult to rely entirely on Rosetta Stone to learn the language.  First of all, my deciphering of the parts of the sentences is made much, much easier by the fact that I learned the Korean alphabet and some basic Korean grammar through more traditional methods.  Second, I have a hard time remembering the full words and phrases from the program.  I tend to use the beginnings of words and phrases to distinguish between sentences and match them to the appropriate picture, and without making an effort to remember the full word or phrase, it doesn't stick with me.  Also, because my understanding of how the pictures and sentences match up is based on hypotheses about how the language works, I am wary of using those hypotheses to create new sentences because I'm not entirely sure about what I'm saying.   So far, my opinion is that Rosetta Stone is an interesting and challenging way to learning a language, but it is good to pair it with some more traditional language learning techniques, such as memorizing vocabulary and reading about grammar rules.


Jamie said...

Awesome update! Especially the fascinating observation about saying goodbye!
I have been searching in vain for a Russian tutor in Lynchburg, and now I'm leaning towards Rosetta Stone. I do have a fundamental grasp of the alphabet and grammatical structure - what do you think?

Ellen said...

I think you should try it, Jamie. But get the second level, if they have more than one. You took a lot of Russian in college!

chrissy said...

I'm really glad that Rosetta Stone came through for you! Have you seen the Phelps commercial. I think it is kinda funny that they don't ever show him speaking chinese...hmmmmm. They wouldn't be using him for his star power, now would they? =)

Jamie said...

I'm gonna ask for it for Christmas, or use my Christmas bonus money for it. I crave foreign language!