Letter to a Linguist – The alphabet thickens

Ah! It’s that time of the month. You know, when the fresh air seems to blow away all the chains of reason and experience, and your ideas start frolicking in the sunshine of new beginnings. 


It’s my favorite time of the year, and not just because it’s pops up more often than the weeds in your garden. I like it becuase I feel more alive when I’m full of hope. I like it because I think more, and think deeper, without having to necessarily do anything deep or thoughtful. It’s like stepping out of gray into the after effects of a nights rain. Even the cracked sidewalks are flecked with rainbows.   

My enabler today was my mom. She took me to Office Depot and  I bought card stock and this cute little flash card holder. And yes, these are related to my Language study. It’s actually an idea I had a long time ago, when I was learning Japanese. I’d thought I’d compile my own dictionary out of the flash cards I was alrady making. It didn’t workout becuase at tha time the binders were still not index card sized. Some really intlligent market research has apparently taken place since then, and you can buy binders in every size and shape that can be contained in four sides. And rings.

 I love me some flash card rings.

My flash cards, naturally, will have to be updated to match the inherent awesomeness of their eventual home. I’m aiming for a little dictionary of cards, with each card featuring a word, it’s various forms, and some example sentences. This, of course, will mean I’ll have to take my knowledge of Korean verb construction from 0% to at least, say, 15%. 

Up to this point I have been using only Talk to Me in Korean, which is great. But listening, even when backed with work books, isn’t enough. It’s time to outsource for some structure. I’m going to be using wikibooks to add the necessary grain to my others light load. Wikibooks is great because it can 1) be read (and we all know I love reading), 2) it contains actual rules, and 3) it has examples for you to practice on, complete with answer key. 

In other news, my Hangul has already improved. I’m still cheating on impulse by reading the romanji first without even thinking about it, but at least when I do force my eyes on the jamo that make up this wonderful puzzle of an alphabet, I can sound them out with a child’s accuracy. The hardest part for me so far is the ,ㅅ,ㅊ group set. Conventionaly these are transliterated as J/S/Ch, but I find this confusing when you get combinations like 죄, or  시, both of which can sound pretty hard to my ears depending on whose saying them, and yet neither use the “Ch” jamo, . 아이고. 

One thing I have been doing with Talk to Me in Korean that I really like is listening to their day of the week while writing out the example sentences. This obviously helps my pronunciation and listening skills, which in turn gives me a foundation for spelling, but it also has the side benefit of increasing my vocabulary and giving me hints at verb conjugation that I’m sure will come in handy while reading Wikibooks.

In other news, I’ve discovered that I’m losing my grasp on Hiragana. *Sigh* As if one language wasn’t enough.  

Letter to a Linguist

Dear Theo,

I know I told you a while ago that I was studying Korean.

I lied.

I was actually doing something diametrically opposed to the very idea of studying, but since that something involved hearing hours and hours of colloquial Korean, I felt the term “studying” was justified.

Not that I didn’t study at all, of course. I looked up how to read Hangul (한글) a few months ago. It was kind of a mistake, because I found out that words I’d been hearing as “kamsamnida” and “bian,” were actually, when using a strict romanji system, spelled “gamsahapnida” and “mian”  (감사핲니다 – thank you, 미안 – sorry). Not being able to differentiate the k/g, ch/j, b/m sounds really threw me off. You know I have problems enunciating in English, I don’t need another language’s issues thrown in. It seemed obvious that Hangul would require actual study to be able to read or write it properly.

Actual study was what I was avoiding.

But fast forward a couple of months to the present and I still spend countless hours loafing around while listening to Korean being thrown back and forth am exposed to the quirky character of the Korean tongue every now and then.  I can no longer point to the measly fifteen words I know and say, “See, I am doing something edifying.” The moment of truth has come. Either I must actually study, thereby justifying my intake, or give up all things Korean.

Except the food. We must draw the line somewhere.

In all honesty, the moment of truth came a few weeks ago, but my inbox was full so I didn’t get it right away. After I did get it, I made a quick pro/con sheet:

Con: involves actual work;  sucess, as unlikely as it is, means eventually admitting you can do work to people you’d rather have think of you as a bum; failure is inevitable unless redefined; it has no benefits but the “joy of learning” because, though knowledge is power, scientist have yet to figure out how to use it to fuel a car 

Pros: You get an excuse to say “buooyol!” (뭬예요 – what,  Romanji – mwoyeyo); you get a chance to learn why all the M’s sound like B’s; You’ve been looking for a good excuse to exercise your researching skills; It’s the only way you can make “well rounded” sound like a virtue.

It was your fairly typical tie, the kind that makes you wonder if your subconcious is just using you as some kind of behavorial experiment, when I realized that starting a new project would mean making a new binder. You know I’ve never passed by a chance to make a binder, and it seemed rather late in the game to stop now. “Besides,” I threw out the infinity decision making, “I can always stop when I want to.”

So, since Thursday, I’ve completed my research and have started using Talk to Me in Korean, which is a completely free site with podcasts, pdfs and (swoon) workbooks. The podcasts are just what you’d expect after listening to JapanesePod 101, only I feel I’m learning more from them. Probably because I know less, but still, it’s an encouraging feeling. I’ve listened to the first ten lessons of level one a few times and am preparing to go through the corrosponding workbook before moving on. I’m stalling because I haven’t practiced my spelling at all as much as I should have, so I don’t really know how to write half the words I’ve learned. I’m loving these podcasts because they help me understand what I’ve been hearing these past six months. Not necessarily the meaing of the words, that’s a given, but the logic of the sounds. I’m pretty used to listening to Korean, so it no longer sounds strange to me – it’s no longer indistinguishable from a Mediterranean language, you could say – but that doesn’t mean it makes sense. The podcast takes all the niggling little observations that the incurable scholar in me has made and ties them all together into a neat little bow. And then attaches the bow to a present. I’m dying to open the present, even though I’m pretty sure there’s no chocolate inside, but I get the feeling it’ll need a few more bows before it’s complete.

Anyway, Crazy,  I know you love languages so I thought I’d keep you up to date about my studies. Sometimes I learn something that’s so small it’s barely even worth mentioning  but it causes me to geek out in the worst possible way. And then there’s the long-winded, introspective looks at my own native tongue which I could hardly share with the World at Large. So yeah, you’ll be hearing from me again shortly. Don’t leave town.

Love,

B. Sixer

P.S. If your name was Shirley, I’d say you’re Shirley mine ^_- My New Job is filling my head with bad, bad puns. “Bi”-yane.