So I walked into a restaurant and this ajumma put her arm around me all smiles and started talking to me like we had known each other forever.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a bit, and picked up bits of languages here and there and always, always tried to pick up the basics of a language before I went to a new place. But here I was, on my fourth visit to Seoul this year completely in the dark about what she was saying.
Is there such a thing as trying too hard when it comes to learning a new language? I’ve wanted to learn Korean since the beginning of the year, and since then I’d gone about buying various books and downloading various audio courses but getting nowhere. It’s true that time was tight for the first part of the year, but somehow I always found that I could never really start where I wanted to start, I was always pushed in a certain direction, a direction that I didn’t want to go in, so I guess I reacted against that.
The list of words that I did know stretched out as long as big toe:
|Ajumma||Old Lady (technically it means Married woman)|
I also knew how to say “I love you” (sarang hae yo – very useful thing to say when you don’t know what somebody is talking about), a very rude expression involving the number 18, and the less said about the last word in my list the better 😉
So here’s my problem: pick up any Korean teach yourself, and the chances are that the first section will be on reading Hangul, and the next on pronunciation etc. Which of course is great and to have a true understanding of the language it’s important to learn, but I just wanted to get started. I wanted to be able to start conversing, making myself understood and understanding when people were trying to converse with me. But if I followed the books that I did have then it would take me a couple of years at least.
In truth I’ve been after a quick fix, and that’s what this series of posts are going to be about: me trying to short cut the language. I was due to be in Seoul again in early September, but the venue has now changed to Beijing, so with a bit of luck I will have learnt enough by the next time I go not to make myself look too foolish.
There are however a few things that confused me straight away, the biggest of which being the way the Romanised versions of words are spelt. ‘Oegugin’ appears in the list of words I knew, and it’s a perfect example of why. The ‘Oe’ is effectively pronounced as ‘We’ so the whole word is pronounced ‘Waegugin’ Nothing wrong with that, it’s fairly easy to remember, but on occasions I’ve forgotten and written it as it’s pronounced. Whenever I do this is quickly remember and change the spelling, but I’m always told that it doesn’t really matter if it’s spelt correctly, or phonetically.
The other thing is the letter G and the Letter K at the beginning of words. And the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that I used the correct spelling of Gamsahamnida, even though it’s pronounced Kamsahamnida.
As I work in aviation this is one thing that had always confused me. Before the opening of the stunning Incheon Airport, Gimpo used to be the main airport in Seoul, and I’d always managed to get myself confused on how it was pronounced: Sometimes as Kimpo, sometimes as Gimpo, but then got even more confused as sometimes in was written as Gimpo and sometimes as Kimpo. Very confusing for a while, but I eventually managed to work out that it was Gimpo but pronounced Kimpo.
I was confused even more when I was told that it used to be spelt Kimpo, but the Koreans changed the spelling several years back!
Of course nothing is as simple as just pronouncing a ‘G’ at the start of a Korean word as a ‘K’ and later in this series we’ll work out the hard and fast rules. Assuming of course that I can work them out myself!
The way I’m going to start then is by learning how to link words. Learning words themselves is the easiest part, you can pick up any number of books or look on many different websites and learn a myriad of different words but knowing what to do with them, or rather how to use them is probably the best foundation you can get in any language. By linking words I mean subject-verbs like ‘I like’ ‘I went’ ‘I did’ etc
But before we do that, it’s important that we learn the correct sentence structure in Korean, which differs from English.
The following sentence in English is something I say a lot:
I like Korean films
Nothing wrong with that, English sentence structure form runs Subject – Verb – Object, so let’s break it down:
I (Subject) Like (Verb) Korean Films (Object)
But in Korean the structure is different, and this takes a little bit of getting used to, or at least it did for me as the structure runs: Subject – Object – Verb. So let’s write our sentence in English again, but this time form it with the Korean structure:
I films like
I (Subject) Korean films (Object) like (Verb)
Over the coming posts I’ll delve more and more into the language. Hopefully you’ll stay with me during this journey and possibly we can even learn something together.
Of course any comments, questions, suggestions, advice or abuse are more than welcome.