I’ve been making a concentrated effort to improve my Korean because of late I’ve been bored stupid talking to Koreans. On more than one occasion, I’ve actually been quite rude to people in an attempt to avoid talking. It’s nothing personal and indeed quite the contrary, I can withstand a Korean talking at me for hours on end without waning, but what bores me the most is having to listen to my own drivel. I have developed a range of conversation topics where I can impart my ideas and maybe even respond to a few questions, but unless I can keep control of the ‘conversation,’ I am basically fucked!
My boring litany revolve around being English, being a teacher, learning Korean and hanja, having a taekwondo black-belt, George Bush, and food. I have others, but these are fairly central. Each conversation topic has a number of branches and each of these, sub-branches but very quickly the conversation will reach a point where I no longer hear key words and don’t have the vocabulary or grammar to go further. At this point it is time to jabber.
My Korean skills improve at a laboriously slow rate but my ability to appear knowledgeable, to appear as if I understand every spoken word, and to ‘jabber,’ have been catapulted to perfection. When it comes to the art of jabbering, my kung-fu is strong!
Jabbering shouldn’t be underestimated or treated with derision as it is an integral part of learning another language. First of all, to jabber, you have to be able to use at least a small percentage of the language. Secondly, you have to recognise various tones of voice because you need to respond to these appropriately. Most importantly, you have to be able to differentiate questions and statements. Thirdly, your skills at reading body language, and using it yourself, are crucial.
Provided both parties give the appearance of understanding a conversation, this is achieved by strategically interjecting words such yea’ (예) and ‘really’ (찐자) at appropriate points, by occasionally stating that you don’t understand a word, even though in reality you haven’t understood the last five minutes conversation, making the correct body language, and generally latching onto any word you do recognise, and then repeating it, you can ‘converse’ for hours. It would seem that two humans,from totally different cultures will tolerate a lengthy dialogue in which only a small percentage of the conversation is mutually understood, provided the charade is successfully performed. Indeed, two hours of mutual jabbering can be quite rewarding.
If a person is willing to jabber with you, and you with them, it is perhaps indicative of a mutual liking for each other and it should be pursued as a friendship could develop. I am often amazed, and saddened, that I have some very close Korean friends with whom I jabber and yet am still only capable of making ‘small talk.’ I’ll happily talk to any Korean in my attempts to improve my abilities but having to listen to my own drivel has become tiresome.
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.