Elwood 5566

Screw the air con! Give me some Korean lessons!

Posted in Education, esl, Korean language by 노강호 on September 22, 2011

Speech impediments have always amused me and as a child I knew a shop in Edinburgh, where I holidayed every summer with my sister, that provided us a double treat because not only was it a sweet shop, but the owner had a massive problem pronouncing sibilants. Visiting her shop for a bag of cinnamon balls and some sour plums was one of our first adventures when we arrived in the city, for summer.  Even to this day, my sister and I still reminisce about the, ‘Yesh lady,’ and the various means we used to illicit her to say ‘yesh’ or ‘shower plumsh.’

don’t expect to be ‘fed’ in return

If I still had a childish sense of humour, and was ignorant to the detrimental effects such humour has on successful second language acquisition, I could have such fun taking the piss out of badly pronounced ‘Engrish.’ Let’s see, ‘I’m pine!’ is a very common blunder. Then there’s ‘I like flied lice’ or ‘egg flied.’ ‘Pacuum-creaner’ always fucks them as does ‘pish and chips.’ Unfortunately, my professionalism stifles the potential for amusement.

But have you noticed that Korean kids will take the piss out of your attempts at Korean. Almost on a daily basis I will hear students commenting on my pronunciation and even mimicking my attempts. Okay, the kids I can tolerate but when adults do it, though never ill-intended, it gradually grates. I have numerous friends, truly good friends, who nonetheless will ridicule my best efforts. I’ve even had friends write down my mistakes so they can subsequently recount them. Some of my gaffs concern confusing ‘eagle’ with ‘oak’ and ‘ginger’ with ‘thinking’ which have resulted in my asking for ‘eagle curd’ and ‘thinking’ in the supermarket. Then there is the confusion between ‘Dan Goon’ (단군) the legendary founder of Korea and ‘dang geun’ which is the common garden carrot! Indeed, the moment you start to use any languages that veers from the basic, especially idioms or snippets from the Thousand Character Classic  (千字文 – 천자문), and you can guarantee you will deemed highly amusing.

robot English teacher

And if I make an amusing cock-up the chances are its nature will be shared with every class in my school. I don’t mind someone having a giggle at my gaffs but have the decency, after you’ve had a laugh, to help me correct them! I used to criticise those foreigners who’ve spent ten years in Korea and can’t string a sentence together and now I am approaching my sixth year on the peninsula I am beginning to realise that it’s probably much easier to learn Korean back in England than it is in Korea.

As a nation, Koreans are immensely selfish at turning every encounter with a foreigner into an opportunity for them to learn English. How many times have I discovered a Korean who spoke little English and could tolerate my ponderous Korean only to have them ask several days later, if I could teach them English. I’m sure a great many friendships between Koreans and native English speakers are inspired through the desire to extend English speaking skills and though I admire conviction and single-mindedness, some of my friends have forgotten the original ‘contract,’ namely, that friendship was mutually beneficial in terms of our respective languages. In more than one case, I have friends who used my help and years later are now competent English speakers while I’m still waiting for my first lesson. And the boredom that flits across their faces if I ask a Korean-language related question deters all but the most important inquiry.

It might be assumed that living in Korea would be a massive advantage, and it probably is if you are working or studying in a Korean speaking environment, but for English language teachers it is often the case that they are dissuaded from making an effort to learn Korean. The less Korean you speak the greater your value for money and the less you will understand your working life – something which seems to empower some bosses.  On ESL job boards for China or the Middle East, lessons in the native language are often included in the employment package along with other standard incentives such as internet connections or air conditioning. In Korea however, though there are exceptions and more enlightened employers, there seems a complete ignorance that many westerners come to Korea not just because it’s a job but because they want to experience and better understand Korean culture.

Koreans treat language as an academic tool, as almost exclusively a qualification the mastering of which provides a rung up the academic and social ladder. This is evident by the structuring of Korean-English exams where the emphasis isn’t on an ability to communicate, but to identify and correct grammatical errors.  Occasionally, the questions that have to be answered would puzzle and bewilder the most proficient and articulate of native English speakers. Recently, a top Korean school attempted to change the nature of its instruction and to focus on effective communication. Parents however, weren’t happy and demanded a return to rote learning and grammar because English in Korea is not about communication and is treated in much the same way as classical Latin or Greek, in other words, as a ‘dead language’. Not forgetting that both the USA and UK have the world’s poorest second language acquisition, there are westerners on the Korean peninsula for whom learning Korean is not an academic tool but a means of communication which has the potential to help better understand Korean culture and the Korean psyche.

How Koreans perceive second language acquisition has been influenced by their experience of the language learning process.   If language is about grammar, is predominantly written rather than spoken, if it is taught in isolation of history and culture, it if is about grades and exams, if  written English is given more importance than spoken English,  then it is understandable why they should be so negative or dismissive of a foreigner’s interest in learning Korean. Of all the potential approaches to the study of a language, Korea has managed to extract and venerate the most boring and I would imagine the learning of classical Greek or Latin, where at least you are treated to primary sources, would be more engaging. Considering the number of years Korean kids learn English, I rarely meet ones whose command of spoken English impresses me. On the other hand, a great number of them have superior writing skills to their native English speaking peers.  And we should not forget, Koreans do better job learning languages than we do in dumbass Britain where a recent report claim 10% of ten year old boys have the reading age of a seven year old – and that’s in their native language!

In Korea, if you want to learn Korean you’re very much on your own!  And though you would think it easy to find a Korean student or adult to help you in your quest, the reality is few have sufficient free time. Koreans are either too obsessed with the development of their own English skills, too busy using you to earn money, or too constrained by other pressures, to help you learn Korean. Of course there are exceptions! Korea is an amazing country but personally, of the numerous places I have lived for an extended period of time, Koreans have been the least helpful in improving my skills and the most demanding in the pursuit of improving their own. And if you find a Korean friend who has not the slightest interest in learning English, and they do exist, you are truly blessed.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


Learn Hanja the Fun Way!

Posted in Korean language by 노강호 on February 25, 2011

After my post (When Goggle was Gobble-Dee-Gook)  describing some of the developments that have taken place in the last ten years which now provide greater support for those interested in Korea and Korean culture, a post on a book on hanja designed specifically for the non-Korean student.

Fantastic! Learn Hanja the Fun Way

Learn Hanja the Fun Way, by Lee Yong Hee is extremely user-friendly and presented in a manner that introduces the student to the major radicals and links them to their pictographical roots. The remainder, and bulk of the book is focused on 50 theme based lessons covering topics such as numbers, days, people, the family through to the economy, university and globalization. At the end of each topic a passage is provided in Hangul which incorporates the hanja characters presented up to this point. The reading comprehension is of great benefit as it helps consolidate learning and provides an example of how hanja is used. The author has taken great care to ensure the Hangul isn’t too difficult to present yet another problem. Each topic is rounded of with a four character proverb from the famous Ch’on Cha Mwun, One Thousand Characters (천자문). At the end of the book is a useful section providing hanja for country names, Korean cities, surnames and antonyms.

a large soft back book slightly over A4 size.

This is the first book I have seen which is designed specifically with the non-Korean speaker in mind and along with Bruce K Grants, A Guide to Korean Characters, will allow you to master the 1800 characters used in South Korea.  All you need now is 20 years of study!

Learn Hanja the Fun Way (Chinese Characters for Foreign Learners), by Lee Young Hee (이영회), is available in most large book stores. I bought mine in Kyobo Books, Daegu. It costs 14000 Won and is published by Hangookmunhwa Sa (한국문화사).  ISBN 978-89-5726-232-0 13710.

Homepage: hankookmunhwasa.co.kr

Poor photo quality, sorry!

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

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Posted in Diary notes, Korean language by 노강호 on September 25, 2010

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!

Well, a little, perhaps...

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.

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Bathhouse Basics 1 – What is a bathhouse? (목욕탕)

Aquatic Symphony

Bathhouse (목욕탕) – exactly as the name suggests. Simply a place to wash. However, while some establishments are not much more than a place to administer yourself a thorough scrub down, others offer the chance to wallow in luxurious ambiance. The range is broad and bathhouses often have their own distinct atmosphere shaded by the time you visit. What you will find common to all  are: nudity,  segregation by sex,  places to shower, both standing and sitting and a number of pools. This is the most basic I have experienced. Others will have a number of adjoining ‘rooms’ containing various saunas, steam rooms, ice rooms (어름방), salt saunas, yellow mud sauna (황토방) sleeping rooms, and a place to be scrubbed down by an attendant. Once again, the variation is extensive. Pools vary in size and number and like the various ‘rooms’ often utilise specific minerals which are believed to promote good health. The most common are probably hot pools (열탕 – yeol-tang), warm pools (온탕 – on-tang),  cold pools (냉탕 – naeng tang) but I have also bathed in pools of gold and saunaed in silver. Baths may contain herbs, or green tea or be built with health inducing minerals. In addition, some bathhouses have heated areas around the pools where it is possible to take a nap and these may be heated by ondol (온돌) heating (underground heating) or by infra-red lights.

Changing rooms


In the bathing area, bathhouses often have:

conveniently located televisions

various types of massage

soap, towel, body clothes, toothpaste

a large stone on which to eradicate hard skin

In the changing area:

sofas, television

a room in which to dry and preen yourself

toothbrushes, shampoo, Italy towels, hair conditioner

socks, underwear, ties

soft drinks, some snacks, especially smoked eggs

In the steam room of the Kayasan Hotel Bathhouse

A typical seated shower area

Grouped around the bathhouse (목욕탕):

barber, hairdresser

shoe shine facility

shoe repair facility

a sports complex or some exercise facilities

a jjimjilbang (찜질방)

In the pools

Some may have outside areas or indeed, be located in outdoor settings. Finally, some establishments have limited opening hours while others are open twenty-four hours.

Variations are extensive and endless!

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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.