When language is like breathing

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The Everyday Language Learner posted today an interesting quote by Greg Thomson:

“If we ignore a whole bunch of problems, the hardest thing about language learning is getting started. The second hardest thing about learning another language is not quitting.”

Perhaps this is true in the beginning stages. But if living the language has become as integrated in your life as breathing . . . it’s not really that hard not to quit.

Someone remarked to me about this just yesterday — wow, you study Korean so hard. My response was, actually not really. Although the last couple months or so I have been trying to study Korean a bit here and there. . . mostly I just use Korean so much in my daily life it would be rather hard to go for any length of time without using it.

Shanna at HangukDrama wrote about this as well today.

떠남 (이용규) – Leaving (Lee Yeong Gyu)-

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486182_10100838653737985_807283822_nOne of my goals for this year is to do a lot more Korean reading. I’ve started several books in the last few weeks. One of the books Is this new book by Yeong Gyu Lee. It’s called “Leaving” (떠남) and is about his spiritual experience living in and leaving Mongolia. He writes about trusting God through different sometimes somewhat incomprehensible situations that come up in his and others’ life.

It’s pretty easy reading with relatively short sentences and the vocabulary is not that hard either. I had started his other book 내려놓음 when I first left Korea but never finished it. After I have finished this book I want to read that as well as his sequel — 더 내려놓음. 

Speaking Korean I don’t know

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I had a rather fun experience speaking Korean two days ago. I was mainly listening for a couple hours to a friend. I was tired and headachy so I’m not sure how good a listener I was but afterwards when I started to talk suddenly all the words and what I wanted to say flowed out very naturally and fluently. And the strange thing was I found myself using loads words and phrases that I really didn’t know on a cognitive level where I could give a dictionary definition or even know the English translation. But I knew them on an emotional level and knew they conveyed my meaning.

I kind of felt like I was watching my mouth speak without  knowing exactly what I said or why suddenly my mouth was using all these  words or sentence patterns. Then again at night in my dream I kept hearing myself continue to talk and talk in Korean.

I have had this experience before, but it felt rather more extreme than usual this time. I wonder though if this is eer how we often speak our first language — using words and phrases that we havent consciously learned or remembered and for which we often (when we think of it) can’t cognitively define. Nevertheless we eerily know what thoughts and emotion they convey.

Cracking the Korean speaking nut: Blackfoot and Korean

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One of the most encouraging articles I read when I started to study Korean was an article by Greg Thomson with the cheery title — What? Me Worry about Language Learning?

He writes about some of the troubles learning a different language and particularly the challenge of learning a host language from a bilingual community of speakers. (Perhaps some Korean speakers, like those being well educated and living overseas, fall into this bilingual category of being quite fluent in English as well as Korean.)

In Thomson’s case, he was studying Blackfoot and virtually everyone in the Blackfoot speaking community were fluent in both English. After months of memorising dialogues and stockpiling information, he still couldn’t carry on a conversation with anybody. Then Thomson writes:

 Frank [his colleague] had a simple challenge for me. He told me to make a commitment that I would never again speak to a Blackfoot person in English. I told him that I felt that would be impossible. He told me that it would be difficult at first, but fairly soon it would start getting easier.

When I returned to Alberta, I took the plunge. Frank was right. The first few weeks were extraordinarily difficult, but then it started getting easier, and the Blackfoot started to flow more and more. For the next several years I spoke only Blackfoot to Blackfoot people. I was always able to get my point across to them, and they to me, so I felt justified in calling myself a speaker of the language. . . . . .

As I persisted in refusing to speak English, most people would eventually begin speaking to me in Blackfoot. The first person was my main language helper. I spoke Blackfoot to him for two or three hours per day for about a week before he began speaking Blackfoot to me. In later years it was always fascinating to watch a new relationship and see how long it took for people to begin speaking to me in Blackfoot. For some it would be an hour. For others several hours. Occasionally someone would start speaking Blackfoot to me right off. . . . .

. . . [This] gave me a large amount of practice speaking. And it gave me exposure to Blackfoot that I could understand, as people spoke back to me.

Thinking about it that way, in the Korean learning journey we are so much better off. There are loads of monolingual Korean speakers. And I hope none of us had a language helper that took a week to start speaking with us in Korean (if that’s the case, find a new helper!)

Similar posts:

Cracking the Korean Speaking Nut: What to do when someone continues to speak to you in English?
Cracking the Korean Speaking Nut: A languacultural critique
Thoughts on Speaking Korean

Cracking the Korean speaking nut — what to do when someone continues speaking to you in English?

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Thinking about Korean speakers who don’t want to speak in Korean to language learners, I was reminded of a post Samier wrote at Gamcho a while back. Samier wrote in part:

Every time I meet a new Korean person, we end up chatting and continue to stay in touch. But even so, no matter what language I end up speaking, they never fail to reply in English unless they are unsure of the English word/phrase. It’s not because my Korean speaking skills are horrible… in fact every Korean person I’ve met has been taken aback from the way I talk. They even respond back withe ease… but in English. Being so, I’m usually forced to speak English with them. And the most annoying part is that they’ll speak Korean with each other… in front of me… :P

In the comments section, Shanna from HangukDrama commented:

 I’m not too sure how it’s like in America, but the Koreans that have been in Singapore for a long time (more than 6 months) usually don’t speak in Korean to me. I have Korean friends who are attending the same university as me. We dont speak in Korean at all even though they know that im pretty ok in it. It’s just somehow awkward. But they do speak in Korean among themselves. O.o

Is this partly a demographic problem? Or a ‘who is more insistant problem’? I’m not sure. Or is it a bilingualism problem? I’m not sure but I think even in these kinds of situations it’s possible to switch the language into Korean. It just takes a bit more work. I wrote Samier in the comments:

Interesting. This is actually extremely common frustration for Korean learners. I would recommend just keeping to speak only Korean even if they speak to you in English. I had one friend who six months after this lop-sided conversation switched to Korean.
(The only time when it might be impossible for you to speak Korean is if they are a lot older than you and are pretty adamant in speaking English — in that case to be ‘polite’ you might have to not speak Korean. I’ve only once been in that kind of situation though and even in that situation I tried to speak Korean as much as I could).
If they never here any English come out of your mouth it will More

Thoughts on speaking Korean

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The last few weeks I’ve been thinking about what it takes to speak Korean. Whether it’s in person, or on language forums or on blogs it seems it’s a very common complaint among Korean language learners. It is definitely one of the challenges of learning Korean, particularly in the early stages.

Although it’s always a struggle to speak the language you are learning, this challenge seems somewhat acute in Korean versus other languages like Turkish or Chinese where native speakers are rather eager to speak with you in their language. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the general ambition among Koreans to learn English, but it’s also in large part because Korea is a very closed culture compared to other cultures. Knowledge and correct use of Korean is one of the primary keys to this castle and woe to him (or her) who tries to wrench those keys out of one of the gatekeepers!

It definitely gets easier the more fluent and comfortable you are in the language. Even so though, sometimes I still feel guilty for insisting on speaking Korean.

I was quite struck by something Greg Thomson wrote on this problem in connection with his growing participator approach. He writes:

But they feel insulted if I don’t use English!

Now one thing I don’t want to do in this guide is to foster guilt feelings unless they are constructive ones. For many years I’ve heard people talk defensively about the amount of English they use with host people, saying that the host people want it that way. “I mainly relate to educated people, and they feel put down if I don’t speak to them in English,” or “English is the language of business all over the world, and business people want you to use English with them.” I’ve challenged these claims in my own practices, whenever I encountered them in a situation where I was a growing participator. I’ve held many a conversation in which the other person persisted for a long time using English with me, and I More

Strange effects of Korean usage

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It’s funny because I think learning Korean has somewhat ruined my perception of the sounds in other languages — I now sometimes have a hard time distinguishing ‘r’ and ‘l’ or ‘t’, ‘d’, and ‘n’ in other (phonetically easier) languages. I never had a hard time distinguishing between ‘r’ and ‘l’ before.

Similarly, if I’m reading or thinking in Korean I sometimes make ‘he’/’she’ mistakes if I try suddenly to speak in English.

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