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

The Art of Korean Letter Writing

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Since finding the Artic explorer’s letter to his wife I’ve been musing on how on how to improve my Korean letter writing ability. The nice thing about letters is that they use rather simple words (compared to say a newspaper article) but usually the words are used well. Unlike a newspaper article, the words have to convey some emotion and some warmth.

Imagine my delight when I found 15 longish letters complete with audio. (The audio can be downloaded using right-click and ‘save as source’.

In Korean it’s called 노래실의 편지 and it seems that they are publishing a new letter every week or so. Some letters are written from brothers and sisters to each other; others are from parents to their children and or between close friends.

I’m inputting all the text and audio into Learning with TextsThat way I can read and listen to the texts at my leisure, and easily look up words or phrases I don’t know. I’ll try to eventually put sentences with sentence structures I find tricky or words and phrases I don’t know in Anki as well.

세상에서 가장 아름다운 음악 뭔가요?

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Another short monologue from   유인나의 볼륨을 높여요’s 12/09/03 podcast.

The script (thanks to kind friends at Lang-8) is below:

안녕하세요, 볼륨 가족 여러분. 가수 서영은입니다.
참 오래만인데요. 어떻게들 지내셨나요?
저는 꼬박 여덟 달 동안 처음 겪는 일들에 정신이라고는 정말
하나도 없이 살았답니다.

그런데 그 존재의
어떤 소리 들리면 그 모든 고충이 행복으로 바뀌는 그런 순간이 있어요. 정말 고마운 소리인데요.
제 몸속에서 잘 지내고 있다는 신호, 저희 아기의 심장 소리랍니다.
병원에 가서 이 작은 소리를 들을 때마다 저한테 막 빨리 보고 싶다고, 나 잘 있다고 막 외치는 것 같아요.
그러면 저도 아이한테 말하죠. More

How to write Diary Entries

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Hardly a day goes by where I don’t post entries at lang-8, sometimes one but usually several. Although now it seems such an important part of language study,  it took a while for me to get in the swing of using it regularly. The last few days I’ve been thinking of some of the strategies that helped me get in the swing. For one thing

Write quickly. Don’t think too much about what you want to write, choose a topic, get some ideas together and spit it out. I want my writing to be as close to how my speaking will be, and I know that I’ll be frustrated if I spend a lot of time working on one diary entry. And secondly,

Be prolific. If you write quickly and you are not worried about how many sentences are in each entry, you can spit out several diary entries every day.

If you want to write a longer or more complicated piece, I’d prefer writing smaller things first and then piecing them together instead of trying a long complicated piece all in one setting.

Tip: There’s a way I help do this — when I’m by myself waiting for something or on the bus I tend to try to think of a diary entry that I want to write, and draw it up in a rough form in my mind. I feel this is part of learning how to think more in Korean and it’s nice when all I need to do is type it out when I find a computer.

When I first started writing diary entries it took 45 minutes to write a small diary entry. But now I can write Korean diary entries much faster than English ones — usually in less than five minutes.

Interacting with your diary entries

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Usually when I write diaries I spit out what I want to write rather quickly, upload it to lang-8, and after it’s corrected respond to the comments (in Korean) and only briefly look at the corrections to see any mistakes that I made.

However I didn’t have a good way of reviewing the corrected diaries. I would sometimes for fun or inspiration read the old diary entries straight on the site but I didn’t have any systematic way of reviewing the words and grammar that I had been learned.

As part of my audio library I put it in Learn with Texts. Then I segment it line-by-line  with audacity, and put it in Anki so I can review it. I started this week and already have several diary entries recorded and about 30 cards (with audio) from my diary entries.

These cards really stick well.  Afterall, It’s my story, my ideas, my history. Read by someone else. These are words and phrases and stories I want to say later when I talk to people.

I also originally recorded with Rhinospike but stopped doing that after realizing that (unlike lang-8) there was no way to delete content or protect it after it was put up on rhinospike. I don’t mind much lang-8 readers or my friends on lang-8 reading some of my more personal entries, but i was about queasy about them being searchable on the larger internet.

Fortunately just as I was realizing it, someone on lang-8 out of the blue offered to record my diary entries daily if I would record hers in English. Of course I was more than happy to agree.  We paste our corrected diaries in a shared Google Docs page, and then record on a private audio recording on Sound Cloud.

Of course there is one main problem with using your diary for language input. For language input isn’t it best to use native-to-native resources? Isn’t there a good possibility that your diary entry will have mistakes?

The solution  seems two-fold. First, I depend heavily on lang-8. I combine the corrections I get from several different people there to get an entry that seems the most natural. Often I’ll re-post the corrected version on lang-8 again to get even more corrections that people didn’t see the first time. Then I’m fortunate that my friend who records the audio checks it again one last time before she records it to make sure there is nothing that sounds unnatural.

The second part of the solution is to realize that the input from diaries is useful but limited. It contains words I want to use, grammar that I’m trying to learn, (and perhaps most importantly) corrections to common mistakes that I make so my mistakes don’t get fossilized. And it’s recorded by a native speaker so you get native pronunciation and (somewhat) native intonation.

However it is no replacement to getting loads of audio content from native-to-native sources — dramas, radio podcasts, and the like. As much as I find a diary deck useful, I want to have a much larger deck of native-to-native audio content.

화이팅!

Video diary entries

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I’ve started recording my lang-8 entries so I get practice speaking my sentences out loud. Yesterday I made my first of these podcasts — uploading it as a youtube video so that people can easily listen to it in lang-8.

I’ve tried to make Korean podcasts regularly before but the production of those podcasts was a lot more involved. After they were written I had them corrected, and then often edited them again to get exactly what I wanted before I recorded them. It was fun but it also took a lot of time. I find I do more language entries the easier they are to do. At first I told myself I had to write long diary entries. Now I don’t have any problem writing a diary entry of of only a sentence or two. The lower entry barrier means I can write diary entries more often (often several time a day) and I feel my Korean has improved quite a lot as a result.

My next goal — try making the barrier for making audio podcasts also low. Either I’ll record myself speaking freestyle in Korean (I did this once before and it turned out pretty ok) or just read whatever entry I wrote earlier in the day.

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