Thursday, September 3, 2009


So, I've been studying Korean in earnest (albeit on and off) for a couple of months now and, well, it's slow going. Korean is so different from English or any other language I've studied that I barely even know where to begin. I have a textbook that I haul around with me and pull out when I have a spare moment, and I've spent hours writing the same words and sentences and grammatical concepts over and over again:

가다 - to go, 가다 - to go, 가다 - to go, 가다 - to go
나는 서울에 가요. - I go to Seoul. 나는 학교에 가요. - I go to school.
는/은 - object markers, 는 - if the previous syllable ends with vowel, 은 - if the previous syllable ends with a consonant
너 - you, 너 - you, 너 - you, 그 - he, 그 - he, 그 - he, 그녀 - she, 그녀 - she,그녀 - she

And really, I'm no closer to being able to understand what people are saying around me than I was a few months ago. I understand the idea behind immersion learning, but without a basic understanding of how the language works, you don't get far. Once I learned how to count, I was able to figure out the basics of number classifiers just by listening to how other people ordered things, but only once I knew the numbers. And other examples are few and far between. I get by okay by speaking phrases and nodding a lot while not really understanding the answer, but sometimes I despair about actually being able to use Korean on any sort of a functional level.

My fifth graders are working on possessives and on Monday my co-teacher gave them a worksheet that included, among other things, six Korean sentences to translate into English. I was walking around, helping the kids with the other sections when I realized I didn't know the translations for those sentences. Crap, I thought to myself, as I turned to find my co-teacher and ask for a translation. Then I paused and really looked at the sentences:
이것은 너의 연필이다. // 이것은 너의 것이다.
이것은 그의 컴퓨터이다. // 이것은 그의 것이다.
이것은 그녀의 가방이다. // 이것은 그녀의 것이다.

And I realized - dude! - I got this. I know what those sentences mean. I'm not just inferring based on being able to read a word or two, but I *know* what those *sentences* *mean* and I understand the underlying grammatical components. In a perfect combination of acquired knowledge and sheer exposure to Korean, something clicked.

이것은 너의 연필이다. 이것 = This. I know that from the phrase how much is this. 은 = means the word this is the object of the sentence. I learned that out of a textbook. 너 = you. I ought to know that one; it's one of the hundreds of words I've written over and over again while studying. 의 = possessive marker. I knew the lesson was about possessives, which means that something has to turn the you into your and 의 was the only unknown in the sentence. 연필 = pencil. My students like to teach my Korean, usually by pointing to an object on my desk and telling me the Korean and English word. I've have dozens of different students teach me the word for pencil. 이다 = is. My students shout BINGO이다! whenever they see the Bingo boards on my desk. "Hurray," they're saying, "it's BINGO!"

이것은 너의 연필이다 = This is your pencil.

I'm no closer to being able to understand Korean than I was last week, but I feel like at least I'm making some progress.

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