Re-learning KoreanRead Now
this is the fifth installment of Paul Courtright's blog....
Tomorrow, Thursday, is the last day of my two week language training. My last day should be Friday but I decided to play hooky on Friday so I can visit 송광사before I leave for Seoul. I’m experiencing only minimal guilt—my adolescent pleasure in playing hooky prevailed.
Re-learning Korean after 37+ years has been tough and I certainly will not say that I have “re-learned” the language. Daily one-on-one three-hour lessons have been exhausting. It probably would’ve been easier to have one or two others in the room with me to give me a break from time to time—let others make a few mistakes rather than me all of the time! I had hoped that my home-stay, with a family including 3 boys, age 6, 7, and 11, should have given me more opportunity to practice but they were keen to practice English. They speak to me in English and I respond in Korean. Not the best but they’re a nice family so it was a good time.
The highlight of each day has been the afternoon. Lessons end at 1230 and the brother of a Korean friend, on leave from work, was happy to be with me in the afternoon. We did a lot of hiking, visiting temples, and some of the 5.18 sites in Gwangju. We spoke only in Korean—that is, until I fumbled, which was rather often.
When we all learned Korean long ago, the focus was on learning how to speak and understand others. My Gwangju class used a workbook—yep, I felt like a little kid again. While there was some good information in it, it involved a lot of reading. I would read a sentence, stumbling over the words of course, then realize that I recognized the words and meaning—just not in written form. My teacher and I both felt that the workbook was boring so we often jettisoned it, starting a conversation using the particular pattern or words I was re-learning.
In the intervening years, the Korean language has changed. There are many more English words being used; unfortunately they are written in 한굴. More than once I’d stumble through trying to pronounce it to be informed that it was an English word, not a Korean word! Yep, felt pretty stupid. The other change, which I find a bit sad, is that some words that really are part of the culture have been dropped from use: 가개, 목욕당, and 다방(shop, bath house, tea house) are three of many. Years ago, I had to learn words for ulcer, leprosy, eyebrows, and the like. I no longer need these words but they still clutter my brain. I’m trying to replace them with words that have more meaning in my life now: retired, witness (related to 5.18), and memory (or lack thereof!).
My onion-skin page Peace Corps dictionary is still the best thing around and I don’t go anywhere without--now I also have to carry a magnifying glass. While Koreans look up words on their smart phones I’m flipping through my 50 year old dictionary. I also keep a small notebook where I write words, phrases, and patterns to study while riding the subway. Needless to say, I’m the only one whose eyes are not glued to a device. Every evening and morning I sit at a 커피솦(coffee shop), sadly, not a 다방(tea house), with coffee, notebook, dictionary, magnifying glass and, when I can stand it--the workbook.
Learning Korean at 25 was a challenge. Trying to re-learn it at 64 has been rather humbling.
6/25/2020 12:37:34 am
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