I while back I announced I was studying Korean, and since then I’ve had quite a few inquiries as to how it’s going. So let me make an official update: it’s not going. Yeah, that whole Korean study didn’t last too long.
Why not? Well, it turns out my reasons for studying Korean weren’t very good in the first place. A quick recap of why I decided to study Korean:
1. Korean looks cool.
2. Korean writing is phonetic.
3. I’ve already got a good foundation in 2 of 3 major East Asian languages down (might as well go for the East Asian Linguistic Trilogy).
4. It’s easy to do in China.
Just in case these reasons don’t strike you as entirely stupid, I’ll add a few incisive questions into the mix:
1. Do you need to learn Korean? Not at all.
2. Do you have plans to go to Korea? No, not really. Been there once, and it was nice, but I’m not itching to go back.
3. Do you have a love of Korean culture? TV dramas, maybe? No, not really.
4. Do you have many Korean friends that you could practice with? No.
5. Is learning Korean related to any other long-term goals you might have? No, not at all.
Hmmm, OK, I think that’s probably enough. So I basically had no compelling reason to learn Korean, and I gave it a shot anyway. It lasted 2-3 months, I learned a bit about the language, and it was fun. No regrets.
But I did learn a thing or two about motivation for language learning. Having a need or a use for the language you’re learning is important. This doesn’t mean that you should choose only super practical languages (Spanish, anyone?), but it does mean that trying to pick up a random language just because it’s kind of interesting probably won’t work. You need stronger motivation.
Aside from motivation, you need occasion to practice the new language. The opportunities for practice and the motivation for learning feed on each other. When you have both, they nurture each other. When you’re missing one, the other easily withers.
As it turns out, I had neither for Korean. I have both for Shanghai sign language, and it’s going really well. I’ll be writing more about that soon.
As I explained before, my wife and I are learning Korean here in Shanghai. Progress has been slow, though, because our tutor unexpectedly had to return to Korea for the summer. Dedicated students that we are, we seized the opportunity for a two-month break from our studies. She’s back now, though, so we’re back in the saddle. We all decided we needed a good textbook.
We textbook we decided on with our tutor is 新韩国语基础教程（上） (New Korean Foundation Course – Part 1 of 2), published by 大连理工大学出版社 (Dalian University of Technology Press). It may not be perfect or even particularly enlightened, but compared to the cornucopia of crap with which it shared space on the book store shelves, it seems like a Godsend.
The reasons I like the text are:
1. Chapter 1 of the textbook eases into the sounds and writing system of the language with extensive explanations of the simple vowels, then simple consonants, then diphthongs, then finals, then rules of pronunciation. That’s 32 pages! There are explanations (in Chinese) with IPA, examples, exercises, illustrations of the mouth, etc. There’s even a diagram showing exactly how the Korean writing system was designed to resemble the human mouth as it makes the sounds of the language (which is something I’d been curious about for a while). I complained last time about spending too much time on writing and pronunciation before learning any useful language and I still stand by that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a very complete reference in Chapter 1 that I can come back to any time.
2. The regular chapters are broken down into pretty standard sections: (1) sentence patterns, (2) sample sentences, (3) dialogue, (4) new vocabulary, (5) Chinese translations of parts 1-3, (6) grammar explanations, (7) exercises. Nothing ground-breaking here, but it’s all very usable and practical. The grammar explanations are clear, with helpful charts and diagrams. I haven’t really spent much time on the exercises yet, so I won’t say anything about that.
3. I like how outside of Chapter 1 there is no romanization of the Korean anywhere, and the Chinese translation is on another page. This forces the beginner to trudge through the Hangul, which is a necessary ordeal.
The big disadvantage of the series is that all the listening exercises are meant to be accompanied by cassette tapes. I guess that can be forgiven since the series was published in 1999, but that doesn’t change the fact that tapes are useless to me now because I own nothing that plays them (and I’m not buying a stupid tape player).
Anyway, if you’re looking for a textbook for learning Korean in China, I think that 新韩国语基础教程 is a pretty good way to go. The two book set cost 48 RMB altogether (without the tapes).
Since I don’t have classes over the summer, I figured it was a good time to start learning something new. I started learning Korean. To fit Korean into my hectic schedule, I hired a Korean foreign student from ECNU to come to my apartment and tutor me once a week. Why Korean? Well, I have several reasons:
1. Korean looks cool. I’ve always liked it. I like the way it sounds, too (more than, say, that overrated language French).
2. Korean (mostly) uses a phonetic writing system. The last two languages I tackled seriously have been Japanese and Chinese, and let me tell you, I don’t have time for any more of this “memorizing thousands of characters” crap.
3. It would be great to have some ability in all three of the official languages of East Asia. With English and Spanish, I’ve already got most of North America, South America, Australia, and Europe covered.
4. Outside of Korea itself, China is a pretty good place to study Korean (see below).
Anyway, I have had three classes so far, and I’ve learned a few things: