21 In Korean learning journey (:

Feeling the language: a few tips and methods

Language learning is not formulaic or mechanical. It’s not about memorizing the definitions of words, nor is it about creating that perfect grammatical sentence. It’s about feeling, understanding and immersion. For example, based on the meaning itself, 나쁜 놈 and 개새끼 has pretty much the same translation in English “bastard”. If you learn it that way, based on dictionary meaning, you may use them interchangeably, and possibly in contexts where you will use the same word in English.

BUT

If you have been watching dramas / interacting with Korean friends etc, you will know that they are used in different ways, have different nuances when used by different genders and can have slightly different connotations in different contexts. I don’t claim to know it 100% accurately, but at least I know that 개새끼 is used more often by males and quite frowned upon if girls use the phrase (in a general context). 나쁜 놈 can be used by girls scolding their boyfriend. For example, 야~ 이 나쁜 놈. 이 추운 날씨에 얼마나 기다렸는지 알아?? But substitute 개새끼 and it will be quite awkward, and I’m sure the bf in question will be angry too. Come to think of it, the English translation will be a little weird too. “Oi you bastard. Do you know how long I have been waiting for you in this cold weather?” LOL

Another example. 답답하다 and 우울하다 are considered unique emotions in Korean (in academic research) and without considering whether they are indeed unique or not, they ARE many emotion words in Korean that is possibly not found in our native languages. How to feel them? You can’t just possibly read up their definitions and expect to understand how they are used in Korean.

The main point of these examples is to show that you need to feel the language.

Obviously, we are not native speakers. Most of us aren’t even in Korea. Many of us don’t hear Korean in our daily lives and few of us have Korean friends to hang out with frequently.

So how to feel?

1. Watch dramas

Believe it or not, this is one of the best methods of feeling a language. Imagine you read a book on Korean culture and it describes how Korean ajummas will put their hand behind their neck and say 어머 어머나~ when they are being angered or agitated. You will probably find it quite ridiculous and different to understand. Now, if you watch the scene in a Korean drama (it’s a very common scene), you can really understand why they do that 😛 You will also get to learn about the situations / contexts where it happens and know that it’s not a common action amongst the younger generations.

So much information, so simply presented in dramas.

Language learning is not about reading the technicalities and learning from a book, but it’s about knowing how to absorb from all kinds of different materials and to constantly feel it.

2. Read

Learning vocabulary is not about using the dictionary, remembering the definitions and what not. It’s about understanding how it’s used and reading is probably the best way of understanding. Throw away your native language when you are reading in a foreign language. Do not think / say stuff like “This expression is so weird. I won’t say that in English!” Obviously. If all languages are directly translatable, where’s the charm of languages? Language learning helps you widen your worldview in this way. If you are soooo set about expressing something in a certain way and not being able to see why another language does it differently, you should think about why you are learning another language again.

These two tips seem super simple and quite obvious right? like DUHHH. But a lot of us fail to understand that we really need to feel a language to learn it.

Stop thinking about how it is in your language, and start to find out how it is in another language. 

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    ethel
    18 February, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    haha my friends and i are starting to forget how to describe certain things in english, and end up using korean instead. not good in a way LOL!

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      19 February, 2013 at 10:35 AM

      ROFL too much immersion 😛

  • Reply
    Carl
    18 February, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    좋은 말이에요. 감사합니다.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      19 February, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      ㅋㅋ

  • Reply
    Medallion
    19 February, 2013 at 12:24 AM

    Thanks for the wonderful post

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      19 February, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      😀 thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    Dusky
    19 February, 2013 at 1:33 AM

    I like what you said here. I’ve tried going about things by memorization and all that other stuff you mentioned but doing things that way just lacks passion. It really is about feeling, immersion and understanding a language. ^^

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      19 February, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      yeahh. hope it helps!! 😀

  • Reply
    Sabah
    19 February, 2013 at 5:13 AM

    Excellent advice. Thank you.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      19 February, 2013 at 10:35 AM

      Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    Autonomous Korean
    19 February, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    I partly agree, in that “feeling the language” is extremely important, but I don’t believe it has to displace mechanical methods completely; finding the right balance is important, and though mechanical alone will be next to useless, mechanical methods like memorization done *in moderation* can be very useful *if and only if* there is also immersion/real input/real interaction etc. that allows one to feel the language.
    As for me, I probably spent 25-33% of time on more mechanical methods in my earlier studies, but only about 5-10% now.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      21 February, 2013 at 5:51 PM

      that’s true! Mechanical methods are still needed. I spend quite a lot of time poring over grammar structures in books, although I don’t memorize. Gradually switching over and having less reliance on mechanical methods seem to be the best way (:

  • Reply
    Van
    19 February, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    Man I’m so behind on your posts 🙁 I need to catch up before I fall too behind 😛
    I agree with these! But I wish Korean dramas had 한글자막 on the bottom on their dramas like Chinese/Taiwanese Dramas! It would help us better readers than listeners and usually if you don’t catch everything they say. Do you agree? Or do they have 한글자막 ?
    Definitely true about everything isn’t directly translatable. I think that’s why people say lost in translation haha. Anyways great tips!! 🙂

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      21 February, 2013 at 5:53 PM

      exam period? 😀

      me too!! I wish there’s subtitles too. But considering the “live shoot” system of drama production and all that last min scripts, adding subtitles may prove to be next to impossible 😛 Pre-produced dramas are pretty rare.

      • Reply
        Van
        25 February, 2013 at 6:53 AM

        당연하죠! 저는 죽고 싶어요. 😀

        I actually didn’t know that so I learned something new :p Or maybe doing english subtitles for american/english shows are just english haha.

        • Reply
          Van
          25 February, 2013 at 7:04 AM

          are just easier* , man I cannot type today 😛

      • Reply
        Van
        25 February, 2013 at 7:14 AM

        Sorry for another comment, I’m just racking them up for you hehe 😛
        anyways I didn’t know if you wanted me to correct you, but it might have a slip of the mind or a typo. but it should be “I wish there are subtitles too” right? I feel like I’m doubting my own english now xD

        • Reply
          hangukdrama
          25 February, 2013 at 1:53 PM

          hahaha!! you’re right ><;; I always doubt my English these days, after picking up Korean lol. I'm seeing subtitles as a a single entity :/

          • Van
            26 February, 2013 at 11:09 AM

            Maybe I’m going through the same things you are hahaha!! Yeah :/ Was it hard to become not reliant (omg I originally put ‘unreliant’ ><") on subtitles? Or was it more of a gradual thing?

  • Reply
    Jing
    24 February, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    Hi there. Regular reader of ur blog. Not sure if someone has pointed out this yet. Although people may translate those two words as bastard but there are a lot more words for it. A bastard is an illegitimate son. An ass or jerk would have been suitable translations for 나쁜 놈 as well. 개새끼 should be translated as “son of a bitch”.

    Just too add on, I am always trying to feel what the grammar is like as well. It works. I use the grammars way faster than my classmates do and when they say it. It just comes out awkward. Saying it out loud to try to get the hang of it will be great too. When you have the feel of it, it gets to the point where I just say without thinking.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      25 February, 2013 at 1:51 PM

      ahhh yes that’s true. Thanks for pointing that out! 😀

      True, it does work for grammar as well. For me, I tend to use grammar structures that I’ve come across many times through dramas/reading because I’m more comfortable with them and able to grasp the “feel” of it!

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