4 In Japanese learning journey (:/ Korean learning journey (:

You are never JUST learning a language

(seriously, I have no idea when I wrote this. But it seems like I did finish writing it… so hopefully it will make some sense! Busy week but will try to get some new posts out!)

Those who have no experience learning a foreign language (seriously) will not know what I’m talking about. I used to be one of those people, who thinks that learning a language is simply picking up an intricate system of grammar, vocabulary etc and the first thing I’ll buy is a phrasebook and a pocket dictionary.

Pst. I used to be fascinated by Spanish and I bought both. Plus one of those ‘Teach Yourself’ series available in at least a hundred languages.

Now that I’ve experiences with learning Korean, that’s the last thing I’ll ever buy. Phrasebooks are for the curious travelers, who is probably not going to use any of the phrases besides Hello, Thank you, How much is it?, Where is..? during the entire trip. And then chuck the phrasebook in the storeroom for the rest of his life.

And the pocket dictionary? Sure, I think you will open it less than 10 times. There is the internet. And if you are on the go, buy a electronic dictionary, or just use your smartphone.

I have nothing against a real dictionary. Just that an online dictionary offers more convenience, and loads more example sentences.

Learning a language comes with a package. You learn about a culture, a new mindset / worldview, country etc. Without having any prior interest in anything besides Korean and Korean dramas/music, I’ve expanded my knowledge to include (to different degree of know-how) Korean culture, history, music, places of interest, dialects, politics, daily news etc etc.

A stark contrast to my Japanese learning journey. I expect to learn more about the Japanese culture along the way, but so far I’m being fed only the language. At least from the resources which I’m using – which are all in Korean by the way.

Feels very strange. Most textbooks will include bits of the country’s culture etc. I barely know anything about Japan. I only know Osaka, Tokyo and a few major cities, but can’t pinpoint them on the map. I had no idea that phones can’t be used in the subway trains.

We shall see how long I can continue learning Japanese devoid of culture. And to what level I can attain.

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  • Reply
    4 June, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    This is funny. I think it may change not exactly from person to person, but maybe from the learning-language to the native-language, and other bonds inside someone… I mean, I understand what you mean saying about these experiences (with Korea and Japan), but I’ll tell a personal experience 😀
    I’m descendant of Italian (3/4, and 1/4 Portuguese), but let’s say I haven’t learned almost anything from that culture from my family, because it’s kinda a far kinship. I’ve studied in a traditional italian school, hence I’ve learned Italian (although just the basics).
    I won’t say that I’ve always been “I love italian culture”, because I started to trully identify myself with it in just a few years, and, well, I haven’t been studying Italian in almost 7 years. But still I’ve forgotten just a few words… if I read something, I can almost fully understand, and even if I heard or read a word that I don’t remember its meaning, I can feel it diferently of that feeling of “oh, I don’t know what it means, but I got the feeling”.
    In these past years I’ve identified myself a lot with Italian culture, even though I’d never been there until the end of last year, that I got the chance to go and visit some cities (including the one that my family originally came from :’) ).
    Of course I couldn’t fully understand people talking in their normal speed, but at least I could get the meaning behind it in most of the situations.
    So (omg, sorry about my giant comment!) I just wanted to say that I don’t know if I get to remember the language even after 7 years because Italian and Portuguese (my native-language) are from the same “family”, and if I identified myself a lot with the culture because it’s in my blood, even if it’s a far ascendence, but let’s say I’ve never lost this package, as you use this word.
    Well, maybe it just happened because I have a very emotional feeling behind it.

    So, Shanna, why do you think you have these differences between your korean and japanese experiences? ^^ (and sorry again for the size of this comment and if I bothered you xD)

    • Reply
      4 June, 2012 at 10:57 AM

      hahaha no worries about long comments! i love getting them 😀 (but in order to reply u, i had to re-read what i wrote. cant remember OTL ) Mmm I think the differences arise between how I approach the languages. I see Korean as a brand new language and i happen to read about the culture when i was studying the language. and as i read, i grow to identify with the culture (does it sound strange?) and somehow whatever i learn seems to make more sense and i can remember things better. on the other hand, i used to treat japanese as a language that is ‘similar to korean’ and curiously, most books that ive used do not touch on the japanese culture. (these books are in korean). which further emphasizes the ‘japanese is just a language’ feeling for me. i’ve changed a lot though and now im trying to expose myself to japanese culture!

  • Reply
    Lucie Dvorakova
    5 June, 2012 at 2:56 AM

    So so true. Learning a new language is whole package of different bits and pieces. That is what makes it a whole lot interesting.
    I’ve used several “teach yourself” and “learn…. in … days”. Some where quite useful for me to get a slight feeling for the language. At the beginning, everything in Korean seemed so strange and foreign and I didn’t know where to start, especially since it was the first language I started self-learning. And I’m happy I started. I haven’t studied in a while, because of my excessive workload, but I just realised that I really miss having small Korean self-learning sessions 😀 😀

  • Reply
    8 June, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    Don’t diss paper dictionaries young lady! To pre-internet old farts like me they were an invaluable source of information. I still have most of my dictionaries today, even though I don’t use them much anymore. But some of them still have stuff that’s VERY hard to find online. For instance, I own a very nice, and very very old Chinese pharmacy storage furniture (藥藏), you know, the thing with 100 drawers where Chinese Medicine doctors store the raw ingredients for 漢藥. If someone asks me “what is this one?”, pointing at one of the 200+ ingredient names, I just grab one of my Ricci Chinese dictionary and in 15 seconds flat I have the answer. It’d take me and you much longer on the internet, I bet…

    I used to carry a tiny (but quite rich) Japanese-English/English-Japanese dictionary with me, when I went to Japan. That thing was more or less the size of my Blackberry today 🙂 And no roaming charges 😉

    Of course the internet CAN be useful! I built my own online dictionary for Chinese characters (which I use all the time for my Cantonese studies). In the end, there’s never just ONE tool for the job.

    And your point about culture is very true. You can’t learn a language in a void. The first few times I went to Japan — from Korea — I walked in Tokyo and Osaka. WALKED. A LOT. I used to know these cities quite well, having taken the time to look at them, at the people, the buildings. Watching a Shibuya girl being scolded by a “salaryman” on the metro because she was talking (loud) on her phone. A year after the big Kobe earthquake (1994) I walked a whole day in this city, talking to people, amazed at the cleanliness of the city just a year after it was partly destroyed. These are things you’ll never learn in a book, or on the Internet 🙂

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