3.18.2011

How I will become conversational this year.

It's time. I got to a comfort level that was doing me no favors, in which I was able to navigate basic life situations with ease, understand what was going on around me and have pleasant little repetitive conversations everywhere I went, having everyone coo at me about how smart I am in the process. But the truth is, I'm still nowhere near functional. Which has become too evident since the S.O. came on the scene. His English is ace, but he's not an English enthusiast, so to speak. At the end of a long day, he would really just prefer to speak Korean. And at the moment, with me, he really can't. And that's not fair.

So. It's time to do something about it.

I'm not a "conversational" learner. I get grammar. I get things when they are put in front of me in terms that I can relate to English grammar, with rules that I can apply across the board. I learn better when I'm building my understanding one block at a time. Almost all of the Korean language studying materials you can find boasted about around the foreigner community are the opposite of this -- here's an entire restaurant dialogue that you're meant simply to memorize without any understanding, grammatically, of what's going on! I can't. If I don't understand why something is phrased a certain way, or put in a certain form, I can't remember it, and I can't move forward. Learning to say one sentence correctly, no matter how applicable to everyday life it is, without being able to functionally apply it to other contexts, does not encourage me. It depresses me. And makes me feel like I'm getting nowhere. Which is why language exchange with the average Korean who is not a teacher doesn't work for me. Even if they know grammar well enough, they usually don't have the English vocabulary to make it clear to me what they're talking about and usually just end up looking at me and saying, "I can't explain," when I ask 'why' over and over and over.

Which is why I'm an advocate for learning Korean in the classroom environment. I want to trust my teacher, to be able to ask questions and receive clear answers. Beyond that, my good old fashioned Protestant work ethic won't allow me to ever show up to class unprepared. Ie, I will actually do the homework and study. When I'm studying on my own, I'll make all manners of excuses not to go the extra mile, not to do another paragraph or another page. But if I have a teacher to answer to, I'll be damn sure to do what's expected of me. And probably more.

I've spent most of my time 'studying' over the past year or so fudging it by translating pop song lyrics and watching dramas. Which is great for listening and picking up general meanings. But that's it. I'm on lockdown, now. I can get the gist of what someone is saying, in almost every situation. I can almost never grasp the exact nuance of what someone is saying, and I can't form my own sentences to save my life. Because I haven't been studying grammar. When someone speaks in a form that I've studied, I get it exactly. I have no problems writing and speaking in sentence forms that I've already learned. Easy-peasy. Even though it's been a year and a half since I've stepped foot in a Korean classroom. So what does that mean? Time to go back to the basics.

If you're like me, and fucking sick to death of people handing you Korean "studying" materials that are written in fucking romanization, for god's sake, and tired of trying to memorize dialogues about where Minsoo is going, or how many bottles of beer you want to order, then this website is a good place to start. It's not great for building vocabulary, or getting loads of listening or speaking practice in. But, as second language learners in the language environment, those aren't things we really have trouble encountering. It's a great site for getting down the basics of grammar in a way that doesn't drag on and on or overcomplicate the issue at hand. If you're like me and can't learn from a computer screen, it's easy enough to copy/paste/print. I'll finish the 'beginner' level by this weekend, and move on to intermediate.

I'm also on the verge of choosing a Korean language hagwon. It's complicated, when you live in Incheon, and are a PS teacher who cannot attend most university programs due to working hours, but the S.O. has been a great help and found out that the Incheon Center for International Cooperation and Exchange has twice-a-week evening classes, 20,000 won for a six month semester. Which is a price that you simply can't beat. Website here. But I don't really have a lot of faith in these kind of 'community' Korean classes, to be honest. If I'm going to commit that much time and effort to something, I'm going to do it all the way. Maybe I've become too Korean in this regard, but I do have a little more faith in a 'proper' (aka more expensive) class. Also, it's not really in an ideal location in relation to where I'm at. It's actually faster and easier for me to get to Hongdae, for example. Which is where Ganada holds a twice-weekly, 2 hour class for 190,000 won a month.

But, to be honest, I'm leaning toward one a little further away, and a little more expensive: the Language Teaching Research Center near Seoul City Hall. The classes finish earlier (6:20-8:00pm), which is important, but also the campus is very, very close to S.O.'s workplace. Which means we may occasionally be able to meet after class/work for dinner. Which I'll admit is a big draw, since we don't get to see each other during the week as things are. It's 384,000 won for a two month semester.

The problem is, Grandma INP is coming to visit for two or three weeks in May. Which means no Korean class during that time. I'm not keen on paying that much money to miss nearly half the classes, so I guess it will have to wait until after her visit. Still on the fence about whether or not to sign up for one month at Ganada in the meantime. I wrote to Seoul Korean Academy about their distance learning program, which would involve studying on my own and emailing in my answers for a teacher to check, but nobody has gotten back to me with anymore information. So I have no idea how much it will cost or what's involved. And the fact that they can't answer a simple email from a potential customer doesn't bolster my confidence in trying to actually take a class with them via email at all.

So. In the meantime, it's plowing through the grammar site, and a new assignment given to me by the Head Teacher today, who thinks that the fact that she once heard a foreigner who "speaks really great Korean" say that food was delicious was amazing, and claims that she's really excellent at teaching Korean to foreigners. I find something about these two statements to be somewhat discordant, but whatever. My new homework, ontop of the grammar site:


One story a day, with a spoken summary in both English and Korean. I don't have a lot of faith in myself about this, to be honest. The stories are only two-three pages each, but.... I don't know. We'll give it a shot. As for a spoken summary in Korean, that should be a regular laugh riot. But. I'm not one to dismiss a challenge without giving it a good go. Plus, I would very much like to someday be able to show Head Teacher what a foreigner speaking "really great Korean" looks like. Knocking her socks off and proving that I'm not an idiot just because she's only known one-contract-wonders before she met me would be dead satisfying. Also, maybe then she would stop telling me reams and reams and reams of stories about all the foreigner teachers she knows who like to drink themselves stupid. Because this relates to me at all. I've got another post about that coming, you better believe. Until then, enjoy this complete snoozer of a post which might be somewhat useful to like two people. Sometimes its happens.

12 comments:

Emma Faye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob-o-SE-yo said...

Have you listened to KoreanClass101's podcasts? They have a dialogue, but they use it to really focus on useful vocabulary and at least one practical grammar point per lesson. They also have low, intermediate, and high level series'.

Joe in Korea said...

There is a good book that you may want to get that explains the grammar pretty well.
Korean Grammar for International Learners.
by 임호빈, 홍경표, and 장숙인
from Yonsei University Press

I have two editions, and they may as well be different books entirely. Go with the newest one you can find.

aprilantipodal said...

I guess I'm one of those two people - I've been trying to find a better way for me to learn Korean for a long time. I took two semesters of evening classes at a local university and didn't take that much away, thanks to the phrasebook-style learning of sentences, and a lack of any kind of grammar.

This semester, I have a friendly coteacher that is willing to do a language exchange lesson every afternoon I'm at her school (Wed-Fri) and we've been working our way through "Survival Korean Vocabulary", which I'm finding pretty fun - it's interesting to look at the Chinese characters to get a better understand of the similarities between related words. I'll definitely be using the Learn Korean Now site for grammar, though - it's hard for my co to explain, and my old textbooks are pretty useless for the purpose.

anageonism said...

Just to vouch for the ICICE classes:

In my experience, with the right teacher (and they have some there), they are pretty excellent. It may sound community based, but my teacher there quickly revealed herself to be relentless and demanding. We've spent six months learning grammar and vocabulary and practicing hard. Our class wheedled down from 22 people to 6 within the first three weeks, then down to 3 about three months ago, where it has remained ever since, Some of the teachers there are quite serious and plan on teaching quite seriously. (They also have more language-exchangey type groups there too, which I avoided for the reasons you talk about in this post.)

Gomushin Girl said...

There's also Metro Korean Academy near Gwanghwamun (http://www.mka.kr/) . . .
Yonsei also has evening classes (http://www.yskli.com/prog_even.htm) but would require a really substantial time (and money) committment that doesn't sound feasable until after your grandmother has left.
I have found that the very low cost or free lessons tend to be extremely basic. The Korea Foundation also sometimes offers free classes near Seoul Station/City Hall, and many of my friends found them useful, but mostly as a supplement to their other classes.

Norinaway said...

There's talktomeinkorean.com that is a good site!! Real native Korean speakers. Slight downside there is romanization but also native Korean! It is quite good.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

I was quite happy with MKA (Metro Korean Academy) - between Gwanghwamun and City Hall station. They were pretty flexible with my schedule, and if you ask for one on one lessons (35/hour, I believe), you can ask the tutor to focus on whatever you like. Classes were generally small, too.

And you can drop my name. They'll know.

Mikia said...

I lived in Korea for a year, but in Seoul. There are a few 'global village centers' (I lived closest to the Yeoksam one). They use the book series 재미있는 한국어, which goes into grammar a little, but not excessively. I've recently found a different book which I LOVE, by Andrew Sangpil Byon.

I went directly to the Intermediate Korean (A Grammar and Workbook), which begins with the basics, but expects basic knowledge, such as how to read. You might want to check it out, because it's all grammar focused, with examples, and practice examples.

I'm not sure if they sell it in Korea, since I bought it in Norway.

Mikia said...

Hate to double post, but I forgot to say, the lessons I took at the global village center are completely FREE. I had them about twice or three times a week after school. Lots of people sign up at first, but most of them drop out after the beginning class I believe, so I am almost 100% sure they'd have room in the more advanced classes.

Previously said...

While you're just looking for learning online, http://www.talktomeinkorean.com/ is a good site for finer definitions on some of the higher level grammar points. You're probably past most of the levels, but the "iyagi" podcasts are a great way to work on your listening. You can check the transcripts for words you don't understand. It's been very helpful for me

Allana said...

I'm late to the party, oops - but I'm echoing two other people in Metro Korean Academy. I've been taking lessons for four months now - it's on the pricy side (it seems like) but classes are small and my teacher, in particular, has us speaking all through class to her and to each other. Evening classes are Mon, Wed, Fri from 7-9. The only downside is they need a minimum of three people to sign up for the classes or they can't hold them. Lowest level might be difficult (when I first started, they almost didn't have a beginner class) but I've noticed as I've gotten into each level above that, there are more people joining but I've never had more than five people in a class.

Good luck with your studying! :)