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Sound motherly advice… in Korean

February 16, 2010

I love doing the exercises in Professor Byon’s Korean grammar book. Learning sentence structure and vocabulary has encouraged me to take off and begin writing sentences of my own. This is an enthralling substitute for speaking, which as yet, I cannot do.

I complete the speaking exercises in the Rosetta Stone program passably, but can never remember them when the situation arises to put them to use in a real-life setting. In fact, I cannot remember them at all. I psych myself up and go to a Korean shop. As soon as it becomes clear that this is a real opportunity because the proprietor does not speak English, my brain turns to coco helado. I can’t speak at all. At some embarrassing length, a sentence at last gels in my mind. I can say this, I know I can get it all out: (“I have an umbrella.”) But I do not have an umbrella, and do not wish to be thought a prevaricating lunatic, so I say nothing.

My Korean friends insist that speaking is the most difficult thing, that it takes time, that I am making good progress. This makes things worse, because now I know I have utterly failed the most charitable people on earth. But given the uniqueness of their language and my stage of life, I suppose my halting attempts are somewhat creditable.

So, since I can’t speak, I thought I would design a line of refrigerator magnets. I’m still working on my handwriting, but here is a prototype, or at least a proto-prototype:

The translation is, “Wear shoes and hold hands to cross the street.”

If Heidi can paint this on pottery and her mom can handle the shipping, I’ll start taking pre-orders.

  1. February 17, 2010 1:43 am

    Wow! That looks like a very difficult language to grasp! So many characters to say so little. And how often will you need to tell someone you have an umbrella?? Keep up the good work. I agree that our stage of life is a factor. My daughter and I did a short Italian course some years ago and she managed much better than I did. Now, I can’t remember anything much.

  2. February 17, 2010 7:08 am

    “I have an umbrella” is one of those phrases that language-learning programs presume useful. I don’t own an umbrella, and couldn’t hold one if I did.

    I found Italian much harder than Spanish or French. That was 12 years ago, but I was able to read a newspaper after about 10 weeks, and to buy toothpaste at the drugstore when we got to Sicily. But how much Italian do you need in Australia? Just say, “ciao.” :-)

  3. February 17, 2010 4:47 pm

    LOL! My father-in;law is Italian and I thought it would be good to learn a little of the language to give the children an idea of that side of their heritage. Ciao and pronto and bella are about the only words we use! Besides “Gino” speaks excellent English!

  4. February 17, 2010 7:23 pm

    My repeated faux pas in Italian that I could not shake when we were in Sicily was mixing up carabinere and cabinetta. I don’t know why I could not keep these obviously different words straight. The former is a police kiosk, and the latter is a restroom. The signs didn’t have pictures, and both could occur in any public square. I was always confused but never embarrassed myself by actually walking into the carabinere. Travelers are given a second sense about these things.

  5. Heidi permalink
    February 18, 2010 8:54 am

    Lauren you are so charmingly funny. Perhaps I could paint one those characters in the bottom of a teacup each, and we could urge people to collect the entire phrase. We could perhaps get a sort of mix and match Korean phrase type teacup business going? The umbrella would be perfect for a more intimate tea party, the shoes and hands while crossing for a garden party, etc.

    I have been meaning to send you this poem by Borges about how he undertook to learn a different language when he wasn’t really all that linguistically flexible anymore — I know not all of it fits into the right worldview without a bit of trimming the excess sentiment, or perhaps making it longer than it is in places, but it’s still rather nice and adaptably sound:

    “Poem Written in a Copy of Beowulf”
    by Borges (trans. by Alastair Reid)

    At various times, I have asked myself what reasons
    moved me to study, while my night came down,
    without particular hope of satisfaction,
    the language of the blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxons.

    Used up by the years, my memory
    loses its grip on words that I have vainly
    repeated and repeated. My life in the same way
    weaves and unweaves its weary history.

    Then I tell myself: it must be that the soul
    has some secret, sufficient way of knowing
    that it is immortal, that its vast, encompassing
    circle can take in all, can accomplish all.

    Beyond my anxiety, beyond this writing,
    the universe waits, inexhaustible, inviting.

  6. February 18, 2010 10:11 am

    Heidi, you are such a brilliant entrepreneur! I never would have thought of marketing in partial phrases!

    And Alastair Reid’s poem, whatever his underlying worldview, most definitely speaks for me: every word and phrase of it. Do you think you could cram it onto a teacup? I like those little Japanese ones without handles, so that should free up some space….

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