Friday, December 10, 2010

A Linguistic Peephole

"Learning a foreign language not only reveals how other societies think and feel, what they have experienced and value, and how they express themselves, it also provides a cultural mirror in which we can more clearly see out own society."
Chancellor Edward Lee Gorsuch, chancellor of the University of Alaska, Anchorage
(retired in 1994), member of the Arctic Research Commission

We've successfully started Level 3 Korean. Woop woop! This level means we are officially "intermediate" speakers.

As we're getting further into the language it's becoming more apparent to me how truly impossible it is to understand Korea and its people without an understanding of the language. So many things that seemed strange or frustrating in our interactions with Koreans make so much more sense now that we're seeing how their language is set up.

At lunch we were laughing because today's lesson was just SO Korean. When we first arrived here, one area of frustration (with my birth family especially) was the vagueness and inability to fully commit. It was always "maybe this" or "maybe that." Of course, as Americans, we're used to the straight facts. But today in class, we learned an entire grammar structure based around that exact vagueness. For example, "I can eat kimchi, sort of." Or, "I am kind of tall."

And then the second part of the lesson once again emphasized how important saving face and not directly disagreeing with someone is here. (Once again, totally explains how put off the Korean staff would get last year at Poly when we'd straight up tell them they were doing something inefficiently, or we didn't like how something was done.) Basically, this grammar structure is agreeing with what someone said so as not to hurt their feelings, then turning around with a big BUT. For example:

Q: Wow, it's a really nice day today, isn't it?
A: Yes, it's a nice today, BUT it's actually really cold.

This linguistic peephole into Korea's culture has definitely made this year in Korea infinitely more rewarding than our first. When I applied for the language scholarship, I think I made an analogy comparing learning Korean to opening a door. Before I knew the language, I was truly an outsider looking in. I'm proud to say that while I'm not where I need to be yet, the door is halfway open. My birth father is talking to me more with every visit and I'm finally able to respond somewhat intelligently when people ask me questions in restaurants, in the subway, and on the street. And best of all, learning the language is providing me with some insight into the country I was born.

Though we had to veer from the original 1 year game plan to make this experience happen, I can't even express how glad I am we made that choice.


Troubled Seoulite said...

Hopefully you never hear "I'm sort of pregnant" in Korea, haha. In the Chinese culture there's a lot of saving face, so that part of the culture will not be new to me. There's also a lot of saving face in Chinese gangster movies too, haha.

Good luck to the both of you in Level 3!!!!

Julia Goolia said...

that is awesome!! You guys are rock stars and I'm so happy that you are kicking SK butt. :)

Mica said...

Congratulations on all your progress!

It must be so rewarding to speak to your birth father! Do you get to speak to Sangkwun much?

I have my Korean final on Tuesday, so I better start studying...

Whitney said...

Congratulations! I long for the day when I can move beyond "beginner" level. Thanks for the tip about Sogang. I had been hearing alot about Yonsei until I came upon your blog. I do think the Sogang program would be a better fit for me. Maybe we will run into each other on campus sometime. :)