30 July, 2010

Toughts on Learning Korean

I've been studying a lot of Korean recently because I'm going to Korea very soon. Thanks to Talk to me in Korean I was quite successful in doing so, especially when you compared it to how little I learned from the various books I bought. In May I wrote about how to read and write the Korean Alphabet (Hangul) and that was basically all I could do except maybe say hi to someone. Despite knowing a lot more about the language I wasn't really able to use it and actually construct sentences. It's one thing to passively know something and then actively use it, especially in a conversation when you have to answer something fast.

When learning Korean, I've noticed a few things worth mentioning:

1) There are a lot of loanwords in Korean

When I learned Hangul I was surprised that I was able to understand some Korean words even though I haven't learned any words yet. All the words I understood turned out to be loanwords from the English language. But these are just a small part of loanwords in Korea, the much bigger part being Sino-Korean words (Koreanized Chinese loanwords). Numbers or days of the week for example have their origin in Chinese. There are two types of Sino-Korean words: Those directly borrowed from written Chinese and those coined in Japan or Korea but using Chinese characters. I'm going to write about Sino-Korean words in more detail in a future blog post.

2) The Korean Alphabet is very easy to learn

I already said this in a blog post back in May: The Korean Alphabet is really easy to learn. Hangul is totally different from Chinese or Japanese, where you need to be able to read or write roughly 3000 or more characters to be fluent, the latter being even more difficult because there are not only all Chinese-based characters (Kanji) but also Hiragana and Katakana. I'm sure I'll cover the Japanese writing system some day. In the meantime, please refer to Google or Wikipedia if you want to know more about it. The Korean Alphabet consists of just a few vowels and consonants, plus some double consonants. That's it. Chinese characters exist in the Korean language as well (Hanja) but you don't need to know them to be able to read Korean.

3) It's hard to stay motivated...

This is mainly because as a German (or English for that matter) native speaker, Korean is very difficult to learn. Words, sentence structures, honorifics are just part of the problem, the other one being that there is little material available to learn Korean properly. Walk into a bookshop and compare the material dedicated to learning Korean and the material dedicated to learning Chinese or Japanese and you'll know what I mean. Additionally, most of these books are either structured badly, really boring, or both. The best way to learn Korean is online via Talk to me in Korean, a website dedicated to teach the Korean language and Korean culture. What's best: It's not only fun to learn Korean with them, it's also free. Only very few items are uniquely made for the store and even though I haven't tried them yet I'd bet $1.000.000 that they're worth the small price tag.

So how do I stay motivated? Well, for one, with Talk to me in Korean it's actually quite fun to study Korean and it also helps to have Korean friends who can clarify things when you encounter problems.
At this point: Thanks to my Korean friends helping me out from time to time. I love you! But the real key to successfully motivate myself is knowing this:

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race" - Calvin Coolidge

21 May, 2010

Reggaeton Slang

I've been listening to some Reggaeton (reguetón) lately and learned a lot of slang in the process. Reggaeton is a mix of dancehall and hip hop music from Latin America. You can find a detailed description of its history, musical characteristics and different artists etc. on Wikipedia. Reggaeton singers usually use and create a lot of slang in their songs, here are some of the most important things to know:

- perreo / perrear: dancing Reggaeton, i.e. dancing "Doggystyle", grinding
- gata / gatita: woman, girl (lit. cat)
- guallar / guayar & pegado / pega'o: to dance really closely & really close (lit. plaster, stick, glue)
- tirar / tiradera / tiraera: to diss, offend someone lyrically (lit. throw, shoot)
- Mami, Mamita, Mamacita, Nena, Chula: ways of referring to sexy girls, females use Papi to refer to men

A more detailed list can be found at Reggaetonfever.

12 May, 2010

Nominees for Top 100 Language Blogs

Vote the Top 100 Language Learning Blogs 2010
Lexiophiles has compiled a list of nominees for the Top 100 Language Blogs 2010. It seems like Steve's Language Blog is among the 495 nominated blogs even though the blog is very young. Have a look at all nominees here. Be sure to vote for your favourite blogs until May 24. You can place your votes in four categories: Language Learning, Language Teaching, Language Technology and Language Professionals. I voted for Jennie in France (Language Learning) & for Talk to me in Korean (Language Teaching). The results will be announced on May 28.

07 May, 2010

The Hampstead School of English

Last year from late March to late June I went to The Hampstead School of English (HSOE) in London in order to take the Cambridge Proficiency Exam (CPE). I had such a wonderful time there so I now want to share my experiences with the school and the city with you guys. I hope it's helpful for all people who are interested in English courses in England.

The school is located in the north of London and is easily accessible by buses (13, 82, 113) or by subway (Finchley Road, West Hampstead). It offers a variety of courses, ranging from General English courses to Exam Courses like TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS and the Cambridge Exams. All courses taught at HSOE can be found on their website. The school provides accommodation if needed.

Before going to London to take the CPE course, I had to send in a hand written text so they could check if my English level was high enough to be able participate in the course. Luckily, they gave me the green light to take the course and a couple of months later I went to London. When I arrived at the school at 8 they made all new students take a language placement test. I was pretty annoyed, given the fact that I already sent in a text for the same purpose. I grudgingly took the test and was later placed in a CAE class instead of the CPE class I wanted to join. I was shocked and felt some embarrassment because I thought the test was pretty easy and because I had already told everyone who asked me about it that I was going to take CPE exam. I tried to convince them to let me change the class by explaining my situation: that I already handed in a text a couple of months earlier. It didn't help, they wouldn't let me change the class. Needless to say, I was very frustrated. My only option was to join the CAE class and ask the teacher there (who, funnily enough, thought I looked like Quentin Tarantino,) if and how it was possible to change classes. She convinced me to try her class first and after about half an hour into the lesson (right after I used the word "omnipotent" she said I was definitely good enough for CPE and went to talk to the staff. Five minutes later I introduced myself to my classmates in the other building...I was relieved.

It was the last unpleasant experience I made during my three months in London, which in hindsight wasn't that bad in the first place because it got resolved pretty quickly. As far as I am concerned, the most important thing about a language school is that they have good teachers, everything else comes second. And HSOE is full of teachers that are friendly, motivated and competent. The CPE course is pretty demanding for people who are going to take the exam. There is about one hour of homework every day and you should in two texts for review every week. I only wrote two texts during my three months and my teachers (the teacher changed all the time so I had lots of them) got really worried. They rated both of my texts a "Band 3" which meant it was sufficient to pass the exam with a C (60% of points) but it wasn't too good. I wasn't worried at all, mainly because I scored between 70-90% points in other parts of the test quite regularly. I was given a "Band 5" rating for my writing in the real test later and Grade A overall. I knew I would pass somehow but I never expected to get an A, especially after hearing how difficult the test was from every teacher. I was very happy!

I think if they let you into the CPE class at HSOE you'll have a 95% chance or more of passing the test. All the talking about how difficult the test is and the hurdles you need to clear before getting into the CPE course are probably there to make sure that the passing percentage is really high. It's understandable  from the school's point of view because they want to advertise with the highest number possible. Looking back, I can only say that I'm very happy with they way things went. I got what I came for (Grade C or more in CPE) on the academic side and I had the best time of my life there. The most memorable things happen after school anyway. Or right before classes, instead of going to classes etc. ;)

05 May, 2010

Getting Started with Korean: Reading

Yesterday I told you how I learned and practiced Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Learning Hangul is the most important step you'll ever make when starting to learn Korean.  Even without ever having learned any Korean words, you'll be able to guess what the English equivalents of the following 5 country names are:

  1. 캐나다
  2. 스웨덴 
  3. 브라질
  4. 프랑스
  5. 폴란드
I found it to be incredibly motivating when I found out that I was able to read Korean words and understand their meanings only about 30 minutes after I began learning the alphabet. 
Country names are not the only words you'll understand when you're able to read Hangul. There are a lot of Korean loan words that have been borrowed from the English language. Try to read the following 5 words:

  1. 호텔
  2. 인터뷰
  3. 바나나
  4. 피아노
  5. 소시지
The English translations of these 10 words can be found in the comments to this blog post. Be sure to at least try to read them before you'll have a look. I'm sure you'll figure it out pretty easily!

04 May, 2010

Getting Started with Korean: The Alphabet

The first thing you should be learning when starting a new language is the alphabet. Luckily, the Korean alphabet (Hangul) is very easy to learn as there are just 24 letters you have to know, 14 consonants and 10 vowels. I learned Hangul in a couple of minutes by watching the video below, provided by KoreanClass101 (click here to watch it directly on Youtube):

See? It's really easy. A whole sentence written entirely in Hangul looks like this: 

피곤해요. 그렇지만 영화 보고 싶어요. (- I'm tired but 
I want to see a movie.)

Obviously, watching just one video about Hangul isn't enough to be able to read and write it properly. That's why I recommend you to practice it here.

Which is the hardest language to learn?

While some attempts have been made, it is very difficult to determine the most difficult language. A learner's native language is very important when learning a new language as an adult, thus rendering universal rankings of difficulty meaningless. A native English speaker will learn Dutch much more easily than a Japanese native would. The closer the native language is to the target language, the easier language acquisition will be. 
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State compiled a list with 63 languages and after analyzing their difficulty for English native speakers. There are three categories of languages:
Category I: Languages closely related to English (23-24 weeks)
  • - Dutch
  • - French
  • - Italian
  • - Norwegian
  • - Portuguese
  • - Spanish 
  • - Swedish
  • ...
(30-36 weeks)
  • - German
  • - Indonesian
  • ...
Category II: Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English (44 weeks)
  • - Czech
  • - Greek
  • - Hindi
  • - Polish
  • - Persian
  • - Thai
  • - Turkish
  • - Vietnamese
  • - ...

Category III: Languages which are quite difficult for native English speakers (88 weeks)
  • - Arabic
  • - Cantonese
  • - Chinese (Mandarin)
  • - Japanese
  • - Korean

So of the 10 languages I set out to learn 6 are in Category I (German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese), 3 are in Category III (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) and I guess Russian must be in Category II, though I didn’t find it in the FSI’s list.