The 4 Laws of Korean Class
So you want to take intensive morning Korean classes at a university. Maybe you plan to make a career here. Maybe you acquire languages as a hobby. Then again, maybe after several months of self-study using books that promise to teach you the entire Korean grammar structure in 40 minutes, you’re still turning simple phrases like “I am a teacher” into “I am Mr. Fish.”
Whatever your motivations, I commend you for your commitment. And that’s certainly what it is; a financial commitment equivalent to about 50 really fun (but not necessarily memorable) weekends involving soju, and in a week’s time you’ll spend the equivalent of an entire day listening to a bubbly teacher of seemingly boundless energy tell you that your gg’s sound too much like kk’s.
But there are very clear rewards for the amount of time lost, the money that you’d rather be spending on Steve Jobs’ latest model of the iThink This Will Be Obsolete By Fall, and the ever-growing chorus of Korean companions who will say “You looks so tired. You should take a rest.” Many, many rewards.
You want an example of the the rewards? Okay, uh, here’s one: If you’re a man, and you eventually marry a Korean woman, you’ll understand much more clearly when her family members ask how she intends to live on your salary.
But before you can reach that panacea there are a few things you need to know about intensive Korean study. I call them the Laws of the Language Class. They are as follows:
The 1st Law
On the night before class you looked at the grammar rules and now have a basic understanding of them. During class, the bubbly teacher of boundless energy (BTBE from here on) will ask everyone to make or complete a sentence using one of the grammar rules of the day.
She will call on your classmates using familiar examples you can figure out in your head with relative ease. When she reaches you, however, she’ll use words you’ve never heard before, or heard so sparingly that you can’t remember them very well. Either way, you’ll probably respond in the most articulate way you know how.
“Uhm,” you’ll say.
“Uhm,” the BTBE will reply, helpfully.
How you handle the following seconds, as she and every one of your classmates gaze upon you, seemingly searching your head in the hopes that a part that knows the answer is in there somewhere, will determine your chances of success in learning this language. You can choose to reply, “I don’t know” in English and, once she’s moved on to the next classmate, draw pictures in your notebook of your BTBE on the end of an enormous fishhook.
Or you can attempt to answer even though it’ll probably be wrong, accept her corrections in good humor, and keep trying to prepare adequately for each class. You may have noble aspirations of where Korean fluency will take you in the future, but entering each day with the objective of not looking like an idiot serves many people well.
The 2nd Law
Some of the lessons you will learn will not seem particularly useful. There’s a good reason for this: They’re not particularly useful.
The average speaker of Korean is less likely than the average speaker of English to be illiterate, but some things are true of all people. Most of us have jobs and social lives and don’t have time to learn the difference in pronouncing “s” and “ss.” Those who do and who enjoy informing others of the difference hold a disproportionate share of the curriculum-development jobs, a foothold they’ve been able to maintain by forfeiting much of their share of the dating scene.
But you have an important reason to learn the difference between “d” and “dd”: You need to pass so that you can keep learning more vocabulary and grammar. Which brings us to:
The 3rd Law
There will be those classmates whose mathematical minds allow them to figure out grammar rules on the spot. When asked how much they study, they’ll answer with a shrug and a grin. Your first instinct may be to hate them and picture them on the end of a large sharp fishing instrument but, instead, you should sit by them.
That way, when the BTBE asks each of your classmates to make a sentence using that day’s grammar rule and you’re not sure how, you can let Will Hunting figure it out first, and follow his/her example.
The 4th Law
Buy an electronic dictionary and leave your smartphone in the bottom of your book bag. You signed up for these classes to absorb four hours of Korean per day. Your iMsure This Will Be Fashionable for Less Than a Year probably has a Korean-English dictionary, but it also has Internet access and video games. Don’t ask yourself if you can resist the temptation to use them for four hours a day. You can’t.
Now, if you remember those four rules, your Korean language class will be a bountiful experience full of benefits both expected and surprising. And by surprising, I of course refer to the quality of English you’ll find in your textbooks. Real examples from the explanations section of one Seoul-area university: “The performance in the second clause in done while the performance in the second clause is occurred.”
Real example from the translations section of the same textbook: “You should throw it out. It tastes wired.”
Read these and rest assured that those advanced in their language studies still make mistakes. But put out of your head the idea that, once you’re finished committing this exorbitant amount of tuition and time, you’ll still be making these kinds of mistakes. Use blunt force if necessary.