Week 18, Thursday

During warmup I asked 3-3 in Korean what they ate for Christmas (hamburgers! fried chicken! ddeokkbokki! chicken stir fry!) and what they received for Christmas. Nick Jr told me “candy”:

“Oh?”

“Yes, the candy you gave me was a gift!” On Christmas eve he was the only kid hanging around the ddeokkbokki stand so I gave him one of the candies in my bag. Yes, I now carry candies in my bag like an old woman. I do mean that literally– old women here like to give me candy.

3-3 also has a new student. He’s Korean but spent the last three years in Kuwait. He told H that he is fluent in English.

Having perused job boards, the Middle East does not mess around with its English teaching.

H has taken to my improved Korean skills that were developed in her absence to ruthlessly quiz me. But it’s a torment I enjoy.

She let me ask her (complain to her) about my confusion with certain Korean pronunciation (see language corner for more). She exclaimed, “you are so smart! You have a good ear. You need to stay in Korea for a long time.”

Later she told me again, “you need to live here. Get married and have a baby here.”

(Is it too soon to tell you I want to stay another year? But at this school or at another school in a different city, I can’t say. To avoid stress I’m not thinking about it until next semester.)

Language Corner

Another note from today, that I actually picked up from watching English improvement videos in Korean (YouTuber Oliver gets my endorsement) in which Oliver told his audience that they cannot drop /t/ in “get some”.

If I hear a pronunciation error I make a note to myself, like a linguistic captain’s log.

Koreans pronounce /n/ with their tongues between their teeth. The sound is nearly the same as English /n/ BUT this tongue position affects pronunciation of following letters:

Can you dance? /ca nyoo dance/
How about you? /how abou nyoo/

I’ll be honest: sometimes it’s really disconcerting to practice “one” pronunciation and see a whole room of kids end up with their tongues sticking out.

Anohter note from today, that I actually picked up from watching English improvement videos in Korean (YouTuber Oliver gets my endorsement) in which Oliver told his audience that they cannot drop /t/ in “get some”.

A final -S in Korean is more like /t/. It’s a stop. BUT in between letters, it maintains /s/ sound. As a result, Koreans will pronounce these words the following ways:

ges /get/
get /get/
get some /gessome/

My students exhibited this exact behavior today with:
Let’s go outside /less go ousside/

Some have asked about the R>L pronunciation hiccup that is usually associated with Asian speakers. My Chinese students didn’t have this problem since Chinese has both English-similar R and L. However, since R in Korean is like the flap (rolled) R of Spanish, and the L of Korean can take on both Spanish-style flap (rolled) R or something like a deep L or merged R-L, my Korean students do have this problem. Not because they can’t pronounce English R (for the most part) but rather out of habit. But Korean speakers do have trouble when both English R and English L are combined: both S and G pronounce “world” as /wold/ and girl as /gir/.

In English L the tongue is relaxed and flat against the roof of the mouth. In Korean L the tongue is stiff and only the tip touches the roof of the mouth.

Today some students said “I like led” instead of “red”. One over-confident grade 5 girl says “liver” instead of “river” and I’m just like… please stop talking loudly above the other students thinking you’re better than them. This is just confusing them.

SO if you want to know if someone is Korean, listen for /rl/ and watch their mouths when they say /n/.

On to my mistakes…

Like English, Korean has what one might call “weak” vowels. They exist between strong vowels like /o/ and /ee/. It’s the reason for my terrible spelling. I’ve talked in previous posts about the j/jj/ch and double consonants battle.

(To refresh: Korean J exists on a spectrum between JJ and CH whose target moves depending on the speaker or where J is in the sentence. Often J sounds more like CH and I never know which letter to use if someone is dictating to me. There are also some speakers who even say J more like /ts/ so ..?)

My main issue is 어 (romanized as u or eo, like in Seoul). This tricky vowel falls between /ah/ and /o/. I swear I’ve heard it almost as /ah/ before and H confirmed my suspicion. I’ve also heard it as /uh/ and almost /o/. It can fall nearly anywhere between those sounds, again depending on the speaker or sentence placement. It proves trouble because I live at 건대 (“Geondae” /geondeh/ or Konkuk University) which is a place I mispronounce often as /gondeh/.

When I first came here I often wondered why people always seemed to be talking about meat 고기 /gogi/ but they were actually saying 거기 /geogi/ “there”.

For fun, you can put 없어요 into Google translate. It is “oepseoyoh” but you can judge for yourself how the weak vowels sound much like the “strong” final vowel.

There’s a funny anecdote I saw from an American YouTuber in Korea. She said she couldn’t hear the difference between eo and o for two years (there’s hope!) and kept wondering why people were asking “you don’t have a cucumber?” 오이가 없네 (o-ee-ga ome-neh) When in fact people were actually saying “are you *&$% kidding me” 어이가 없네 (eo-ee-ga ome-neh). Want listening practice? Watch the last four seconds of this, Do you think he was talking about cucumbers?

So anyway, my spelling is a disaster. I told H that the remedy is to simply learn more vocabulary. Come, memorize vocabulary, conquer.

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