Eh, Yeh, Eh, Yeh…Eh??

8 10 2009

Korean language classes started on Monday morning. Four days a week, three hours per day, I am immersed in the listening, speaking, reading and writing of Hangeul.

There is one Brit, 2 Chinese, and 12 Japanese in my Elementary Korean for Foreigners class. Sadly, I am the only person of Korean descent in the class. (I mean, sad, as in pathetic…sigh). I’m not exactly sure why all these Japanese people are in Seoul learning Korean, but I’m guessing it’s for one of two reasons:

1) They have business relationships in Korea, and it is an asset to know the language.

2) Like the rest of Asia, they are addicted to Korean soap operas, and have somehow fallen prey to the idea that Korean men are as romantic as they are on tv (they’re not), and that Korean women are as beautiful as they are on tv (some are), and language skills are required to woo someone of the opposite sex.

But of course…I’m only guessing. 🙂

Hangeul was created by King Sejong of the Lee Dynasty in the 15th century for the purpose of enlightening illiterate people. Most native Koreans will tell you that Hangeul can be learned in just one morning. And while this is common rhetoric among Koreans (since it is a point of pride for them), it makes those of us who can’t learn it in one morning, feel well, how to put this delicately, kind of dumb.

They are right to some extent, I suppose. With 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels, it is pretty simple. You can read Hangeul in a morning! Well, elementary level stuff anyway. Great! I can read the Korean words for sun and bird and pants and bridge. Unfortunately this isn’t going to help you much in your daily life. By Day 2 (I guess with the alphabet under our belts), it was time for compound vowels. And this is where things became much more complicated.

Complicated because they all sound the same. At least to me. There are 2 “ehs”, 2 “yehs,” 3 “whes,” 1 “wha”, 1 “whu,” 1 “whee,” and 1 “eu-ee,” which incidently has 3 different pronunciations depending on where it is in a word and how it is being used! To add to the confusion, all of these compound vowels are also made up of vertical and horizontal lines attached in different directions and facing up or down. When asked, my strategy thus far has been to pronounce all of them “whe,” since there are 3 of them. It’s a game of odds as far as I’m concerned.

Day 3 dawned, and we were treated to double final consonants, final consonants and silent vowels among other things. Many of which have no rules at all, but just need to be memorized.

Korean in one morning, eh?? Ha! I think not!

Placement Test = Humiliation : (

30 09 2009

So after 7 months in Seoul, I finally got my act together enough to register for Korean language classes, which is ostensibly the whole reason I came here in the first place! After doing a bit of web research and emailing different schools with questions, I decided to register with Ganada Korean Language Institute. (

I chose them because they actually responded to my questions pretty quickly, and answered them effectively. A lot of the schools didn’t even bother to respond!! Now, it’s been a really long time since I was a student, so the thought of registering for full-time studies at Yonsei or one of the other universities seemed a bit too much to handle. This class was 4 times a week, for 3 hours per day, which seemed like exactly enough time to get started. I’ll be immersed enough, but it won’t overwhelm the small (very small) portion of my brain that is effective at language learning.

Today, I went for the placement test which would determine the level I would be placed in. Let’s just say that it was a somewhat humiliating experience. I arrived and was immediately rushed into a small classroom with 3 other students already writing the test. One was Caucasian, and the other 2 appeared to be gyopo (overseas Korean). I picked up the 3 page test and stared in horror at the first page. It was all in KOREAN, with only a few English words!! I felt a sudden moment of panic, my palms began to sweat, and I was transported back to a traumatic 5th grade math test experience, (which also ended badly).

The feeling was identical! Truth be told, I thought that I would be a little better than beginner level, but woe is me, this proved to be nothing more than empty arrogance. The only difference between THIS test and my 5th grade math test, was that I had been able to fill in most of THAT test, albeit with wrong answers! I flipped through all 3 pages, hoping the situation would improve, and upon realizing it would not, attempted to phonetically sound out the letters on the first question. One word and five minutes later, I decided to take a break (my brain was hurting), and observe the other students in the room. I surreptitiously snuck a peek at the Caucasian girl…surely she would be as dumbfounded as I. Imagine my horror when I saw her merrily filling in the answers!

Fortunately, one of the instructors entered the room at just that moment and asked me if I wanted to have the interview. (I guess they knew that I wouldn’t be able to write the test, since they gave me exactly 15 minutes to do it in!!!) I stood up so quickly in relief that I almost knocked the desk over! I am happy to report that the interview went much better, since my comprehension skills are passable. I wasn’t able to (or was too humiliated to) answer in Korean, but at least I could understand her!

At the end of the interview, she smiled at me sadly, and said that even though I could understand Korean pretty well, perhaps it would be best if I started with the beginner level. I wholeheartedly agreed. Class starts on October 5th.