Korean Language Progress

Intermediate Korean Grammar Cheat Sheet

I believe that when Tolstoy was in between War and Peace and Anna Karenina he made a lot of progress in the study of Ancient Greek, and since I myself do not have the time to work on my book at the moment, being too busy with finals and taking care of the baby so that my wife can prepare for exams, I’ve found myself gravitating toward Korean again, after a lapse of one or two months which were devoted completely to writing.

I’m using a great textbook called Intermediate College Korean by Clare You and Eunice Cho, the entirety of which is available online for free, and I’ve found that after several months with this book, studying it now and then while also glancing at articles and attempting to converse with my wife, her family, and a language partner, that my comprehension has come to the point where I can read a few pages of Korean comics in the same time it took me to read one page about a year ago, that I don’t have to look up every last single word, and that the grammar isn’t quite escaping me in the way it used to. I hung out with my Korean father-in-law yesterday and was able to understand that he wanted me to visit the space shuttle in New York City when I visit America in a few weeks, in addition to most of the other things he told me.

At the same time I put together that cheat sheet (based on the lessons in this book) because I don’t get enough practice in to remember exactly how to make a remark that doesn’t require an answer, or how to say that I’ve decided to do something, or how to say something is so something that it almost something’d—all of which require fairly complex verb conjugations that are totally backwards from their English equivalents, coming after the verbs (and depending on the class (action or descriptive) and tense of the verbs themselves) rather than before, as in English, so that in order to read a Korean sentence, you have to first turn your brain around, and then read the sentence from the beginning and the end at the same time, working your way toward the middle, if you’ve been programmed (as I have) in a subject-verb-object language.

In other news, my one year-old’s first recognizable word is ee-gote (이것), which means “this” in Korean, although he always says mamma and dadda and never says their Korean equivalents, o-ma and a-pa. He says these three words constantly, and it sometimes sounds a lot like his gurgles and burbles are forming other words that I can’t quite make out. It’s exciting, but I think I’ll be worried until my last breath that he’ll wind up speaking too much Korean and not enough English, although I suppose there’s room enough in his mind for both. I try to reassure myself with the notion that we can live in Korea together and send him off to America for the summer when he’s older—a privilege that even the richest Koreans would find difficult to acquire for kids.

As for me, my language progress is stunted by the fact that everyone wants to speak English to me, that I have no time to practice Korean, and that I don’t really have any serious Korean friends. I hang out with Koreans sometimes, but usually in the company of my wife, who is always a crutch that everyone leans on in order to lube up the gears of communication, as it’s possible for us to speak without her but a lot more difficult. She even smoothes over the cultural differences. I remember I once made the mistake of referring to a Korean friend who was older than me by name, an action which visibly offended her, and a major no-no for anyone who is attempting to understand the language and the culture here. In the company of my wife, such a faux-pas never would have occurred.

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