On being shy

This post is a little different from those I have posted so far, but it was inspired by several things:

1) The TOPIK test is divided very clearly according to which skills are tested so I have to think about where I am lacking.

2) I try to approach my Korean studies in a fairly structured way since I have no class to provide me with that structure. I like planning, making schedules for my Korean goals etc. so when I came across these sheets for making learning goals and self-evaluation, of course I couldn’t help but look to get some inspiration.

Speaking is one of the categories mentioned, and my speaking skills leave a lot to be desired. Reading and writing are different. You can think it through and take your time. When speaking you need to think fast!

3) Through a comment on My Korean Corner, I came across a link to this post about speakers’ awkwardness on the blog Korean as it is. This blog appears to have been abandoned since then so unfortunately we only get to read part 1.

I should start by saying that I understand the awkwardness that is described because I have experienced it myself when living abroad and people would answer me in English although I perfectly understood what was going on. I always thought switching to English was based on a misunderstood sense of kindness because I truly wanted to speak the local language and ordering a cup of coffee was as good an occasion as any.

So far I haven’t experienced that kind of awkwardness with Korean, though. Perhaps it is because I’m not based in Korea so Koreans are caught off-guard when they find out I’m learning their language because it seems completely out of context.
I would probably react the same way (even though being positively surprised) if going to the other side of the globe only to meet someone who wants to learn my mother tongue, Danish, a language which is after all spoken by less than 6 million people. Then Korean seems a bit more useful. At least the odds are more in your favour if you hope to meet a Korean compared to a Dane.
(I once met one someone who told me that her motive to learn Danish was that we have “cool proverbs”. Who would have guessed that! It made me think a bit more about our proverbs). We have our own set of tongue twisters that we subject foreigners to as soon as they utter the slightest wish of learning Danish, though, so beware 😉

I do experience a different kind of awkwardness with Korean, though…

Say something! Think! 빨리빨리!:
For me the hurdle doesn’t seem to be getting to speak Korean in the first place. Of course I have been asked the question “why on Earth do you want to learn Korean?” (a surprising number of people, non-Koreans, often follow up with “you should study Japanese or Chinese instead”), but after the initial surprise Koreans usually encourage me to speak. They have all been very supportive, which has been such a privilege.

So far so good, but actually this is where I get into trouble: I’m so intent on speaking correctly, eloquently, and getting the pronunciation right that I probably sound awkward because I’m trying so hard to think of everything at once. That is probably also why I have had mysterious problems with the English loan words because I still try to make them sound like “proper Korean”. 프로젝트 is not exactly a difficult word and yet I have managed to make it sound weirder than you would dare to imagine… (Sorry to those of you out there who have been subjected to it). I have been advised to relax about it and accept the English influence.

Mind the gap:
I have a clear idea of how it *should* sound and yet it often comes out a lot differently than I planned it to. The brain/mouth gap can be really frustrating. I’ve been told that foreigners’ mistakes are usually considered endearing so I try to think of it as part of the game. No practice, no improvement, right? 🙂

I know it is just a phase, and it will become easier as my vocabulary expands and I get more confident with the grammar so I won’t have to think so much every time I want to say something. But the day I can focus more on what I say than how I say it will be a big day 🙂

How about you guys? How long did it take you to overcome your self-consciousness?

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