Monthly Archives: March 2013

“Disaster phone calls” vs. being nice to learners

Kay’s post about disaster phone calls in a foreign language brought up the memory of a very very bad phone call I had this week at work. Not in Korean, but nevertheless in another language.

I speak a decent Italian. Not perfect, but I can manage fairly well, read also relatively complicated texts if allowed to use a dictionary and so on. I understand close to everything I hear – for as long as people speak “proper” Italian and don’t switch to a dialect even Italians need subtitles to understand.
At least I thought I did until that godforsaken phonecall on Wednesday…

My colleague sitting next to me suddenly went “you speak Italian, right?”
Me: “erm, yes?”
My colleague [handing me the phone]: “could you please speak to this guy? I have no idea what is going on.”
In the meantime the guy on the other end of the line had called for one of his colleagues and gone over a similar discussion.
Once I got on the phone, a woman was answering. A very annoyed woman who didn’t know the case either.

This was my first work-related phone call in Italian, I felt unprepared and I was sweating bullets.
My palms are getting sweaty just thinking about it.
I forgot important verbs, nouns, had to ask her to speak slower because she spoke like she was in a speed-speaking competition, and very quickly I came to think of the conversation as a cruel, cruel test. My colleagues were looking at me. I felt like disappearing into a hole, hoping that situational amnesia was occuring to them just as it was affecting my quickly deteriorating Italian skills so that at least they would forget the whole ordeal immediately.

After a while the woman went “do youuu speak Iiinglish?!”. The four little words no learner wants to hear.

I got the situation sorted out in a mixture of Italian and English because thankfully the things she didn’t know in English I knew in Italian and vice-versa, we all got the info we needed and nobody has been scarred for life – except for my ego that is.
After hanging up I felt like I had to say something to my colleague who assured me “don’t let them stress you”.

Even after a couple of days this can make me cringe. I’m a perfectionist. It hurts my ego that I got thrown off so easily. Must practice more!!! The only thing that soothes my nerves just the tiniest bit is that I was speaking to her in my fourth language and she was replying in her mother tongue.

Maybe that’s something we all need to remember when speaking to foreigners. Initially they might sound like they are doing well enough so we get lazy with our pronunciation, start speaking fast, and cut endings. I even have a friend whom I can barely understand when speaking on the phone, and I continously have to ask her to speak clearly. And we’re from the same country!

So let’s all take care of the learners out there; let’s speak clearly to them and not pull the native card on them. Maybe we should do that in general. Everywhere people are getting lazy about their diction.

Mark Law has written about being a beginner in judo in his book The Pyjama Game:

A white belt in the dojo is like a toddler at a tea party and demands a similar etiquette: people must take turns playing with him; it’s incumbent upon everyone to encourage him, praise his simplest achievements and not laugh when he falls over.

I think this applies to language learners too. Of course you can also belittle a language learner by praising them a little too enthusiastically when they have reached a very high level, but as in judo where foreign judoka can be nervous before fighting a Japanese in Japan even if very skilled, a language learner – even if advanced – can feel intimidated by speaking to a native. Especially if that native shows no concern towards the learner.

Having experienced being thrown, arm barred, pinned to the floor and choked in judo class, I can confidently say that being embarrassed by a native speaker of a language feels worse. In judo, at least you can surrender by tapping on the floor or your opponent with whatever limb is not stuck under your opponent to say “okay, you win, I give up” and the slate is immediately wiped clean. You get up and start over.

That being said, I think my colleague gave me some sound advice. Once we get stressed we lose everything.

So I guess my conclusion is that as learners we cannot put all responsibility for our conversational success or failure on the natives of whatever language we are trying to learn, but as natives of our own language we can at least try to increase the chances of success for the people who try to learn our language.

Happy Easter everyone

Chocolate eggs, sleeping in, and of course: Korean!
It’s the final day of March and in 20 days it’s TOPIK time for many of us.
Do you feel ready? What are your final preparations going to be?

My preparations are going to be the following:
ㅇ Finish TTMIK level 3.
ㅇ Listen to the 듣기 sections provided in the Complete TOPIK Guide (without earphones!).
ㅇ Listen to the 듣기 sections for the past few TOPIK exams.
ㅇ Go through the 읽기 sections in the Sogang books to revise vocabulary.
ㅇ Drill native Korean numbers.
ㅇ Get as far as possible in TTMIK level 4.

I had really hoped I would be farther in my Korean stars by now, but I least I can thank my lucky star that I have a job!!!

New term, new lists

In just a few days a new quarter will start at uni. That means that I have a new set of lists with chapters to check off, book bills to agonise about (seriously, how can a book cost over $100 and how can they ask us to buy several books at that price? Maybe I should start writing uni books…), and a new schedule puzzle to figure out.

Lectures, exercise classes, work, Korean self-study, meeting my Korean partners, judo, and then of course cooking and cleaning and so on. And still only 24 hours per day.

Well, what to do except for just get moving and read one page at a time.

TOPIK prep status 15

Status for 16-29 March 2013

I’ve been going over quite a few lessons. Listening to the level 3 audio while walking to the station in the morning and doing the exercises on the train on my way to and from work.
I’ll soon be done with level 3 🙂 this might seem rather slow, but I prefer to listen to the audio several times before moving on so I actually remember the material.

Language exchange
Both my partners are travelling and I have been working a lot so we haven’t met. I did write an entry for one of my partners, though. Now I just have to send it!
I have only just gotten a work plan for April so I haven’t even been able to ask my partners for new meetings before now.

In general
I cannot say how many hours of audio I have been listening to but it’s a lot! At times when you don’t have time to sit down at a table and study but have to do it on the go, TTMIK is a lot better than Sogang. Perhaps I should try to make a comparison of the Sogang system and TTMIK to see how many lessons I need to go through to go all of the grammar because the TTMIK system is a lot easier for me to fit into my daily life at the moment.

Delays in comments

Hi everyone!

Thank you for reading and commenting on the post about memorisation. If I haven’t yet responded to your comment, I’m working on it! Rest assured, I will get to it 🙂

I’m sorry for any delays in replies to comments (or if your comment takes a little while before it appears in a comment section these days if you’re a first-time commenter).

I am extremely busy with work these days, occasionally working odd hours too, and I cannot check the blog from work since firstly it’s a very busy office and secondly, it would probably weird out my colleagues…
They know I am studying Korean, but they don’t know about this blog – at least not yet. Maybe I will tell some of them one day.

So, if you catch yourself wondering why I’m not responding, it’s not because I don’t like you – I’m just working 🙂

Memorisation: maybe it does actually work?

The other day at work I was discussing language learning with a few colleagues since we all need to speak multiple languages during a day so adding a language to our portfolio is something most of us consider. Some of my colleagues are true polyglots speaking some 5-6 languages fluently (oh how I wished I could do that), and in a neighbouring department they can count some 35 languages in total so things are pretty international.

During that conversation, I realised that one of my co-workers has not been in Denmark for particularly long, but her Danish is excellent and apparently she was fluent enough to get a good job after having been in the country for only 6 months. That is pretty darn impressive because Danish is a “weird” language in many respects and many foreigners (though especially the Swedes hehe) make fun of us by saying that it sounds like the Danes speak with hot potatos in their mouths.

It turned out that she had been attending a special language school targeting professionals and one of the requirements was to learn 15 sentences by heart for each class. The idea was that the sentences they memorised would provide a structure for the students, and then they could alternate the words depending on what they wanted to say.
She thought it was nice to be forced to memorise words and sentences because she would never get around to doing that at home and now she remembered them. I suppose she has a point there. If someone tested my Korean in some particular area on a set date (let’s not think of the TOPIK right now but more casually and on a weekly basis) then I would probably also try to memorise some more things to at least not make a fool of myself for not knowing some key words.

She still has a hint of an accent, but she is eloquent and does not appear to be in any way inhibited when speaking. Danish is her working language and she is able to handle even stressful situations in Danish. That’s more that I can say about my Korean skills at the moment…

Personally, I’ve gone through some phases concerning memorisation, and I know many learners feel very strongly about the topic. Some are strongly against it while others seem to live and breathe for it. My initial approach was to make lists and flash cards. After a while I didn’t really review them and just looked up words as I went along. Then I revised flash cards again and now I have had my feet solidly planted in the “no word lists” camp for a while – letting my poor collection of flash cards collect dust.

What I have done is to go through my TTMIK and Sogang books, going over the lessons and looking up whenever needed. Of course I have thought “seriously, this is the fourth time you look up that word, just remember it!” but I haven’t really gone though a “memorisation regime” in relation to these books. I’ve also looked at the word lists and grammar lists provided at the end of the chapters in the Sogang books just to check my comprehension level, but I never “drilled” the lists.

I’m still a newbie when it comes to Korean, but I sure have passed the 6-month mark by now and my Korean is nowhere near my colleague’s level of Danish. Of course I’m not in Korea, I don’t have to speak it in my daily life, and I don’t even have the opportunity to subject Koreans to my language learning struggles on a daily basis, but still, kudos to her for her efforts and her results. They are still impressive.

Have any of you learned a language through the method she has been following? A method where memorisation was a very integrated part and considered crucial?

Do share your experiences with memorisation and your thoughts about it in the comments 🙂

Survival mode

I’ve been wanting to post something for a couple of days, but I’ve just not had a moment of peace to even gather my thoughts. Korean studies have literally been “to go” as in listening to audio whenever walking or on train/bus, and I’ve been doing the exercises from the TTMIK book on the train. I’m exhausted…