Writing and Reading at my Korean Level

Warning: This post is probably of interest to nobody.

Recently I’ve been studying Korean using a variety of methods. I’ve been working on the Sogang books, and I’ve just moved on to level 3B. I’ve been reading Aesop’s Fables in Korean. I’ve been doing the readings for the Meetups we go to. I’ve occasionally gone through KoreaTimes’ LearningTimes website to pick up some phrases. I’ve been writing on Lang-8. About twice a month, I chat with Sister online. I’ve been using WordChamp’s flashcards to practice 50 words a day most days of the week. And I’ve been watching a little too much We Got Married.

All of these activities are overlapping in ways I didn’t expect.

I have 1500 words on my WordChamp list. I get tested on 50 words a day using some sort of Leitner system algorithm. It’s a free program.

Several weeks ago 기온, temperature came up. Yeah, that’s useful, I thought, I know how to say ‘5 degrees, so why do I need ‘temperature?’

폭포 also showed up. When was I ever going to need to know “waterfall?” Last night I was making flashcards for the new Sogang lesson and wouldn’t you know it…I greeted my old friends 폭포 and 기온.

A few months ago, 하 (decline) showed up on the flashcard list. Days later, at the Korean Meetup, we read an article with 추 (airplane crash). From KoreaTimes LearningTimes, I learned 폭, which is when stocks fall very quickly. You’ll notice the 락 in all of those.

락 as a Chinese root (落) means fall, omit, or scatter.

You’ll also notice that 락 (stocks declining rapidly), 포 (waterfall), and 탄 (bomb, another one from WordChamp) have 폭 in them. I looked them up in the Hanja dictionary and found this.

Notice that first Hanja. See how it’s nearly the same in all three words? It means “cruel, suddenly.” In the first word it retains that meaning.

In the second word, waterfall, we’ve added three little lines to the left side. Those mean “water.”

In the third example, for bomb, we’ve added 火. That makes a whole new Chinese character, 爆, which means “explode.” Now, that 火 comes from 화, which is fire, which is where we get 화요일 (Tuesday, “fire day”) and 화산/火山/fire mountain/volcano.

Oh my kimchi, this excites me for some reason. The fact that I realized that these words might have something in common, that I even wanted to poke around… Good Man just looks at me like I’m nuts when I start digging around through my Hanja vocab book and the online Hanja dictionaries.

So then 가난 (poverty) came up on the flashcard system. A few days (weeks?) later, I ran into it in Aesop’s Fables. “가난하지만 착하고 부지런한 나무꾼이 살고 있었습니다.” Translated into normal-sounding fairy tale English, Once upon a time there lived a poor but nice, diligent woodcutter.

In the same story (나무꾼과 헤르메스, which is a tale that seems to have a Korean equivalent, 금도끼, 은도끼) I found 빠뜨리다 (fall into water), which just happened to be one of that week’s Sogang vocabulary words.

I picked up loyal (충성스러운) from WordChamp. And then I realized that the root verb must be 충성스럽다. Around this time, I was also studying using Declan’s vocabulary software. And that got me thinking about 사랑스럽다 (loving) and 걱정스럽다 (anxious). I decided that -스럽다 must mean something (like, quality of), and that furthermore, it must be used with words that have a batchim. Well, it turns out I was right, as an article published today proves. (Good Man can vouch for the fact that I figured this out long before today.) As a side note, I picked up “loving” and “anxious” in Aesop’s.

거짓말쟁이 is liar, and it’s one of those words I “learned” in Sogang years ago. Except I never did. Well, it’s shown up in my flashcards, and in Aesop’s, and I got to use it last week when chatting with Master.

The -쟁이 part of the word also got me thinking. “Liar” is 거짓말쟁이 and “greedy” is 욕심쟁이. -쟁이 is like -monger in English.

적이다 also makes adjectives our of nouns. 이국적이다 (exotic) is in this week’s Sogang words. 적극적이다 (active, human/aggressive) was a Sogang word a few months ago, along with 활동적이다 (active, human or thing). 보수적이다 (conservative) is a word that keeps coming up in WordChamp.

(Oh, and that 심 in 욕심 is the 心, which is also in

심리학 (psychology, one of last lesson’s Sogang words),
결심 (determination, one of WordChamp’s words),
흑심 (evil intentions),
조심 (cautious, and old Sogang word),
관심(이있다, a Sogang word, concern),
열심이다 (to be earnest, a word Master taught me when I was studying at the temp studio),

심장 (heart, nerve),
심정 (feelings),
중심 (the center, the middle),
and 점심 (lunch).

I also noticed the roots 흑 (dark), 관 (concern), 정 (jeong), 중 (middle, China), and 점 (point, decimal, dot) in those words.)

So what’s the point, right? The point is that every time I figure out something is just a fancy ending, it means I only have to memorize the actual root noun. Once I’ve learned that, I’ve opened up a lot more vocabulary.

절대 (absolutely, never) is one of those words I memorized but couldn’t figure out a context for. And then, in an episode of We Just Got Married, Son Dam Bi said she would “절대, 절대, 절대” watch Marco fight in a professional match. Ahhh, and we have context. (And by the way, Son Dam Bi is indeed crazy if she really thinks Marco needs pre-school level Korean books!)

Sister and I have been chatting, too, and I feel like that’s really improved my Korean writing. I run most of my Good Man stories past her. I get to improve my Korean and we get to have some sister bonding while laughing at Good Man. Win-win! ㅋㅋ

A few days ago, I was trying to find out the size of her hands and accidentally asked 적은 손이 있어? Normally, even when I make typos and mistake, Sister can figure me out. This time she couldn’t. Aigo! That’s because—and I didn’t know this until the moment I made that error—적다 and 작다 are different words.

I needed to ask 작은 손이 있어? Do you have small hands? Instead I’d asked Do you have few hands? No wonder she was confused…she’s not an octopus or squid missing arms. (In Korean, they don’t miss arms. They miss legs. Just for the record.)

When I write in Korean, I try very, very hard to look up less than 5% of the words I’m using. I figure if I’m looking up words I don’t know (or even worse, new grammar constructs), I’m writing at too high a level. I will look up spelling and remind myself of the exact way to construct something, but I try not to use new things in my writing. (I also write in Korean directly. Translating is a heck of a lot harder that writing.)

Putting my Korean writing up on Lang-8 is a little nerve wracking, but so helpful. One woman explained the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. And while I’m still not 100% on usage, I finally understand why the little boys at taekwondo would always say “안 보여요” instead of “못 봐요!”

The fact that many of my study materials are accidentally overlapping at that perfect “just right” spot is so exciting.