The blue mountains are what they are,
So are the green waters.
The mountains and rivers are what they are.
Why should I, who live with them, be just what I am?

I want a life as real as theirs
Because I am a part of the universe, too.

–Kim In-Hu, adapted by Virginia Olsen Baron in Sunset in a Spider Web: Poetry of Ancient Korea

청산도 절로절로, 녹수도 절로절로,
산 절로 수 절로, 산수간에 나도 절로,
그 중에 절로 자란 몸이 늙기도 절로 하리라.

김인후 (1510-1560)

Good Man informs me that 절로절로 is a word that’s no longer in use. According to a blog I found, it means “naturally.”

Resolution: 500 Hours

This year I resolved to read 1,000,000 characters in Korean. This year was the first time I was successful at any of my Korean resolutions.

However the reading goal went completely off-track during the summer. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve I read over 350,000 characters.

Due to pressure from Mark and Diana, I also did NaNoWriMo in November and managed to succeed at writing 50K words.

During the summer, I buckled down and finished a cross-stitch project I started in December 1998. I needed to finish one-quarter of the stitching, all of the back-stitching, beading, and metallic stitching on top. It took twelve years to do ~60% of the project and then only a few months to do the last 40%.

All of this is to say that it seems like when I give myself tough, short-term goals, I’m very stubborn and I succeed.

500 Hours
I have only one resolution for the year: study Korean for 500 hours.

That works out to an average of 83 minutes a day, which is more than I’m doing now, but less than I was doing per day on my mad dash to reach 1,000,000.

Anything I’m actively involved in “counts.” For example, a one-hour drama counts for one hour, but only if I’m only focusing on it. That means I can’t pull my “oh, I’ll half listen to this show while playing an online game” thing.

Every month I’m going to choose one area to focus my studies on. (That doesn’t mean it’s the only thing I’ll do that month.) I’m not going to lay them all out in January, I’m just going to decide each month where I need and/or want to go with my Korean studies.

I do have some loose ideas for what I want to get done this year in Korean.

* Learn 100 Hanja characters.
* Increase my listening comprehension.
* Study my grammar books. (I usually hate grammar, but I’ve passively consumed a lot of new grammar patterns through all of my reading and now want to sort out my thoughts.)
* Continue to read in Korean.
* Get back on track with my flashcards.

Readers, I’m open to any ideas.

Amanda Ssi Ssi

“You could become a diplomat,” Good Man said, “and you already have a Korean name, just like 심은경.”

“장미란, but I need my own last name. What’s the least common last name in Korean?”


“How do you know that?” I asked him.

“I read it in a book several years ago.”

“Amanda Seed? Seed Beautiful Orchid? Awesome. I could be Amanda Ssi-ssi,” I said, referring to the Korean -씨 honorific. (No, it’s not usually used with full names, but rather with first names. I was just joking around.)

I thought for a moment. “What about 권?” 권 is the counter word used for counting books. “I can be Amanda Book Counter!”

“That’s not what that means,” Good Man said.

“‘Don’t you get it?'” I said, using Good Man’s pet phrase. “I counted all my characters this year. I counted books. I am a book counter! 권!”

Good Man shook his head, “That sounds Chinese. You are not Chinese.”

“I’m not Korean either,” I said.

“You are more Korean than me.”

Authentic Content vs Translations

I read almost 50 books in Korean this year. Most were books that I would’ve had access to in English. In fact, many of them were books I’ve read in English.

Interestingly, I found that reading books I’ve read in English was both easier and harder than blind reading in Korean. It was easier because I had some background knowledge, but it was harder because I tended to think in English while reading those books. I tended to remember big moments from the books in English in my head, and then I’d search for them in Korean in the books. It became a bit distracting.

But I bought so many books that were translations from English because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to read in Korean. When I was in Korea last year, I couldn’t read enough to figure out what I wanted to read!

The library books from my co-worker’s daughter have been a godsend! Those books expanded my horizons and allowed me to take reading risks with no financial risk.

At least ten of the books I read were ones I would not have had access to in English. If I count the Kare First Love manga series (would I would not have read in English, but enjoyed reading in Korean), I read more than twenty books I wouldn’t’ve been able to read in English.

English is such an international language that it’s easy to think that we have access to enough books to read. And perhaps we do. Still, there is something magical about getting access to a whole other language-worth of books.

I read several awesome picture books that are only available in Korean, including one about a man who sucked up his wife in the vacuum cleaner. (Seriously. It was awesome.) I learned about the moon rabbits because I could read about them in Korean.

I ended up reading some propaganda that I borrowed from the gu office in Seoul when Good Man and I were registering our marriage. I learned “nuclear weapon” from that book and figured out a lot of political words from context.

I enjoyed the book about the third grade boy who was growing up (I’m Not a Kid Anymore) because it was such a Korean book.

Although I ended up throwing Body across the room, I am still amazed that I was able to read a book for Korean adults in Korean.

Now that I can truly read native content in Korean, it makes me even hungrier for the language!

(Cross posted.)

Did One Million Mean Anything?

So. I read one million characters in Korean this year. Did it do anything? Was it worth my time or was it a complete waste of time?

Before I start though, I want to point out that knowing the Korean alphabet is not knowing how to read in Korean. I have heard more than one expat claim they can “read Korean” because they know the alphabet. Some expats use that as a weird defense mechanism. “I don’t have to study Korean! I can read!” Knowing the alphabet is not reading Korean. That’s why I used to clarify “I can read Korean but don’t have the vocabulary needed to understand it.” I’ve never seen anyone claim they can read Spanish just because Spanish uses a Latin-based alphabet.

My goal this year was to truly be able to read in Korean. I didn’t care about the level, but I wanted to be reading, not calling out words.

When I read in English, my eye glides, I repair misunderstandings, and I enjoy the story. That’s what I wanted to do in Korean. I also wanted to read like I did when I was a kid: voraciously, ignoring what I didn’t understand.

Have I learned how to read?

Gliding Eyes
I remember my first full day in Korea I sounded out “Cocoa Balls” cereal. When I first learned Korean, I had to read each letter, and then form each character, and finally…maybe…form…the…word.

After a while, after a lot of practice (sitting on the subway, street signs seen through the bus, walking around my apartment—I am a natural reader, I have to read things around me), I quit reading letter-by-letter and started reading character-by-character (syllable-by-syllable).

In January, excluding some extremely common words, I was still mostly reading syllable-by-syllable. I clearly remember doing so because it made reading a lot of text on a page (like in the Pippi books) tough. I’d lose track of the end of the beginning of the sentence by the time I got to the end of the sentence.

Now, however, my eyes tend to glide. If the text is too hard, I get caught up in unknown words, and that stops me, just like in English.

Generally speaking, I recognize whole words and phrases now. And like in English, my eyes slide over the word, looking for anchor letters. For verbs, I’ll pick up a few characters and/or letters to nail down the word and simply skip to the end of the word to find out the conjugation.

It reminds me of very young children learning to read. First they sound out “c-a-r-p-e-t,” and then “car-pet” and finally good readers recognize and know “carpet” when they see it.

Predicting and Repairing
I’ve read so much Korean now that I am getting better at making predictions. I can predict a general idea (sometimes in English, sometimes in Korean, sometimes in mental images&mdashlthat’s my best description) or even the next word or phrase. 깜짝? Next up is 놀라—whichever ending they want.

Now, I also recognize when I misread or misunderstood something. I go back, re-read, and correct misunderstandings. I knew I’d reached another level in Korean when I was finding typos and errors in Korean!

Enjoying the Story
In January, I was mentally translating most sentences. Now I’ve gotten much better at understanding the gist of the story without translating. In January, I’d get so lost I’d look at an English translation to keep myself on track as needed. Now? I don’t need it.

There was one full page in the Obama book I read that I simply didn’t understand. I knew it was about a bug pounding against the sides of the glass jar, but I didn’t get what the point of it was. I figured it must not be too important to the storyline and went on with my life. And although it came up at the end of the book again, I was able to enjoy the book without understanding that part. And that’s OK.

There are still times I ask Good Man for help, but often it’s to make sure I understand a plot twist.

It’s a good feeling.

So. Can I read? I think I can now claim that I can read in Korean. I might be reading at a fourth grade level, but I’m reading!

Bowling, Chinese Food and Mr Joker

As I’ve said in previous posts, I don’t celebrate Christmas really. Christmas Eve, Good Man and I went to Diana’s parents house for dinner.

Today, Mark, his Lover, Diana and Min Gi came over to our place. Mark and his Lover told me how to replace the belt in my vacuum, which was embarrassing since if I’d even looked at the side of the vacuum I would’ve seen “belt.” Ah, bliss! I can clean my floors again!

Then we finally got to introduce Diana and Min Gi to the addictive, curse-inducing game of Mr Joker. We played one game while waiting for an order of Chinese food. When the driver arrived, we cheered. He grinned and shrugged his shoulders, “Merry Christmas!”

After chowing down on some Chinese, we headed out to bowl, since it was $10 all-day, all you-can-bowl. We played five games in our three-person Mr Joker teams. My team lost Mr Joker all three times, but we gone four out of five bowling games. Ha!

We stopped by HMart to pick up some dessert (and to get free calendars, which have the lunar dates on them, thankfully) and then headed back to our place for two more games of Mr Joker.

A very nice afternoon!

Mr Joker

One Million

Yep. I did it. I met my goal of reading 1,000,000 characters in Korean this year. I even got really geeky and made a bar graph comparing the number of characters I read at different grade levels. Looks like I’m entering fifth grade or so.


I’ll write more about what I learned about Korean—and more importantly, myself—but for now, I’m going to give my burnt-out brain a break for a few days!

1월7일 빨간 머리 앤 (만화) 20,400 1-2학년
2워9일 내 이름은 삐삐 롱스타킹 50,800 3-4학년
2월21일 꼬 마백만장자 삐삐 49,000 3-4학년
3월8일 삐삐는 어른이 되기 싫어 41,700 3-4학년
3월17일 이 솝 이야기 47,900 2학년
3월21일 비 밀의 화원 (만화) 9,850 3-4학년
4월4일 비 밀의 화원 52,900 5-6학년
4월13일 안데르센 동화 26,500 3-4학년
4월17일 동생을 바꾸고 짚어 23,600 5-6학년
4월20일 Folk Tales, Legends, and History: 외국인을 위한 한국 문화 읽기 22,050 3-4학년
5월4일 몸 (여균동) 41,200 문학소설
5월26일 빨간 머리 앤 60,800 5-6학년
7월8일 소나기 6,100 청소년
7월26일 샬롯의 거미줄 80,500 5-6학년
7월28일 로미오와 줄리엣 (만화) 19,000 3-4학년
10월2일 우산 하나로 달에 가 볼까? 260 아기
10월12일 우리 나무가 아파요 3,600 1-2학년
10월28일 키다리 아저씨 (만화) 47,700 3-4학년
11월19일 난 이제 꼬마가 아니야! 38,000 1-2학년
11월25일 뭐든지 파는 가게 400 아기
해님 뭐해요? 100 아기
통통아, 빨리 와! 675 아기
잠이 안 오니, 잔은 곰아? 1,700 아기
11월26일 어디, 뚱보 맛 좀 볼래 11,600 3-4학년
11월27일 지용이의 사간여행 12,600 4-6학년
11월28일 초원의 집 1: 큰 숲속의 작은 집 80,000 청소년
12월5일 싫어’, ‘몰라’ 하지말고 왜 그러지 말해봐! 1,800 아기
할아버지와 숨바꼭질 2,900 1-2학년
똥이 필요해 800 아기
12월7일 어린이를 위한 오바마 이야기 63,800 3-4학년
12월8일 그대 First Love #1 11,040 청소년 (만화)
12월10일 그대 First Love #2 11,040 청소년
12월12일 그대 First Love #3 11,040 청소년
12월13일 그대 First Love #4 11,040 청소년
12월15일 그대 First Love #5 11,040 청소년
12월16일 그대 First Love #6 11,040 청소년
그대 First Love #7 11,040 청소년
12월17일 엄마를 꺼내 주세요 725 아기
누가 좀 도와줄래? 690 아기
비는 어디서 왔을까? 570 아기
잭과 콩나무 2,720 아기
얼레꼴레 결혼한대요 1,035 아기
12월18일 그대 First Love #8 11,040 청소년
12월19일 그대 First Love #9 11,040 청소년
12월20일 그대 First Love #10 11,040 청소년
12월22일 아낌없이 주는 나무 1,330 3-4학년
동물들과 함께하는 촉감놀이 산에서 810 아기
나랑 엄마랑 620 아기
12월23일 반쪽 마법 (1-5장) 63,085 5-6학년
완전히 1,000,220

Reading to Learn Korea

Nearly a month ago, when I stated I wasn’t going to make my Korean reading goal, I needed to average over 9,000 characters a day to make my goal by the end of the year. I currently need to average fewer than 1,050 characters per day to meet my goal.

When I get stubborn, I really get stubborn.

But this post isn’t about my reading goal, it’s about the realization I had today while reading 반쪽 마법.

I was trying to decide if “20세끼” would be Sino-Korean numbers or pure Korean numbers. And it occurred to me that in the books I’ve been reading, pure Korean words are spelled out but Sino-Korean words use numerals, even if the numeral is the first thing in the sentence. “1초…” “말 한 마리…”

“[Good Man], it seems like Sino-Korean numbers use digits, and pure Korean numbers are written out.”


“Seriously? Did I just figure that out?”


The reason this is so exciting to me is because when I decided to read 1,000,000 characters of Korean, I did so to increase my passive vocabulary, naturally learn some grammar, and enjoy the language—and it’s working.

For example, one of the first random words I encountered when I was reading the Pippi series was “식인종” (cannibal tribe). I was reading a book about Obama a few weeks ago, and the word reappeared.

I also learned “palm tree” from Pippi (야자나무) and it came up in Half Magic. I learned “magic” (마법) from Half Magic and then a student at school gave me “마법사의 돌” (hint: she gave me the first Harry Potter book).

And the grammar realization today was not forced or searched for or even something I actively wondered about. It came about from a very natural place. It came about from using and enjoying the language.

The books I struggled to read in January and February are coming in handy in December. It really is…magic.

Travel: Reverb10

Travel: How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

If there is one thing Good Man and I did well this year, it was travel! We went to Minnesota, Florida, and Newfoundland, and the beach. (Good Man also did a little bit of traveling with his mother to Philadelphia.)

Next year, I’d like to make it back to Korea. I miss Korea.

Mother, You

Good Man and I talked to Mother yesterday. Near the end of the call, I tuned out while Good Man kept repeating himself and Mother kept yelling and—and—

“What’s the problem?” I asked Good Man.

“I am trying to ask when I should call her again, but she thinks I’m talking about your mother and she’s trying to tell me she can’t call your mother because she doesn’t know English.”

I laughed and nodded. Finally, Good Man said, “Mom, when should I call Mother’s-Full-Name-Mrs again?”

It’s a bit of a relief to know that the high-context language of Korean confuses even native speakers.