Saturday, December 09, 2006

Why Learning Two Language at the Same Time is a Bad Idea

My Korean is pretty good. But when I started living in Japan, my Japanese was getting better and my Korean was getting worse. But the funny thing was that I DIDN'T NOTICE. In case you didn't know, Korean and Japanese are very similar in terms of grammar and vocabulary. For example, bag: krn) 가방=kabang; jpn) かばん=kaban or newspaper: krn) 신문=shinmun; jpn) 新聞=shinbun. What started happening was that I started to seriously mix up my Japanese and my Korean into one nonsensible mess. It got to the point, that when I thought of a word, I couldn't remember if it was Japanese or Korean. Here is one of the worst cases. A friend of mine asked me if i could eat something. My response was going to be 'I can eat.' In Korean, this would be, 먹을 수 있어 (muhgel soo isuh). In Japanese, this would be, 食べられる (taberareru). What came out of my mouth was 'tabel soo isuh.' Of course this was met with looks of, 'Huh?' On my really bad days, whether the person I'm talking to is Japanese or Korean, they only understand half of what I'm saying and think the other half is just bad and unintelligible pronounciation.

Another problem was the style of speaking. Most of my Korean, I learned when I was young. Hanging out with friends and going to bars or what not so my korean is very down and dirty. For Japanese, I learned in an office environment (and bars) so my formal Japanese is much much better than my formal Korean. Japanese in a formal environment is very roundabout and indirect. In English, we might say, 'I don't think this is a good idea.' In Japanese, it would be more like, 'I slightly think that perhaps it would be nice to maybe consider this other alternative to see how it goes, if that is okay with you, but of course your idea is good and i'm fine with it.' Alright. I'm exaggerating, but I sometimes feel like that. Anyways, I had a three month biz trip to Korea and this was the first time I was in a Korean office environment. But since I was not great with formal Korean, I spoke Korean using the Japanese style of being roundabout. Turns out, formal Korean is much more direct than Japanese and and I just sounded weird and wussy like I left my backbone at home.

To make things worse, half the employees in the company I work for are Japanese while the other half is Korean and the majority speak both languages. This means that even when i screw up everybody understands what I'm saying and I have no idea I was mixing things up again. Anyways, I'm trying to be more careful and making sure I'm putting the right words with the right grammar with the right language. The pitfalls of being multilingual.


Tae Kim said...

Whoa, I can totally relate to this except that my Korean is so rusty and 適当 that it doesn't stand against Japanese, which I formally studied at school and use every day. One time I said 도요일 for "Saturday". And I was like, "wait a minute... something's not right."

I also have strong urges to put in Japanese words in English because it's just easier than figuring out how to say the same thing in English.

GooMiHo said...

hi tae,

i know what you mean about using japanese words in english. i do it all the time for words that don't translate well into english. everytime i hear someone say 'japanese pizza' instead of お好み焼き, i want to bitch slap them.