Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Integrated Korean: Intermediate 2 (Review)

This book seems to change gears significantly from the previous volumes in that there is far less vocabulary, but definitely more reading. In the previous books, new vocab took about maybe six pages. The vocab in this volume takes no more than three. The dialogues are much longer but still short enough so as not to be overwhelming. In addition, at the back of each chapter there is more reading. Definitely a good thing. Overall, I'm liking how this is progressing as it is beginning to ease into longer compositions. The only annoyance for me is the sprinkling of words that haven't been introduced. I'm sure some pedagogists will insist that this will help learners extrapolate meaning through context. While that is true in real life, I'd prefer my textbooks to give it to me straight instead of having to guesstimate.



Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Language Thru Cinema

Movies are a key component in language acquisition as it helps learners progress from textbook dialogues to more real life situations, or as real life as movies can get. For your reference, here is a brief outline of what you can expect from the local cinema.


1. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. Boy dies.
2. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. Girl dies.
3. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. Both die.
4. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. They find out they are brother and sister. Then one or both die.
5. Bad Japanese horror remakes.


1. Boy/Girl joins group/club/band/sport/activity. They suck and everyone hates them. They practice hard and get to the championships. Everyone loves them and they find their true love.
2. Boy/Girl find haunted phone/dvd/tv/cd/ipod/md player/psp. Ghost with long hair comes of water/sink/well/toilet/puddle. Lots of people die.

Hong Kong/China-

1. Triad movie about honor and duty. Stars Andy Lau.
2. Police movie about honor and duty. Stars Andy Lau.
3. Epic Costume drama. Stars Andy Lau.
4. Bad Wire Fu. Stars Andy Lau.
5. Bad Japanese horror remakes. Stars one of the Twins. No Andy Lau.
6. Cheesy Romance. Stars one of the Twins and probably Andy Lau.


1. Bad remakes from old TV shows.
2. Bad remakes of movies not old enough to be remade.
3. Bad Japanese horror remakes.
4. Boy Meets Girl. Boy and Girl break up. Boy and Girl fall in love again.
5. Big Explosions. Hot Girls. No Story.

Tongue in cheek humor aside, for great cinema, check out these directors:

Bong Joon-Ho, Ryu Seung-Wan, Park Chan-Wook, Kim Ji-Oon, Lee Chang-Dong, Iwai Shunji, Inudo Isshin, Tsutsumi Takahiko, Takahata Isao, Mitani Kouki, Pang Ho-Cheung, Derek Yee, Fruit Chan, Johnnie To, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Michael Mann.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Getting Away with Stuff

I am Half-Korean (or sometimes Double as some Halfies like to say), but I realy don't look all that Asian so being able to speak another language while looking completely foreign offers all sorts of conveniences. The most useful? Definitely being able to feign ignorance. I jumped on a bus in Korea and was 500won short. I paid what I had and pretended not to understand the driver telling me I needed to put in more. He took a look at my face, assumed I didn't speak Korean, and gave up. All was good in the world.

Sometimes, in more serious matters like dealing with immigration, telephone services, banks, contracts, etc. I will purposely pretend not to speak the language and bring it all to English. It gives me the edge and the advantage. And if things go wrong, I can blame it on them not being able to clearly communicate with me. And if someone tries to pull something sneaky (it's happened), I can cut them off at the pass since they don't mind saying it right in front of me. It is kinda dirty, but I'm sure everyone who could, would.

It also provides for entertainment. Some friends of mine in Korea asked me to go with them on a group blind date since I was the only one who could speak Korean. I said sure, but the girls were definitely of the blind date variety, as in I would rather stick needles in my eyes than date them. So I did what anyone else would do; pretended not to speak Korean. It was actually pretty funny as they were trying to teach me the word for 'apple' and 'hello' in Korean. I do feel a little bad about it...but not too much.

There you have it, folks. Another benefit of learning a foreign language is being able to pretend you don't speak said language.

I'm Fine, Thank You. And You?

We've all come across them. Those men and women who insist on speaking English to you instead of their native language, the language you are trying to improve in. There are many complaints about someone trying to practice and the person they are speaking to refusing to respond in anything but English. Actually, this doesn't really annoy me. If their English is better than whatever I'm studying, I speak English. If my Korean or Japanese (definitely not Cantonese, yet) is better than their English, the conversation shifts to Korean or Japanese. If we both equally suck, we mix it up. In any case, having the conversation proceed in the language that can be communicated in best is far more important in the long run. The message is more important than the delivery.

Another thing to consider is that knowing a few phrases here and there doesn't warrant the expectation that people NOT speak English to you. To put it bluntly, if you still suck at it, people will speak English to you if they can. Honestly, while I try to be a nice guy and let other people practice English with me no matter how bad it is, it gets annoying quick and I will switch to Korean or Japanese. So in the case of Cantonese, I don't want to torture anyone with my bad Cantonese the way bad English annoys the hell out of me. My ability still has a long way to go before I have the right to expect people to speak Cantonese with me. In my experience, people will speak to you in whatever language you are studying if it is obvious you are good at it or if they have no English ability at all. So if they aren't especially interested in talking to you in anything but English, it might mean you are just not good enough yet.

Once in Korea, I ran into a 7-11 inside a shopping mall to get something to drink. Girl at the counter asked me in English if I wanted a bag. I didn't understand her the first few times until she showed the bag. I said sure. I then asked in English what time the shopping mall closed. She didn't understand so I asked again in Korean. She told me the time and asked me (a little angrily) why I just didn't speak Korean. I reminded her that she spoke English to me first.

Anyways, that is my usual MO. If I speak first, I use Korean/Japanese. If they speak English first, I'll speak English. Eventually, we figure out which is the best to use. In most cases, they are relieved that you speak their language. The only thing that really pisses me off is when my Korean/Japanese is far better than their English and they insist on speaking English because it takes five minutes to say what should only take 5 seconds.

So if we don't practice our language with native speakers (and consequently annoy them if their English is in working order), how can we improve? Besides the obvious of building your vocabulary, studying grammar, and watching tv/movies/etc, a good way to force yourself to improve is to put yourself in an environment where no one speaks English. Kinda difficult in HK, but if you are trying to make people speak to you in Cantonese in Central, you are under some serious misconceptions. Might be easier to move to Sha Tin or Tsuen Wan.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Genki II: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (Review)

I finally finished this book. Actually, I went through it twice. Lots of good stuff in here making it my favorite Japanese text. The way the Kanji is thoroughly integrated into the book exposes the student without overwhelming him. The reading material in the back was also great. Full of kanji and gave you a taste (although admittedly not to complicated) of what it was like to read Japanese. But this text is worth its weight in gold by using the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method to explain honorifics and humble form, as well as the passives and causitives (話される、話させる、話させられる). Can't recommend this book and this series enough. It is the most thought out and user friendly basic Japanese textbook series I've seen and doesn't shy away from Kanji.

Integrated Korean: Intermediate 1 (Review)

Volume three of the KLEAR series. The dialogues in this book are still focused on practical situations such as buying clothes finding an apartment or what not. These dialogues are longer than the first two volumes and based on spoken Korean. Don't be under the impression that this is enough to actually allow you to go out and do those things, the dialogues are not that long. But at least you will have an idea of what to expect. Anyways, the longer dialogue is simply a way to help the learner get used to reading. I'm sure later volumes will have more complicated readings based on written Korean. I can't quite put my finger on why, but I enjoyed going through this volume. Probably because it started going beyond the 'Hello. I'm fine, thank you. And you?' feeling of the beginning books of the series

Integrated Korean: Beginning 2 (Review)

This is the second volume of the Klear series. This really is a great series despite its flaws. While the problems of the first volume continue into this one, there is one underlying fact: this series expects you to learn Korean. This isn't some learn in 10 minutes type of book or that ridiculous Korean thru English series coming out of Seoul University. This is a Korean book for real learners. Supportive evidence: Each chapter has about 5 pages plus of vocab. Doesn't stick to the 'Gee whiz! Korea is so great.' dialogues found in a lot of other books and offers more focus for more practical situations. Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of cultural items and explanations that are very interesting and gives the reader more of an apprecation of the language and society, but doesn't leave the bad aftertaste of nationlist fervor in your mouth. Anyways, to put it simply, this book is trying to get the learner up to speed real quick and knows there are no shortcuts. Specific to this volume, the reading material is still very easy, but the amount of vocab and grammar makes even this volume probably better than most of the other books out there. Good stuff.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Confidence+Comfort=Better Speaking

I've noticed something these last few days. My Cantonese is FAR from being good, but what little that I know and have tried, no one has said that they couldn't understand me. I've heard so many stories about people struggling with Cantonese pronounciation and many Cantonese speakers not knowing what the gweilo is trying to say. But this hasn't happened to me (yet). I know I don't have great pronounciation. I hardly remember what tone goes with what syllable and I lack the patience to give it much thought when trying to say something.

I think this is the 'talk like you know what you are doing' effect. Basically, if you talk with confidence and comfort and barrel over any minor errors, you appear to be speaking well. To better illustrate, most esl students try to make their English perfect when they speak. Perfect grammar, perfect pronounciation, perfect use of expressions. But in their efforts, any mistakes become more pronounced since they are TRYING SO HARD to be perfect. The result is that the focus of the conversation is less on the message and more on the delivery. I liken this to driving on the freeway. If you try to follow the speed limits (grammar, pronounciation, etc.), your driving (speaking) becomes erratic because you are constantly trying to hit that 55mph mark by gassing and braking. Not smooth at all (I'm assuming you don't have cruise control). In addition, everyone else on the freeway (native speakers) are NOT following the speed limit and are shooting right past you or honking at you to get out of the way.

Anyways, long story short, perfect pronounciation is something we all strive for, but in the meantime, talk like you know how to talk, even if you have to fake it.