So you wanna learn Korean?

Integrated Korean by Young-Mee Cho et al

Integrated Korean by Young-Mee Cho et al

A few people have asked about Korean language resources. It always delights me to hear from non-Koreans interested in learning the language. I’m surprised at how popular Korean food has become and where I live – northern Toronto – there’s lots of Korean restaurants, including Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu, Joons, and The Owl of Minerva. K-pop and K-dramas have also become very popular. Several people in my Korean class wanted to learn the language so they could read song lyrics and watch TV shows and movies without relying on subtitles.

The textbook my Korean teacher recommended for our beginner-level class was Integrated Korean: Second Edition by Young-Mee Cho, Hyo Sang Lee, Carol Schulz, Ho-min Sohn, and Sung-Ock Sohn (University of Hawaii Press, 2010).

There are also many wonderful online resources. Youtube videos are especially helpful because you can hear how words and phrases should be pronounced.

Top 25 Must-Know Korean Phrases

Learn the Korean Alphabet Fast

Introduction to Perfect Korean Pronunciation

Korean Polly Lingual (excellent place to start!)

9 Tips for Learning Korean

 

 

Language and Identity

librarybooksIt’s only after I had my daughter, who is half-Irish and half-Korean, that I came to understand how our cultural heritage informs our personal identity. In my attempt to help my daughter understand her Korean background, I developed a stronger pride in my Korean heritage. Despite enjoying Korean food and many aspects of the culture, I have always felt excluded because of my weak communications skills in Korean. I also came to realize that until I could read and write in Korean, I would be missing out on Korean literature, which may never be translated into English.

I signed up for a beginner-level Korean language course offered through the Korean Education Centre here in Toronto. To my surprise, most of my classmates were not even Korean! When asked why they had signed up for the class, several shared that they had a deep love for Korean food, K-pop, and K-dramas. Some lived in North York, which has become another Koreatown, and wanted to be able to read store signs and restaurant menus in Korean and in English. My heart skipped to learn that one young lady had a two-hour commute in order to attend! Her commitment inspired me to study hard. We were also lucky to have a passionate teacher who engaged us with her enthusiasm.

Despite being Korean and having spent my first seven years in Korea, I find learning the language quite challenging. Korean is complicated by the use of honorifics that requires one to speak “up” or “down” to a person depending on that individual’s age and/or status. As well, sentences are constructed differently. In English, we use the “subject + verb + object” order, but in Korean it is “subject + object + verb”, so the sentence “I ate an orange” would be “I an orange ate.” Then there’s the complex use of particles that we don’t have in English.

And all this is in a beginner’s class!

My long term goal is one day to be able to write an essay or even a story in Korean.  I’ve avoided learning Korean for over four decades, believing that I’d never need it. Now, I understand just how vital the language is for me to feel connected to my heritage.

 

 

 

When you don’t speak the language, it’s easy to be bullied

penI shared the following with parents and staff who attended a Literacy Information Evening held at a downtown Toronto high school. 

My family and I immigrated to Canada in 1975. I was seven years old. Because I didn’t speak any English and our family was very poor, my brothers and I were bullied very badly in school. A little boy who lived in my neighbourhood used to enjoy taunting me more than anyone. One day after he had hit me with a wrench, he accused me of starting the fight. Because I spoke so little English, I couldn’t defend myself. Worse, I had no idea what the adults who separated us were yelling at me, but I understood by their tone and body language that they thought I was at fault. I learned very early in life how important language was and the power it possessed. Later, I learned how important choosing the right words were for creating understanding. One of the things I used to hate doing most as a child was translating for my parents. Unlike myself, who had the opportunity to develop my language skills in school, my parents’ English remained poor. I remember being in a hospital emergency room and having to translate for my mother, describing the pain she felt in her stomach. I hated seeing my mother, who was a teacher back in Korea, so vulnerable and unable to help herself. All my combined experiences shaped my determination to learn English, a language I have since fallen in love with and come to appreciate for its endless beauty.

I wrote my book largely to share my family’s immigrant story with my daughter who has no idea just how difficult things were for me and my parents when we first came to Canada. Writing has been a wonderful way for me to work through personal pain and challenges. Writing the book has given me many personal insights and helped me appreciate all the hard work and sacrifices my parents made. As a teacher, I encourage my students to write – about their feelings, their hopes and dreams, as well as to explore their thoughts. Research has shown that writing is an excellent way to deal with some forms of depression and anxiety, and certainly something I encourage my students to do as a guidance counsellor. Also, we’re constantly telling our children to read but it’s important they know why. Yes, reading exposes us to new ideas and promotes creative and critical thinking, but it also makes us better writers. We build vocabulary which makes us better communicators and without consciously trying, we often start writing in the same styles as what we read. This is called modelling, and why it is important that we read content that is well written whether it is fiction or nonfiction like newspapers and magazines.

Reading actually makes us smarter. As parents and guardians, we can help our children by showing them that we read. It doesn’t have to be in English and it doesn’t have to be for long periods of time. As a child, seeing my mother read despite having so little time for herself taught me how much she valued it.  I’m grateful to her for that. It’s something I want to pass along to my daughter and to my students.

It’s December!!

It took nine years from writing the book to publishing it.

It took nine years from writing the book to publishing it.

Click on the image to make it larger.

Click on the image to make it larger.

There’s been a few changes since I last posted a blog in the spring …

My debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was released by Simon & Schuster Canada … I finished my MFA studies in Creative Writing … I’m now working on my second novel set in 1924 Korea …

It’s December. I think I’ll take some time to reflect on this past year … it’s been quite eventful!

paper swan logo

Logo by Darcy Morgan

Logo by Darcy Morgan

Thanks to Darcy Morgan for creating this awesome logo for me. She embedded my initials (aykc) into parts of the paper swan (e.g., “A” makes up the beak, “Y” the neck).

I chose the paper swan because it captures the spirit of my protagonist, Mary, who is the “ugly duckling” that transforms into a swan. My novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety (formerly entitled Cornered),  will be released on May 3, 2016.

 

Promoting Korean literature

Jae Kim is currently a student at the University of Toronto. In September of 2013, he founded the University of Toronto Korean English Literature Society (KELS). His goal is to encourage thoughtful reflection of Korean contemporary culture. He shared that while Korean pop music, film, and cuisine have gained tremendous popularity within North American society, books and other literary works by writers of Korean heritage continue to pass under the radar. You can find out more about KELS by visiting its website.

Three GenerationsI just started reading Three Generations by Yom Sang-seop. It’s the first Korean book I’m reading that has been translated into English. The story, set in Japanese-occupied Korea during the 1930s, chronicles the highs and lows of the Jo family. It is considered one of the most influential works of fiction in modern Korean literature. You can read more about Yom Sang-seop’s book here.

 

Beyond the corner variety store

A play by Ins Choi

A play by Ins Choi

I finally saw Kim’s Convenience. What a great play! It made me laugh, and when it hit a little too close to home, it made me cry… The play, written by Ins Choi, takes place in a Korean-owned convenience store in downtown Toronto. I’ve wanted to see this play for a while now and wrote about it in an earlier blog. The play begins its national tour next month.

Read more about the play:

The Globe and Mail review

National Post theatre review

Prism International