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April 28, 2016

English Dialects: A Korean Compares American & British English

Screenshot from KoreanBilly English dialects video showing two images of himself side by side with a British flag over one and American flag over the otherThere’s an interesting fringe benefit to my exploration of Korean culture. It often makes me more conscious of things about my own culture that I never really thought about before.

I suppose this happens to anyone upon contact with an unfamiliar culture, but I suspect the effect is more pronounced for Americans. We have few close neighbors, and one of the largest is culturally very similar to us. We are rarely reminded of the thousands of daily ways another culture can be different from our own.

The experience of suddenly noticing what was always right under my nose hit me all over again when I discovered YouTube artist KoreanBilly. He has made a series of videos contrasting (among other things) the differences between English dialects in different countries. Of course native English speakers are aware that English is spoken differently in other places. I can tell Australian English from British English. But if you asked me to name the differences, how many could I identify?

Probably not as many as KoreanBilly. Perhaps because ALL versions of English are foreign (literally) to him, he has to get very specific in order to reproduce them. Check out this entertaining video, in which he compares American English and English English, displaying an impressively fluent accent in both. Even though I am a native American English speaker, I learned a lot from it!

If you are wondering about KoreanBilly, he did not grow up in the UK. On the contrary (or TO the contrary, as the Brits would say) Billy has lived in Korea all of his life, except for 6 months in England. You can learn more about him in this bio video on his Facebook page.

Check out the rest of his YouTube videos here. He has a similar video on differences between English English and Irish English. His video on the many ways in which we are exposed to advertising suggests that focused consciousness in one area of communication may heighten awareness in other contexts.

October 24, 2015

Speaking the Same Language

Check out this fascinating interview with Hyunwoo Sun (선현우).
ttmik logoSun is the founder of Talk to Me in Korean, an ever-expanding Korean-language-learning site produced by Koreans living in Korea. In addition to podcast lessons and pdfs, which are free, the site offers videos, books, and every other language aid or service you can think of. Sun also opened a cafe in Seoul in 2014.

I started listening to the TTMIK podcasts about three years ago. The lesson topics seemed somewhat randomly ordered, and I listened to the first couple of levels repeatedly without retaining much, since I had no Korean speakers to talk to. However, when I had a Korean email partner for awhile, I found the downloadable pdfs that go with each lesson to be extremely useful.

Sun is interviewed by Colin Marshall, an American (as far as I can tell) with a website of his own on international urban cultures, who has visited Korea several times.

A map of Korea with the city of Gwangju in the southwestern region circledDuring the free ranging hour long podcast, Sun describes the way his personality shifts depending on the language he is thinking and speaking in, explains why Koreans avoid conversations with native English-speakers, and reflects on events in the Gwangju area around the time of his birth, an unsettled era of government repression and civil unrest which crops up in many dramas (the opening episodes of Love Rain, for instance, or the 4-part KBS Drama Special Amore Mio).

Sun also explains how Koreans become English teachers without actually being able to speak English. His examples of English as it is taught in Korea by these teachers are illuminating.

In fact, I was reminded of this interview when I was watching an appearance by Korean-American singer Ailee on Yu Huiyeol’s Sketchbook last night. She said something in English with her typical American accent at the host’s request, and when he looked blank, lapsed into a version of the same English phrase as English is commonly (mis)pronounced by Koreans, thanks to the above-mentioned inadequately trained Korean English teachers. I thought it was interesting that Ailee – who moved from the U.S. to Korea in 2010 – had evidently heard so much of this form of English that she shifted into it automatically, as if it was a third language.

Logo for the TOEIC English certification test, with the tagline "Know English. Know Success."Political support for English instruction in Korean schools fluctuates, but high scores on English certification exams have long been considered advantageous in a highly competitive job market. This assumption has come under question in recent years, but a great deal of money and time is still spent on lessons that don’t prepare students to communicate effectively in English, Sun points out.

But returning to the podcast: How Korean vs. American concepts of time impact conversation, high school elites, the progression of Korean friendships, and the impact of Korean group identification on elections are a few more of the topics it covers. Both host and guest e·nun·ci·ate ver·y dis·tinct·ly throughout the interview (for different reasons, I suspect, but the result is amusing, since the precision of the speech is at odds with the informality of the conversation).

I found this podcast on XiiaLive Pro, an internationally popular music app based in China, on a station called KoreaFM1. I haven’t figured out exactly what is going on with the station, but I think it broadcasts the same podcast nonstop for days (or weeks?), then rotates to another one. English-language resources about Korea from a Korean point of view are still few and far between, so in-depth, candid discussions like this one are a real treasure trove. Don’t miss it!


Related Links:

Talk to Me in Korean website
Hyunwoo Sun’s staff page on TTMIK
Hyunwoo Sun’s personal site – at first glance, seems pretty light on content, but check out the videos, especially this whiteboard cartoon story of his life, which really deserves a post of its own.
Hyunwoo Sun’s Korean-language blog, Why Be Normal
About page on Colin Marshall’s site
Marshall’s page describing (and linking to) this podcast

September 24, 2015

Korean Word of the Day: Computer Hacker - 컴퓨터 해커

A frowning man's face with his tongue sticking out to one side in effort and his arms coming out the side of the monitor to type on the keyboard below itThe Korean term for “computer hacker” is such an obvious loanword from English that I just had to share it with you. If you have learned the Hangeul alphabet, you’ll know that
컴퓨터 해커 is pronounced kum (or kawm) pyoo tuh (or taw) heh kuh (or kaw).

(If you haven’t learned the Hangeul alphabet yet, check out my Games to Learn Korean page).

A “loanword” is a word one language has “borrowed” from another, that sounds a lot like the word in the original language. English is full of them, especially loanwords from French. Korean has a very high percentage (estimates vary) of loanwords from Chinese, but when you start getting into terms for technology and popular culture, you find more English loanwords. Korean also has English loanwords for things that don’t have an exactly equivalent Asian concept, like 뱀파이어 (vampire).

Some Korean words that sound like loanwords from English are actually loanwords from the same language that English borrowed it from (for example, 레스토랑 – restaurant, which is, of course, a French word).

You may be wondering what the difference is between the three Korean g/k-ish letters, ㄱ, ㄲ, and ㅋ. You are not alone! Here’s the best explanation I’ve found, not only for hearing the differences, but for speaking them.


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