Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Korean Speech Contest (and Year-End Party)

I have studied the Korean language for 16 months now. Perhaps "pounding my head into a linguistic wall" is an apt description of how it has felt  :)

According to the US State Department, Korean is one of the toughest languages for native English speakers to learn, right up there with Mandarin, Japanese, and Arabic. The Department estimates that it takes roughly 4x the time to learn the language as Spanish or French! I take classes through Samsung, 4 days a week from 8:00-9:00am, or about the worst time of day for me to pick up a language. Some days I can barely make sentences in my native English at 8am!

Final day of "basic" Korean class, with Teacher Ms. Park

At 4 hours a week, I am on roughly a 10-year plan to learn the Korean language, which leads many of my foreign colleagues to question why they would trade an hour of sleep for language classes. In fact, many of my colleagues end up dropping the classes. I stick with it, not with a goal of achieving fluency but simply hoping that my continued efforts will make my life easier in Korea. Very slowly, I have seen progress in my communication abilities -- maybe I am able to carry an occasional conversation with taxi drivers or with middle-aged ladies who have offered me snacks while at a hiking rest stop. But, simply put, my Korean abilities still stink and will continue to be so for some time.

Every December, my group holds a Korean language speech contest. This year I decided to throw my hat in and give it a try. We speak in front of our colleagues for 5 minutes on any topic that we choose, supplementing our speech with PowerPoint slides. Contestants were separated into groups based on language ability, and I was placed in the intermediate league.

For this contest I chose a topic that I thought would be light and funny for the audience, and also demonstrate some of the cultural learnings that I have had since moving to Korea. I wrote a draft and thankfully received help from my Korean teacher and a couple other native Koreans to help me improve the content and clean up the grammar.

Despite practicing the delivery quite a bit at home and being allowed the luxury of reading from a prepared script, I was quite nervous and felt my arm shaking during the entire speech! Business school made me much more comfortable at speaking in front of crowds, but not outside my native language, clearly. Fortunately, I indeed received quite a few laughs as I had hoped, and I took the first runner-up prize.

The full text of my speech is below...first in Korean and then my translation into English...at least, what I was trying to say ^.^



"가끔 이상한 한국"

저는 작년에 미국에서 한국에 왔습니다. 저는 한국생활이 미국생활하고 조금 다르다는 것을 배웠습니다.

예를 들어서, 한국에 아줌마들입니다. 아줌마는 큰 모자를 쓰고 파마를 합니다. 등산할 때 아줌마는 밝은 옷을 입고 막걸리 많이 마십니다. 지하철을 탈 때 아줌마는 자리에 앉고 싶어서 다른 사람들을 팔꿈치로 때립니다. 아야!! 그러니까 여러분도 지하철에서 조심하세요! 아저씨가 한국에 사람에는 (세)가지 종류가 있다고 합니다: 남자, 여자, 그리고 아줌마.

그리고 한국음식이 미국음식과 다릅니다. 한국에서 식사를 할 때 사람들은 거의 항상 김치와 밥을 먹습니다. 삼성카페테리아에서 양식이 가끔 한식처럼 보입니다! 예를 들어서 작년에 김치볶음밥그라탕 “양식” 라인에 있었는데 미국 음식은 김치를 함께 요리하지 않습니다.

또다른 재미있는 것은 한국 술 문화입니다. 한국사람들은 미국사람들보다 술을 더 많이 마십니다. 한국에 처음 금요일에 왔는데 강남 길에 술에 취해서 길에 널부러져 있는 양복입은 남자들이 너무 많아서 놀랐습니다! 나중에 저는 술취한 한국사람들의 사진 이 있는 블로그를 알있는데 그보다 더 끔찍한 사진이 많아서 더 놀랐습니다.

그리고 한국아이들은 이상한 놀이를 합니다. 똥침을 할 때 아이들은 손가락으로 총을 만들고 다른 사람의 엉덩이를 손가락으로 찌릅니다. 아야!! 미국아이가 똥침을 하면 저는 그 아이 가 경찰에 끌려갈 것이라고 생각합니다.

이렇게 한국생활은 가끔 이상해 보이 지만 재미있습니다. 저는 미국문화와 한국문화의 차이에 대해 배우는 것을 좋아합니다. 제가 한국말을 더 잘하면 한국을 더 잘 이해할 수 있을 것이라고 생각합니다.


---- English translation ----
"Sometimes Strange Korea"

Last year, I came to Korea from the United States. I have learned that Korean culture and American culture are a little bit different.

For example, in Korea there are ajummas*. The ajumma wears a big hat and has a perm. When going hiking, ajummas wear bright clothes and drink a lot of rice wine. When riding the subway, the ajumma will elbow other passengers because she wants to have a seat. Ouch! Therefore, you all should be careful when riding the subway! An older Korean man once told me that there are three types of people in Korea: men, women, and ajummas.

Also, Korean food is different from American food. In Korea, people eat kimchi with rice at every meal. At the Samsung cafeteria, sometimes the "Western food" actually looks like Korean food! For example, last year the "Western food" line served kimchi fried rice gratin, but in American cuisine we never cook with kimchi.

Another interesting thing is Korean drinking culture. Koreans drink more alcohol than Americans. On my first Friday night in Korea, I was walking along the streets of Gangnam and was surprised to see many men wearing suits passed out on the sidewalk from drinking too much! Later, I was also surprised to discover a blog with pictures of Koreans who have passed out in public.

Furthermore, Korean children play strange games. When playing ddong chim, Korean kids make their fingers into the shape of a gun and point their fingers into the butt of another person. Ouch! If American kids played ddong chim, I think they would be punished.

As you can see, Korean culture can appear a little bit strange, but also interesting. I like learning about the differences between American culture and Korean culture. If I one day speak Korean better, I think I will also be better at understanding these cultural differences.
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* A (somewhat pejorative) term for middle-aged married women in Korea. Hard for me to describe unless you have actually visited this country, in which case you would understand exactly what I am talking about!


P.S. The evening of the speech contest was my group's year-end party, a lavish affair in a big event hall near our office. As part of annual tradition the party included a talent show, and I performed a K-pop dance routine with a few of my colleagues. Anyone who is familiar with Crayon Pop's "Bar Bar Bar" will probably appreciate this picture.

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