Category: learn korean

Understanding the Use of Spacing and Punctuation in Korean Writing

I recently sent out the latest edition of my Korean Handbook for Translation Agencies to many of my agency clients.

In "[II] Korean Translation Style Guide" of the Handbook, there's a section on punctuation and spacing. In it, I mention that spacing around parentheses in Korean does not follow the same rules as in English, but I don't attempt to explain it in much detail. Viki Gotz of Echo International emailed me back asking for more information, and so here's an attempt to provide more perspective.

The Use of Spacing Around Periods and Commas

Modern Korean rules for the use of spacing around periods and commas generally follow the English rules. There are exceptions though. For example, when following an English initial with a period, Korean generally does not add a space after the period, nor does it add a period after the last initial:

Ex: U.S.A

This means that when writing English names, Koreans habitually forget to add a space after the initial, even though this is technically wrong:

Ex: Steven S.Bammel

The Use of Spacing Around Parenthesis

In writing Korean, there are many times when English words and phrases (as well as Chinese characters) will appear in the text. This is often done to clarify the meaning of the Korean before it, such as to provide the English source for the Korean translation or transliteration which may not be obvious to the reader without the extra information. This is analogous to providing the full term for an acronym in English the first time it's used in a document:

Ex: North Bay Rehabilitation Services, also known as NBI (North Bay Industries), is an agile company with the ability to accommodate your needs

In English, the parentheses are preceded by a space. However, when inserting English into a Korean sentence like this, there is almost never a space added before the opening parenthesis. In addition, the decision of whether to put a space after the parenthesis depends on the grammatical structure surrounding the word.

In Korean, grammatical particles are often added to the ends of nouns to indicate function in the sentence. So, if a noun which is being modified by the English in parenthesis would normally be followed by an attached particle, then the English is added between the Korean noun and particle without a space added after the parenthesis or before the particle.

Ex: 국가다문화자문위원회(National Multicultural Advisory Council, NMAC)가 1997년에 설립되었습니다.

In the above case, the characters before the parenthesis are the name in Korean of the NMAC. As you can see, the writer even included both the full name and acronym in English within parenthesis together here. But since the NMAC is the subject of the sentence, a grammatical particle must be attached to the subject, so there is no space between it and the closing parenthesis.

To clarify, here's how it would have looked without using the parenthetical English at all:

Ex: 국가다문화자문위원회가 1997년에 설립되었습니다.

However, there are some cases where a particle is not added to a noun and if the Korean noun would normally have been followed by a space, then the closing parenthesis is also followed by a space, even though no space is added before the opening parenthesis:

Ex: 아시아에서 지적재산권(Intellectual Property Rights) 보호에 대한 인식…

In this case, without the English in parenthesis, it would have been like this:

Ex: 아시아에서 지적재산권 보호에 대한 인식…

In fact, sometimes an English word or phrase is inserted directly into a sentence without including the corresponding Korean word and in this case, the English is used without parenthesis and it functions grammatically as a Korean word. Thus, it may or may not be followed by a space and this depends on the Korean grammatical rules:

Ex: American Civil Liberties Union의 한 변호사는… (without a space)

Ex: Schengen 지역을 자유롭게 여행하도록… (with a space)

Unfortunately, there really is not way to know whether a space should be used or not without knowing Korean. But just because the spacing around parenthesis looks inconsistent doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong. I should also point out that when parenthesis are used with pure Korean phrasing, the same rules apply:

Ex: 브랜드 자산은 다양하게 맞춤화된 기준(브랜드 가치를 포함아여)으로 구성된다.

Ex: 소위 '안철수 바람'이 (단일화 논의가 알려진) 어제를 기점으로…

As well, the same rules apply when using English both inside and outside parenthesis:

Ex: SBS(Special Broadcasting Service)와 같은 정부자금으로…

Here are a couple more possible variations on the combination of parenthesis, English, Korean and Chinese characters. 

Ex: 이러한 이데올로기는 1850년대 금광열(金鑛熱, Gold Rush)이 지속되는 동안

Ex: 다문화주의는 단순히 "용광로(a melting pot)"를 의미하는 것이 아니다.

In addition, the spacing rules in Korean aren't hard and fast when it comes to the use of parenthesis outside of a sentence. Here's a sentence I came across in a PowerPoint presentation:

Ex: Period: 2001 Jan-Apr (4개월)

It could have just as easily been typed this way and been correct (although it sure does look better to English eyes in the above example):

Ex: Period: 2001 Jan-Apr(4개월)

Finally, a small but useful detail… When the name of a corporation is written in Korean, the "Co. Ltd." part is translated as (주) and put at the beginning of the company name and without a trailing space. Thus, "(주)피죤" would be the Korean for "Pigeon Co., Ltd."

The Use of Spacing Around Quotation Marks

The rules for spacing around quotation marks are also similar to those for parenthesis. Again, it depends on what would have come after the last letter before the closing quotation mark, had the quotation mark not been there.

Ex: 의무성 간부들은 "경악스러운 인사"라며…

I'll point out here that ' and < > are often used in place of quotation marks in Korean and the spacing rules with these also follow the same rules.

Insights into Levels of Speech and Bus Violence in Korea

A couple months ago, an African-American teacher in Korea got into a fight with an elderly Korean on a bus. More specifically, the American thought the Korean had used racist speech against him and he hit the Korean, which another passenger managed to get on video:


This incident caused quite a stir in Korea, with a lot of commentary online, including this one over at Marmot's Hole, the top expat blog in Korea:

I discussed the incident with Ken Clark, President of 1-800 Translate and he followed up with an interesting posting about the situation too, with some linguistic explanation:

It is unfortunate that "nigga" does have the meaning of "you" in some situations in Korea, and it seems possible that the use of this Korean word was partly responsible for triggering the situation. However, Ken's blog post indicated that "nigga" is a polite form of "you", which gave me the opportunity to clarify:

Interesting insights! Thanks for sharing.

I should point out that 니가 is actually the least polite way of expressing “you” in the subject form. When used between friends, it implies closeness; and when from an adult to a small child, it indicates a degree of affection. But when spoken between people of similar status or adults who don’t know each other, it’s extremely rude.

The only way this word could have been used in a positive sense is if the senior citizen was attempting to show a great deal of affection (for lack of a better word) for the American. However, in this situation, the potential for misunderstanding due to cultural and language factors (not to mention that Korean senior citizens don’t generally get overly friendly on buses with black Americans), it would have been an extremely inappropriate and risky expression to use. If 니가 was used, it was an insulting choice of terminology.

Besides, I’ve heard that the senior citizen did not say 니가; he actually used Korean slang for a “nigger” equivalent on the assumption that the “stupid American” wouldn’t understand it. In this case, even though the American may have only picked up the nuance from his body language and not understood the word used, the insult was clearly intended.

In the end, the American was not deported. He apologized and paid for the medical care of the senior citizen, and considering that Koreans were at least as embarrased that a foreigner would be treated with such disrespect in their country as they were angry at the violence, giving the American a second chance was the choice made by officials in charge.

Certificate of Translation Competence, Grade I

In April I posted my Certificate of Translation Competence, Grade II. I went back for the Grade I test last month and just got notification online that I passed. Until I receive the official certificate by mail, this screenshot from the Korean Society of Translators will have to suffice as evidence (my name is the one shown with the red box near the top). Only two people passed at the top level of Grade I this time around, and I'm not aware of any other non-heritage translators who have passed at this level before.

* September 19, 2011 – I just picked up my certificate. It can be viewed here.

8-10-2011 4-42-41 PM

Test of Proficiency in Korean, Level 6

I took the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) last month and I passed at the top level, which is Level 6. This test is the leading Korean counterpart to the various standardized tests non-English speakers take to prove their ability in English, such as the TOEFL and TOEIC tests.

8-10-2011 4-52-42 PM

 [April 24, 2013 – I finally downloaded and printed out the full certificate. Here it is.]


Closing Greetings for Korean Emails

DongI've got a colleague here in Korea, Dong-Hyuk Kim (pictured at right), who always closes his emails with the most creative and charming expressions. I'm collecting some of them here for safekeeping:

달콤한 휴식을 즐기는행복한 저녁 보내세요.

가을의 정취와 더불어즐거운 하루 보내세요.

맑고 향기로운 하루 보내세요.

상쾌한 하루 보내세요.

좋은 하루 보내세요.

즐거운 주말 보내세요.

편안한 시간 보내세요.

빗소리를 벗삼아 즐거운 하루 보내세요.

유쾌한 주말 보내세요.

행복한 주말 보내세요.

유쾌한 오후 보내세요.

참, 좋은 하루 보내세요.

편안한 저녁 보내세요.

활기찬 오후 보내세요.

빗소리를 들으면서 아련한 옛 추억과 함께 낭만을 즐기는 참, 좋은 하루 보내세요.

시원한 하루 보내세요.

편안한 밤 보내세요.

힘찬 새해 시작하세요.

즐거운 저녁 보내세요.

즐거운 휴일 보내세요.

기쁨이 넘치는 활기찬 하루 보내세요.

기분 좋은 주말 보내세요.

웃음이 빵빵 터지는 유쾌한 주말 보내세요.

점심, 맛있게 드시구요 힘찬 오후 보내세요.

환절기에 감기 조심하시구요, 즐거운 한 주일 보내세요.

봄의 기운과 더불어 즐거운 하루 보내세요.

날마다 활기찬 하루 보내세요.

좋은 일이 많이 생기는 즐거운 한 주일 보내세요.

즐거운 주말 맞이하세요.

점심, 맛있게 드시구요, 힘찬 오후 보내세요.

추위를 이겨내는 따뜻한 하루 보내세요.

따뜻하고 포근한 하루 보내세요.

올해의 마지막 주말, 뜻깊고 재미있게 보내세요.

뜻깊은 날이 맞이하여 훈훈하고 즐거운 시간 보내시기 바랍니다.

따뜻한 커피 맛도 즐겨보는 여유로운 하루 보내세요.

힘이 솟는 기운찬 하루 보내세요.


What Are the Real Benefits to Learning Korean in Korea?

A member on Korea Business Central seems to be losing enthusiasm for studying Korean and posted a discussion question this week asking what he's really going to get out of the effort if he just wants to work in Korea. Seeing as how Koreans in business generally want to learn English and often don't place value on the efforts of foreigners to learn Korean, it's not hard to understand this KBC member's doubts. I think it takes a deeper perspective to fully appreciate the situation; here's how I replied to him:

"This is a very interesting question because it seems like the answer should be obvious, but as you pointed out, it's not.

Nobody is going to hire you in Korea simply because you speak Korean well. Why would they? And having mediocre Korean in the workplace is no better than no Korean at all, in most situations. In general, I've found that Koreans trying to learn English are less than thrilled to meet Korean-speaking foreigners, unless the foreigner's Korean is significantly better than their own English. And I definitely agree that getting from intermediate to advanced is going to take a whole lot longer than it took to get from beginner to intermediate.

But I don't think this is the whole story. If you speak Korean, then you're not left getting only the information Koreans choose to share with you; you've got direct access to the "primary sources". This is extremely important in countless subtle ways. And as David Yeo shared above, you can build stronger bonds with those around you both through the language and through cultural understanding (though I don't necessarily agree that Korean is better suited to emotional expression than English; both languages seem equally robust in this regard).

I think you also earn respect from Koreans you work with if you prove your mettle through Korean skills, and this can be a huge asset in business. Don't underestimate the value here. Foreigners who've been in Korean for decades but haven't learned Korean properly are kidding themselves if they think the Koreans around them don't look down on them, at least in limited ways, and this is in spite of what Koreans will tell them. Ironically, I find that foreigners who've learned Korean tend to be more understanding of Korean shortcomings (especially lack of English skills) than those who haven't learned Korean.

If you've got language skills in a business setting, it means you're closer to functioning as an equal and not as someone who's there as an English chat buddy and/or who continuously needs to be explained to. If you see yourself staying and working in Korea over the long-term, I encourage you to redouble your language learning efforts and to never be satisfied with your current ability level."

Click here to read the rest of the discussion, including insightful comments by other Korea Business Central members.

Clarifying My Controversial 15% Statement About Learning Korean

I Ruffled Some Feathers

Back in June, I posted an article here about learning Korean and asserted that I’ve only mastered about 15% of the language even after spending over 15 years as a Korean language learner. I even went so far as to use this number as a key theme in a recent video about learning Korean:

I’ve been asked how I can claim proficiency in Korean and say I’m a decent translator if I admit that I still haven’t learned 85% of what is knowable about the language. This is a fair question and having taken this position a few months ago, I’ve put a lot of thought into it since then. I agree that it needs more clarification.

My First Effort at a Clarification

Here’s an online exchange I had with Ondrej Slecht, an associate over at Korea Business Central, and someone whose Korean ability easily qualifies him to ask the question:

Ondrej’s question:

I’d be interested in knowing more on how you got to the 15-20% figures.

I personally tried the following:

  • number of words in a written text I understand
  • number of words in spoken Korean I understand (news, movies, documentaries)
  • percentage of actively/passively known hanja in a mid-size hanja dictionary (7000 characters)
  • percentage of actively/passively known grammatical structures in a grammar dictionary
  • accuracy of consecutive interpreting
  • accuracy of simultaneous interpreting

Best regards


My answer:

Thanks for the question, Ondrej.

I should say, first of all, that there isn’t an objective way to measure this kind of thing. And it doesn’t mean I’m only 15% functional in Korean life. By 15%, I mean there’s another 85% that could be learned and improved, not only in terms of vocabulary and grammar, but also by just being able to make better use of what I know, and even through having a deeper understanding of Korean history, culture and literature.

So when speaking, I figure I have about 5-6 times as many ways that I can express myself in English as I have in Korean, thus the 15-20%.

Even on the simplest Korean words, phrasings and grammar, I often don’t know all the situations in which they are used. And I can’t connect them together as naturally and with as much nuance as I would in English. There’s no doubt I can write six English emails in the time I’d write one Korean one; probably many more!

If we were to look at it from a “reading” perspective, I estimate I’m about three times as fast of a reader in English than in Korean. So, even if you assume I’m picking up only twice as much of the meaning in English as I would in Korean, it still means I’m processing Korean at about a 15% level.

Frankly, looked at this way, 15-20% may be giving me a lot more credit than I deserve.

Ondrej’s reply:

I see now – so it is mainly based on the comparison of the way/speed the brain processes a native language as opposed to a second language learnt later in life.

This is truly particularly challenging in Korean as there are virtually no cognates (words that have a similar meaning/form across languages) from the perspective of an English speaker. The same goes for syntax and grammatical structures.

Let alone the fact that certain clusters of the vocabulary are difficult to capture for the native speakers too.

Then there is the “real” language usage which sometimes differs from what is presented in standard textbooks. As an example, I have noticed that there seems to be much higher variety of nuances in “real” usage of 하더라, 했더라, 했었더라, 하겠더라, 했겠더라, 했다더라, 했었다더라 then what is explained in standard dictionaries.

In fact, there are probably more exceptions than rules!

The basic idea is that there is far more to “knowing” a language than just memorizing words and grammatical constructions. It requires the ability to put all that together in the activities of speaking, listening, reading and writing. 

Limited Brain Power and Its Perception

I would also say that the lack of fluency in a foreign language degrades one’s ability to express meaningful thoughts. I remember being at a seminar last year where a Korean expert on advertising was to speak to the audience of mostly expats. While his English would have probably been fine for a normal conversation, he chose to speak in Korean and let an interpreter communicate his meaning in English because he said that when he speaks in English, he sounds like an elementary school student. 

I remember thinking about that statement after the meeting and realizing how aptly it applies to my ability in Korean. First, if I’m using 6X the brain power to express myself in Korean, it leaves that much less brain capacity to be insightful. Secondly, even when I have something profound to say, if my expressions in Korean don’t match up with what the audience things an insight like that should sound like, I’ll be perceived as having less to say than I really do. Unfortunately, I have felt both of these dynamics at work in my communications at university in Korea.

A Word About Translation and Fluency

As for translation, when I’m asked if I can understand a particular Korean written document, I always answer that it’s just a matter of time. Give me enough time and a dictionary, and I can get the meaning… just about all of it! But if it takes me 10X as long to fully grasp the meaning on a Korean passage as it would on an English passage, can I still say I’m as functional in both languages simply because I did figure it all out in the end? 

I might also add that in the subject areas I generally translate, such as business, legal and technical, I’m much more proficient than in some others, such as literature, which I never translate. So if my 15% estimate is an overall level, it still leaves room for superior performance in specific subjects and skill types (i.e. reading).

Thoughts Regarding “Everything Else”

Another way to really understand how deep an understanding of a language fluency requires is to realize the historical and literary background of much of what we say. If we’re going out to a movie tonight but get there only to find it’s sold out, you might say, “Oh, I didn’t really want to see the movie anyway.” to which I’ll reply, “Oh, that’s just sour grapes.” 

If you’ve memorized that “sour grapes” refers to a situation of saying you don’t want something you can’t have anyway, then you’ve understood the phrase at its shallowest level. If you were a good ESL student, you might have learned Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Grapes. This would give you a bit more understanding. But if you really want to understand it at its deepest level, you would need to have studied about ancient Greece and the role of these fables in society both then and now. I don’t think many of us realize how much language is tied to our historical and cultural contexts.

Finally, knowing what it means when I say it is only one aspect of knowing it; to be truly fluent in this phrase, it will need to come to mind naturally in appropriate situations whether you’re speaking, listening, reading or writing. It’s this level of fluency that is only achievable to people who have learned a language from an early age.

We Don’t Normally Use It All Anyway

In day-to-day life, we don’t use everything we know anyway. I heard somewhere that although the average English speaker knows thousands and thousands of words, daily English usage only includes a small fraction of this. And even if a word comes along that one doesn’t know, the context often explains it. So it’s possible for me to be 90% functional in daily Korean life (especially if the Koreans I associate with speak “down” to me just a tad) while still not having mastered most of what can be known and used.

A Little Perspective from the Standardized Tests

I’ve taken a standardized Korean language test and scored near the top.

This test is written for foreigners learning Korean and Koreans taking it would probably find it extremely easy. (Just as I’m sure I’d be close to 100% on the TOEIC or TOEFL.)

But there is a Korean exam for Koreans:

I have no doubt that if I took this exam, I would score at the very, very bottom. Perhaps I’d get around, oh, 15%…

I’d Like Another 15%er to Tell Me I’m Wrong

So, I hope the above explanation helps to shed some light on my 15% statement. Perhaps I should have said that I’ve only “mastered 15%” of Korean, rather than “learned 15%”. But I don’t think it’s realistic for any English speaker coming to Korean later in life to expect to reach deep understandings of the language that are much higher than this.

I would be especially keen to hear back from non-Koreans who have scored respectably on the KBS 한국어능력시험 but who disagree with what I’ve written here. I have a hunch that almost anyone who’s actually gotten to the 15% level will share my opinions on most of this.

A Few More Thoughts on Learning Korean (Part 5 of 5)

What Doesn’t Help as Much As I Wish It Would

Having a Korean Wife

Many Koreans who have been impressed with my Korean ability thought it only natural that I’d be improving my Korean thanks to Myunghee’s help. But frankly, I feel that the language learning benefits have been relatively limited since a) she knows how she has to talk to me for me to understand and b) she knows what I’m saying even when my Korean expressions would be nonsense to others. 

It means that we get into ruts that don’t stretch my abilities anymore. We also talk about subjects and in situations which aren’t similar to many that I find myself in on a daily basis with other Koreans. In fact, it’s amazing how I can feel fluent in Korean at home… and then like a complete beginner outside. 

Thus, for me, another key to learning Korean well has been to make sure I get myself into as many situations as possible where I’m forced to perform in Korean and to not rely on one “all-purpose solution” to reaching my Korean-language goals.

Working as a Translator

It’s been several years since I was an active translator, but from 2000-2006 or so, I was averaging about 15-25 hours per week of Korean>English translation, in addition to reviewing and working with the English>Korean translation jobs my teams in Korea were handling. I’m sure this helped my overall ability to penetrate difficult meanings in Korean documents, but I don’t think it did much for my Korean reading speed, and I suppose I promptly forgot nearly every word I ever looked up for a translation job since my goal in those projects was not to learn, but to finish.

6a011279704a5b28a40133ef5eff4c970b-800wi  Hanja Study

A little over 10 years ago, I took a correspondence course on Chinese characters (“Hanja” – See cover of Booklet #1 at right). It was enjoyable and I learned a lot… I also forgot most of the characters promptly thereafter, but I can still explain the concepts behind how they work. 

It’s a shame that the Chinese characters have largely disappeared from everyday usage in Korea today but it sure makes it easier for people like me to get through the newspaper without them. 

I definitely think it would be helpful to relearn them, but I also feel my efforts are better spent on just learning new words, rather than going back and memorizing Chinese characters. Koreans often express that without understanding the Chinese characters, I won’t be able to grasp the meanings of Korean words properly. But I didn’t have to learn Latin and Greek to do just fine with the English words derived from those languages, and I think the same is true with Chinese characters in Korean.

Final Thoughts

There are some people from English-speaking countries who have learned Korean very well. A surprisingly large number of these are former Mormon missionaries and I have great respect for many of their abilities in Korean. But not every former Mormon missionary becomes fluent; many struggle right to the end or get into the ruts mentioned above where their ability is excellent in certain situations but not adequate in others. 

There are a number of foreign Korean speakers who appear on TV and speak very well, especially when reciting lines for their parts in Korean TV shows. I often wonder if I could do that well if I were memorizing a script, or if they could hold their own in a real-life spontaneous discussion. 

Some people, though, come to Korea after reaching adulthood and learn remarkably good Korean (including the Mormons and TV personalities mentioned above). I think it’s safe to say that they do it by studying very hard and for a very long time.

I don’t regard my approach here as being unique or better than any other; it’s simply what fit my situation and my study style. In the end, there aren’t any short-cuts and learning the language is a matter of time and effort. It’s also subject to the laws of diminishing returns and I’m pretty confident now that even with continued effort, I’m getting pretty close to the limits of where I’ll ever be able to get my Korean ability.

I’m Studying Korean This Way Now (Part 4 of 5)

I Force Myself Into Korean-Language Situations

One of my primary goals in studying for a masters degree at Hanyang University in Ansan (see photo below of me in front of the Business Administration Building) is to improve my Korean. This purpose almost comes in at a higher priority than the actual information being taught in the classes or the degree I'm trying to get. It's been an excellent way to push myself out of my comfort zones, though my initial hope that two years of graduate school would put me over the top in terms of Korean fluency reminds me of my original unrealistic two-year horizon for learning Korean in the first place. And indeed, my progress since starting at Hanyang in early 2008 has only been incremental.

6a011279704a5b28a40133ef5efb6f970b-800wiStill, now that my Korean is at a level that I can go head-to-head with most Koreans in terms of their English ability, I generally do not associate anymore with Koreans who won't speak to me in Korean. 

It always weighs on my mind a bit, particularly at university when I know that my professors (and other students) who studied at universities in the US or elsewhere would like to speak (and are very capable of speaking) to me in English, but I've learned the following from long experience in Korea: 

"A relationship based on a mixture of English and Korean eventually gravitates to exclusive use of one language or the other and communicating at any time the idea that an English-based relationship is possible makes the task of getting back to Korean much more difficult." 

As a side note, this Korean-only approach can be an effective way to identify who one's true friends are too; as crude as it sounds to say it, I've experienced many cases where someone was extraordinarily friendly to me but bolted when they found out that I wasn't going to be of help to them in their English.

At any rate, I find it excruciatingly difficult at times to maintain this Korean-only approach, especially as it works against me quite often. For example, I figure that when communicating in Korean, I come across as less intelligent than I (like to think I) am. I frequently struggle to come up with the Korean words needed for a particular situation and that doesn't convey the best impression of my true knowledge or insights on the topic at hand.

In fact, this can be a double-whammy with Koreans who have practiced their English in an academic environment since their English teachers will have "talked down" to them to make communication easier. If someone learns English in this way without a realistic view of how they would perform in the real world, and then meets a foreigner who is struggling to speak in Korean, if the Korean doesn't realize the help they got in their English and/or make the effort to "talk down" to the foreigner in Korean, they may not give the foreigner due credit for his/her actual ability. I think this happens to me from time-to-time, too.

Still, by forcing myself to communicate in Korean, I feel it can only help my Korean skills in the long run.

Using Korean in Everyday Life

Outside of class, my Korean study focuses mainly on building fluency and vocabulary. I do this by concentrating explicitly on the four main aspects of language usage (speaking, listening, reading and writing) and by integrating these into my daily life.  In every case, I'm trying to carry out an actual life task or learn something I want to know anyway, at the same time that I do it in Korean. I think this is a key aspect of learning the language past the beginner stage, especially as I find it harder now to commit time to dedicated Korean-language study.


As mentioned above, I generally enforce a "Korean-only" policy with the Koreans I associate with. This can be a little extreme, but it's the way I do it.

There are also a million situations in life (calling the Internet service provider to figure out a connection issue, dealing with the office building manager, etc.) in which it is just easier to ask Myunghee to handle, but on my disciplined days, I handle those myself to stretch my skills in new situations.


Watching Korean TV is a great way to relax AND improve skills in the language. I also feel it helps me learn about Korean culture and history.


It took a long time and was a traumatic experience, but about a year ago, I finally cancelled my subscription to The Economist and I am now getting most of my news from the Korean Jungang Ilbo newspaper. This was one of the best decisions I made in terms of learning Korean and I carry the day's paper with me wherever I go since I love having a portable "package" of timely information available to read whenever I have a little free time.

I've also read the Korean translations of a couple English books I wanted to read anyway; it takes a lot longer this way, but I get the information I wanted to know, as well as the Korean practice, and both are important.

When I come across articles with a lot of difficult vocabulary, I'll often circle the ones I don't know, look up the meanings and write them on the paper and then cut the article out to carry around and study. I often don't follow through in learning these words after looking them up, but if I don't, I just end up wasting time looking the words up again later.

Reading is a chance to go deeper in understanding particular expressions, words and grammatical constructs than I can do when I'm listening to speech where just getting the main idea is often an accomplishment.


For me, writing is the very hardest Korean-language activity to integrate into my daily life. Studying at Hanyang University has been a great help for this as the frequent reports, presentations and tests force me to write. (Again, I enforce a Korean-only policy on my work at the university, even though the professors often remind me that submitting them in English is fine.) I also try to find opportunities to email. 

I often wonder what kind of nonsense I'm putting on paper and so I get help from a business associate of mine, as well as Myunghee, from time-to-time, but I generally ask them to help me only to the point that a) my writing communicates what I'm trying to say and b) doesn't insult anyone or look really stupid. I don't ask for stylistic help since at this point, just being completely understood is hard enough.

The advantage in writing is that I have time to think through what I want to say and try to write at a higher level and with expressions and vocabulary that I wouldn't think or dare to use in spontaneous speaking. In fact, speaking is often about just surviving the exchange and this leads to "defensive" speaking approaches; by stretching my abilities while writing, I hope to develop new writing skills which I can transfer to speech later.