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Discussion: Familiarity with languages for non-speakers

November 7, 2009

In a rather informal fashion, I want to find out how non-speakers of a language get familiar with aspects of culture. International fans typically rely on subtitles most of the time, but when you’re new to something it’s still tricky to navigate certain things. In addition to that, I’m curious how much people absorb of a language if they just hear it over and over, and how many people feel the need to delve deeper into the language once they’re interested.

I’ll put this in a “Q&A” format to make things easier to read, but I’ve treated it extremely casually. Clearly, the answers below the questions are just my opinions. Please share yours! Also, I’m using Korean as an example because that’s my thing, but feel free to replace the “K” with whatever language that’s applicable for you!


Q: When you first got into Korean entertainment, did you have trouble with names? Do you still?
A: I definitely used to, and I found myself having to read names over and over and over before even recognizing them. Now, not only do I recognize the names, but I can usually recall them after seeing them once or twice. I don’t know if this comes from two and half years of loving this stuff or becoming really familiar with Hangul or whatever. I just realized it today though.

Q: Speaking of Hangul, how many of you learned to read Hangul after falling in love with K-entertainment?
A: It only took me about six months to give it a go. It’s so easy if you haven’t learned yet! I think it’s so beautiful and logical. Some people say it only took them half an hour or something to learn it, but it honestly took me more like a week due to the chaos of school and the familiarity issue. It took me MUCH longer to be able to read it fluidly, and even about two years later I still hesitate sometimes.

Q: To build on all of this, would you say you’ve picked up a lot of Korean vocabulary from watching/hearing and even reading (news articles often keep words like oppa/unni/ajusshi/ajumma/sunbae/hoobae/etc. untranslated) things related to Korean entertainment?
A: I don’t have a number for how many words I know, but I would say I have a sizable Korean vocab that’s source is entertainment-based.

Q: ALTHOUGH, I have done some self-teaching of Korean. Has anyone else?
A: I consider it a hobby. This way, it doesn’t feel like there is weight or pressure in learning a language. I haven’t learned any thing hugely new in a while because I transferred to a very demanding college this semester, but every now and then I use my free time to learn some more Korean. What about you?

Q: As a last note, do you mind when subbers translate words that have no equivalent in English?
A: I personally hate this. I remember when I was new to things, I was very confused by My Girl’s translation of “oppa.” Relationships are huuuuge in that drama and then they’d go and interchange “oppa” with words like “brother” or “cousin” or not even add them in at all! I think it’s assuming that the audience is really really lazy. Once a person learns what a word means, I believe repetition of the term will help them remember it. If you leave something like “hyung” out of a dialogue it will still make sense, but it removes a subtle nuance that can sometimes be really important (because in this instance, a guy calling another man “hyung” will show that they have a close relationship before you even see them interact).

Sorry for such a strange entry, but I’m curious about all this! I don’t mean to restrict things to Korean either. I’m just using it to ask all my questions because I love K-entertainment very much. I’ve definitely learned a bit of Japanese and Mandarin as well, but Japanese flies out of my head so fast (it doesn’t want to stick at all, even though I catch on fast while studying it) and Mandarin is veryyy intense (especially for a person who has a hard time articulating herself in ENGLISH!) and the characters are time-consuming to learn.

I suppose you could extend this question outside of Asian languages as well, but most English speakers are familiar with many European languages (of course, I mean like French, Spanish, German, etc. and not things like Dutch) so don’t include those unless you really think your example is valid (like if you grew up outside of North America/Europe)!

Please have a discussion with me! Languages are so fascinating and beautiful. I wish I could devote all my time to cultural studies, but I’m choosing to keep it a hobby. Am I the only one who loves this stuff to death?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2009 12:43 am

    & FYI, I love languages too 🙂 I wish I could spend my life learning about languages and cultures, too.

  2. hangukdrama permalink
    November 8, 2009 12:44 am

    haha i love languages too! ^^ That’s why I chose to major in linguistics XD
    I enjoyed reading your answers!~ Here’s mine:

    1. alot of my vocab are entertainment related too. Especially when i started on kpop news translation. (:
    2. I started to become interested in Korean after watching 궁 (princess hours). At first, learning korean was more like a pastime. I didn’t expect myself to be so in love with the language up to now. (2 years alr!)
    3. I’ve been self studying korean for pretty long too~! I took beginner lessons in a school for 6 mths though. XD
    4. I prefer subbers to leave those words alone too. It just loses all its original meaning if translated. But somehow, online subbers are MUCH better compared to those ‘professional’ subbers of DVDs.

  3. November 8, 2009 12:47 am

    Oh and check out my answers, click on my name — will take you to my blog post!

  4. November 8, 2009 12:56 am

    Hangukdrama: OMG, I became interested in Korean after watching 궁 too! That drama is complete crack and I totally need to see it again. I haven’t watched in full since 2+ years ago.

    I really wish I could take a Korean class, but unless I move I don’t think any place teaches it around here. Sooo sad.

    Bunniness: I love your answers! Although I first fell in love with Koreans through dramas, once I discovered Big Bang I was head-over-heels. Their songs have taught me quite a bit of the language, actually.

  5. bunniness permalink
    November 8, 2009 1:12 am

    zerohundred: Thanks! I learned that even little Korean children thought that BIGBANG’s songs are too difficult for them to sing along. I don’t even speak Korean in the first place, being able to sing along is considered a great feat to be accomplished! haha XD

  6. November 8, 2009 1:23 am

    Wow. I love Korean too. But I really have a hard time understanding grammar and structuring of sentences. I hope I can someday.

    Anyway, here are my answers:
    1. I really have a hard time remembering Korean names but ones I get to hear the name for 5 or more times, it stick already. But I guess it also depends if I like the person or not. Like when my sister introduced super junior, I was like “who is he again?” I keep forgetting their names. LOL. But don’t worry I know their name now. 🙂

    2. I wasn’t that persevering to study Korean at that time. But my sister taught me how to read and write so I know hangul now. 🙂

    3. I’m too focused with the story that I don’t remember words from the dramas. But right now, since I’m learning Korean, I do recognize some words and expressions. And I love the feeling that I know what they’re talking about though at times only partial.

    4. Yep, I’m also self-studying. But I’m not good at it. I pretty much lose my tracks. And I do get lazy most of the time.

    5. I like it when they keep the words as is with the proper explanation above the word. It makes me learn more about their culture. And yeah, like what Shanna said I also prefer online subbing groups compared to professional subbers. 🙂

    Anyway, nice entry.. I like the interaction. 🙂

  7. November 8, 2009 1:36 am


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  8. November 9, 2009 4:02 am

    owbEe: It’s so awesome that your sister taught you! It’s easier to learn something when you have someone right there showing you. Wait… that came out weird! I meant that I wish that I was able to have that happen for me 🙂

    I love that too, when you can recognize a piece of a conversation. I’m sure since you are pursuing Korean more than I am, you get that feeling more, but it’s still great!

    I think no matter the drama’s origin, I like it when they explain words that can’t be translated. It’s really good to learn as much as you can! Sometimes I wish they randomly did this throughout episodes so I could slowly learn the language better.

  9. slippers permalink
    November 9, 2009 8:15 pm

    I have a level 1 certificate in Spanish but I never got back to learning it. I’m pursuing Korean this time because once and for all I would like to be able to enjoy kpop and kdrama without the subs.

    1. I’m good with names so it wasn’t hard for me to recognize them. I think it helps that you are exposed to the news and stuff because you easily get acquainted with the names and faces.
    2. The first kdrama I watched was Love Letter in 2003. I had a huge crush with Ji Jin Hee back then. I stopped watching kdrama because of school but came back when Kim Sam Soon came out. FT Island and Big Bang were my first love in kpop. 2NE1 is the only girl group which I could listen to and they caught my adoration which really pushed me to strive learning Korean.
    3. I enjoyed Kim Sam Soon because the subbers were great. I was able to pick up words more than I imagined. Like you, I have a sizable Korean vocabulary which is purely entertainment based.
    4. I finally got a Korean tutor because I procrastinate much. She is pretty good and I learned techniques in writing. I think a good foundation is learning the alphabets and the combination of vowels and consonants and the dipthongs. I’m happy with my progress because I can now read albeit slow. I typically write the romanized words before reading that’s why I read slowly. I have more fun learning Korean than Spanish. I think having a tutor with good textbooks can really help your progress.
    5. I agree with all of the comments on this one.

  10. November 12, 2009 8:02 pm

    @zerohundred: Oh no, I’m not that good. I’m just in the beginner level. I don’t have much time to concentrate in studying and I also like to laze around so I don’t get to do much when it comes to my studies. haha.. 🙂

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