오늘 배운 四字成語

오늘 친구하고 얘기하는 동안에 사자성어 두 개 배웠습니다.  몇 주 전에 알게 된 語言無味(어언무미)라는 말을 좋아한다고 친구한테 그랬는데 친구는 사자성어 놀이를 심심풀이로 하는 게 재미있다고 하면서 無味乾燥(무미건조)라고 대답했어요.  無味乾燥는 사람이 재미나 취미나 없고 메마름이라고 뜻해요. 사자성어 놀이 덕분에는 심심풀이도 하고 수준이 높은 새로운 표현을 배울 수 있으니까 一擧兩得(일거양득)이지요. 일거이득이란 한 가지의 일로 두 가지의 이익을 보는 것입니다.

그래서 오늘 사자성어 두 개 배웠습니다. 無味乾燥와 一擧兩得입니다. 미래에는 열심히 공부해서 사자성어를 잘 알게 되면 언어학적인 놀이들이 진짜 재미있으니까 사자성어 놀이 꼭 해 봐야겠습니다.

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Chinese from Another Perspective

When someone learns a foreign language they are learning it from the perspective of their native language.  Let’s take the example of Mandarin Chinese. If I want to learn Mandarin, I will do one of a few things. I will seek out a class near where I live, buy a book from a local bookstore or an internet carrier, or perhaps make use of the daunting diversity of free online language learning opportunities, ranging from blogs to Livemocha. All of these resources (supposedly) suit me best, because they are designed for English speakers to begin tackling Mandarin.

When I have free time and don’t feel like venturing into the city, I usually pass my time looking through these online resources and finding new venues to learn languages. One day, I was doing my best to find something suitable for Mandarin. I wanted something that would explain to me, in a little more depth, the basics of Mandarin. When I say basics, I don’t mean “hello” and “goodbye”. I wanted an explanation of sentence structure, the relationship between verbs and nouns, how grammar is employed, etc. A long story short, I failed. I found endless amounts of nǐhǎo‘s and wǒ jiào‘s but nothing of more substance. I decided to change my tactic.

Instead of typing in “learning Chinese”, I typed in “중국어 배우기” and “중국어 강좌”. The Korean language search for Chinese language learning materials opened my access, literally, to an entirely new niche online. I had found a whole new market that thrived on an entirely different set of expectations for the didactic materials and learners.

As an English speaker, the assumption made by the “teacher” (or what have you) is that you know absolutely nothing. Therefore, the “basics of Chinese” are excessively infantile. Korean speakers, however, share a large percentage of their vocabulary with Chinese (just as Western European languages do with Latin). Koreans also have usually studied some Chinese characters in their schooling. This background means that the Chinese “teacher” can explain the basics of Chinese at a more complex level. Some of the explanations, also, have to be different given the grammatical differences between Korean and Chinese.

Long story short, I found this awesome video called 기초 중국어 (basic Chinese) on myong7351’s YouTube channel. In the video, he describes the way that the Chinese view individual characters – phonemes – and how they proceed to construct words and grammar from these basic concepts. He uses some characters as an example and separates them into “definition” and “connotation” (한국어로 의미와 뜻으로 설명합니다). He indicates that while an individual character may have multiple connotations, it only has one definition. Trying to learn the multiple connotations of each character is, in a sense, equivalent to multiplying the number of characters that one has to learn. Where as, if one just learns the definition,  one can intuit most of the connotations one will encounter.

This, among many other explanations of aspects of Mandarin Chinese, was exactly what I wanted to find. I encourage anyone who knows enough of a 2nd language to use it to navigate their 3rd. It is exciting and you might just learn something you wouldn’t have otherwise.

The Awkward Insa

I happen to be one of those people who wish they were  a morning person. I set two alarms in the morning – one to wake me up and the other to tell me, “You’re going to be late, you slow, lazy, bum”. After hustling to get out of the house, a few blocks to the station, skipping every other step in the case up to the platform because of the extremely reliable irregularity of the trains, I am eager to wait.

Arriving at work, I’m usually either groggy or engrossed in some entirely irrelevant and abstract thought that has nothing to do with my quotidian ritual of waving my i.d. in front of the sensor next to the door or punching my card. The elevator is where it hits me. I’m still in stream-of-thought-mode and I try to walk through the doors to get on the elevator and someone is standing in front of me and all that comes out of my mouth is “Oh!” Normally, I would be adept enough to say, “Good morning,” but working in an environment when you’re surrounded by people who all speak another language that you have spent so much time trying desperately to learn,  it’s not exactly the same process. It’s probably the most basic and awkward forms of confusion – that rushed, stressful feeling of desperately wanting to respond accompanied by a simultaneous, dumbfounded ‘what do I say?’

Of course, with a good 30 seconds of preparation, I’m able to come up with a suitable greeting, but human interactions are a lot quicker than that. Getting on and off the elevator is a fairly simple, brief action. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the culture you’re surrounded by isn’t all that into greetings. For example, if you’re learning English and you just came to America the likelihood of someone being offended by you would be pretty low. Especially, if you manage to get out the basic, universal human greeting – the smile. Most Americans will feel content having been smiled at as a greeting, especially at groggy morning hours and when you may have one of those seen-each-other-around acquaintances.

In Korean culture, however, greetings are important, especially at work, especially towards your superiors. Being fresh out of college and lacking military experience, I am undoubtedly the inferior of everyone else.

My colleagues, who are slightly older than I, are so adept at greetings that they can respond in the briefest situations. They can even squeeze a bow into the second it takes for the elevator doors to close. As for me, my most immediate reaction is an “Oh!” with a side of smile while I think to myself, ‘Dammit. Too slow’. Consider this my official confession that I have yet to make this habit of oral recognition instinctual and move past those awkward insa.

Awkward silence when you say hello, that pause, when you see someone and neither of you speak the other’s language very well. That pause when you both think of something to say, but can’t, so all that comes out is grunts and uhh and such.sdf

Onomatopoeia and Mimetic Words

We are all familiar with onomatopoeia from our early, elementary days of reading. Most of us were first introduced to the concept by words like “kaboom”, “chomp chomp” and “buzz”. Above and beyond that playful, childlike stage, however, onomatopoeia in English do not exactly satisfy the artistic or aesthetic demands of more advanced writing styles – even of those of the creative sort.  If you were well into a good novel and the author described a midnight phone call as, “the phone rang bring bring in the middle of the night”, it would seem more than just a little out of place.

Even orally, Americans do not make much use of their onomatopoeia, particularly when describing an action or a situation. Imagine your friend came up to you and told you that she was driving her car “vroom vroom very fast”. You’d think she was trying to make a nursery rhyme or, frankly, under the influence of something.

Other languages seem to take the opposite approach and fully embrace onomatopoeia. Korean is ripe with them and even takes the concept a step further. In addition to words designed to embody a sound (의성어 / onomatopoeia), Korean also has a profusion of what some people call “mimetic words” (의태어). Mimetic words do much the same thing as onomatopoeia except instead of imitating a sound they imitate some physical movement, action, or attribute. A very common one of these words in Korean is 반짝반짝 (banjjak banjjak), which is used to describe light that as gleaming/shiny/twinkling.

Last night I read a story in Korean that happened to be full of this kind of language. It makes the writing so much richer when you read it because these words, often repetitive, will easily evoke an image in your brain. When applied to a person’s actions they can also give you insight into how that person feels because it’s essentially a phonic interpretation of body language.

Unfortunately, I find this type of vocabulary very difficult to learn and apply and I’m still not sure what they best way to go about it would be. I find it difficult to use the onomatopoeia and mimetic words that I’ve learned either because it never comes to mind or it always seems awkward or inappropriate. I’m hoping that as I continue to be exposed to more and more of these words, I will become more apt to learn and use them. If anyone has any recommendations on tackling 의성어 and 의태어, I’d love to hear your thoughts.