February 1, 2010 | Korean

Ciao, Italiano

I take my Italian exams and promptly begin Korean.

Today was my official goodbye to Italian—for now. Though I think I will be spending more time with it in the future.

Me, About to Take Italian Written Test

Technically I said goodbye yesterday, but since yesterday was not a business day, I had to wait until today to take my Italian oral and written exams. I chose the testing company, Alta Language Services, which is, according to its website, “a leader in language testing for government agencies and businesses nationwide” that “develops and administers thousands of language tests each year.” Also according to its site, it is the official language testing provider for several U.S. cities and states, including Los Angeles and Arizona.

At 11:30 a.m., I took the written test. I had 30 minutes to answer five questions. If I didn’t answer all five, I wouldn’t pass, and I had to write at least five sentences for each, without aid of a dictionary or any other reference tool. So I had to be sure to understand each question. As I turns out, I could understand pretty well—at least I think I did—but the one that gave me the most trouble was one that asked me to describe the steps involved in a certain kitchen process, which I won’t mention in case it messes up their ability to use the question again. But really, kitchen vocabulary is pretty technical, and is not typically something I use a lot, even in my native language.

For this question I therefore ended up writing something rather philosophical, about the importance of having friends over to enjoy the fruits of one’s culinary efforts. Some people might call this bullshitting, but I consider it to be taking charge of a mediocre question and making it better.

My Proctor

Brandt was my proctor. He is a damned good-looking proctor.

My Italian oral exam wasn’t scheduled to start until 4:00, and I didn’t want to start Korean until I had taken it, so while I waited, I went swimming and lifted weights at the Jewish Community Center, a gorgeous facility just a couple of blocks from us.

Then 4:00 arrived. The process was that I had to call in to the company, at which point I was connected to my tester, a woman named Marisa. We had a brief exchange in English, during which she explained to me that I would be answering 14 questions she would pose to me in Italian. She suggested I keep my answers simple. Fine by me! Then we promptly switched to Italian.

I thought I understood most of the questions pretty well, though who knows. She was nice, but did not seem too impressed. She didn’t know I had only three months of study behind me, and I didn’t tell her. There was one question I had trouble with, because I didn’t recognize the Italian term for business cards. I made tons of grammatical errors, I am sure, and sounded simpleminded in my thinking, but the thing is, I feel confident that on both tests I represented with great accuracy my current skill level. It is always nice to know you have done your best.

First Obstacle, Korean Textbook

As soon as I finished, I began organizing my Korean studies. Well, actually, I ate first, but right after that, I got straight to work on Pimsleur, doing lesson 1 and most of lesson 2. It felt funny doing Pimsleur again, which I realized was because it had been nearly two and a half months since I finished their Italian series. As with Russian and Arabic, Pimsleur felt impossible at first listen in these early lessons, but Pimsleur always ends up taking care of you, unlike the Korean textbook I have, which just dumped me into the first exercise in a totally impossible way. As pictured rather blurrily in the accompanying image here, this exercise—and this is Exercise 1, mind you!—asked me to give English equivalents for a number of Korean sentences, without having yet taught me the Korean alphabet. That’s just not right.

No matter. I will learn some basics through other means and come back to this later.

Two things I learned about Korean today:

  1. I will not be able to coast along on loan words (which are like freebies to language learners), simply because there aren’t all that many.
  2. Korean consists of pretty alien-sounding combinations of sounds, though most of the individual sounds themselves are more familiar than, say, Arabic.

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