March 22, 2010 | Korean
It’s Harder to Study After Half-Marathons
In which I discover that racing 13.1 miles does not, in fact, enhance my language-learning abilities.
Yesterday I woke up shortly after 5:00 a.m., ate breakfast, put on running clothes, and jogged over to Central Park for the start of the NYC Half-Marathon. It was my first race of that distance in 11 years, on an amazing course through the park to Times Square, and then along the West Side Highway down to Lower Manhattan.
I ran a 1:37:34, thus qualifying for the New York City Marathon, should I wish to try it again. Brandt cheered me on from three different locations along the course and took these fabulous photos.
Back at home, I promptly fell asleep. When I woke up, I was still exhausted. I tried to redo Pimsleur lesson 9 (Level II), but was largely dysfunctional due to physical fallout from the race. Consuming a pint of peanut butter cup ice cream and some Pepto-Bismol improved my language performance somewhat, but then a dismaying moment arrived nine minutes and twenty seconds into lesson 10.
I had just translated, “How long are you going to stay in Seoul?” (Ulma tung-AN sour-ay eet ges-a-yo?) when I was told of another, more polite way of asking the same question. It sounded exactly the same except for the last word, which changed from ges-a-yo to something sounding like kay-say-yo.
I was informed—too breezily, I thought—by a man on the Pimsleur tape, “Kay-say-yo is a polite form which is often used on formal occasions when addressing other people.” He went on to explain that the first version, by contrast, is used when you refer to yourself and family members.
Really?! That’s it?! I have invested a lot of time into learning that first phrase, and I am thoroughly unimpressed by the breadth of its applications.
My heart sank as I considered the possibility that the arrival of this concept could presage a whole bunch of other Pimsleur lessons in courtesy forms and constructions. The politeness thing in languages is really hard for me. There is not a whole lot of politeness in English. I mean, you do not have to worry about whether to say usted or tú, as in Spanish, or Sie or du, as in German. I love English for that—very democratic.
And, the thing is, Korean seems to take these courtesy complications to a whole new level. Consider the lowly pronoun as just one example. “In general,” according to my Elementary Korean textbook, by Ross King and Jaehoon Yeon, “Koreans use pronouns much less in conversation than we do in English. When they do use pronouns, they have to choose between a number of different words depending on the social relationships of the people involved (this is probably why they avoid using them in the first place).” Note: The parenthetical comment in this quotation is the textbook writers’, not mine!
The book goes on to warn, “You are always safest using no pronoun at all.” Safest…that word choice is scary, unless you are a thoroughly intrepid language learner.
I am not; I fear offending people. So I decided to avoid the whole thing and go to bed.
After a pretty good night’s sleep, I felt better equipped for these language challenges, though still fragile from yesterday’s race. I redid the same two lessons I had gone through yesterday.
Mistakes were made. Oaths were uttered.
Nonetheless, I really did enjoy it. I swear. Also, I get a kick out of some of the sounds of Korean. Here’s how you say, “I often go on business trips.” Cha-JOO chul-CHUNG ga-YO. Now that’s fun.
The word for “milk” is cute, too. It sounds like this: OO-yoo. Which reminds me of my childhood, UHU glue sticks, and grade school art projects.