Thursday, February 17, 2011

The shape of my Korean

A while back, M's friend, who was tutoring him in Korean, asked why he possessed such an impressive food vocabulary but knew hardly any words for body parts. What can I say? It's a reflection of our life here (and probably our generally good health).

Up until I went on my solo adventures first to Jeju and then to Cheonjangsa, my exposure to Korean was basically limited to classrooms and restaurants, and my abilities reflected that (very limited and awkward exchanges with cashiers in supermarkets and various stores doesn't count for much, in my opinion). While I might have appeared perfectly comfortable ordering 순대국, I would have been at a loss to, say, describe my personality or my meditation practices. In my daily life as an English teacher with an American husband, there weren't really many opportunities for me to broaden my Korean.

One area of my Korean vocabulary that has particularly improved after my experiences is in the realm of washing various things - words that I initially learned in the classroom but that just weren't sticking. They certainly stick now!

There were other words that I knew but didn't really have a context to use them in. I now have a Korean extended family of sorts that includes an 언니 (eonni) (woman's older sister), an 이모 (imo) (auntie, mother's sister) from Daegu, and an 오빠 (oppa) (woman's older brother).

One caveat: when I'm in a so-called naturalistic situation, it helps that I've studied Chinese and that Korean still contains many compound words derived from Hanja (Chinese characters). While modern Korean doesn't use the characters themselves, the meaning in Chinese can still be accessed from the pronunciation. For example, I just guessed that the word for progress was "jinbo" based on the fact that the Mandarin pronunciation is "jinbu" - and it worked. This gives me a bit of an advantage over Korean language learners who have not studied Chinese or Japanese - kind of like Spanish speakers learning Italian.

I thought it would be interesting to compile a glossary of the words here that I found particularly useful or that I picked up during my adventures. While not comprehensive by any means, it is a good representation of what my life was like in each place, and very personal. Each word or phrase in this list carries a certain resonance with it - images, feelings, experiences - that is in a certain way more valuable than anything I ever learned in a classroom.

From Jeju WWOOFing:
메주 (meju) - soybean brick - the first stage of making dwaenjang
배달 (baedal) - delivery
텍배 (tekbae) - package
단지 (danji) - large earthenware crocks used for making and storing a variety of fermented foods such as dwaenjang, gochujang, ganjang (soysauce), and kimchi
내리오다 (naeri oda) - to take down
장갑 (janggab) - gloves
판매 (panmae) - to sell
곰팡이 (gompangi) - mold
싱겁다 (singeobda) - bland, tasteless
점 (jeom) - point(s) (used when playing GoStop)
오름 (oreum; jeju dialect) - small mountain
아이잰 (aijaen) - spikes attached to the bottom of your boots, used for hiking in snow (I think it's a borrowing from German)
무겁다 (mugeobda) -heavy

From two weeks at Cheonjangsa:
스님 (seunim) - monk
보살님 (bosalnim) - female layperson
거사님 (geosanim) - male layperson 
"됐어" ("dwaesseo") - finished (like for a dish)
아가씨 (agassi) - young woman/miss (no children)
부저 (bujeo) - apprentice (chef)
저리사 (jeorisa) - cafeteria chef
삼배 (sambae) - three bows
행자 (haengja) - apprentice monk or nun
마지 (maji) - offering
법당 (beopdang) - Buddhist worship hall
예불 (yebul) - Buddhist prayer service
넣다 (neoda) to put in
성격 (seonggyeok) - personality
경험 (gyeongheom) - experience
방법 (bangbeop) - method
명상 (myeongsang) - meditation
참선 (chamseon) Seon/Zen meditation
화두 (hwadu) - Seon/Zen Koan
접시 (jeopshi) - plate
그릇 (geureus) - bowl
목탁 (mogtak) - a "temple block" - the wooden percussion instrument that monks use for chanting, and that the temple cook used for a dinner bell
새벽 (saebyeok) - dawn
사슴 (saseum) - deer
까마귀 (kkamagui) - crow
다시마 (dasima) - "kombu" seaweed used for making stock 
더반 (deoban) - spiritual brother/sister
정 (jeong) - an emotional connection with another person; apparently there is no direct translation into English   
설거지 (seolgeoji) - washing dishes
세탁 (setak) - washing clothes
비누 (binu) - soap
껍질 (ggeobjil) peel (of an orange or potato, etc)
미끄러움 (mikgeureoum) - slippery
책임감 (chaegimgan) - sense of responsibility책임감
해바라기 (haebaragi) - sunflower
수행 (suhaeng) - training

Note: I have tried to use the standard Romanization system with the exception of kimchi (spelling it "gimchi" just looks weird to me).

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