[KS] failed Koreanists littering the streets
mrobinso at indiana.edu
Tue Apr 15 22:31:04 EDT 2003
I'm reading the language thread with great interest. It is unfortunate that
it is under the subject heading of failed Koreanists littering the streets.
It seems nothing brings out the passions like a discussion of "the language"
and I mean this
in multiple ways. I have little to add to the discussion other than I'm
surprised by a seeming lack of the mention of the ultimate necessity of
emersion in the language culture for any hope of fluncey, particularly in
speaking Korean, and that must go for most other languages as well. But of
course where one can make significant progress in French in a year....my
guess is 4-5 years (a one to four or five ratio) is necessary for making
that leap from the FSI 2ish and 2+ to 3-4. And it is often contingent
factors that lead to being able to really invest the time for emersion and
practice that is necessary for a non-native speaker to really fix speaking
and listening skills.
Frankly, I never made that leap, but I've continued and coped in a number of
ways. I also sense that we should recognize that among all language
learners some master one or more of the various skills (speaking, reading,
etc) better than others. I'd put myself in a category of fluent readers of
Korean, and yes, that means I had to build up mastery of the Chinese used in
certain types of writing particularly in my work. The truly proficient in
all aspects is decidedly rare. Within a large group of non-native speakers,
readers, listeners and writers of Korean there will always be a range of
abilities....and many will be able to cope and function to the level
necessary for any number of purposes.
One other ommission in the discussion and I think an origin of the passion
here is the usually unspoken hierarchy that is formed by levels of language
skills within any group of non-native speakers. This is related to tensions
between "heritage" learners and those starting from scratch. I think the
presumption here is that language ability is somehow related to "real"
understanding of the mysteries of Korean culture in a lock-step one to one
correlation. Obviously the more language one commands the more one can
know, but I have met people with wonderful language skills in Korean and a
very poor empathic command of many subtlties of Korean culture and an even
more impoverished understanding of the background to ideas, behaviors, and
issues right in front of their faces.
I'm not sure of my main point other than I am uncomfortable when we focus on
ability scores and demand and supply and return on investments with
language. Any language learning opens doors that were heretofore closed so
that even some schooling whether or not it can create complete language
products is better than nothing. And I don't think any of our Korean
language programs are built to produce a perfect end result in a four year
----- Original Message -----
From: <jrpking at interchange.ubc.ca>
To: <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 5:33 PM
Subject: Re: [KS] failed Koreanists littering the streets
> Thanks to Yuh Ji-Yeon for her comments, most of which I agree with. A few
> > It is no wonder that S. Korea should be more interested in spending
> > resources on students who want to learn Korean.
> Of course -- it is very much in Korea's interests to promote the study of
Korean in Vietnam, Indonesia, China, etc. More power to them. And Korea can
afford to do this. My question is: can Korea afford NOT to promote the study
of Korean and Korea in the USA?
> I quite agree that the US is hopeless in learning ANY foreign languages
and cultures, and that if left to the market forces you describe, the study
of KFL in the USA will take something like a 100 years to get anywhere.
> And if that's what happens, so be it. But I just think it would be grossly
short-sighted of Korea as a country trying to market its products (to
continue your market-driven musings) to the USA not to invest simultaneously
in making sure that more Americans have more chances to learn Korean and to
learn about Korea. Right now there doesn't seem to be much of a mood for
this in Korea (among those who should know better, I mean).
> So yes, it is our duty as Koreanists to try to persuade Americans (if not
'en masse' as you suggest) to see Korea and Korean as important, but it is,
I think, equally important -- and far more realistic -- to try to persuade
the _Koreans_ that they should be investing in this. It's about strategic
alliances between Koreanists and Korea-philes and Korea forged to chip away
at American ignorance. In talking to Koreans in Korean as a non-Korean, one
of the first things you notice is that it has hardly ever occurred to the
average Korean that their language is worth learning at all!
> > Also, many of the things that people seem to want -- detailed
> > explanations, etc. of various quirks and principles in the language,
> > available for other languages either.
> Well, but they are for Japanese and Chinese (and have been for a long
time -- certainly since before these countries had important economies), as
well as for the other languages belonging to the top 13 world economies
(isn't Korean in the top 13 or something like that?). And in many cases
they're available because the home/host countries made a long-term
investment in promoting knowledge of their country and its language abroad.
Korea so far has been slow to do this.
> >And some of it just isn't possible.
> > It's like asking for a really good, detailed and accurate explanation of
> > the use of the articles the and a/an in English. Or the various
> > in which you can put an adjective after the noun it modifies. You can't
> > it because it only follows general rules and the actual usage depends a
> > great deal on convention and what sounds good to a native ear.
> This just isn't true and is tantamount to saying that human language can't
be learned. There ARE such 'good, detailed and accurate explanations' for
various points of English structure, and it is the job of ESL specialists
and English linguists to write those explanations and the (thousands of)
books that enshrine them. Language is rule-governed, not some mystical
mishmash of 'what sounds good to a native ear'.
> Your remark reminds me, though, that many of the KFL textbooks authored by
Koreans seem to be based on this mystical approach to Korean grammar, and as
a result, never attempt to actually get it right/ be accurate for the
foreign learner -- after all, only a native speaker can ever really 'get
> > And by the way, we once
> > had lots (relatively speaking) of North Americans learning Russian, and
> > that's not an easy language either.
> It's a walk in the park compared to CJK, but it is an interesting example
to bring up for political reasons. The bottom fell out of Russian and Slavic
Studies in the USA as soon as the USSR collapsed -- all the federal funding
spent on encouraging Americans to learn Russian dried up, and now hardly
anybody learns it. Incredibly short-sighted on the part of the US
government. (If they won't support Russian, hard to imagine they'll put much
support into Korean.) Don't know what policies Russia has to promote the
study of Russian abroad, but I bet they at least have something.
> Ross King
> Associate Professor of Korean, University of British Columbia
> Dean, Korean Language Village, Concordia Language Villages
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