Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

nothing to envy cover

안녕하세요.

Few people have any idea what goes on in North Korea—not just because they’re ignorant, but because it’s difficult to get any information on the topic. “Is Psy from North Korea?” No, no he’s not. The six people in Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea are. And they grew up very differently than the world-famous Gangnam Style oppa.

Nothing to Envy is a gripping read with information gathered from countless interviews and a huge amount of research. I read it within two days and stared at a wall for a long time when I finished it. These were real people and stories—these are real people and their real stories. Not only are the North Korean refugees in the story alive and free, but their friends and family and countless other North Koreans still live beyond the demilitarized border between North and South, beneath the suffocating cover of their government.

The eye-opening story that really gripped me was about a woman who loved her country. She was an absolute patriot, and loathed those who tried to escape. Yet her story interested me the most because it not only explained how her mind changed and she decided to escape, but because it showed why she believed the propaganda and supported North Korea and its methods in the first place—from a real North Korean’s view.

I highly recommend Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea to anyone interested in South or North Korea, East Asia, or a very good and very real book. 감사합니다.

 

Extra Reading:

New York Times

Review by Book Worm’s Head blog

Advertisements

linguanaut – language learning survival tips

안녕하세요!

One of my favorite quick-reference sites is linguanaut. It has over 50 languages available, but I use it for Korean and Japanese. (Depending on the language you’re looking for, it has even more than just what the Korean section includes. For example, the Japanese references include a category just for famous Japanese sayings, which is pretty neat!) Its Korean section includes: Continue reading

Dongsa – Korean Verb Conjugating App Review

안녕하세요!

Dongsa

I recently discovered a fantastic app that does one thing, and that one thing very well. It conjugates Korean verbs. Dongsa, the free app that makes the features of dongsa.net more accessible to smartphone users, is exactly what you need to download (also available for Android, not just Apple) or visit right now.

Maybe conjugation isn’t a big deal to you, but conjugating can get confusing very quickly, especially when you’re just starting out as a Korean-language learner. It feels like there are way too many different politeness levels – all with their own variation on conjugation. Dongsa provides for this.

Dongsa screenshot

Type in the verb.

Wondering how to conjugate the verb for “to hit”? Go ahead and open Dongsa.

Notice that the app includes helpful notes for each conjugation – declarative? Inquisitive? Formal level is low? Dongsa will let you know.

Dongsa screenshot

 

There isn’t much to say about Dongsa other than that it’s super useful, free (you can donate to the developers’ beer fund if you feel really happy about how helpful Dongsa is), and simple to use.

These guys made this for you. Can you sacrifice an iTunes song for their cause?

Interesting concept for paying them back…

 

Dongsa screenshot

It comes in different tenses, how sublime!

 

This app is definitely a great tool to have on hand when you can’t remember how on earth you conjugate 공부하다 in the inquisitive past informal low – although that has to be one of the easiest ones to conjugate. You really do need this app, then…

 

감사합니다!

 

italki Review

italki screenshot (not mine)

안녕하세요!

Have you been looking for a way to practice your target language? Whatever the language might be (with the exception of some really far-out, ten-people-in-the-world-speak-it languages), you can probably find a native speaker on italki. italki is a site dedicated to connecting you to the people you need. Continue reading

Confucius Lives Next Door

안녕하세요!

 

confucius

 

While you may tell yourself that you’re only interested in South Korea, Confucius Lives Next Door by T. R. Reid is my number one book for learning about Asian (not just South Korean) culture. Maybe there’s a better book out there that I haven’t read yet, but this book really takes the cake. Or the kimchi.

 

Kimchi. Yum.

Kimchi. Yum. Awful attempt at making an image of kimchi spell the word kimchi. Not yum. My apologies…

 

Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West is primarily written about the author’s experience with the culture in Japan; however, as the author spent time living in places throughout Asia, including South Korea, I find this relatively inconsequential, because there’s a lot to be learned about Asian culture in general from this book. The book is a goldmine of information about the reasons why Asian culture is the way it is -and how America can benefit from it.

So who’s the incredibly wise guy whose social, economic, and cultural influence is still going strong throughout China, Japan, South Korea, etc.?

 

Confucius - The Greatest Thinker and Educator

This guy. Confucius – The Greatest Thinker and Educator

 

T. R. Reid knows quite a lot about Confucius, yet the book doesn’t talk about Confucius’ life. The book details Reid’s experience and afterthoughts on moving with his family to Asia. It explains how Confucianism is pervasive to Asian culture and how it has helped create not only the incredible “Economic Miracle” of rapidly modernizing and prospering Asian countries but also the lesser known but equally important “Social Miracle.” It even explores comparisons between Asia and the United States, and, though the book is more than a decade old, it remains useful to the reader seeking cultural understanding.

Pick up a copy of Confucius Lives Next Door and start understanding why family is so important in South Korea, why honorifics, formal language, bowing, deferral to elders, and general social stability are a common element to much of Asia. Yeah, yeah, Confucius is part of the reason. But the other reasons are discussed in the pages of T.R. Reid’s book. Read it. You won’t regret it.

And if you’re afraid it’ll be boring, Reid’s humorous yet cuttingly informative writing style will keep you interested to the very end.

 

Read some goodreads opinions.

Read another person’s review of T.R. Reid’s book (it’s not just me!).

Find out more about T.R. Reid on the man’s own site.

confucius 2

감사합니다!

Family Outing

Family Outing Season 1

Family Outing Season 1

(Link updated 6/23/14; please comment if links do not work! Thank you.)

안녕하세요!

One of my favorite Korean variety shows is Family Outing (패밀리가 떴다). It’s a hilarious two-season show that aired several years ago and still provides fantastic information on life in the Korean countryside. A core group of celebrities – from singers like Kim Jong Kook, Yoon Jong Shin, BIGBANG’s Kang Daesung and Lee Hyori (a solo artist originally from Fin.K.L) to models and actors like Lee Chunhee, Kim Sooro, and Park Yejin to the “Nation’s MC” Yoo Jae Suk – along with celebrity guests go to different rural villages and small towns throughout South Korea and spend about a day and a half living in the home of an elderly couple. They take care of the couple’s chores and house while the elders are sent on a vacation.

Note: The core group changed during the show; Kim Jong Kook was unable to begin immediately, Park Ye Jin and Lee Chunhee left to pursue solo activities, and Park Haejin and Park Siyeon filled the empty spots. 

And sometimes they do things like create a "family band" and perform for villagers.

And sometimes they do things like creating a “family band” and then perform personally composed songs for the local villagers.

 

Family Outing is a gold mine of language-learning and culture exposure. Each episode is full of interesting activities – ever wondered how kimchi is made? Ever seen a really old machine heat up and pop rice so explosively that it make Yoo Jae Suk want to run away? Ever learned how to prepare squid after catching it yourself? Ever seen a pretty, delicate Korean actress named Park Yejin pop an eye out of a fish? (These celebrities have to get the ingredients and make the meals besides performing the chores and playing games. I’ll be honest – there was a scandal about how real their ingredients-gathering was, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the show or learning Korean!) This is just a tiny peek at what you’ll see in Family Outing.

"One Man" Kim Jong Kook catches "One Fish"

“One Man” Kim Jong Kook catches “One Fish”

 

Family Outing wouldn't be Family Outing without lots of ridiculous and hilarious games to play.

Family Outing wouldn’t be Family Outing without lots of ridiculous and hilarious games.

Family Outing has the trademark subtitling of a Korean variety show, too, making it so rich for the language-learner. Much of what is said is also subtitled or rephrased in Korean. When a celebrity is surprised, the screen flashes a huge “SURPRISED” in Korean. When someone yells SHIMBATA – translated basically as eureka or a cry of victory – it’s subtitled in big, easy hangul. Don’t ignore these and only read the English subtitles – absorb all the Korean you can. Reading Korean subtitles will help with your language comprehension.

Chunderella choom choom chooming...clumsily.

Chunderella and Step-mother Sooro choom choom chooming…clumsily. 바보야~!

 

This show is funny. It’s so funny that you might want to warn others around you before you watch it, or else you’ll startle them with fits of maniacal laughter. You’ll love everyone on the show so much that by the time you finish the first season, you’ll feel like you’re saying goodbye to an actual family that you’re a part of. You’ll begin to understand the social interactions between old and young, male and female, in Korea. You’ll pick up slang, vocabulary, quick phrases. You’ll appreciate Korean culture for its tradition and its beauty. And you’ll find that watching Family Outing – while being a great learning experience – gives you that smile and that laugh that you need after a long day.

 

Yoo Jae Suk, the Nation's MC, endures a lot of burdensome moments for the sake of the audience's laughs...and because he's a really, really nice person in real life.

Yoo Jae Suk, the Nation’s MC, endures a lot of burdensome moments for the sake of the audience’s laughs…and because he’s a really, really nice person in real life.

 

감사합니다!

Who is Pororo?

Pororo and Friends courtesy of http://ayiekpunya.wordpress.com/pororo-wallpaper/

안녕하세요!

If you’re interested in Korean culture – and I mean modern culture – or you watch dramas or variety shows, you’ve probably heard of Pororo. Pororo is a famous little blue penguin who is the protagonist of his own show – Pororo the Little Penguin.

While you might dismiss Pororo as an uninteresting children-oriented character, think again. Pororo is famous in South Korea; he is one of the most-watched kids’ shows, and just about everybody knows what you’re talking about when you reference him. From a language-learner’s perspective, Pororo is gold.

dancing Pororo GIF from Viki

He’s a happy dancer, too.

Many non-native English speakers who come to the U.S. watch Sesame Street and learn the fundamentals, or supplement what they already know. Pororo is similar to Sesame Street in that sense. It’s broadcasted on EBS in South Korea and each episode is about 5 minutes long. 5 minutes. And you can watch its 73 episodes on Viki for free, subtitled in English and Spanish, and sometimes even in Turkish and other languages. (Viki also has an app, so you can watch shows on the go!)

No matter what age you are, kids’ shows can be enjoyable. They’re a nice, stress-free break from the rest of reality. But as a language-learner, no offense but your comprehension skills aren’t what they are for your age in English unless you’re perfectly fluent. They’re probably notched down quite a bit – perhaps more to a pre-schooler or middle-schooler. Pororo the Little Penguin is the perfect fit.

Not only will Pororo help you learn Korean, but it will also provide a conversation point when you go to South Korea. “Oh, you watch Pororo?!” Of course, not every person you meet will want to discuss the plot of episode 34, but it’s a starting point, and maybe it’ll make your conversation partner think, “Wow, this person is serious about learning my language.” And it’s always nice to make a good impression.

Pororo and friends courtesy of http://themepack-gratis.blogspot.com/2011/10/pororo-little-penguin-wallpapers.html

감사합니다!

Please Look After Mom: a Korean novel of family, heartache, and loss

안녕하세요!

 

I recently read Please Look After Mom, a novel revolving around a family’s search for their missing foundation – their mother and wife. The famous South Korean author, Kyung-sook Shin, spun her masterpiece so flawlessly that I thought it was at least partly autobiographical; I discovered in this article that I wasn’t the only one – “‘She thought the story was completely real,'” (x Kyung-sook Shin about one of her readers).

 

Please Look After Mom is an award-winning novel (published in English in 2011) that not only provides a tragic and beautiful tale of how a Korean family comes to terms with the disappearance of their aging mom, but it also gives insight into Korean culture and tradition. Yet as the story is in a modern setting, this insight isn’t limited to historical culture – it shows the reader the effect of Korea’s rapid development and how it has influenced the younger generation (the daughter and son) as opposed to the older (the father and the missing mother). And for the literary-lovers, it’s rich with symbolism that ices the cake of this book.

 

I absolutely recommend Please Look After Mom, whether you read it for its literary value, or to learn more about Korean culture, or even just because you’re looking for something new to read. Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin is crafted to be accessible and rewarding for anyone.

 

감사합니다!

Slang Expressions in Korean (Talk To Me In Korean) Review

안녕하세요!

I can say without a doubt that Talk To Me In Korean is my favorite Korean study resource. It has constant updates to add to its existing lessons and it uses really fun and informative videos, audio, PDFs, physical textbooks, pictures, and more (ie social media like Twitter and Facebook) to teach Korean. Since I love TTMIK, I was excited to try their Slang Expressions in Korean lessons (they’re available online at My Korean Store). This great product allows the purchaser to choose which price to pay based on their funds or what they personally think the product is worth and is inexpensively priced at $2.99, $4.99 or $9.99.

The Slang Expressions lessons are well worth any price. The package comes as an online download; after purchasing, I waited a few minutes for a confirmation email and then an email with a link to a temporary download. The lesson package can be downloaded a couple times (if you have multiple computers, you can download it to each one rather than spending time transferring with a USB), and the download link expires after about a week (so if you decide to get this, don’t sit around for a month not checking your email and wondering where on earth your Korean slang lessons have gone).

The Slang Expressions download came as a zipped folder that unzipped to show four audio files (I copied them to iTunes and added them to my ‘TTMIK Extras’ playlist) and a PDF (if you have an iPhone, download the iBooks app for free, add the PDF to your iTunes books library by dragging it or copying it, then sync that PDF to your phone to study Korean on the go). The four audio files included three lessons – Chapters 1, 2, and 3 – and a great Mini Dialogue Audio Track to practice with at the end of the lessons.

iBooks PDFs

The audio

  • each lesson is 16-17 minutes
  • the mini dialogue is about 8 minutes
  • each lesson corresponds to a chapter in the PDF and includes 10 slang expressions
  • a slang expression is given, its meaning is explained, and different forms (ie noun, adjective, adverb, etc.) are also given
  • the origin of the slang expression is also explained
  • mini conversations between native Korean speakers (mainly in 반말 or informal language because this is slang Korean) help clarify usage at the end of the explanation: the first speaker talks, 선현우선생님 translates, the second speaker talks, 선현우선생님 translates, etc. until the conversations ends; then the conversation is repeated but without translation in between speakers
  • though the PDF is a great tool for reading Korean and reinforcing the slang expressions, the audio allows you to multitask by listening to the slang lessons while you’re busy folding laundry, working out, or getting from A to B

The PDF

  • the PDF is efficiently organized into three chapters that correspond to the audio
  • everything spoken in the audio is included in the PDF
  • Korean words and dialogues are written in hangul without romanization pronunciation guides, so it’s best to listen to the audio alongside reading the PDF (at least for the first time)
  • dialogues and examples of the word in other usages are on the left side; translations are on the right (the following picture is zoomed in on the examples and dialogue)

Slang Expressions screenshotOverall…

One big reason why I love TTMIK is that their lessons, while being extremely relevant, helpful, and informative, are never boring, and just about every sample dialogue is funny (I often find myself laughing while I’m studying). Each useful phrase is either a common real-life example or a conversation that sounds like it’s straight out of a funny and romantic Korean drama. These Slang Expressions in Korean lessons include some of my favorite funny dialogues.

Slang Expressions dialogue

Beyond being funny and memorable, the phrases are surprisingly relevant. I hesitated to buy this at first because the phrases that the product description mentioned seemed irrelevant to most regular conversations – yet the lessons’ examples showed me that these phrases are a great asset to my vocabulary; I can’t wait to begin using them naturally in conversations and understanding their use in music, shows, and real life.

I definitely recommend that you check out the sample audio and PDF and then purchase these lessons to add to your Korean study resources. If your Korean isn’t high enough to understand complex grammar and all the ins and outs of how a sentence is put together, don’t worry; these lessons are very simple and easy to follow, and you can always begin by memorizing terms. Save the sentence dissection for when you get to that level. Speaking a language is all about sounding natural, and these Slang Expressions can set you on the right path.

NOTE: The majority of the Slang Expressions lessons are in informal language or 반말, which means just because you’re feeling high and mighty and like a G-Dragon perty boy (Crayon? Anyone, anyone?) you can’t just casually use slang to an older person or someone you’re supposed to be polite to. If you’re not sure, don’t use it – in case it’ll offend the other person. You might seem more rude and stupid than fluent and intelligent.

감사합니다!

Anki Flashcards Review

안녕하세요!

Anki is a fantastic resource for the language-learner (and even for the regular student overwhelmed with facts to learn about cellular process, calculus definitions, and historical dates). Anki calls itself “friendly, intelligent flashcards” for a reason; the program is a free download that remembers what you’ve forgotten, what you’ve remembered, and everything in between, and creates a unique review system based on how quickly and how accurately you recall information.

b5Anki has rather dull appearance, but its selling point is its function: helping you learn what you struggle with the most. And it does that very, very well.

When you open the program on your computer after downloading, you will have an empty program. You can download pre-made flashcard decks for free by going to File, Download, and Shared Decks. Depending on the deck, you can even download audio extensions and files to help with pronunciation of the words and phrases you’re learning; however, I prefer using Anki purely for reading and comprehension rather than downloading extra audio files. Anki also offers the option of creating your own notecards; (warning: personal opinion again) I prefer using pre-made decks because the platform for deck creation is unwieldy and time-consuming to make a deck work properly. It’s not impossible; it’s just not for the impatient student. Also, the pros of making a deck on Anki outweigh the cons – it’s way better and more effective to study with Anki than regular physical notecards or other free flashcard programs.

Once you have downloaded a deck, it will appear in the program.

Open it and you find different settings for studying. b2

b3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flashcards, as flashcards often do, capitalize on repetition. But this repetition is smart and effective repetition. As you go through the cards, the program brings back cards that you’ve forgotten more frequently than cards you’ve remembered. It also takes into account how long it takes you to click Show Answer.

b4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The conclusion: Anki is a great flashcard program. It’s free. It’s smart. It uses your time effectively because it doesn’t waste time reviewing information that you already know, and focuses instead on what you struggle with. While I dislike making my own decks and how boring the interface itself looks, this is a great language-learning resource. There are tons of free, pre-made decks of Korean vocabulary, grammar, Hangul, practice sentences, hanja, etc. as well as lots of other stuff that might interest you. And if you don’t like it after downloading and trying it, then just delete it from your computer!

An extra muffinAnki is a free program, but it has to support itself somehow. Proceeds from its Anki app and donations from users help it stay free. If you really like Anki on your computer, consider paying the creators back and getting yourself the Anki app.

감사합니다!