You Can Probably Speak More than You Think – Record a Video to Prove it!

2013/05/08 Leave a comment

Catching those little moments of success. We’ve had these moments many times.
They feel good. right? Then you don’t want to miss them!

I finally recorded some videos of myself speaking various languages. This post is not necessarily about the videos themselves, but rather about the concept and what I discovered.

As you will see in a later post (once the videos are uploaded), I decided to begin recording videos so as to have a more concrete record of my progress. So far, I have recorded 8 videos:

  • 2 videos 10 months apart for both Mandarin and French
  • 1 video for Japanese, Korean, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Hindi each.
  • 1 video saying the numbers from 1-10 in 10 languages.

Sure, through the Mandarin and French videos, I noticed progress. However, this post is about a surprise – something else I ended up discovering.

I can speak more than I thought.

Maybe you will discover this yourself if you make your own videos!

Video Results

I knew my Chinese was capable enough, so my 24-minute video was not unexpected.

However, I’ve barely practiced my French after about 5 years, and my Japanese speaking is terrible after leaving it for Mandarin for 6 months. Although I’ve studied a lot of basics in Korean, I run a study group, and I’m even teaching some total beginners, I don’t consider my Korean to be at a conversation level. The results?

  • French: 36-minute video.
  • Japanese: 37-minute video.
  • Korean: 27-minute video.

If that’s not “being able to speak a language” in some way or other, than what is?  Read more…

Learning the Korean Alphabet, Hangul (Part 2: Learning the Vowels)

2013/02/07 Leave a comment

jalNote: There are lots of lessons out there for learning the Korean alphabet, but they all seem to miss something or other, so here’s my attempt! Use it to learn from scratch, or as a guide if you’re stuck on some letters. By the way, a PDF version of this is upcoming, which will look nicer and less cramped than this.

Part 0: Introduction | Part 1: Consonants | All parts in one article

Learning the Vowels

Kinds of Vowels

Group 1, basic vowels: Can be seen as hinting lip shape and tongue position / space in mouth:

ㅏ  ㅓ  ㅗ  ㅜ  ㅐ  ㅔ  ㅡ  ㅣ

Group 2: adding  the /j/ [y] sound: Contain an extra small line:

ㅑ  ㅕ  ㅛ  ㅠ  ㅒ  ㅖ

Group 3: adding W – like sound: Compound vowels that start with , , or .

ㅘ ㅝ  ㅙ  ㅞ  ㅢ  ㅟ  ㅚ

Vowels: Letter by Letter

Basic Vowels

Small horizontal line, meaning the tongue is low and the vertical space is quite open. In fact, your lips stay neutral and relaxed.

  • ㅏ- A: Shape is pushed toward the front of the mouth, so a vowel sounded in the front, with tongue low? /a/
  • ㅓ- EO: Tongue is still low, but opposite placement in the mouth; this is in the back: /ʌ/.

If you’re not too certain of this idea of front and back vowels, try it yourself! Sah “Aaah” and then say “Uhhh,” and then go back and forth “Ah Uh Ah Uh”  etc. Feel the difference? Feel how the Ah is in front while Uh is in the back?
Moving on, we can double the small line to do what? What does an extra line mean? The concept of more force. With a vowel, we do that by adding a Y before it.

  • ㅑ – YA
  • ㅕ – YEO

Small vertical line, indicating the vertical space isn’t so much, so the tongue is higher, just above the middle, actually. Despite length differences, the lines are a little more balanced than with&ㅓ, so use this to remember ㅗ and ㅜ require your lips to be rounded, NOT relaxed. To help me remember, I like to imagine and surrounded by a circle, so that it looks like a steering wheel!
Read more…

Learning the Korean Alphabet, Hangul (Part 1: Learning the Consonants)

2013/02/07 Leave a comment

jalNote: There are lots of lessons out there for learning the Korean alphabet, but they all seem to miss something or other, so here’s my attempt! Use it to learn from scratch, or as a guide if you’re stuck on some letters. By the way, a PDF version of this is upcoming, which will look nicer and less cramped than this.

Part 0: Introduction | Part 2: Vowels | All parts in one article

Learning the Consonants

Kinds of Consonants

For study purposes, I felt it was best to put the letters into groups.

The most important grouping is on how they are pronounced. There are 4 such groups, which I am numbering arbitrarily (don’t bother learning my made-up group numbers; learn their characteristics):

  • Group 1: Steady, sustainable, unchanging:

ㄴ ㅅ ㅁ ㅇ / n s m ng

(Letters are purely visual representations, as shown before. You can HOLD or hum these sounds.)

  • Group 2: Begin stopped, and then release:

ㄱ ㄷ ㄹ ㅂ ㅈ / g d r b j

(Since all but ㅂare sounded with the tongue first pressed to the roof of the mouth, the roof of the mouth is signified or represented by a top line (or roof). Therefore, some of these are Group 1 letters + a top line)

  • Group 3: Begin stopped, tense up,** then suddenly release:

ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ  ㅆ  ㅉ / gg dd bb ss jj

(Held and tensed**, so it makes sense to double the letter, right?)

  • Group 4: Begin stopped, then release forcefully and noisily:

ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ ㅊ / k t p h ch

(An additional line represents the extra air coming out ( is the exception). Note that all of these letters are previous ones with an additional line in the top or middle.)

There’s another way to group the letters: by where they are pronounced. There are 5 groups, based on two views of the mouth:

Read more…

Learning the Korean Alphabet, Hangul (Part 0: An Introduction)

2013/02/07 Leave a comment

jalNote: There are lots of lessons out there for learning the Korean alphabet, but they all seem to miss something or other, so here’s my attempt! Use it to learn from scratch, or as a guide if you’re stuck on some letters. By the way, a PDF version of this is upcoming, which will look nicer and less cramped than this.

Part 1: Consonants | Part 2: Vowels | All parts in one article

First, I’ll give you some of the best news you’ll ever hear when learning to read a language that doesn’t use a script you’re familiar with: Hangul, the writing system of Korean, is very easy to learn and if you worked hard, you could probably do it in a few of hours – seriously.

I don’t mean that after a few hours you’ll read any Korean perfectly, much less pronounce it perfectly (which will take much more time and practice). However, you can learn all the letters very quickly, and the extra irregularities and quirks you may have to learn are actually very natural things that happen in many languages.

I learned it in one week of relaxed effort on my free time, and it took one more week to learn all the correct pronunciation. I sincerely believe if you set apart a few hours to learn, you can get this over with in one day.

A Quick Look at Hangul


  • 9 Basic Consonants: ㄱ  ㄴ  ㄷ  ㄹ  ㅁ  ㅂ  ㅅ  ㅇ  ㅈ
  • 5 Aspirated Consonants:  ㅋ  ㅌ  ㅍ  ㅎ  ㅊ
  • 5 of them can be doubled, but are considered / treated as single letters: ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ  ㅆ  ㅉ
  • In addition, some can be combined to create 11 compound consonants. They are also treated as single letters: ㄳ ㄵ ㄶ ㄺ ㄻ ㄼ ㄽ ㄾ ㄿ ㅀ ㅄ


  • 8 Basic Vowels: ㅏ  ㅓ  ㅗ  ㅜ  ㅐ  ㅔ  ㅡ  ㅣ
  • 6 of them can be given an extra line: ㅑ  ㅕ  ㅛ  ㅠ  ㅒ  ㅖ
  • In addition, they can be combined to create 7 compound vowels. They are also treated as single letters:  ㅘ ㅝ  ㅙ  ㅞ  ㅢ  ㅟ  ㅚ

Complete set of letters (This list is analogous to showing the 26 letters of the Latin Alphabet plus ch, ph, gh, ou, ao, etc.)

ㄱ  ㄴ  ㄷ  ㄹ  ㅁ  ㅂ  ㅅ  ㅇ  ㅈ  ㅋ  ㅌ  ㅍ  ㅎ  ㅊ  ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ  ㅆ  ㅉ
ㄳ ㄵ ㄶ ㄺ ㄻ ㄼ ㄽ ㄾ ㄿ ㅀ ㅄ
ㅏ  ㅓ  ㅗ  ㅜ  ㅐ  ㅔ  ㅡ  ㅣ  ㅑ  ㅕ  ㅛ  ㅠ  ㅒ  ㅖ
ㅘ ㅝ  ㅙ  ㅞ  ㅢ  ㅟ  ㅚ

So why is Hangul easy?

  • It’s an alphabet. People will count the letters differently, but I would say it is essentially 22 letters: 14 consonants and 8 vowels. From those letters, 6 of the vowels also have a version that signify their starting with a Y sound, some come together into 7 compound vowels / diphthongs which start with W or W-ish sound, and 5 consonants can be doubled.
  • It’s visual.* Mnemonics are always a good tool to remember things, and Korean has it built in, and the only thing up to you is to make the visual aspect as vivid and effective as possible for yourself. The consonants are pictures of your tongue, teeth, lips, or throat, while the vowels represents space and positions in the mouth. The latter is harder to visualize unless you understand linguistics, so you may have to tweak your memory aid as best serves you.

If you don’t feel very sure of the benefit of visual mnemonics, here’s this article: Any Phonetic Script can be Learned in Just a Few Hours.

  • It’s laid-out efficiently. Korean is written in blocks of 2 to 4 letters. Not only is this space-efficient, but it also separates parts of words such as syllables based on Chinese characters, and reflects certain aspects of Korean pronunciation. I will not be covering this aspect in this article.
  • It’s simple to draw. Not counting the compound and double letters, only one letter takes 4 strokes to write. All others require 1 to 3 strokes. Possible strokes are simply straight lines, two simple curves, and a circle.

Read more…

How To: Learn & Type the Korean Keyboard Layout

2013/01/30 22 comments

jalSetting up Korean input is greatNow what?

Any language’s script that doesn’t work exactly like the Latin alphabet you’re used to will present a tiny challenge when you learn to type it. Even in French- and Spanish-speaking countries, you may be surprised to find the keyboard layout slightly different!

While you must get used to character conversion when typing in Chinese or Japanese, it’s still relatively easy because the keyboard layout is virtually the same, and you type romanization: pinyin and roumaji respectively. Korean, however, DOES use an alphabet, so Korean letters, rather than Latin letters, are placed on the keyboard. That means you will have to learn where all the letters are.

Korean layout

Most common Korean keyboard layout

As I’ve mentioned in other topics, mnemonics is a great way to learn anything that could use the benefit of associations. Let me reinforce this point: don’t be afraid of the word mnemonics. The concept of mnemonics is simply: association: to connect something (usually more familiar) to what you’re trying to remember. It becomes easier to remember due to that familiarity, or because it makes a little piece of data “bigger,” and thus more “important” to your brain.

If you’re trying to remember a phone number that ends in 8125, you might think “ate (8) a (1) quarter (25 cents)” to remember it; that’s a mnemonic. If you remember the Korean letter ㅣis on the letter L because it looks like the lowercase L, then that’s a mnemonic.

So, that’s all you have to do! I encourage you to create your own mnemonics, but to be honest, it’s a little bit of creative work and sometimes you wish you could easily find someone else’s to see if it’s good enough for you – especially if you just can’t come up with something for all of them. I myself couldn’t, which is why I had to make up a few for the list below. Well then, here is my list:

Mnemonic List for Korean Keyboard Layout

  • – Q: I have no idea. I just learned it without any help. Maybe, Q is at the Beginning of the keyboard?
  • – W: Just Wondering (the way I actually remembered it was lame: I imagined the middle peak of W hitting a ceiling).
  • – E: It’s the letter E without the middle line!
  • – R: It’s like a reversed lowercase r.
  • – T : T for teeth, since ㅅ is a picture of your front teeth as seen from the side.
  • – A: You should already know ㅁ represents the mouth (or know that’s also like the Chinese character for mouth), so say Aaaaah!
  • – S:  I just learned this by feel since I always hit it with the same finger.* How about, Never Ending Story? That was a decent Korean movie. ^^
  • – D: The D is also a circle-ish shape – or half-circle. Whatever.
  • – F: Funky-looking. I guess the letter F is also kind of Funky.
  • ㅎ – G: It you put the curve of the left-half of the G onto ㅎ, I think it will kind of look like a G, or an upside down lowercase g. Either way, they’re both bottom-heavy.
  • – Z: You may have seen Koreans type “zzzzz;” they really mean “ㅋㅋㅋㅋ“, sometimes seen as “kekekeke,” which is a laughing sound.
  •  – X: “E” (ㅌ) for eXtra!
  • – C: Because this is the “Ch” sound! C in Cello! Fettuccine!
  • – V: Both ㅍ and V look like roman numerals, don’t they?
  • – Y: “Yo” is on the letter Y. Easy! It’s also right above !
  • – U: It’s right above !
  • – I: It’s right above !
  • – O: Balanced shape, just like O.
  • – P: Unbalanced shape, just like P.
  • – H: “Half is the Hat!” (A mnemonics some of you might already know for musical notation.)
  • – J: Both letters have a straight wall on the right, and a thingy to the left.
  • – K: Both letters have a straight wall on the left, and a thingy to the right.
  • – L: Looks like a lowercase L.
  • – B: It’s right next to ㅜ. However, you can also think of how it looks like TT which is a shortened emoticon of a face with tears streaming down (T.T / T_T), so the person is crying () because he was beaten at a game? (The way I actually remembered it was a stretch: a letter B that fell to the right, but it uses two little lines to represent the B’s bulges.)
  • – N: Looks like a letter t as in Tina. And /or it’s pointing nose-down, going for a nose dive,
  • – M: Both letters kind of sound like humming or a sound you make while thinking.
  • SHIFT– on corresponding letters: Gives you the remaining letters: ㅃㅉㄸㄲㅆㅒ, and ㅖ.

Again, you should only use this as a guide for when you need some help. Making your own mnemonics is best, and you shouldn’t be making extra effort learning my personal set if you don’t need to. Without thinking, you will probably learn a few from straight-up / brute-force memorization anyway.

Hopes this helps you learn to type Korean. Now practice typing whatever you’ve learned!


*In addition, if you use a standard typing position, or begin using one / make up one for your Korean typing, you will associate some letters by feel, rather than which Latin letter is on it.

Watching out for Milestones

2012/12/01 Leave a comment

Catching those little moments of success. We’ve had these moments many times.
They feel good. right? Then you don’t want to miss them!

Sometimes we are frustrated in our lack of improvement. Sometimes we are at a plateau and feel we can’t get out. Sometimes we feel we’ve improved, but it’s not significant, or it’s never significant enough. While sometimes they are real issues (getting out of a plateau is a whole topic in itself), sometimes it’s all in our heads, or we’re simply too busy worrying without realizing the signs of success.

While I’m not going to address this topic too directly, I wanted to write (and thus share) some little things I noticed recently, that helped raise my spirits, but easily could have been missed. (I actually have stories from earlier stages of study, but I will add them later. Since they’re past, there’s little motivation and priority for my writing them.) Apart from the last one, these all relate to Mandarin Chinese.

Three Messages, Two topics, One Day

The first happened a few months ago. After my Chinese class and trip to China gave me enough immersion to become fast enough to manage instant messaging and texting in Chinese, I’ve gotten used to such chatting without the need of English – as long as I have a dictionary on hand. I’m used to the grammar enough and seem to know enough basic (and useable!) vocabulary to write without much hassle – occasionally having to look up a word in the dictionary is really not a bother and thus not something I pay much attention to.

However, once in a while the thought came to me that unless it was a brief exchange, I was still checking the dictionary roughly the same amount – in other words, I felt like my behavior had been staying the same, and I hadn’t been improving much. Then the time came for me to write three messages. One was a reply to my Chinese professor that mainly updated her on my life after the study abroad program in China, as well as the current state of my Chinese studies. The other two were private messages to possible language exchange partners, and I was introducing myself and proposing how we can help each other. The email was the last one I wrote, and as I neared the end, I got stuck and went to look up a word in the dictionary. That’s when it hit me.

This was the first time that day that I went to check a dictionary.  Read more…

Beijing Part 1: Impressions & Hot Pot

2012/11/05 Leave a comment

Note: Just to let everyone know beforehand, this post is going to be pretty negative, but that’s just because it’s the experience I had! Luckily, this day was the only “bad” one, so this will pretty much be the only negative things you’ll read about the trip!


We landed at Beijing Capital International Airport (Terminal 3, the largest in the world), and as we slowed down from our taxi, I noticed something – a smell. What was that? Something in the airplane? Something burning? The pollution? And what was that fuzzy stuff flying around outside? It looked like it was snowing! I knew Beijing’s pollution was one of the worst but surely not enough for chunks to fly around the air like ash, right?? I started thinking it had to be some plant thing more like dandelion seeds. I soon overheard someone in the plane say it was indeed from trees.

As for the smell, I can’t say they were also from trees, though. It was indeed pollution. Woe is me for it was with me throughout my stay in Beijing!

But really, woe are the Beijing citizens, is what I kept thinking. Only one day do I remember seeing what may have possibly been normal clouds of water on a barely visible blue sky. Every other day it was hazy and relatively dark. Crazy how pollution has been allowed for so long. We already have American cities apparently at such levels. There’s a prediction (don’t know how reliable, I forgot where I read it) for Beijing that within a few decades virtually every single citizen will be sick with something due to pollution, and I’m not surprised if American cities have already faced similar predictions.

The government allowing it is one thing, but what about the people? I met a few people who did tell me they plan to leave because of the pollution, so good for them, but if only more people did that. If people just started ignoring their reasons for staying whether they be nostalgic or for work or something, and worried more about their health, I’ll bet you the government will THEN magically find a way to turn things around – once they notice their cities are going ghost town. Well, that’s just my random, not seriously-thought-out opinion.

Anyway, moving away from my pollution rant…

It had been quite a few years since I’ve been at an airport – much less flown – so I had a little stupid moment where I wasn’t quite sure on where to go to meet with my group. I’m sure it must be logical and I should just keep heading for the exit, but come on. I prefer to be sure, and here’s my first chance at really trying out my Mandarin. So I asked some workers where the waiting area was.  Read more…

Pre-2012 Performance Review (2009, basically)

2012/09/24 Leave a comment

Midsummer of this year (2012) marked 3 years since I began my current phase in learning languages, starting with my first efforts to learn Japanese. Since around that time, I planned to check my progress in 3 years to answer certain questions we all may have. How much effort do I really need? How far can I actually get in n years? What about money? Time?

All of that will be answered in the upcoming Performance Review – as I’m calling it. First, I should go over where I was when I started.

Where was I three years ago?

Three years ago, I wasn’t doing anything special with languages, at least nothing too much differently than most people. I was practically at a plateau; the same sort of situation I had been in for many years, and simply a continual progress since youth. There were always three languages in my head.

I was born and raised in the US after all, so this is the primary one, a native language, fluent, blah blah. I don’t think I have to explain. It’s not my family language as you’ll see next, but everyone else I interact with, the books, TV, etc., are all in English, of course. So it was pretty much always there from the start – just maybe not from the start start.

Cat watching TV

Even Cat Channel is in English! You’d think it’s the official language or something!

I prefer not to call English “the” native language and think of Spanish as my “other” or “lesser” native language, because I’ve also had it in my life for as far back as I can remember, and have a degree of fluency where it flows naturally and I can play around with the grammar and choice of words to be silly (while a learner doing it may be interpreted as making a mistake). If you tested me though, I’d probably show as only intermediate conversational levels. That’s because I pretty much only speak it with my parents, and certain things simply never come up. I’ve looked and up failed to remember the word for “anvil” 4 times – I never use it! I could be close to forgetting certain body parts if I’ve never had to refer to them.

Acme Anvil

Pictured: Top conversation topic at dinner tables around the world.

Read more…

Orchestral Performances of Korean Pop Music – with some extras!

2012/08/03 Leave a comment

Well, this was not all intended to be my next post, but since this is actually just a compilation of posts I just made on Facebook, I figured it would be easy to post right away. It is, after all, relevant to the themes of this blog.

[Amateur / school performances ahead, so don’t expect perfect music!] So I was checking out updates on Talk To Me In Korean‘s Facebook page and saw they posted a video of an orchestra playing Gee by SNSD (aka: Girls Generation). [Comments are below their respective videos.]

I personally never liked Gee myself – too cutesy? – but this orchestra version sounds perfect to me (apart from a couple things, such as the drummer). Makes me think of a bright and sunny scene in some Disney or Pixar film. I haven’t heard the “Up” soundtrack in a while; is that what I’m thinking?  Read more…

Flight to Beijing

2012/07/03 Leave a comment

Note: This post references some movies whose titles may link to Wikipedia articles – which tend to have full plot summaries. If you want to avoid spoilers, skip those links and just read my mini-reviews at the end.

May 7, 2012: 6 AM flight out of Baltimore. Short 1 hr flight to Newark, then the big flight from Newark to Beijing by flying over the Arctic. 14 hr flight.

Yes, sorry, everyone. If you were expecting a post on Beijing, that’s next time. First, I’ve got a little to say about the flight!

I love these long international flights, especially when they are on these huge planes – a nice, big Boeing 777. It’s easy to work out your times awake and asleep to prevent jet lag, and there’s a good selection of movies, shows, and music. Granted, this was only the 3rd such flight I’ve had, but so far they’ve been good.

Conversation soon opened with the Chinese man next to me, who was probably in his 40’s or 50’s. He lives in the US and his English was fluent so throughout the flight we mostly spoke in English about various things, but it was pretty much just basic and friendly chit chat throughout. We’d still use Chinese sometimes for some basic exchanges. That was still very hard for me, even on so much that I should have understood. More on this will be upcoming in a “Performance Review,” because it is now 3 years since I started this stage of language learning and it’s time to review my progress.

As my…uh, flight mate? row mate? looked for movies to watch (having not been impressed by the first one he picked) I suggested 3 Idiots and summarized what it was about. He was enjoying it, so I sort of re-watched most of that movie off his screen while I listened to music, mainly listening to recent albums by Rainie Yang, Utada Hikaru, and I forgot who else. I had no idea they had put new albums out; I’ve been slipping.

United States

Over US, looks like we’re skimming along water.

Over US, waves – I mean clouds, are picking up.

Here come the waves! I mean clouds!

Among wool and cotton.


Over Canada, probably Quebec. Bonjour!

Over Canada, probably Quebec

Over Newfoundland and Labrador: Newfoundland Island

Probably just off the coast and over the ocean

Read more…