Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kor-Panese or Ja-rean? When You Watch Too Much K-Dramas and Learn Japanese at the Same Time

I am very pleased to announce that I have finally completed my Basic Level 1-1 at the Ikoma Language School, and am moving on to my Basic Level 1-2. To my utmost dismay though, it is getting more difficult as we start to learn Japanese verbs and tenses. I was always under the assumption that there were no tenses to the Japanese language, that it would just be like Chinese. Sigh, I was so wrong. SO.WRONG.

Besides having to struggle through tenses and particles now, I have made myself even more confused, linguistically, by the disgusting number of hours I spend watching Korean dramas each week. It is most unfortunate that there are not that many, in my opinion anyway, engaging Japanese dramas on the market. A couple of the recent ones that made it to my "interesting" list was due to the mere presence of Takuya Kimura (e.g. Moon Lovers) although in all honesty they were quite sucky. I had more luck on the anime front with "Itazura Na Kiss" and "Fruits Basket" but with so many animes floating around the market, it is difficult to identify the good ones unless they come strongly recommended by friends. Nevertheless these are like a drop in the ocean compared to the vast number of Korean dramas that have been hogging my prime time viewing.

Which brings me to the main point of this blog: that I am starting to mix up whatever Korean vocabulary I have picked up over the course of drama-viewing with the Japanese stuff I have learnt in school. As both Japanese and Korean have a lot of similarities with Chinese, due to their closely linked histories, I have depended much on my prior Chinese knowledge to pick up Japanese and Korean. And I have come to realise, that although the Japanese language uses a lot of KANJI (Chinese characters) which makes it a hell lot easier for us to comprehend the meaning especially as we navigate around Japan, they sound almost nothing like their Chinese counterparts. Conversely, there are many Korean words that sound similar to Chinese, almost like a Chinese dialect sometimes, which makes it easier to pick up speech as it sticks to my mind faster.

Take for example the word "Friends". In Korean, it is a simple "Chin-gu" and in Japanese which I have just learnt in the previous class is "Tomodachi". 4 syllables to describe a very important and commonly used word? Best of all, it sounds nothing like the written Kanji (which is only 2 characters), which creates even more confusion. For goodness sake, I am no longer a spring chicken and much as I try to convince myself otherwise, my brain has slowed down considerably since I was in university (which was eons ago).

So now, on some days, I find myself in funny situations when I want to express a feeling in Japanese (or Korean), and I had to pause for a moment and think if the word I was thinking was actually Japanese or Korean. For example, I wanted to exclaim to a friend, "REALLY? Are you serious?" which is "Hontoni?" in Japanese and "Chin-cha?" in Korean, and my mind was tongue-tied. I will not be surprised if one day I started speaking in sentences comprising both languages, which shouldn't be a strange occurence to Singaporeans since we are used to mixing English and Chinese in our daily speech. Since I have also learnt German for 4 years sometime back, I also sometimes speak to Samurai T in a combination of (broken) English, Chinese and German. Indeed I am a "Jane of all languages and mistress of none."

Somewhere down the road then, I should look forward to speaking in English, Chinese, German, Japanese and Korean in one sentence. But for now....

Konnichiwa and Kamsahamida

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