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Hi, Kieran. My name is Gerry Bevers and I manage the “Korean Language Notes” blog. Three years ago we exchanged comments when you pledged to learn Korean in three months. I expressed doubt that it would be possible, based on how hard it was for me to learn the language, but you had learned Japanese and Chinese very quickly, so I was somewhat curious to see if you could possibly do the same with Korean, even though I still felt it would be almost impossible. Today, I happened to see your post in the results of a search I was doing and decided to comment.
Thanks for your comment! I apologize for my late reply.
You were very right that it was impossible (at least for me) to “learn Korean” in three months, and at the time, as now, I appreciated your healthy skepticism & sound advice.
In “years,” I think I learned Japanese & Chinese quickly. I knew virtually nothing of those languages at 18 years old, and by 20 I could speak colloquial Japanese, and by 23 I could speak Chinese. However, in “hours,” I don’t think I learned particularly quickly. I had 10 months in Japan as a student mostly devoted to learning Japanese, and 8 months in China. I spent untold hours trying various inefficient methods with each language, and eventually “learned” them both before I could figure out exactly what worked and what didn’t. Some things definitely didn’t work (like memorizing Japanese-English word pairs), while other things worked slowly (like rote memorization of sentences). With Korean, I have hoped to home in on efficient methods I can use in my spare time.
I am curious to know how much more difficult it has been for you to learn Korean relative to Chinese and Japanese. Did you find learning Korean to be much more difficult than you expected?
In a sense, I found Korean more difficult than I expected. I thought I could learn it to reading fluency in about one year, but has taken me 3 years to reach only intermediate reading level.
However, I don’t feel qualified to comment on the relative difficulty of Korean compared to other languages, because I learned Korean differently from the way I learned Chinese & Japanese.
Japanese & Chinese I learned while living in those countries. Thus I felt intense pressure to progress quickly. Also, I was a student, so I had lots of time to study. With that much energy & time put into the project, even inefficient methods showed results.
So, in another sense, Korean was not more difficult than I expected. Had I studied Korean for an hour a day for a year, I believe I would have achieved my original goals. However, there was no pressure for me to learn Korean quickly. Also, I was working and had little time to study. So, considering I studied it haphazardly but consistently for 3 years and can now read with some facility, I am satisfied with my progress.
What do you think is the most difficult thing to learn about Korean?
For me, I think the most difficult thing about learning any language is acquiring a large enough core repository of “chunks” of language that I can understand the gist of the spoken language. That requires motivation, as well as good materials & methods.
I can’t think of anything uniquely difficult about Korean. The grammar is difficult to master in production, but I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to read, or more difficult than Japanese.
Since communicating with you, I have had a chance to look through the textbook series published by the University of Hawaii entitled “Integrated Korean,” which was a project of the Korean Language Education and Research Center (KLEAR). I was impressed with the progressive series, especially the beginning texts. Not only are there English translations for all the reading material in the series, there are also comprehensive grammar indices and Korean-English/English-Korea glossaries in the backs of all the books in the series, helping to make them self-study friendly. You might want to check them out.
Thanks for the recommendation! I’m always hoping to find a really good textbook. Personally, almost all textbooks bore me. I think there are two main reasons for that.
(1) I want to engage with the real language, as used by native speakers with native speakers. I’m skeptical that a textbook represents real language (because native speakers often produce a simplified, idealized version of their language when teaching). There is so much existing content: why not adapt existing content for learners? For example, I really like the Talk to Me in Korean “News in Korean” textbook.
(2) I want to learn something more than just the language. Through the “News in Korean” book I can learn about the Ebola virus and dieting in Korea. Through reading Park Min-gyu’s (박 민규) novella “Is that so? I’m a Giraffe” (그렇습니까? 기린 입니다) in bilingual edition, I can experience quality Korean literature & learn about society.
For the past few years I have been trying to casually teach myself Classical Chinese, which I now find more interesting than just studying Korean, itself. I have not bothered to learn the Chinese pronunciations of the characters, but simply use the Korean pronunciations. I am currently creating a textbook that teaches Korean-language learners to read Classical Chinese sentences. That essentially means I am teaching the Korean pronunciation of the characters and explaining Classical Chinese grammar in terms of both the English and Korean grammars. Most of the time it is easier to understand Chinese sentences with English translations, but there are times when adding a Korean translation makes it even easier.
That’s great! After learning Japanese, I learned some Classical Chinese through Japanese, and then had the good fortune to take a class on Classical Chinese in college where we translated texts into English. Of course, you already know all of this, but Korean can help you learn Classical Chinese in two ways.
(1) You have a Korean pronunciation to attach to each character, so you can remember them.
(2) You have a hanja syllable to help understand the word that a character represents.
That said, I agree that Classical Chinese grammar is so similar to English, that reading English translations is easier than Korean (and fortunately there are places like http://ctext.org/ where you can find translations).
Anyway, I wish you continued success in your language studies.
Thank you, and likewise, I wish you the best in learning Classical Chinese, and more Korean!
Mark Zuckerberg made his first public appearance speaking Mandarin Chinese today at Tsinghua University in Beijing. I’ve translated the entire interview below. He tackled a broad range of issues and even fielded student questions. Enjoy!
NB: Quartz.com has an alternate translation of some of the key passages. You should be able to find a transcription of the Chinese with a Google search. If there are mistakes in my translation, please don’t hesitate to point them out!
Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management
2014 Advisory Board Meeting
Tsinghua Students’ Dialogue with Board Members [of the Advisory Board]
Tsinghua x-lab Session
Host Wei Xiaoliang (魏小亮):
(in English) Now let’s introduce the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.
(in Mandarin) Hello everyone. I’m happy to be here. (applause) I’m happy to come to Beijing. I love this city. My Chinese is terrible, but today I’ll try speaking Chinese. Ok? (applause) I might need practice.
Mark, everyone is really surprised that you can speak Chinese. Why did you want to learn Chinese?
Really interesting. (laughter) There are three reasons. Second… First, my wife is Chinese. (applause) Her family speaks Chinese and her grandmother speaks only Chinese. So, I want to communicate with them. Two years ago, Priscilla [Chan] and I decided to get married. So I told her grandmother– in Chinese. She was very surprised. (laughter)
Priscilla is your wife?
Yeah. Second, I think it’s that I want to study Chinese culture. China is a great nation. I think learning the language helps me study the culture. So I study the language. Third, Mandarin is hard. I only speak English, but I like a challenge. (applause)
So, how about tonight we challenge him? I’ll speak in Chinese. How many times have you been to China?
Four times. I’ve been to Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Tianjin…
Tianjin? Why did you go to Tianjin?
I see, so you’re a big fan of Huo Yuanjia, so you will go see his hometown. So which city do you like best?
All of them [unclear]. Maybe I like Beijing the most. In all China… it has a lot of history.
So this time in China, what’s your plan?
This time in China, what’s your plan?
This week I’m joining the Advisory Board of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management. I came to take part in the Advisory Board meeting. I think Tsinghua students are great. Facebook has more than 140 Tsinghua alumni. You are one! (indicating host) Every year, we recruit the best engineers in China. Just last week we recruited 20 Chinese students.
Right, just last month we recruited 20 Chinese students and soon they will come over to Facebook to work. So, could you talk about why you wanted to join the Advisory Board of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management?
First, I have to thank Dean Qian [Yingyi 钱颖一]. Yeah, and, I’m honored to join the Advisory Board of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management. I’m very interested in education. In the USA, I’ve done a lot of things to support education. I wanted to take part in this committee [because it’s] a great opportunity for me to learn about and support education in China.
Great. Mark wants to support Chinese education. (applause) This month, you also went to quite a few different countries. What is the purpose of this trip?
I’ve been to India, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan. We want to help more people use the Internet. Today, most of the world–65% or about five billion people–don’t have Internet. Some people–about 15%–don’t have a network. About 35% of people have never used a network. But most people who don’t have the Internet don’t have it because they don’t know why they [would] want to use the Internet. If you asked me–sorry, if I asked you, if you don’t have a computer, a phone, or the Internet and I asked you, “Do you want to use the Internet?” You might ask me, “Why would I want to use the Internet?” So there are lots of problems. But we need to connect the world. The Internet creates job opportunities and economic development. It’s very important.
Connecting the world is something Mark takes very seriously. You want to connect the world. When did you begin to want to connect the world?
In 2004, I created the first version of Facebook because I wanted to connect all the students at Harvard. I have always thought there should be a product to connect the whole world, but I thought other companies [would] do it. I remember when I was a college student, every evening my friends and I would eat pizza and talk about the future. Long ago, after I created the first version [of Facebook], I told my friends, “I’m really happy we’ve helped connect students, but [there should be] a product to connect the world.” But we [were] just students. I thought another company [would] do it. I thought perhaps Google, Microsoft, or another company. They had more than ten thousand programmers and more than one hundred million users. We [were] just students. However, we’ve always believed that social media are very powerful. Other companies didn’t believe it. We’ve believed that all along, so we built one. Now, we have 1.3 billion users.
So in the last ten years, Mark built a truly amazing company. Mark, there are a lot of students here who want to start companies. What kind of advice to you have for them?
Start a company? I think the best companies are started not because the founders want to start a company, but because the founders want to change the world. (applause) If you decide that you want to start a company, you might start to develop your first idea. You might recruit a lot of employees. But you might have lots of ideas. You don’t know which idea is the best. If your first idea is bad, then your company is bad. But, if you decide to change the world, shouldn’t you come up with many ideas? If any idea is good, then you create a company.
Great advice. Wait until your idea is good, then create a company. So, in the process of creating Facebook, what was the secret to your success?
I think the best thing is that you can’t give up. Developing a company is hard. Most things won’t go smoothly. You will need to make difficult decisions; you will need to fire some employees.
Are you saying you’re going to fire me today? (laughter)
So, if you don’t believe in your mission, it is easy to give up. Most entrepreneurs give up, but the best entrepreneurs don’t. So believing in your mission and not giving up are very important.
It’s safe to say you are one of the most successful entrepreneurs. What thoughts do you have about innovation in China?
Yes, yes, yes.
Xiaomi is a very innovative company. They are developing quickly and have lots of different products. They’re cheap. (laughter) I think Xiaomi will grow quickly. Tencent’s WeChat is also huge. Most Chinese people use WeChat or QQ. Taobao is also very innovative. Taobao creates job opportunities. I think China has many of the world’s most innovative companies.
So Mark really has a good feeling about innovation in our China. Speaking of China, I’m going to ask Mark a relatively difficult question. Will I get fired today? So, what’s your plan for Facebook in China? (applause) A difficult question.
We’re already in China. (laughter) We help Chinese companies get more overseas customers. They use Facebook ads to find more customers. For example, Lenovo uses Facebook ads in Indonesia to sell new phones. I forgot, Lenovo’s [unclear]. Yeah, that one. In China I also see economic development. We’re very impressed. It’s amazing. So we want to help other places in the world connect to China. Like great cities, national parks… Hangzhou and Qingdao also have great pages on Facebook. We work with these cities to develop pages and share Chinese culture.
Great, and this difficult a question Mark answered with just one sentence. Let’s give him a round of applause. (applause) After a difficult question, let’s take it easy a bit. I’ll ask Mark some personal questions, easier questions, so he can give us some details of his [personal] life. So how about we ask you some questions about your personal life?
First question: what colors do you like?
I can’t see red or green, because Facebook is blue. (Note: Mark is red-green colorblind.)
What kind of Chinese food do you like?
When I’m in Beijing, I always eat Beijing street food (lit. hútóng xiǎochī), but I also like Beijing roast duck.
No wonder you like Beijing so much, you like Beijing street food and Beijing duck. So, outside of work, what kind of activities do you do?
I have no time outside [of work]. (laughter)
Ok, I cook with Priscilla.
I recall you also have a pet?
We have a dog. His name is Beast. He’s a [Hungarian] sheepdog. He’s really short. I love him.
You also made a page for Beast.
I develop Beast’s page. Beast has 2 million fans.
The next question is also hard. Between you and Priscilla, whose Chinese is better?
In Mandarin, I can say more words, but she also speaks Cantonese. Her listening comprehension is better than mine. My listening is really bad. One day I asked her, “Why is my listening so bad?” and she told me, “Your listening is bad in English, too!”
Thank you so much Mark. We still have some time, so why don’t we invite one or two students to ask some questions?
Should I use English or Chinese? Chinese? (asks a question in Mandarin, translated below)
How did you start Facebook, and…
You asked me…
(translates her own question into English) How did Facebook establish a competitive edge toward other social network sites and what was the biggest challenge? And the second question is at what moment did you get a leap of faith and decide to leave school and devote [yourself to] your enterprise?
(in Mandarin) Second question: I was really fortunate. I never decided to leave. Harvard students can take temporary leave, so I created the first version of Facebook, and the second year it was too much to develop Facebook and go to class, so I was really fortunate in that I just took temporary leave and didn’t go to class. I’m still a Harvard student. From time to time, Harvard’s leader asks me, or tells me, “You can come back.” But now I can’t go back.
First question: the biggest challenge. Our biggest challenge perhaps was in 2012, when we needed to make Facebook a mobile company. Before, we weren’t one. In 2012, our growth was very slow, and our monetary growth was very slow, and everyone was unhappy. However, we made Facebook into a mobile company, and now we have more than one billion users using Facebook on their mobile phones.
(in English) My name is Yang Zhilun, from the school of social work, and also a member of the x-lab. I’m very glad to ask a question. From the Internet and mobile Internet, we know that the progress of science and technology has greatly accelerated our human society, especially the revolution [sic]. From your perspective, what is the next big advance in technology?
Very interesting. This year Facebook is ten years old.
Ten years? (Note: “Ten” sounds a lot like “four” in Mandarin.)
So I ask, in the next ten years, what should we develop? I decided what are the next things we will develop. First, we need to connect the whole world. We need to help all people use the Internet. Second, we want to develop “artificial intelligence.”
(in Mandarin) Artificial intelligence.（人工智能）
I don’t know [that word in Chinese]. I think ten years from now, computers will be better than humans at seeing, listening comprehension, and language, so we’ve developing that. Third, once everyone is using mobile phones, I believe the next platform is “virtual reality.” I don’t know how to say that [in Chinese] either.
(in Mandarin) Virtual reality. （虚拟现实）
Oculus is the first product, but we want to have many products.
(End of video.)
It was after that I felt a boredom I had never before experienced. At first I didn’t know why; later I thought it’s always such that when a person’s convictions receive praise it spurs their progress; receive opposition and it spurs their struggle. Only when screaming among strangers, when those strangers do not react—at once no praise, and no opposition—as if finding oneself placed on and endless wasteland, with no recourse at all: what sadness is this! Thus I assumed what I was felt was loneliness.
– Lu Xun, Preface to Nahan [Outcry/A Call to Arms] (1922)
I always come back to reading Lu Xun. He was too influential to overlook and too good to want to. His writing is clear and straightforward and sometimes I get the illusion he is writing in the present day, like I do reading Natsume Soseki. Lu Xun reminds me of Soseki in his mix of earnestness and satire; there I times I laugh out loud reading The True Story of Ah-Q or I Am a Cat. Another interesting connection I’ve noted is the number of Japanese words in Lu Xun’s writing, such as 便當 ‘convenient’ and 卒業 ‘to graduate.’ I don’t know whether these words were common in some register of Chinese and later fell out of use, or if Lu Xun borrowed them from Japanese, or both.
In any case, Lu Xun presents himself in the self-written preface to Nahan as a lonely idealist hoping to change minds but feeling lost. He tries to lose himself in copying ancient engravings until a friend persuades him to write a little something for a magazine called The New Youth. What he wrote became A Madman’s Diary and the rest is history.
NB: The translation above is mine.
It’s been a while since I published a blog post. I’ve been updating the look of my website after moving to a self-hosted WordPress site, which was really easy using Michael Hyatt’s method, which you can find in the link.
Today I want to share with you my YouTube channel. My username is kieranmaynard, so you can find me at youtube.com/user/kieranmaynard. Please take a look at my intro video, in three languages! (English, Chinese, and Japanese, with subtitles.)
Thanks for watching!
There’s a lot of great writing out there about learning languages (much of it better than mine), but there are some things I’ve learned studying languages that I wish I had known a long time ago. For one, I have found that learning a language may be thought of as divided into four phases. I have only anecdotal evidence, but this has been my experience learning Chinese and Japanese.
Assuming you start out with no prior knowledge, in the beginning you know nothing. In reality you almost never know “nothing”—Japanese, for example, is full of English words that are readily understandable, and Spanish is full of Latin cognates—but in the beginning you can’t understand more than a word or two of what you read or hear. The first step is to learn how to pronounce the language you are learning, and how to read and write it in a phonetic script (like Chinese pinyin, Japanese romaji, or the Spanish alphabet). After this stage I would begin to memorize the most frequent words, preferably embedded in short phrases and sentences with English translations. Some people do pictures. I find it’s easier to copy English translations, and the most common words are so common they don’t need much help to remember. In the Beginner stage you need English translations to make heads or tails of most sentences and spend a lot of time sounding out words.
After Beginner you will reach the Intermediate stage. I define intermediate as the point where you can read texts and listen to speech and understand some parts with the aid of a dictionary. There’s no fine line between Beginner and Intermediate. I probably spent more than a year as a Beginner in Japanese, but not more than a week as a Beginner in Spanish. This was only partly due to differences in the languages themselves, but mostly due to the fact that I made almost no effort to engage with real Japanese (for native speakers, by native speakers) in the first year I learned that language, whereas I began Spanish with Borges and Wikipedia pages. The Intermediate stage is what is usually stretched indefinitely by language courses of all stripes. (Perhaps because by the time you level up, you no longer feel the need to pay them for what you can get for free?)
When you are fluent, you are Advanced. I get asked a lot how I define fluency, and the honest answer is: I don’t. At some point I just didn’t need to check the dictionary all that much to read Japanese, and the same thing happened with Chinese. At some point, I didn’t have to keep asking people, “What did you just say?” It’s not that I was suddenly able to understand everything, but that I was able to understand enough. I believe a dedicated learning can skip the Beginner stage in a couple of weeks and make it to Advanced in not more than a year. The key variables are your level of interest and how much input you receive. The former depends upon your ability to know thyself and pick engaging materials, and the latter depends on your consumption.
4. “Native Fluency”
Like many language learners, I too hope to someday evolve into a “native speaker.” Do the scare quotes betray my skepticism? I have a gut feeling that a native speaker is nothing more than a speaker who is really good at matching patterns in sound to memorized patterns in speech, and at catching high-frequency words while ignoring words they don’t quite understand. In other words, just someone who is Really Advanced because they kept getting better until they were “good enough” at their language to do what they want with it. That is, they have internalized the most frequent patterns of speech and text so as to know what to expect, and how to break those patterns to be “creative.” (Or how to follow the patterns and bore us to death.) I talk a lot about “patterns” because I think they are the key to efficient learning and effective use of language. My teacher Dr. Kretzchmar once said that on the level of language, almost all “creative writing” depends upon the manipulation of expected patterns of language. Grasp the patterns, and you hold the key of the mundane. Open the door to the garden of language delights.
Below I have translated a Tang Dynasty poem in Classical Chinese, supposedly by a famed courtesan Du Qiuniang, that is included in the Three Hundred Tang Poems. According to Wikipedia in Chinese, the poet Du Mu met Du Qiuniang in her old age and wrote a poem called “The Song of Du Qiuniang.” The preface includes the poem I have translated below, which later readers have interpreted as the work of Du Qiuniang herself.
I entreat you, do not covet that gold-threaded gown,
I entreat you to covet the time of your youth.
Flowers bloom and then are to be plucked,
Do not wait to pluck at a flowerless branch.
My dear, covet not that gold-threaded gown,
Hold fast to the days of your youth.
Flowers in bloom are ripe for picking,
Pluck not at a flowerless branch.
NB: There is a much better English translation by Andrew W.F. Wong available on his blog Classical Chinese Poems in English.
“Zhuangzi” 莊子 is a supposedly Classical (pre-Qin Dynasty) Chinese text we know from a “copy” (possibly a wholesale rewriting) made by Guo Xiang 郭象, a Western Jin Dynasty writer who lived in the 3rd Century. It was supposedly written by someone named “Zhang Zhou” or his “disciples,” though whether such a person had disciples or even existed at all is unknown. The text is supposedly a central part of a religion called “Taoism,” but scholars disagree on it’s importance in the various religious practices and groups spanning two thousand years that scholars label with the umbrella term “Taoism” (which might basically be synonymous with “indigenous (non-Buddhist or Muslim) Chinese religion”). The above disclaimer aside, “Zhuangzi” is an interesting text that is often quoted in China today. I will share a small piece below
眾人役役，聖人愚芚，參萬歲而一成純。萬物盡然，而以是相蘊。予惡乎知說生之非惑邪！予惡乎知惡死之非弱喪而不知歸者邪！麗之姬，艾封人之子也。晉國之始得之也，涕泣沾襟；及其至於王所，與王同筐床，食芻豢，而後悔其泣也。予惡乎知夫死者不悔其始之蘄生乎！夢飲酒者，旦而哭泣；夢哭泣者，旦而田獵。方其夢也，不知其夢也。夢之中又占其夢焉，覺而後知其夢也。且有大覺而後知此其大夢也，而愚者自以為覺，竊竊然知之。君乎，牧乎，固哉！《莊子 • 齊物論12》
“Zhuangzi” on the Dislike of Death
“Men in general bustle about and toil; the sagely man seems stupid and to know nothing. He blends ten thousand years together in the one (conception of time); the myriad things all pursue their spontaneous course, and they are all before him as doing so. How do I know that the love of life is not a delusion? and that the dislike of death is not like a young person’s losing his way, and not knowing that he is (really) going home? Li Ji was a daughter of the border Warden of Ai. When (the ruler of) the state of Jin first got possession of her, she wept till the tears wetted all the front of her dress. But when she came to the place of the king, shared with him his luxurious couch, and ate his grain-and-grass-fed meat, then she regretted that she had wept. How do I know that the dead do not repent of their former craving for life? Those who dream of (the pleasures of) drinking may in the morning wail and weep; those who dream of wailing and weeping may in the morning be going out to hunt. When they were dreaming they did not know it was a dream; in their dream they may even have tried to interpret it; but when they awoke they knew that it was a dream. And there is the great awaking, after which we shall know that this life was a great dream. All the while, the stupid think they are awake, and with nice discrimination insist on their knowledge; now playing the part of rulers, and now of grooms.” — “The Adjustment of Controversies” in “Zhuangzi” (trans. James Legge)