Back in Japan…


Well I’m back in Japan, and I have to say life is here pretty good. Mix equal parts of on-piste skiing, backcountry skiing, soaking in onsen, studying Japanese, and hanging out at Pontaro izakaya, and you have the recipe for my current day-to-day. The amazing experience I had here in Shin-Akakura last year brought me back for another season. It was such a great place to study Japanese and ski that I had to come back again, but this time only until March. It’s really a great situation for learning Japanese – I spend a couple hours studying in Hotel Moc and Sachiko helps me with any questions, and, in the evening, I’m exposed to, let’s say, various and interesting conversations at the izakaya (セクシーエアプロンだから)。

I have to admit that last year I felt pretty lost in learning Japanese; however, this time things are really starting to click. Last year I was adamantly against learning any kanji because I thought it was such a big hurdle and wanted to focus on conversation instead of reading/writing. However, I started studying kanji again this past December, and now I really like it. The strange thing with kanji (the Chinese characters) is that there are multiple readings (pronunciations) for each character. For example, you can see a word written and not really know how to pronounce it, but since the kanji have meaning you can understand the meaning of the word. The opposite is true for English, if you see a word for the first time, you can pronounce it but have no idea what it means. Anyways, the point is you can’t really read much with just katakana and hiragana, so the veil of illiteracy is slowing coming off. And that’s a great thing.

Small story: last year when travelling with James, we were discussing the personality type that tends to talk only about themselves and doesn’t ask questions about you – this was a pet peeve of James’ while I asserted that all you had to do was start talking about yourself without any inquiry. So James made the point that when you learn a language, the first thing you learn to say is how are you? In Japanese, you say genki? which means roughly are you lively? And indeed, this is the first thing you learn in Japanese. However, Japanese people almost never say this. You ask someone if they’re lively if you haven’t seen them in a long time, but it really isn’t a replacement for how are you? In fact, June-chan spent a good few minutes making fun of me for speaking like a Japanese textbook because I asked him everyday if he was genki.

Anyways, up at the top is an ice sculpture of the characters 雪酒場 (snow alcohol place) and somehow I got into the local paper.


Jeju Island is Magical

I spent an amazing week on Jeju Island with my friend and, currently unemployed, language-partner Kim Jungun (yes, her name is almost the same as the North Korean dictator). The geography of Jeju Island (제주도) is absolutely stunning – it was formed by volcanic eruptions so the geography is particularly unique. There are kilometre long caves underground formed by lava, a large volcanic crater that juts out of part of the island, and sheer cliffs with volcanic columns that look like honeycomb-shaped steps descending into the ocean. And at the centre of the island is the domineering 2km tall volcano, Hallasan (한라산). Not to mention, there are beautiful white-sand beaches with that kind of emerald sea that makes you realized that there are in fact little slices of heaven down here on Earth.


Handjob pizza and other hilarious Konglish words


When your friend is ordering pizza over the phone, hearing them say the word handjob tends to stick out – especially when they are ordering pizza in Korean. After briefly considering the possibility of Korean pizza parlours with happy endings, I shook my head and assumed my crass mind had mangled some Korean words into this bizarre result. But then I heard her say handjob again on the phone. What follows is the resulting conversation…

“Did you say handjob on the phone?”

“Yes, handjob pizza.”


“It means tasty pizza.”

“Wait, are you saying the words hand and job?”

“No, I’m saying hands up!” (Friend does the thumbs up sign)

“That’s thumbs up, not hands up. Besides it sounds like you are saying handjob.”

“What does handjob mean?”

My miming skills were sufficient to clear up the difference between handjob and thumbs up/hands up, to which I received a loud ewwww from my friend. In the end, the pizza wasn’t very good – neither thumbs up good nor hands up good and definitely not handjob good.

Other Konglish (Korean-English) words:

Fighting – in a good way

Fighting, usually written 화이팅 or 파이팅, does not involve throwing punches but means to support someone or something. During World Cup 2014, there were many posters for Korea! Fighting! to show support for the Korean football team. You can also message someone 화이팅~! to say you support them – these are words of encouragement! Koreans can’t say the letter F, so it sounds more like pighting than fighting.

에이드 Ade

Lemonade was logically separated into its 2 main constituents: Lemons and Ade – the latter I assume is the ice and sugar. You can get all kinds of Ade: Grapefruit Ade (자몽에이드), Blueberry Ade (블루 베리 에이드), and of course the original Lemon Ade (레몬에이드). I suppose it makes sense since Gator Ade and Power Ade exist. Also Ade in Korea are usually carbonated.

서비스 Service

Somehow Service just means that something is free. When a waitress refills your bibimbap and says service, it means what she’s giving you is free. A counter marked as service in a restaurant is where you can load up on more side dishes (반찬).

물티슈 Mool Tissue

Mool means water in Korean and a tissue is a tissue so a mool tissue is a moist toilette. Pretty much every restaurant gives you a moist toilette before you eat.

셀카 Sel Ka

Walk into any cafe in Korea (90% of stores in Korea are mobile phone stores or cafes), and you’re likely to see a girl in her 20s spending about 20 continuous minutes doing Sel Ka. Sel Ka is short for Self Camera and just means #selfie. I imagine Koreans say SelKa because they can’t say the letter f and selpi might sound stupid.

한드폰 Hand Pon

A handeuppon (Hand Phone) is the Korean word for mobile phone. It reminds me of the German word for mobile phone, Handy. Mein Handy ist Kaputt!

If you’re interested in more Konglish terms check out

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Learn Korean by Texting with KakaoTalk!


You won’t spend 15 minutes in Korea without hearing KaTak KaTak coming from someone’s mobile phone. This is the sound of the ubiquitous Korean texting app, KakaoTalk, or as it’s abbreviated in Korean, 카톡.

The KaTak KaTak sound:

KakaoTalk is a really useful tool for learning Korean. Besides having the most cute emoticons of any messaging app, it is actually helpful for learning Korean for several reasons.

First, pretty much all Koreans use KakaoTalk. According to a survey, 93% of smart phone users in Korea use KakaoTalk – I guarantee you the remaining 7% are people you don’t want to talk to anyways. I don’t think any other messaging app has this much market penetration. With basically all Koreans using KakaoTalk, you have about 50 million potential friends to chat with. While people are sometimes hesitant to give out their phone number, in my experience, Koreans are generally happy to give out their KakaoTalk ID. Many people I’ve met through include their ID on their profile page and are content to exchange languages via text without ever meeting face to face.

Second, learning to use the Korean keyboard on your smart phone is easier than learning to write Hangul by hand. Simply put, pushing a button is easier than learning to draw a Hangul character. When learning anything, it’s helpful to avoid delays. Eventually you will be able to write by hand, but since you can learn to text more easily, you will get to the interesting part of actually expressing yourself more quickly, and that will keep you motivated to continue learning. This brings us to the 3rd point.

Third, learning is about getting motivated and staying motivated. Once you start texting with people, you are motivated to learn how to introduce yourself, to express your interests, and to ask your friend about their interests. With texting, you have as much time as you want to form your sentences, so you can double check a grammar rule or look up a word if you want.

In the 3 months I’ve been living in Korea I have added 40 people to KakaoTalk. Most of these people I have never met in person, but the practice I received, especially while just starting to learn, was invaluable. I have introduced myself 40 times, said how old I am 40 times, ask someone what they are up to 40 thousand times, …. It’s really a good way to practice forming sentences.

Of course, texting won’t directly help you to learn to have a conversation. It will help you practice making sentences, but it won’t help with speaking and listening skills. There is also the usual drawback to texting which is that the other person is usually doing something else so they might respond slowly. You can always ask the other person if they are busy, 시간 있어요?

However, I really recommend texting as a language learning tool in addition to having actual conversations. If you’re waiting for the bus or riding the subway, message someone hi, 안녕?, and ask someone what they are up to, 뭐해요?, or how they are feeling, 기분이 어때요?

If you don’t believe me, the popular Korean Englishman, 영국남자, cites texting as a way that he learned, and now he’s texting on TV commercials!

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K-Pop as Heard on the Streets of Busan

These K-pop songs entered my consciousness with their catchy choruses whether I wanted them to or not. If you go for a stroll in any commercial district, every single mobile phone store, which is pretty much every other store, blasts music into the street with their outdoor speakers. This is a sample of what they’re playing. While arguably lacking any “soul” or “authenticity”, these songs make up for their lack of “street cred” with good production and catchiness.

Girls’ Generation 소녀시대_’Mr.Mr.’_Music Video (Electronic Dance Pop)

까탈레나 (Catallena) – 오렌지캬라멜 (Orange Caramel) (Super sugary pop with a sushi-themed MV)

Overdose – EXO-M (Boy band pop)

감아 – 로꼬 (Loco) Feat. Crush (Hip Hop)

나의 옛날이야기 by 아이유 (IU) (Pop ballad)

200% – Akdong Musician (Light Pop with Hip Hop-influence – the sibling artists are 15 and 17 years old)

썸 – 소유 & 정기고 Feat. 릴보이 Of 긱스 (Funky Pop RnB)

2NE1 – COME BACK HOME (Reggae with Dub Step chorus)

If you’re interested in understanding the lyrics and learning Korean, check out TalkToMeInKorean’s page on learning Korean with K-pop.

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