Saturday, July 23, 2011

Learning Korean



So you've kept up with the Mandarin Chinese studies, right Dave? Like you said you would in that over-optimistic blog post?

Screw you, guilty conscience - when have you ever done me good? You can't guilt-trip me out of being lazy, I already feel bad about my lack of linguistic skills. I still have recurring bad dreams about being back at school and bunking/flunking German A-level.

I'm seriously impressed by bi-lingual skills - any time I hang out with a local person or ask someone directions and they reply in perfect English, I'm bowled over. Native English speakers are so damn lazy by comparison, including me. But until now, I've just lacked a little motivation (beyond guilt) to really learn a language, and been unsure exactly which language to focus my efforts on.

I really like Chinese writing, but I was never planning on spending long in China. Japanese is much easier to speak, but I don't think I'll be visiting there for a while yet. Luckily, I've met a Korean girl now, so the decision was made for me. Besides, she bought me an ace pocket Korean phrasebook, so it would be rude not to at least try!

As usual, I started with numbers.


Sino-Korean numbers 1 to 10


Koreans have two completely different counting systems, depending on what's being counted. Fan-빌어먹을-tastic. Here are the images that immediately sprang to [my insane] mind, to help me learn through association:




1 il (일)

2 ee (이)

3 sam (삼)

'Sam' Beckett from 90s time travel series Quantum Leap is 'ill' (that's a thermometer and hospital gown - these things look better in my mind), and you can also tell from his flat cap that he's from the stereotypical North of England (where they say 'Ee, by gum' etc). So this is how I remember numbers one to three. Honestly, somehow it works.

4 sa (사)

5 oh (오)

6 yu (육)

7 ch'il (칠)

8 p'al (팔)

A female pig (sow - 'sa'-'oh') has been cross-bred with a female sheep (ewe - 'yu'). This abomination of nature is relaxing/chilling ('ch'il') on a deckchair, which has a Scottish flag design (because Scottish people say 'pal' - e.g. 'see you pal, where can I steal some heroin for ma bairns, likes?')

9 gu (구)

10 ship (십)

In the distance, a 'ship' is floating on some goo ('gu'). Straightforward. Or borderline mentally ill? At least the word for 'ship' looks a bit like a boat.

Either way, I now know numbers one to ten - at least, if I'm dealing with measurements, money, phone numbers or time (apart from the hours).

For counting ages, hours or physical objects, it's these guys:


Native Korean numbers 1 to 10




1 hana (하나)

2 tul (둘)

3 set (셋)

4 net (넷)

Daryl Hannah ('hana') from Blade Runner is very tall ('tul') and has caught 'Set' - Egyptian god of the desert - in a 'net.'

5 tasot (다섯)

6 yosot (여섯)

7 ilgop (일곱)

8 yodolp (여덟)

'Tasot' and 'yosot' are too obscure even for my deranged mind to create an image for, so I just remember the letters T.Y. (toy) and fill in the rest. The toy in question is a cheap, illegal ('ilgop' - pronounced more like 'iligo') rip-off of Yoda from Star Wars - or as the criminal manufacturers call him, Yodo ('yodolp').

9 ahop (아홉)

10 yol (열)

'A hop' - the female flower clusters used primarily as a flavouring and stability agent in beer - is from the Southern United States of America. Y'know, where they say things like 'y'all' ('yol').


Korean numbers 11 to 19



It's not how it looks - he just really wants to learn Korean


Both sets of numbers count upwards from 10 using the same system - ten + unit

So 11 is either ship-il or yol-hana (십일 or 열하나 - ten plus one)

12 is either ship-ee or yol-tul (십이 or 열둘 - ten plus two)


Korean numbers 20 to 99


Sino-Korean tens are easy - using the form number x ten

So 20 is ee-ship (이십 - two times ten), 30 is sam-ship (삼십 - three times ten) up to 90 which is gu-ship (삼십 - nine times ten)

Annoyingly, Native Korean has different numbers for each of the tens, which bear almost no relation to their unit forms:


10 yol (열)

20 sumul (스물)

30 sorun (서른)

40 mahun (마흔)

50 shween (쉰)

60 yesun (예순)

70 irun (이른)

80 yodun (여든)

90 ahun (아흔)


I'm not doing a picture for that.

Fortunately, both counting systems use the same form for all the numbers in-between, using the same 'ten + unit' form as the teens:


21 ee-ship-il or sumul-hana (이십일 or 스물하나)

22 ee-ship-ee or sumul-tul (이십이 or 스물둘)

35 sam-ship-oh or sorun-tasot (삼십오 or 서른다섯)

99 gu-ship-gu or ahun-ahop (구십구 or 아흔아홉)


And once you reach 100 (baek - 백), it's Sino-Korean all the way!

What have I gotten myself into?

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