When I was a child, I had a toy for sorting shapes.  sorting_shapesPutting the round peg in the round hold made me very content.  Even as an adult, I like sorting things.  I think my whole enjoyment of “Spider Solitaire” card game is the joy of putting things in order.

Learning Korean has made me feel like a 2 D person trying to understand the 3 D world.

I just want to understand what are all the shapes that I will encounter, so I can organize my brain to hold these things.

The rest of this is just ramblings about Korean grammar as I try to sort and process what I am learning.

Early on I learned there were these “particles” that attached to the end of words.  Then I had to adapt my brain when I came to realize that more than one particle could attach on the end of a word.

I learned the different parts of speech, and I adapted to the idea that it wasn’t a one-to-one mapping to English parts of speech.

I expected verbs would conjugate, and I felt a sense of relief when I thought I had come to understand what all the tenses were that I would need to make slots for in my brain.

Then along came these other things.  I don’t have words for them yet.  Until I do understand what these grammatical thingies are and make slots in my brain to hold this information, I am very unsettled.  I can say that they are more than the simple two-part puzzle pieces that I thought were going to be sufficient to hold grammar rules.

I suspect what I really need is someone to draw me tree diagrams that explain the sentence grammar.  However, I do not believe either my tutor or KDA teacher thinks about grammar in that way.  In the mean time, I feel like I have to hold these unclassified thing-a-bobs in my working memory until I figure out what they are and how to store that information.  Until then, it feels very much like I am juggling and dropping things from my memory because I don’t understand how to classify them.

Let me give you some concrete examples from KDA class 23.


What the heck is 시?  I know it has something to do with respect.  It is a verb fragment? Used in only some particular set of circumstances involving respect for other people?  I’ve tried to use this 시 and clearly not understood it’s proper use, as this is something my Korean friends have corrected me on, so I have temporarily given up on it.  Now it is back in class 23, and I still don’t know where to put it in my brain.

If I understand correctly, this 시 is called “subject honorific suffix”.  (See posts Speech level and honorifics)

Trying to Google subject honorific suffix yields me things like this which are beyond my current understanding. I absorb that there are “addressee honorifics” as well as “subject honorifics”.  I also get that you don’t use 시 when talking about yourself.  I giggle over the word “fossilized”.

시2So in my internal map of understanding language, I do not yet have a slot that handles honorifics.  Sometimes, it seems like beginner books ignored this thing-a-bob called honorifics and lumped it together with verb conjugation.

Meanwhile, BS Shen would like me to speak with him in respectful, honorific speech and I can’t manage it because I don’t quite have it figured out.  I was so glad when Rob of Korean Digital Academy had said in the beginning just stick to the ~요 level.  The rest of the Koreans let me get away with this in pity for the poor, stupid American who can’t manage proper speech.  BS Shen is my stickler grammarian, which I so appreciate, yet also live in fear of.  My attitude is always respectful to him, but my speech is such a mess.  I don’t do formal polite speech often enough to be competent at it when we are chatting.

Of course, that is entirely the point why BS Shen insists on formal speech.  Most Koreans I meet will be strangers who should be spoken to respectfully.  I need to practice that.

I’ve rambled on, but the point I was trying to make is that 시 is one grammar structure I don’t know what to do with.

Other structures also confuse me.  Structures that require not a single particle attachment but certain phrasal arrangements of multiple elements also have no name for me.  It is more than a part of speech.  It is less than a sentence.  It is somehow giving me a clue about making sentences that isn’t quite verb conjugation.  What the heck are these things?

Here is a concrete example – how to express duration:


I had this terrifying idea. Perhaps EVERY SENTENCE I WILL EVER SAY IN KOREAN will require learning a new grammar pattern.  Oh. My. God.  My brain is spinning at that idea.

I am literally approaching learning Korean like I have to memorize every sentence I will ever say.  No wonder why I can’t say much.  My memorization skills aren’t that good.  I am not grasping this brave new world after we covered verb conjugation that is trying to get me to grasp sentences.

Heck, if I am honest, I still don’t get the difference between 이/가 and 은/는.  How am I ready to grasp complex sentence structures?

OK.  I am not trying to whine.  I am just trying to document the severe confusion I am experiencing trying to process this language stuff being tossed my way.  I juggle.  I call grammar thing-a-bobs.  I try to keep a sense of humor through all this.


They say that unsuccessful language learners spend a lot of time switching from one thing to the next, not sticking to just one book or one class.  I think they are just searching for some material that makes sense to them.  I know that is what I am doing.

So I have just two more KDA classes, then I will give myself the chance to switch gears.

I am thinking of going through the “Active Korean” book series.  ActiveKoreanThese are the books/CDs that are used in that class in NYC that I wish I could attend.  Instead, I bought the books but haven’t been able to make time to read them yet.  Going through the 4 books with their accompanying workbooks and audio should reinforce the grammar and vocabulary taught in KDA, giving me time to process and internalize it.

Or perhaps I will finally go through the Talk To Me In Korean grammar lessons.  Or the Living Korean series that I have been listening to the audio for a few months.  Or the Mango software I so enjoy.  I have many options of things to study next.  The trick will to keep myself going without the pressure of a class every week. 


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