My name’s Hannah, and I’m an addict.

I have an addiction.

I don’t quite remember when it started, but it’s become a significant part of my current lifestyle.
I have sessions once, twice, sometimes three times in a day. Sessions vary in length, I kinda loose track of time, but I’m sure multiple hours can be consumed by my addiction in a single day.

It’s time I came clean to friends, family, and random people who have found their way to this blog through keyword searches.

I’m addicted to flashcards.

Korean flashcards.

Not the rudimentary ones made with real card and print.
I’m talking sophisticated, computer generated flashcards.

The kind that give instant feedback, and which adjust the frequency of a cards appearance as you become more familiar with it. I’m tested for aural recognition of a spoken Korean word or phrase, translation of a printed Korean word back to English, and the ability to produce the Korean equivalent of a printed English word. When I can successfully do all of the above after not being exposed to a card for more than a week I am said to have ‘learned’ that vocabulary. If I can successfully complete all 3 tasks a few weeks after learning the card I am said to have ‘mastered’ that card.

Of course I didn’t become a full-blown addict overnight.

It started when I was trying to choose a country to teach English in. When I was 12 I leant a little Japanese. It was hard. Chinese, well, that’s one, or rather several, crazy languages with thousands of characters and tonal differences. Then I read somewhere that Hangul, the Korean alphabet, can be learnt in just a couple of hours. I thought they was talking crazy. I’m no language ninja. And Korean has all those crazy lines and circles…

I could waste a lot of English alphabet trying to describe this to you, but how about you check out this short video instead. This is how I got started. Before long I was able to read (though not necessarily understand) signs along the Albany Highway. Once you can read Hangul you soon realise that there are a lot of words written in Hangul that are just their best imitations of English, like 아이스크림 (ice cream), 커피 (coffee) and 뉴질랜드 (New Zealand). I’m always surprised and disappointed when I meet people who have been in Korea for more than a couple of months (some of them multiple years) who haven’t taken the time to familiarise themselves with this alphabet. Sure you can get around Korea pretty good without any Korean, but it makes life so much easier. And for me I’m sure it made the move here a lot less intimidating. Instead of crazy, arbitrary symbols surrounding me I saw something carefully constructed (it’s actually really interesting to read about the creation of this alphabet), with noticeable patterns and bestowed meaning. Sometimes, if I was lucky, my time to phonetically read a word was rewarded with the realisation that this was an English word. Café menus are almost entirely translatable in this way.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After watching this video I wanted more.

After trying several podcasts and websites I found I most favoured the learning format of Koreanclass101. I started with the free package, but soon paid for a basic subscription. This allowed me to access a whole library of audio lessons. I could stream these and listen to them while I was eating my lunch or download them and play them on my iPod when I went out running.

I had managed to stick to this whole Korean thing, and was serious about moving there, so I paid for a premium subscription. This let me download review tracks which I could flick through on the way to work, and PDFs so I could read transcripts of the lesson.  By this point I was becoming familiar with key vocabulary. I could recognise Korean when I heard it spoken and I would instantly identify Korean names when I encountered them.

Then one day whilst exploring more of the tools available with the premium subscription, I started my first collection of flashcards.

My commitment to learning Korean wanned in the last few months prior to my departure. I just had so much to do. When I first got here I found myself compulsively reading Hangul on everything, even if I had no idea what it said, but I didn’t engage with lessons. There was enough new information to be taking in. Names of people, places and students, and all the other essentials for life here.

A few months ago I felt settled enough to get back to studying. But I couldn’t be bothered sitting and listening to a lesson, and I didn’t take in a hell of a lot of new info when I was multi-tasking. Flashcards, however, provided me with an instant hit. I could learn several new words in a session. I could watch my statistics improving as I slowly learned and then mastered vocabulary. I could watch the progress bars on my decks inch towards completion, first the Core 100, then core 200….

My current stats are (and of course I’ve just had a good session before writing this to improve as much as I can):

Mastered: 876

Learned: 44

Started: 182

I must admit that there are some cards that seem to be doubled up between  decks, and my pronunciation of  words like 머리 (head, hair) and  멀리 (far) may not be different enough for a Korean to give me the thumbs up, but I think I can be pretty proud of my stats.

I’m finding that I’m able to learn words faster as I learn root words. I recently learned 사진 (photo) and today was introduced to 사진 촬영 (photography). I’m also loving that almost everyday I’ll encounter a word I’ve just learnt, whether it’s seeing it in the window of a shop I pass on my way to work, or hearing it in a conversation between workmates.

But now it’s time to admit that my addiction is not entirely healthy. I know lots of words, but will never be able to speak Korean until I know how they’re supposed to be put together into sentences.

I’ll get on to some proper lessons….

But first, just one more session.


For your pleasure

Today my training was interrupted by a trip to the hospital in order to complete a medical for my alien registration card.

I was accompanied by one of the operational staff from the school as we travelled by taxi to the ‘hospital’ which I would have called a medical centre, or a Labtest.

My completed forms were traded at the reception desk for a plastic cup. I was then directed towards the nearest bathroom. I figured there wasn’t much point asking anyone to translate into English what I was expected to do.

The next test was to measure my height. This involved a bit of balancing and hopping about as I tried to yank my boots off. And a similar amount of balancing and wiggling as I tried to get my boots back on again.

An eye examination chart was then flicked on and a black line pointed to on the floor. Excellent. An eye examination chart. I have a wealth of experience with these. They let me keep my glasses on, if they hadn’t I would not have been able to ready the top line if it had been in Hangul, English or Punjabi, I really wouldn’t have been able to tell. She skipped the large Hangul characters at the top which I could see, and could have sounded, if not named but I guess they figured I didn’t speak Korean, and went straight to the teeny tiny numbers at the bottom. It was true I knew how to name these, but my ability to identify them correctly was seriously questionable. I took my best guess, trying to act confident in my answers (quite the opposite of how I would approach an examination for a new prescription), but I had no hope of reading anything on the bottom line. I wouldn’t have even been able to tell that they were anything more than dots on the page. Hopefully I did satisfactorily, but I don’t think eye examinations are part of the alien card application.

I was then ushered into a sound box and given a headset and a button. “Click when you hear a “b.” Huh? When I hear the letter ‘B’? When I hear a bumble bee? Having them repeat the instruction didn’t prove any more enlightening. Ah “Click when I hear a ‘beep’?” Yes, Yes. Ok. Clearly their onomatopoeia is slightly different, Korean words normally ending in vowels.

The beeps were so quiet I wondered if I had the headset on properly. Bebebeep……. bebebeeep. They’d start in one pitch very quietly and then grow louder, before starting faintly at another frequency. They didn’t really mix up the delivery intervals, so I pretty much just sat there pushing the button every 2 seconds. I started to wonder if I was imagining beeps, or if I was missing beeps when I swallowed because I heard that louder than the beeping. I started to wonder if I’d been forgotten, but the beeping stopped and the nurse soon opened the door of the sound booth.

I then went into a room with a female doctor. She spoke a bit of English, enough to say ‘blood pressure’ as she indicated that she wanted me to roll up my sleeve. Thankfully my sleeves, which after taking off my coat and cardi were now a tightly fitting thermal and an equally tight merino, could be forced far enough up my arm to satisfy her. They probably worked equally well as a tourniquet as the inflated blood-pressure arm band. My sleeve then stayed up whilst she took a blood sample. This was the only part of the test I knew was coming, and I’m not fussed about needles so this was fine. She laughed kindly at me when I said ‘kamsahamnida’ (thank you) as she applied a bandage, I think both out of surprise and mild amusement that I at least knew one work in Korean.

I went from there into another room with a new nurse and a new pointing game began. She pointed at my boots, so I took them off again. She pointed at the bed in the room so I sat. She then pointed to the pillow on the bed so I lay down. She pointed at my feet, so I took my socks off. She then pointed at my necklace and bracelet, so I took them off. I lay back down and she pointed at my earings – just simple sleepers – but I took them out. I then had to lift up my top. I had no idea what was going on. She started wiping down metal clip things which went around my ankles, and then my wrists. I began to wonder if I should be concerned that I had been instructed to take off metal I was wearing, but that I was still wearing my glasses and had an underwire in bra. I don’t think my pointing at these objects was interpreted properly. Metal clips were added to my wrists and then things like plugs positioned at various points around my chest. A machine was turned on. I assumed since I was lying down I was supposed to try and relax. Readings of my heart beat or something were taken on a machine. The clips and plugs were removed, and I got myself presentable again. If the metal I was wearing was supposed to contribute to risk of electric shock during this procedure I’m really not sure. Perhaps after 3 nights on my fluffy purple bedding I’ve been desensitized to shocks. I’m honestly subjected to a crackle of shocks every time I get out of bed. It’s nuts.

I was then directed into a final room with a male doctor. I figured the machine in the room was a chest x-ray. I’d had one before, so it looked vaguely familiar. The old doctor put his hands flat on his chest and said “For your pleasure.” Huh? He then pointed to me “For your pleasure” Clearly he was talking about my chest, not his. My ‘pressure’ had already been measured (Koreans often get ‘R’ and ‘L’ mixed up for reasons related to their own language) I figured he didn’t mean that. His guestures then seemed to indicate that I needed to take my top off – which I figured went with the whole x-ray thing, but I was still puzzled “for your pleasure”. What did he mean? Surely me taking my top off would be more pleasurable for him than for me. He then pointed to a gown in the corner. I nodded and he left the room, coming back when I was appropriately robed. I then played some weird game of heads, shoulders, knees and toes as my chin, hands and shoulders were appropriately positioned in front of the machine. He called these words out in English as be moved me into place.  When I had replaced the robe for my thermals and merino I came out to see my x-ray on the screen. He told me my lungs were clear, and that my heart was of normal size.

I get the rest of my results in a few days.

I’m still not sure about my pleasure.