Tuesday, December 2, 2008


At my taekwondo studio, I've been sort of loosely accepted by the middle and high school students I train with. I am caught somewhere between older sister, exotic oddity, friend, and (occasional) translator. For example, last night, one of the boys was struggling with a passage in his English practice book and asked me to tell him what it meant. I surprised myself at being able to provide (rather easily) a rough approximation of the Korean. Granted the English level was at about that of a second grader in the U.S., but still... I was happy I could help him.

The girls are really sweet. They talk to me a lot. Sometimes I don't understand everything right away, but we're both getting good at re-phrasing it so that we understand each other eventually. I've learned quite a bit of Korean this way. However, they tend to ask me to translate the English in Korean pop songs (or English pop songs played often in Korea).

It's funny because they often don't know what they mean at all.

For example, pop sensation 이효리 (Lee Hyo Ri) has a new song out called "U Go Girl!" (The uninitiated should watch the video here.) So naturally, the girls want to know what "you go girl" means because to them, with their lack of exposure to American hip-hop, it sounds like she's saying "go away, girl!"

I translated it as "여자 와이팅!" (Girl Fighting!)

(As a side note, Ms. Lee has some of the WORST English pronunciation I've ever heard. It sounds exactly like foreigners mocking Korean pronunciation of English. It is both comical and sad to hear: "Hei gull! Gull! hei yoo goh gull!" Please, please someone help her.)

A few days later they asked about Abba song "Mamma Mia," which is very popular here now as there is a movie based on the Broadway musical of the same name out in theaters. They thought it was about someone's 어머니 (mother). Anyone who is familiar with the lyrics knows this song is about a cheating guy (which I also explained to the girls).

I translated the song's title as "이타리아말: 아이고!" (Italian: Oh my god!)

Even then we had problems because they thought I said, in English, "I go," as it sounds like "아이고."

I may not be studying as hard as I once was, but I'm definitely still learning. Now if I can just get back to studying...

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