Thursday, December 20, 2007

Weekly G-Spot 4: It's Election Season

In the spirit of the season....let's discuss the word elect:

Elect is a usually a verb that means to choose someone by voting. However it can be used as an adjective:

Yesterday, we elected a president. However, until he is actually installed as the president, he is referred to as the 'president elect.' Meaning that he has been elected by the people but has not yet begun to perform his duties. We can use this for other political positions such as governor, mayor, and senator.

Be careful because we usually do not use 'elect' in front of a noun (like most other adjectives) to talk about someone who has been elected to a post by voting. Instead, the usual adjective form is 'elected.' MuHyun Roh is the elected president until MyungBak Lee, the president elect, takes office.

One final note, a person who is chosen in some other way than actual voting is not 'elected.' We have other words like chosen, picked, and selected for other methods.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fly the friendlyhalf-nekkid skies

I don't know about the rest of the blogging community in Korea (which I know to be predominantly male) but I'm seriously considering taking a trip on Ryanair (wherever they go).

These feminist groups can call me a sexist, chauvenist, misanthrope or whatever they like. Whether you are male or female, eyes need love too. Besides, its for a good cause....what more reason do you need?

Hattip to Nomad for sending me to the vodka-swilling passenger where I found this link.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Weekly G-Spot 3: Partitives

A student once commented to me that although he could easily understand and use singular and plural very well, the use of partitives (words used to refer to a group of something) was a frequent consternation. Hosts of students of English have marveled as the battery of vocabulary memorization necessary to properly learn how to refer to things in groups. So, I dedicate this G-Spot to partitives.

To form a partitive we use the word 'of' plus the plural form of the object to which we are referring. Certain words are commonly used to refer to a variety of things or groups of people and while this is by no means a comprehensive list, it does offer some options that can be used.


For amorphous Groups of people you can use the following:


If the group of people or things have a certain shape then the following can be used. In general, these words make sense because the word used represents the shape or position of the objects:

Circle or Ring - refers to a group of things or people that form a circle or similar shape
Jumble, Scatter, Scattering - refer more to the lack of shape in the group
Sprinkling - would look like a bunch of nuts dropped on a table with no certain pattern.
Pile, Heap, Mound, Mountain - refer to how things are gathered in a representative shape.
Column, Row, String, Stacking, Line - suggests the way in which things appear to be ordered.

If groups of people or things have some kind of movement or if they occur with a certain frequency then the following can be used:

Hail, Barrage, Shower - suggest things coming from above or possibly being thrown.
Flood, Stream, Tide - normally refer to water but with groups they suggest a fluid movement of the objects or people.
Rash, Spate - something that happens suddenly and in large numbers.
Series - something that happens with some regularity
Volley - might suggest a short but controlled 'bombardment' of something (a volley of gunfire)

Perhaps the most diabolical group of partitives comes when discussing animals. Most animals have an appropriate partitive that is 'correct' however most can be referred to as "a group of _____" if you lack the vocabulary and in truth most native speakers would only be able to name about half of the following so don't stress about it too much:

an army of ants
a swarm of bees
a flock/flight of birds
a herd of cattle, deer, elephants
a litter of cubs, puppies, kittens
a school of dolphins, (fish)
a shoal of fish (not common)
a pack of hounds, wolves
a flock of sheep
a troop of monkeys
a gaggle of geese
a swarm/colony of insects
a pride of lions
a gaggle of geese
a murder of crows
a parliament of owls

(for more on birds, which are perhaps the most difficult, look here)

Some other notables for objects besides animals that you might see often:

a company of actors
a troup of actors
a wad/roll of banknotes
a fleet of ships
an army of volunteers
a gang/band/pack of theives
a flight of steps/stairs
a bunch/cluster of grapes/bananas
a bouquet/bunch of flowers
a squadron of fighter planes
a team/panel of experts

(source:Collins Cobuild "English Usage" Dictionary)

It should be noted that certain words do have 'connotations' or 'nuances' that would make them impractical in some situations and poingant in others, for example:

An army of nuns entered the church in supplicant prayer. - would seem to suggest to the reader that they are somehow organized and might even imply that they are somehow angry or militant; a situation that might seem comical to the reader in the context of 'supplicant prayer.'

on the other hand:

The professor had a mountain of papers to grade and a hoard of students waiting outside his door to hear about their final grades. - Uses a couple of descriptive partitives that not only suggest to the reader the scene but perhaps the feeling and even a certain urgency.

This is stylistic usage that usually comes from years of reading and/or writing literature.

For the illiterate, hard-of-hearing, and hole-dwellers

How many ways does it need to be said? Korean students can't speak English. Another bit of brilliant reporting from KT.

Almost half of Korean undergraduates have difficulty speaking English, according
to a recent survey of 1,041 students at a local university, conducted by
``Incruit,'' an online recruiting-specialized company.

About 40 percent responded that they understood English when it was spoken quite slowly, while 11.9 percent said it was impossible to communicate in English. About 39 percent said they can speak English but not fluently, while just 1.8 percent said they
can speak English fluently.

``With companies giving more weight to English speaking proficiency in recruiting procedures, job seekers including undergraduates should focus their English practice on improving their speaking ability,'' said Lee Kwang-suk, chief administrator of Incruit.

OK, one more time for the cheap seats: KOREAN STUDENTS CAN'T SPEAK ENGLISH! (generally speaking, of course) Despite having studied it for 10 years, they can listen well if it is spoken slowly but they cannot speak it. For those of us in tertiary education, it is an everyday conundrum; many students have been taught with so much emphasis on written tests and wrote learning that trying to introduce new ways of learning into the system is often an exercise fit more for a dentist than a teacher.

As for the survey....dubious at best. Taking a survey at only one university definately skews the numbers. The numbers would be MUCH higher in certain parts of the country and a little lower in certain high ranking universities. The name and location of the university is not mentioned in the article and that leaves me with a suspicion that the survey may have been conducted in Seoul. A more useful survey would poll students from universities and colleges (and different tier schools as well) from across the country. THEN we could accuratly portray the situation. Quite frankly, from where I sit, its much worse than than the article suggests.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I wonder?

I feel really bad for the folks on the west coast who have likely lost their livelihoods for several years before it will be able to recover. But I can't help but wonder in the face of this adversity, how long will it be before these wind up in your local supermarket...cleaned up and marked down of course.

Seafood just got a lot more expensive.

How the Korean Media Works

I've been sitting on this one a while but a recent "rant" by the Metropolitician just reminded me of how the Korean media lacks any sense of journalistic integrity. So, I must relate a story of something that happened to me a few months back:

On 11 Jul 2007, I was asked to participate in a taping for ?????? (I want to....sooooo bad I want to say the name but I don't want to wind up in the same boat as ZenKimchi was last year.) A Ms. Kwon (가명?) called my wife to ask if I would be willing to participate. She spoke to my wife to insure proper understanding of the issue (my wife is Korean). I was asked to help "verify" the abilities of a man in Daegu who had taken the TOEIC 14 times with a perfect score. Though I asked more than once and received an indeterminate email, the details of the “interview” were kept cryptic. Prior to my arrival, as any professional would, I prepared. I prepared a brief test of spoken English to verify that his speaking ability was on par with his test taking ability.
When I arrived, much to my chagrin, I was asked to take a 20-question head-to-head TOEIC-type test with this man for the sake of showing his ‘amazing test taking speed.’ I refused to participate in such a ridiculous display, the purpose of which is dubious at best and potentially embarassing. Teachers make tests, they don’t take them and such a test of speed has absolutely no educational or practical value and could leave the unwitting viewer with the impression that somehow speed has to do with ability. Does it seem reasonable that a college professor would be asked to do such a thing on national television? On top of it all, imagine my surprise when I arrived and learned that the man was an American citizen “Kyopo” being passed off as someone with an amazing ability. Yes, he was an exceptionally fast test taker (another reason I would not test against him) but the fact that he is a native speaker is a fact that was amiss in the final cut of the program and was never mentioned before I agreed to participate. I am sure the audience would find this omission distasteful.
Not wishing to have wasted my time, the PD/cameraman, the "Korean" man and I decided to try and film something closer to what I was told to expect. In hopes that they might use some of the footage. However, Friday July 13, 2007 when the show aired, none of the footage was used in the feature. I was not advised in advance that none of the footage would be used. In order to make the taping, I cancelled appointments and wasted an afternoon preparing for nothing except to waste my valuable time. I agreed to participate gratis because I thought there might be residual benefits from being seen on TV as 'the expert.' Family and colleagues were advised prior to the taping that I would be on the show. Imagine my embarrassment when I saw no sign of the time spent.

Needless to say, I was miffed. Enough so that I sent a bill for services rendered to the producer who lied to me in the first place (expecting to receive the exact same nothing that I did). I also learned that a Korean professor from a local college was asked to participate. After being told what he would be doing, he refused. I guess the PD had in mind something that she wanted to portray and the facts of the case were just totally unimportant. And the more I read stories like the aforementioned from the Metropolitician, the more I realize that there is little or no journalistic integrity in the Korean media.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Weekly G-Spot 2: THE definite article

Last week the subject was the indefinite article a/an. This week, the author of the View from the Fence thinks that the definite article deserves the attention of the weekly G-Spot.

It is THE most used word in the English language and it is perhaps the most elusive point for many a language learner. In its most basic form, "The" is used before a noun (or noun group) that refers to something that the speaker (writer) and the listener (reader) both have knowledge of; either because it is common knowledge (like "the sun" or "the moon") or because it has already been mentioned.

When 'the' is misused, as it often is by not only Korean learners but learners from the many languages that do not use articles, it can drastically change the meaning of a sentence or confuse the listener. For example:

"I like to read the book" - suggests that in the world, there is only ONE book and I am talking about that one....I assume that you know that book too.

This of course, really makes no sense but it does have meaning. If perhaps, the word 'the' were capitalized along with book (The Book) it might suggest a particular religious text like The Bible or The Koran. But in such a case, the listener and speaker would both have the schemata necessary to understand which book.

Another way that 'the' is used is when we are talking about a countable noun in singular form and we want to refer to the item in a general or 'global' way. For example:

"The computer has change the world." Makes use of two definite articles. The first one refers to all computers or computers in general. The second refers to something that is known to everyone on earth...the world
If you were talking to Luke Skywalker standing on Tatooine, for example, you shouldn't say, "Luke, Look at the moon!" because he would probably reply,
"Which one." since Tatooine has multiple satellites.
You might even have a difficult time saying something like, "Computers have changed the world." because he would probably respond,
"which one?" or "don't you mean the universe?"

A common mistake for Korean students is the use of the definite article in front of the names of places.
"I come from the Daegu" is one that I hear A LOT!
There are situations where 'the' can be used in front of the names of places.
1. When the name of the city is used as an adjective in front of another noun; like in the name of an organization like: The Daegu Metropolitian Opera.
2. In front of the names of groups of islands like The Maldives, The Phillipines, or The Seychelles.

A couple of other special rules:
1. The use of 'the' in front of the names of musical instruments is optional. "I play piano." and "I play the piano" are the same.
2. Do NOT use 'the' between a preposition and any of the following: home, college, hospital, prison, school, university, or church. (but there are exceptions to this as well. Don't you just LOVE the diabolical nature of English?)
3. Do NOT use 'the' with the names of meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
4. Use 'the' with superlatives: "VFT is the greatest blog in the world!!"
5. Systems or services use 'the.' The bus, the train, the subway, the electricity. But again, these are things that the listener should 'know' about.

There are SOOOO many rules (and exceptions to those rules) about the use of definite articles and learning them all and trying to apply them in common conversation is an act of futility. Native speaker and those who learn to speak English fluently learn to use the articles without thinking about them.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is 'the' refers to something known to your interlocutor.

Monday, December 03, 2007

My How times have changed: Dasepo Naughty Girls

There was a VERY good read over at Gusts of Popular Feeling on a movie called Dasepo Naughty Girls (at least it was mostly about that with a tangent or two) and it just gave me some inspiration for a couple of Korea long-timer anecdotes on the subject of Sex and the Media in Korea.

First, I came to Korea in April of 1996. At that time, I recall seeing some Korean dramas and wondering why every time the lovers would come close to kissing, the scene would change or fade to a commercial. I asked my director (I was one of the few who actually made friends with my hagwon owner) and he said that it was 'against the law' in Korea to show people kissing on television. I also recall that a certain drama featuring two married people who were in an intimate relationship that involved NO PHYSICAL CONTACT yet the scandal over this drama was all over the place because the two people were in dissatisfying marriages and decided to (as my director succinctly put it) "share their minds." Needless to say, after growing up coming home to my mother watching "Days of Our Lives" or "General Hospital" I was dumbfounded at what I perceived to be a puritanical society. Of course, I was out in the country and my exposure to the sexual underbelly of Korea was limited but it was obvious that the average Cho Blow was pretty up in arms about it. Nowadays, on both the big and small screen it seems that a lot of these barriers gone well beyond destruction and can scarcely be remembered.

Second story, About 4 years ago, I was teaching a couple of middle school boys and the subject somehow wound up on a picture that one of their classmates had shown them of his sister in the shower (apparently without her knowledge either that the picture had been taken or that it had been distributed). And I recall being disturbed because a middle school student not only had a phone (which back then was not as common as it is today) but had used it for such a sinister purpose. Now, after reading the aforementioned article, that seems to pale in comparison to the way the cellphones are being used today to film things that only a few years ago would have been shocking beyond all comprehension.