Sunday, December 15, 2019

Language Skills Trial Run with WKWS

We've been in Korean class for over three months now, and we recently had a progress assessment to make sure we were on track to reach the proficiency we need by the end of the course. Even more challenging than our progress assessment, though, was the real-world practice we got the following week: an all-day immersion! The Washington Korean Women's Society (WKWS) was kind enough to host all the students and teachers for a day of sharing culture and practicing the language the most intensively we've done yet.

It was really exciting to participate in the special cultural portions of the program. After a few introductory speeches, we started the event off with a delicious Korean lunch that included mandu (dumplings), kimbap (seaweed rolls), bulgogi (marinated barbecue beef), kimchi (pickled spicy cabbage), dried anchovies, kongnamul (beansprouts), and so many other delicious foods. Then, the WKWS members provided hanbok (traditional Korean dress) for the female students to wear. For most of us, the clothes were a bit of a tight fit on our (statistically on average) broader American bodies, but we did our best to make it work. I can't wait to buy my own properly fitted hanbok in South Korea once we get there! I find the dresses so beautiful in their uniqueness and their traditional modesty.

We also enjoyed Korean folk music, including practicing singing the Korean anthem known as Arirang. (This song is absolutely breathtaking, and if you've never heard it before then I highly recommend you listen to this stunning rendition by Song So-hee here.) We also learned about the traditional 12-stringed instrument called the Gayageum (which I've actually mentioned on the blog before in a post about a Korean cultural event in Kenya). There were two of these instruments there, and somehow I got nominated to sit with the instrument on my lap as the instructor gave me a very detailed lesson explaining how to play it properly... exclusively in Korean! Her instructions included everything from appreciating the materials that made up the instrument to how I could adjust my hand placement and movements to improve the sound. I'll be honest: I only understood about 60% of what she said, but sometimes you've gotta fake it 'til you make it when it comes to a foreign language! I loved hearing her play most of all, though. It takes real skill to be able to play an instrument with so many strings, not to mention bridges that you can move along the strings.

To wrap up the day, we did a series of five 15-minute conversation sessions one-on-one with the WKWS members. I felt like this was a true trial run of our language skills because the women did not know exactly what vocabulary and grammar we had studied. As a result, they didn't simplify what they said to us the same way that our teachers would. We weren't allowed to use any English in these conversations unless we asked (in Korean) for the translation of one word only. I definitely had to cash in that exception when a woman explained that she was a professional acupuncturist, a vocabulary term I had certainly never learned before (and admittedly don't recall now). At the end, I gave a mini-speech of thanks on behalf of the students. I'd been very nervous leading up to the speech but my practice paid off and it went without a hitch. The whole day was a real indication of how far we've all come in our language learning to even be able to participate in such an event. I'm so grateful that our language training includes creative immersion activities like that - it makes learning so much more rewarding and fun.

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