I have a pal who is a language specialist in the English Language Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She recently “set me up” with a Korean student who wanted some extra work with the vocabulary portions of his GRE study. I said I was happy to help him with this, if he would record himself reading some fairy tales, in Korean, so that I might have them to practice (we have a nice big new bilingual volume of Hans Christian Andersen in addition to some other new, and yet unmastered, volumes).
My study friend’s English is much better than my Korean, of course. Last year he read the first book of The Hunger Games and is about to embark on The Catcher in the Rye. For all the times I have thought about what I’m reading in Korean, I never had considered how much fun it would be, as a writer, to share literature in English with someone who could really use practical insights into tone, inference… it would be like, well, talking about literature — but without the fake intellectualism, the snobbery.
I went ahead and chose both a short story and a song in English that I thought would be good for us to talk about. I chose Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” — predictable, but there’s a reason everyone reads that story (and for someone who read the very poorly written, in my opinion, “Hunger Games” books, they should get a chance to see where that story was stolen from). It’s hard to think that my pal gets “The Lottery”, while I’m basically over my head with “Little Red Riding Hood”, but I should know better than to make these comparisons.
Lots of days, the Korean language I am exposed to most is through the lyrics of Jang Kiha and the Faces. I have my fingers crossed that the two CDs I have will work as practice texts and my pal can help me understand the lyrics. you can’t just use a translation app to get you through a thing like a song. While America continues to churn out worse and worse pop and rock music, Jang Kiha has my full attention. In this beautiful overview and interview of the group,
Jang actually talks about how he feels his music attempts to showcase the Korean language (“I want to perform a genre that brings out the Korean language the most”). And I can’t get enough of that chunky, pokerfaced keyboardist.
If my study pal can help me with even just one Jang Kiha song, I’ve already decided I’ll return the favor with Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne”. It is a great example of narrative subtext in an English language song!