I've had a revelatory few days regarding my ongoing pursuit of learning Korean. Although progressing steadily anyway, something must have clicked because the language has suddenly snapped into focus and months of fragments have pieced together to create a clear, and rather wonderful, picture.
Ok, so don't assume anything near decently conversational yet, but last night with the Gin Girls was perhaps by best evening of Korean speaking yet. Learning Korean is like climbing a gigantic mountain, perpetually shrouded in heavy fog so that you never really know how far up you are, only that it's very steep. But sometimes you reach a certain peak and the mist clears from below, and you get a fabulous view of what you have already climbed. The last few days have seen me climbing particularly fast as I've gone into 5th gear with my studies and the view is great.
It was the first time I'd seen the Gin Girls in a couple of weeks, due to the Chuseok break. I met them after work, so I was pretty fatigued, but somehow sensed that I'd gained a lot of understanding in that time. And it turned out to be the best lesson we'd had.
It wasn't even a lesson, actually. Usually we'll have a fragmented chat on what we've been doing before having to use the book we study from. But yesterday the chat just kept going and, aside from taking a few notes on new words, it was more just like we were talking. It was mostly all done in Korean, but for one of the first time, I was able to say just about everything I wanted to. It was a very good feeling - perhaps like hauling myself up a vertical surface to find a pleasant gentle downwards slope to stroll along.
Even better is this coming Friday. The Gin Girls, perhaps subconsciously aware of their name, have invited me out for drinks. This is at a bar called AU, downtown, a new, spacious and well-atmosphered bar that I've been to a number of occasions. This must be my prime opportunity to lather them with alcohol (namely gin cocktails) before sending them into a world of sin.
Despite my dreadfully ignoble intentions, the Gin Girls have been very productive for my Korean. I can still remember out first few meetings, about three months ago, in which my Korean was sparse and proceedings were conducted in English. Now it's majority Korean.
I have a long way to go before being any good at Korean, but I have some very solid foundations under me now. Learning Korean is perhaps the best thing I've done in Korea and I don't think it an exaggeration to describe it as one of most satisfying experiences of my life. Whereas once, taxi drivers (for example) would ask me a simple question and I would have to respond with an apologetic noise, now I understand and can begin a usually very amusing and patchy conversation. I think I'm beginning to reach the stage where a lot of my learning will be done, not just by self-study, but by interaction. And that, it is certain, is the whole purpose of learing a language: to interact.
So today I am in a good mood. Not just from the prospect of corrupting two sweet Korean girls, but from the sense of achievement of having really learned something.
And now the bell has gone and it is time for me to pass that sense of achievement into the hearts and minds of some very restless 4-year-olds.