My TV Watching habits and language obsession

Hello folks. I have been doing freelance art/design gigs, so my time to obsess about TV has gotten a bit smaller. My love affair/obsession with television in general and Korean TV in particular seems to be the real thing, though, so I doubt it will ever end. The fiance last night said jokingly that I was working my way through every Korean drama ever made, and I just nodded and said “maybe not the melodramas.” He just sighed.

Let me briefly talk about how I got interested in K dramas. For some reason I feel like talking about it.

I have always been obsessed with storytelling. I started watching Korean language shows because I ran out of English-language romantic comedies to watch on Netflix. I gave in and watched “My tutor friend 2” and then because Park Ki-Woong was awesome I looked up his filmography and watched “The Musical.”. The show didn’t really showcase Park Ki-Woong and was a bit mediocre, pacing and ending wise, but I liked it. I might have mentioned this before, but the biggest attraction to me was that the shows had a story arch and ended when the story was over. I HATE shows that just keep going and destroy the progress made in previous episodes simply because they need conflict in order to be interesting. (Looking at you, Glee. Also, for older people like me, if I mention that Lois and Clark scarred me you might understand.) I decided to watch Boys Over Flowers, and then I think I watched Protect the Boss, and then I just kept going. I didn’t watch currently airing shows until I started having trouble finding completed series.

At first, I wouldn’t watch anything in another language besides Korean, because I had picked up a few Korean words and didn’t want to confuse my brain with multiple foreign languages. The biggest problem when I started watching Kdramas was that the language literally sounded like one big syllable to me. I would try to single out words- not specific words, just understand what sounds completed one word- and fail miserably. I would listen for the names I saw on the screen and be completely flabbergasted when I couldn’t hear them. (I now know that this is probably because subbers chose to put names instead of honorific titles, but it confused the heck out of me then.) I think I wanted to understand the words because I knowing how someone says a word can help you understand what they mean, beyond just words. (I hadn’t encountered tonal languages yet.) Also, I think it’s just disconcerting to not be able to understand anything. Anyway, I felt very at sea. When I started singling out some words, I was further confused by why sometimes they had different ending syllables and occasionally (I thought) different opening consonants. I had no idea about levels of politeness and I was pretty sure I was just hearing things wrong. When I started to understand a few words, I felt very proud and like I couldn’t possibly endanger that knowledge.

One of my best friends is Japanese though, and liked a few Japanese dramas, so I reluctantly agree to watch Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge. The first time I tried to watch, Kamenashi Kazuya’s eyebrows creeped me out and I gave up. Eventually though, I was having a k-drama dry spell, so I went back. I did feel a sense of weirdness at first, but I found that Japanese and Korean don’t sound much like each other, and my brain was not very confused. I watched one or two Taiwanese Dramas, and although at first I didn’t like the sounds of Mandarin, once my ears adjusted I realized it was actually kind of pretty. For me, an issue with listening to tonal languages was that in English, stresses, volume and length of sounds impart mood and personality, so at first when I listened to Mandarin I thought people were angry when they weren’t, whiny when they weren’t, happy when they weren’t. It didn’t take very long to get over that, though. I also noticed that although Mandarin is tonal, that doesn’t mean words can’t be pronounced in a way that implies mood.

I watch all shows from all three places because they have different feels. Korean dramas usually have a good production value, nice sets and locations, and are, if not understated, not too slapstick. Even in a romantic comedy, there are usually some hints of melodrama. Japanese dramas are shorter for the most part, which appeals to me because I’m often impatient, and not as slick as Korean shows. I tend to check beforehand that there are no incurable diseases involved, because tragedy seems to be as popular as everyone living happily ever after. Taiwanese dramas can be (but aren’t always) more goofy and slapstick, and tend to be less flashy than Korean shows. There is much more skinship. Very rarely is there a kiss where the girl doesn’t purse her lips. Taiwanese shows occasionally have a good setup but run out of steam before the end. This is why I like the recent trend in k-dramas of remaking Taiwanese shows- I get the same great setup, but the end is usually handled better.

I would and wouldn’t like the U.S. to start remaking some of these shows. I expect that writers would think to make these shows “american style” you’d simply have to insert a lot more sex and maybe (boys over friends, jesus) make the men Child-development minors to counteract the fact that at first they are horrible people. I don’t think either of these things really serve stories well. Sometimes, for me, the wide-eyed kisses in Kdramas are a bit unrealistic, but at least in my experience the relationships shown in American TV aren’t amazingly realistic, either. Ok, I had my first french kiss when I was 19, so maybe I’m not one to talk.

Anyway, because watching shows in other languages aroused my interest in languages, I eventually started studying Japanese. I wanted to study Korean at first, but there are more resources online aimed at learning Japanese then there are for learning Korean. (I also was worried that the sounds in Korean were so precise that I could not accurately learn them by myself.) I find that watching shows in Chinese and Korean as well as Japanese actually helps my study, because they share common words. I’ll often be like “Where did I hear that before? Oh right! It’s almost the same in Japanese. Ooh, I remembered a word in Japanese. I’m so awesome. Happy dance, Happy dance.” (Really, that’s verbatim.)

I’ve tried watching shows in other languages, and I have the same problems I had in the beginning with Korean. I watched the Russian language version of Protect the Boss without subtitles, and was fine because I mostly new what was happening, but I had that weird “I don’t understand anything, this is uncomfortable” feeling. I realize the way to combat that is to just keep watching things in a certain language.

With certain languages, though, that’s a difficult task. Korean shows are pretty easy to find English subbed these days, but other languages can be difficult. My Japanese study has made it so that I can (if I really have to) watch a show without subs and get the gist. I really should be watching without subs 100% of the time, but I’m not sure which is more important to me: Understanding the plot because I’m a story addict, or getting better listening skills in Japanese.

(Oh, I just thought of some random info. Instead of J-dramas, Japanese dramas are often called doramas. This confused me, but it’s because when a foreign word is brought into Japanese, it is altered to fit Japanese pronunciation. The only consonant that is pronounced by itself in Japanese is “n,” so “d” in drama is pronounced with an o after it in Japanese. This is why you’ll see old shows that caricature Japanese speaking characters by having them add ‘o’ to the end of everything. I wonder how the actors felt about that- maybe “as long as I’m getting a paycheck.” It’s also not really very accurate, because more words end in a very slight or dropped u sound than an o.)

But anyhow…Is anyone else using their drama addiction to study a language?

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