Pronouncing Korean

My Korean pronunciation apparently still needs work. One class was practicing ‘can’ for ability. After eliciting sentences like ‘I can play (sport/computer game/musical instrument)’, ‘I can cook (food)’, ‘I can ride (bike, motor scooter/motor bike)’ and ‘I can drive (car)’, I asked:

Parlez-vous fraçais?
them: (blank looks)
me: Can you speak French?
them: No.
me: Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
them: (blank looks)
me: Can you speak German?
them: No.
me: 한국어를 하세요?
them: (blank looks)
me: 한- 국 – 어 – 를 하 – 세 – 요?
them: (blank looks)
me: Can you speak Korean?
them: Of course!
me: 한국어를 하세요?
them: (blank looks)
me: 한- 국 – 어 – 를 하 – 세 – 요?
them: (blank looks)
me: (internal sigh)

The French and German translate as ‘Speak you (language)’ and the Korean as ‘Do you speak (language)’, but it’s the standard question to ask in each language. Korean has several other options; maybe French and German do, too. In English, we might ask ‘Can you speak (language)?’ or ‘Do you speak (language)?. Those aren’t necessarily the same question or answer. One might not speak a language which one can speak, for example, being the only speaker of your language in the vicinity or for socio-political reasons.

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2 thoughts on “Pronouncing Korean

  1. The phrase in Gaelic is “A bheil Gaidhlig agaibh?”, which is literally “Is Gaelic at you?” If you want to know if it’s someone’s first language, it’s “A bheil Gaidhlig annaibh?”, which is “Is Gaelic in you?” I don’t know that there would be any way to ask “Can you speak…?” Maybe “Am faod sibh Gaidhlig a chanas?”, but it sounds odd and also implies you’re not allowed to (which has been a reasonable question in the past). “Am bruidhinn sibh Gaidhlig?” or “A bheil sibh a’ bruidhinn Gaidhlig?”, literally “Speak you Gaelic?” or “Are you speaking Gaelic?” would imply you don’t know what language you’re hearing.

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  2. I’m wondering how many different ways there are of saying this thought. English seems to have three: ‘Do you speak…?’, ‘Can you speak …?’ and ‘Are you able to speak …?’.
    The central meaning of Korean 하다 (ha-da) is ‘do’, but we wouldn’t translate that as ‘Do you ‘do’ Korean?’.

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