Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reading and Language Learning

One of the super frustrating things for me in learning Korean is the speed at which I'm able to read. It's embarrassingly slow, and makes me feel really stupid whenever I have to read something. I can read in my head faster than I can read out loud, but both are well below "useful" speed. Lately I've been able to level up slightly by forcing my brain out of its comfort zone and trying to follow Korean raps. Rapping (which I love) is faster than normal speech, so I figure if I'm able to follow Korean lyrics in a rap as it's going, then eventually I'll be able to actually read. Working well so far, although I can still only get through about half of the subtitles in an average TV newscast.

Of course a big part of this is pattern recognition. When first learning Korean, you have to look at each component (jamo) in a character and consciously process how to put them together to sound out the syllable. As you get better, you start to recognize words. And I'd imagine as you progress even more, you start to recognize phrases at a glance. I know in English I can read and understand about half a paragraph (a few sentences) at a brief glance if I really try, but in Korean I'm still frustratingly stuck in single word land (which is certainly not helped by my extremely limited vocabulary).

Anyway, for fun, I took a brief look the other day at a European language that I had never studied before. I checked out the transcript for the first lesson, and my first thought was, "Well, I can read the transliteration, but I wonder how hard the actual language is to read." Then I remembered that many languages are actually written in Roman characters, and it wasn't a transliteration at all. Man, when I'm done with Korean, I'm going to blow through a bunch of European languages like there's no tomorrow - for better or worse, my brain was wired for it at a really young age, so I'm sure it'll be way easier than Asian languages.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

New Job

So, I decided to temporarily put my life as an entrepreneur on hold to become ... well, an entrepreneur =). That is to say, I recently started working with a startup back in San Francisco. I say with and not at because geographically I am spending part of my time here in Korea and part of my time back in San Francisco. Sure, there are time-zone issues, but in the grand scheme of things, if it's the right fit, that's a very small detail.

What made me go back to being gainfully employed? Well, I found an early-stage company doing very cool stuff, literally in the field that I read textbooks about for fun. I have the chance to work on the kinds of problems I always wanted to work on at Google, but was never quite in the right place. That's not to say that I didn't like the work I used to do - working on a product used by millions of people was actually pretty awesome, and adding features that you could show to family and friends who all use your product was pretty cool. I really enjoyed the fact that I could add stuff to make people that I would never meet smile (well, at least they were smiling in my imagination). And it was satisfying to make something  that I used every day better, faster, stronger.

But there's another side of me that loves working on really challenging technical problems, building stuff that hasn't been built before. I relished the chances I had to do this in my last job. And now, the chance to do that with friends while creating real value? Yeah, seemed like a good decision to me.

It's also funny how things work out. A number of my conservative (in the career sense) friends chided me in the past for hopping around so much at Google, but it was interesting to me, so I did it anyway. Now what seemed random in the past is actually proving valuable. A friend put it to me best - she said the best career advice she ever received was to do what you enjoy doing, because if you do something you hate in order to get somewhere else, you'll probably end up hating where it takes you.

Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride.