Skip to main content

Learn Korean via Indie Music

Korea might sometimes seem to be a ginormous, wildly successful pop music factory, but unbeknownst to most foreigners, it actually has an amazing indie music scene as well. A couple days ago, while sipping coffee and working at a nearby cafe, I heard an indie song that I used to like a couple years ago. It's also an amusing example of blatant product placement-based advertising - the entire music video is about this new phone and how it brings this couple together. My favorite is part is when the iPhone falls on the floor and breaks, so she needs to replace it with the Korean phone. Have a watch:

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to use the lyrics for a quick Korean lesson, so here goes!

Verse 1:

나 그대가 너무 좋은데 말하고 싶은데
용기가 안나
나도 그대가 너무 좋은데 말하고 싶은데
용기가 안나

Let's take a look at the first sentence, which is "나 그대가 너무 좋은데 말하고 싶은데 용기가 안나". Man, we can learn so much from this. First, the meaning:

Literal: "I want to say that you're too good, but courage does not come up." (I want to tell you that I really like you, but I can't find the courage.)

Let's break it down!

First, we can see that it's casual speech, since it starts with 나. Technically, completely proper Korean would use the topic particle (나는, or 난 for short), but in colloquial speech, particles are dropped all over the place. How do you know when to drop a particle? Basically, if the particle that you would have used is obvious and non-ambiguous, then you can drop the particle. Particles that cannot be dropped are 도 (also), 한테/에게 (to), 한테서/에게서 (from), 이/가 (identifier particle). That basically leaves the topic particle 는/은 and the direct object particle 를/을. And since sentences are often started with a topic, and "나를 그대가 너무 좋은데 말하고 싶은데" doesn't make sense, the only good choice for a missing particle here is 는.

Moving on, we have the phrase "그대가 너무 좋은데". First of all, 그대 is a poetic meaning of "you", and it's found all over poems and song lyrics. People don't really talk like this in real life, but it's important to know what it means, since you see it everywhere. Now we have the identifier particle "가". A good way to read this is "you are the one that ...", or "it's you that ...". "가" is identifying "you" as the person, out of all the choices. The person that what? The person that is "너무 좋다"!

너무 is an often misunderstood word for foreign learners of Korean. It often means "too" or "too much", but colloquially it is often used to mean "so", as in "너무 맛있어", or "it's so delicious". How do you know which meaning it is? Based on context.

The expression N이/가 좋다 literally means "N is good", but colloquially is often used to mean "(Someone) likes N". For example, "나는 삼겹살을 좋아해" is literally "I like samgyeopsal", but it's more common to hear something like, "나 삼겹살이 너무 좋아!", or "I really like samgyeopsal!". The main difference is that 좋아하다 puts a bit more emphasis on the action of "liking". It also sounds a bit stiffer than the latter example.

But, it doesn't say "나 그대가 너무 좋다", it says, "나 그대가 너무 좋은데". This construction, "-는데/-은데" (-는데 after verbs, -은데 after adjectives or verbs that act like adjectives like 싶다), is one of the most commonly used constructions in Korean grammar. It has a ton of different meanings. One common meaning is as a "softener" for the end of a sentence, and especially a sentence that is hoping for a response from the other person. Another common meaning is to link two sentences together, using the first sentence as the background for the second sentence. Luckily, in just this song's first line, we get to see both of these usages! Let's move forward just a little in order to see this.

말하다 = to say, to speak, and고 싶다 means "want to do ", so 말하고 싶다 means "want to say". The verb stem is formed simply by chopping the "다" off the dictionary form of the verb. Other examples:

가고 싶다: want to go
먹고 싶다: want to eat
자고 싶다: want to sleep
일하고 싶다: want to work

What does he "want to say"? Well, everything previous to it in the sentence, i.e., "나 그대가 너무 좋은데". Technically, in formal Korean, he would use quoted speech, which I described in an earlier post. "나 그대가 너무 좋다고 말하고 싶은데", or something like that, but here it's completely unambiguous what he wants to say (나 그대가 너무 좋은데), and it sounds smoother and less forced this way.

Back to what I said earlier about -는데/-은데 having a lot of meanings, and there being two in this sentence alone. We have:

1) 나 그대가 너무 좋은데: Using -은데 as a softener, and hoping for a response. "I really like you ... "
2) 말하고 싶은데: Using -ㄴ데 to connect two sentences, the first being the background or setup for the second. The first sentence is, "나 그대가 너무 좋은데 말하고 싶다" (I want to tell you that I really like you), and the second sentence is, "용기가 안나" (I can't find the courage). Connecting them with -는데/-은데, it means, "I want to tell you that I really like you, but I can't find the courage." It's no exaggeration that -는데/-은데 is one of the most common ways of connecting sentences in Korean. Even if you don't quite know what it means, it's still often the right way to connect sentences, so you'll instantly start sounding more natural in your Korean. Learn it. Use it.

Finally, we're at the last part of the sentence, "용기가 안나". 나다 has many meanings, many of them along the lines of "to come up", "to come out", "to grow", "to sprout", "to arise", etc. In this case, the thing that is not arising is courage. I lifted the lyrics directly from the YouTube video and didn't edit them, but in formal Korean, the spacing is probably wrong here, and it should probably be "안 나", with a space between them. In colloquial Korean, spaces are dropped so often that it's not uncommon to see them dropped in formal Korean such as dictionaries and newspapers. It's something to be aware of, because it often trips up newbies ("What does '안나다' mean? I can't find it in the dictionary...."). Anyway, 나다 is a cool verb that's often used for both physical and emotional states, such as:

열이 나다: have a fever
화가 나다: get angry
피가 나다: to bleed
겁이 나다: be frightened

Alright, first sentence done! Luckily, the second sentence is exactly the same, except instead of starting with 나(는), it starts with 나도, so it means, "I also want to tell you that I really like you, but I can't find the courage." In real life, she could have just said, "나도" (Me too) and left it at that, and the entire context would have been implied. But this is a song, after all.

Well, that was longer than I expected. Let's see what we learned:

- Detecting the type of speech (formal vs casual)
- Knowing when to drop particles, and which particle was dropped
- Poetic terms (그대)
- Colloquial meaning of 너무 versus literal meaning
- How to say you like something (N이가 좋다)
- How to say you want to do something (고 싶다)
- How to soften the end of a sentence, and indicate you're expecting a response (-는데/은데)
- How to connect two sentences, with the first being the background for the second (S1 -는데/은데 S2)
- Various uses of the prolific verb 나다

So, we only got through the first verse, but we learned a ton of Korean. If this was useful, next time I'll do the second verse. Until then, enjoy some Korean indie music!


Popular posts from this blog

영어가 모국어인 사람들은 왜 한국어를 배우기가 어려운 이유

이 포스트는 내 처음 한국어로 블로그 포스트인데, 한국어에 대하니까 잘 어울린다. =) 자, 시작합시다! 왜 외국사람에게 한국어를 배우기가 어렵다? 난 한국어를 배우고 있는 사람이라서 이 문제에 대해 많이 생각하고 있었다. 여러가지 이유가 있는데 오늘 몇 이유만 논할 것이다. 1. 분명히 한국어 문법은 영어에 비해 너무 많이 다른다. 영어는 “오른쪽으로 분지(分枝)의 언어"라고 하는데 한국어는 “왼쪽으로 분지의 언어"이다. 뜻이 무엇이나요? 예를 보면 이해할 수 있을 것이다. 간단한 문장만 말하면 (외국어를 말하는 남들은 간단한 문장의 수준을 지낼 수가 약간 드물다), 간단한 걸 기억해야 돼: 영어는 “SVO”인데 한국어는 “SOV”이다. “I’m going to school”라고 한국어로는 “저는 학교에 가요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I’m school to go”이다. 두 언어 다르는 게 목적어와 동사의 곳을 교환해야 한다. 별로 어렵지 않다. 하지만, 조금 더 어렵게 만들자. “I went to the restaurant that we ate at last week.” 한국어로는 “전 우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당에 또 갔어요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I we last week went to restaurant to again went”말이다. 한국어가 왼쪽으로 분지 언어라서 문장 중에 왼쪽으로 확대한다! 이렇게 좀 더 쉽게 볼 수 있다: “전 (우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당)에 또 갔어요”. 주제가 “전"이고 동사가 “갔다"이고 목적어가 “우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당"이다. 영어 문장은 오른쪽으로 확대한다: I (S) went (V) to (the restaurant (that we went to (last week))) (O). 그래서 두 숙어 문장 만들고 싶으면 생각속에서도 순서를 변해야 된다. 2. 첫 째 점이니까 다른 사람을 자기 말을 아라들게 하고 싶으면, 충분히

Why Korean Is Hard For Native English Speakers

A couple of days ago, as an experiment, I wrote my first blog post ever in a non-English language . It was an attempt to explain some of the reasons that Korean is hard to learn for native English speakers, so I figured I might as well try to write it in Korean. Those of you who actually read Korean can see how awkward the attempt was =). In any case, the post came from an email conversation I had with The Korean from  Ask a Korean , a fantastically well-written blog about all things Korea from the perspective of a Korean who moved to the United States during high school. Since I tend to geek out on language things, I figured I might as well post part of that conversation. An edited version follows. --------- Out of the languages that I've attempted to learn so far, Korean has been the hardest. I've done a lot of meta thinking about learning Korean, and I think there are a number of reasons it's difficult for non-Koreans (and especially Westerners) to learn: 1) Obvi

Stuttering in Korea

I had given up on English. It's my native language, but I figured after 30 some-odd years of disfluent speech, it was time to try something else. So I signed up for language classes in Korean, rationalizing that if I was going to try to teach myself how to speak, I might as well learn a new language along the way. This might seem completely insane, but when the prevailing theme of your conscious thoughts for multiple decades is some variant of "Why can't I say what I want to say?", you come up with lots of crazy ideas. For background, I've been a person who stutters for my entire life. I wrote about it on this blog a few years ago, so I think it's time for a followup. I've learned a lot since then, about myself and about stuttering, but in this post I simply want to give some insight into what it's actually like to stutter, and how my speech has changed over time. After the last stuttering post, the predominant reaction I got from friends was ei