#DesignThyself – Long overdue update

Less than one month left to go until Gangnam Style! I have been negligent in my blogging obligations. It’s funny how fragile a habit can be. I was blogging about my progress every week, but then Spring Break, a week-long visit from an old friend who now lives in Hong Kong, and a minor illness happened. My #DesignThyself Korean study went out the window.

I was still listening to Gangnam Style during my twice weekly commutes to and from Staten Island, but I felt like I was reaching a plateau. I am familiar enough with the song now to get bored with it and tune it out, but still not familiar enough to just bust it out a capella. A plateau is a natural obstacle in the journey towards acquiring a new habit or skill. The key is to find motivation.

I have started working with a tutor, Mini Kim, a grad student from a neighboring department at SVA. Working with a native speaker is a great motivator, since I didn’t really have anyone to talk to in Korean before besides brief retail and restaurant interactions. Also, paying a tutor helps with the sense of investment and accountability, just like paying for a personal trainer at the gym – it’s not just for the guidance and expertise, but also for the motivation that we ourselves are lacking.

The hardest part about Korean is the vocabulary. Enough of it is close enough to Japanese or Chinese cognates that I can figure stuff out, but there is still a lot that is very different. I am continuing with the Talk to Me in Korean podcasts for grammar points, but also supplementing that with a picture book called Easy to Learn Korean Language with common vocabulary and phrases. My previous phrasebook had useful phrases, but it was wordy, had small print, and just didn’t feel fun. See, designing delight matters!

#DesignThyself – Week 5

I got myself a Korean tutor. We are meeting next Monday! I’ll keep everyone posted, but I think I should have enlisted help much sooner.

I’ve made it halfway through Level 2 of Talk to Me in Korean. I’m continuing my Gangnam Style infinite repeat loops on my commutes to and from Staten Island. I think it’s starting to gel and enter my brain through my subconsciousness.

Two more awesome renditions of Gangnam Style:

#DesignThyself Korean Challenge Week 3

We are now almost a month into our #DesignThyself Challenges in my Designing Change class at SVA Design for Social Innovation. I feel both good and a little behind. I need to both continue my momentum and develop a new learning strategy for the Gangnam

The Good
I am progressing along slowly but surely in my self study of basic Korean conversation. I have established a strong routine of DAILY exposure to Korean. This could mean listening to a Talk to Me in Korean podcast, going over a lesson in my Colloquial Korean book and recordings, or learning the Korean Word of the Day on my WordPower app. I have established first thing in the morning and just before bed as good learning times. Subway and ferry commutes are also a good time for listening to audio lessons.

The Not-So-Good
I have hardly progressed past learning the first verse of Gangnam Style. Despite listening to the song on repeat for many of my subway commutes, everything is just a blur of rapid fire syllables. I’m going to try a new audio-visual strategy of referring to the lyrics sheet while listening to the song, to see if I can follow along. I have only been listening right now. I’m going to have to be able to “read” the lyrics in karaoke anyway. Let’s see how this goes. I just PDF’ed the lyrics and loaded them on my iPad mini, so I can now listen and review lyrics visually on the go.

#DesignThyself – Korean Challenge Week 2

Week two of my #DesignThyself challenge to learn Korean through Gangnam Style. This week I have learned the first verse of Gangnam Style basically phonetically through rote repetition and memorization. I’ve also been trying to learn the grammar and decode the lyrics word by word, phrase by phrase as well. I’m going to have to pick up my pace and figure out a better way to learn these lyrics.

In the meantime, I’m trying pick up more general Korean language vocabulary and grammar to make learning the song easier and to fulfill the “basic restaurant and karaoke bar” proficiency required by my challenge. I get bored with textbooks and learning materials pretty quickly, so I kind of have a multiple resources that I can refer to and study in a few spare moments, either as a break from other work, or I have also found it to be a nice new ritual to listen to a Korean podcast from Talk to Me in Korean before bed (almost) every night. I find studying a language before bed and then “sleeping on it” helps me remember better. So far, I’ve made it through the first level of lessons from Talk to Me in Korean, so now starting level 2.

Other resources: I have a copy of the Lonely Planet Korean phrasebook on my nightstand as well. I sometimes flip through and learn a new phrase before bed and when I wake up. I just downloaded WordPower Learn Korean vocabulary for my iPad. This might replace my paper phrasebook since it has helpful audio pronunciation files. I also have a copy of Routledge’s Colloquial Korean (books and CDs). I have found it a useful reference for grammar, but it’s a little bit too boring and business-oriented for my needs right now.

Lots of great insights about language learning hacks in this conversation between Tim Ferris and Benny from Fluent in 3 Months.


I checked out Kogi, the much-hyped Los Angeles Korean BBQ Taco truck when I was in town visiting the family last week.  We followed them on Twitter and drove out to Encino to wait in line for the Korean/Mexican fusion food cart.  They have multiple trucks that park at different locations in LA on different days.  All I have to say about the experience is “Yes!”

Yes, the place has a lot of hype, but the food was great.

Yes, it’s fusion, but it’s fusion that just works.

Yes, the lines are long, so get there early.

Yes, the truck was late, stuck in traffic on the 405, but this is LA…

Yes, it’s cheap. Two bucks for a taco and five for a quesadilla.

I tried the tofu and spicy pork tacos and the kimchi quesadilla.  The tofu was flavorful with Korean marinade and seared to make it taste “meaty” rather than gelatinous.  Worth trying even if you are a total carnivore.  The spicy pork was great too: spicy, sweet, meaty, and fatty.  I have to admit this one was an easy sell for me.  When I go to Korean BBQ, I prefer the pork belly to the usual beef dishes like kalbi and bulkogi.  The quesadilla was amazing too.  The umami that comes out of the ménage à trois of kimchi, sesame, and melted cheese is divine.

Kogi Official Website
Kogi on Twitter
Kogi on Yelp