So my first reaction, Dennett, was, “Hey, I’m tone deaf, and I learned Korean as an adult.” “Yes, but not very well,” replied one of my inner voices. “Well enough to get by!” I responded. “Oh sure, which is why you had to write down what you were saying in Hangul half the time. And let’s not forget the taxi incident, shall we?”
Hangul is the Korean alphabet. SUPER simple to learn, since it was created in the 15th Century and meant specifically for Korean. But Korean has regular, tense, and aspirated consonants, and I never got the hang of those. Not verbally, anyway.
The taxi incident was when I was in a cab in Seoul with three Korean college students (part of an Olympic partnership with the US military in 1988 — US personnel volunteered to be shown around the city by students who were going to be guides during the Seoul Summer Olympics, but they had to speak English the whole time; the students got to practice verbal skills, the Americans got personal tours, win/win). I was trying to give directions back to the US base to the taxi driver. At one point I told him to go straight ahead: “똑바로” Or that’s what I meant to say. Two of the students collapsed in laughter; Ms. Gu, the third one, looked at me in shock and asked (in English) “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” “Straight ahead?” I said, tentatively. “똑바로?” she replied. “Exactly!” I replied enthusiastically. “똑바로!” At which point one of the students had to be pounded on the back by the other because she had the hiccups so bad from laughing. “Why? What did I say?” Nobody would tell me. Ms. Gu gave rapid-fire directions to the driver and got us to where he could drop me off.
So sure. Tone deaf. Language problems. I totally get it.