The sensation sweeping the nation! Sweet and Tasty TV is a collection of Korean language lessons hosted by Professor Oh and a hilarious cast of characters. When we say Sweet and Tasty, we’re talking about those Korean BBQ ribs! When we say sensation, we’re talking about a social network of over 10,000 loyal followers engaged in her easy to learn and innovative way to learn a language. Below we caught up with the Professor to learn all about it!
What sparked your interest in cultural education?
Professor Oh: It all began one hot summer of July 2008. Day and night I surfed on Youtube, watching anything from cute cat videos to dancing midgets to whatever thumbnails yelled at my eyes the loudest. During one of these video marathons, I discovered there were not many Korean language lessons. At the time Youtube was still a baby. Three years old in fact. I thought, “Hey, I watch online videos all the time. Why not give back a little something to the netizens?” Thus the birth of Professor Oh’s first lesson. To my surprise the video was unexpectedly well-received by viewers. Next thing you know, one event led to another.
How did you invent a Korean speaking method that was easily accessible to people and fairly easy to adapt to?
Professor Oh: Native speakers accept their language as is because they are accustomed to it. But those new to a language will and should question everything. This is an essential part of the learning process. To question means you are noticing. How do you learn if you don’t notice? With the greatest attempt I put myself in the shoes of an enthused student and observed the Korean language from their perspective, questioning every bit possible. Learning a new language can be intimidating, so my goal was to make my lessons and KWOW episodes as friendly and fun possible.
Can you describe the creative process behind the different personas? Our favorite is Granny Kim and the newly appointed Madison Lee! How did these characters come about and what value do they add to your simulcast?
Professor Oh: Professor Oh got a little lonely. She needed a friend, an opposite personality, someone to create conversation with… Thus the birth of Billy Jin. And Billy Jin needed a boyfriend. Thus Taekwon Do. These young people needed a matriarch. Thus Granny Kim.
But in all seriousness, the characters were created out of necessity. Each one represents a certain type of viewer. The phrases Billy Jin says is most helpful for the female audience. The phrases Taekwon Do says may be more useful to males who’d like to become friends with Korean dudes who love soju. There are certain things that Taekwon Do would say that Billy Jin wouldn’t say. And vice versa. I might add that there was no budget to hire actors and actresses. However I had plenty of wigs lying around in my room as I am an avid collector of them. I put one on and winged it. Limited resources produce creative solutions.
Compared to the past, the status of today’s literature has fallen greatly. There are incessant speculations about how the study of literature and language is in the middle of a crisis. How do you react to that?
Professor Oh: I observe. There’s not a whole lot an individual can do to make people engage with literature. You can make them interested, but not act. Yes it’s unfortunate that with the rise of technology, people are less inclined to read books, especially the younger generation. People still read articles, but via the Internet. The newspaper is becoming extinct, if not already. We no longer turn pages; only poke screens. Adults and children alike need to read. Books are a deep source of information and inspiration. They connect us to people and places from the past, present, and future, whether they existed a thousand years ago or live a thousand miles away. Books are the cheapest round-trip ticket to everywhere, from Antarctica to the mountains where unicorns flourish.
To create and sustain a literate society, individuals must share their readings with others. If you read an amazing book, tell someone about it. Discuss. That’s how the Twilight and Harry Potter series got massive. All it took was a couple kids who loved the books. They told it to their friends. Their friends told about it to their friends. Word spreads like wildfire.
I’ll take this opportunity to share a book with you. Lately I’ve been indulging in “How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.” Though French writer Montaigne lived over 400 years ago, the essays he wrote continue to be relatable to individuals today. You realize no matter how much time passes, we’re all the same people inside. When I feel lost or question life, I read Montaigne. He’s been dead for over four centuries and yet I go to him for answers! A dead man can be just as helpful as a living one. This is possible with books. As one of my favorite teachers of seventh grade told our class: READ WHAT YOU LOVE. Don’t force yourself to read “Moby Dick” or “Count of Monte Cristo” if they bore you. Just because classics are highly praised doesn’t mean they are compatible with you. Read books that make you excited. Find your genre. I personally love biographies.
Famous linguist Chomsky stated that all we need is English and Asian languages, as all human languages are basically the same with differences that are essentially trivial. Is there truth to that statement? Are your learning method extensions of the English language?
Professor Oh: Considering that our current seven continents used to be one supercontinent, it is natural for the human languages to have similarities. We may be born into different cultures, but we share ancestors. Even when our people split into different countries, our civilizations traded with one another. As they imported and exported material goods, they also passed on their cultural traditions.
What do you find is the biggest reason people want to learn another language?
Professor Oh: Every language attracts a certain crowd, one that changes over time. For example… As of 2012, people want to learn Korean largely due to K-POP and K-dramas. Or at least that’s what I’ve concluded upon reading viewers’ comments on my Youtube videos. They want to sing the latest K-POP songs without an accent, interact with their favorite idol band member and understand the Korean drama series they’re currently obsessed with. If we time travel back to the 50s, there was no K-POP. The people who wanted—needed, may be a better word?—to learn the language were soldiers stationed in Korea. People’s desires and necessities to learn a language transform with time, according to technology, world events, and other factors.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or Anime?
Professor Oh: Awesome. I love talking about movies. “Old Boy” is a classic. Kids, don’t watch this until you’re old enough to not be traumatized by quality insanity. I’m also a huge fan of Kim Kiduk’s work, particularly “Time” and “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.” His films have minimal dialogue and hauntingly beautiful cinematography. They provide the viewer breathing space to reflect and discuss. And who can’t not love “My Sassy Girl”? It’s too bad I didn’t get to meet Cha Tae Hyun before he got married. He would’ve made a great father for my children. Condolences to our unborn kids.
When it comes to Anime, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Ponyo” tickle my bones. Every time I watch Hayao Miyazaki’s work, my body creates an overload of endorphins (happy cells). I’m getting all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about Ponyo right now! ^.^
You were able to embrace social media and use YouTube as a giant platform to showcase your medium. Why do you think social media is the best place for a creative to broadcast their message?
Professor Oh: Once upon a time, television and movie theaters were the main source of watching videos. Content was controlled by the big guys. If the average person wanted to share a video with the world, they needed permission from a producer, a network, whoever. Fast forward to the present day. Youtube gives individuals the privilege to deliver their message straight to the audience, whenever and wherever. Information is more transparent. Less room for propaganda.
What type of evolution can we hope to see from Professor Oh in the coming months/years?
Professor Oh: Just as the apes had no idea how they’d evolve into the modern-day human, Professor Oh’s future is just as unforeseeable. (If you’re religious, I never said—or not said—I believe in evolution. It’s just a metaphor. Don’t hate.)
What is the biggest misconception about learning the Korean language?
Professor Oh: The biggest misconception of learning Korean, or any other language for that matter, is thinking of it as a big, scary beast that needs to be tamed. People tend to get frustrated or overwhelmed when they can’t pronounce something or understand a concept. Breathe. Be nice to yourself. Learn one word at a time. No one learned a language overnight. It’s true what they say: the best way to learn a language is to live in its country of origin. And last but not least, have fun! Learning a language opens doors to new experiences and meeting new people (and partying with them!).
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