Last summer I had the privilege of meeting with Elva Ambia, a native of Peru who immigrated to the US as a teenager to work and help support her family. Although she primarily used Spanish and English in her daily life, she missed being able to connect with others in her native language Quechua. That’s how her organization Quechua Collective was born. Through classes and community events, Elva has been passing on her language and culture to the next generations.
I’ve wanted to start a language podcast for the longest time, even though I have zero experience with podcasting. There are a trillion out there; most of them (including some of my personal faves) are concerned with learning a specific language. I knew from jump that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in. At the very least because I’m interested in too many languages to devote that much energy to just one, haha.
That’s when I started brainstorming ways to hit on not just language, but culture as well. Eventually, I’d even like to throw a bit of travel in there too. And it just punched me in the face one day.
“What about the ‘other’ languages? The ones they don’t ever teach in school?”
I’ve always been interested in the languages that get far fewer chances to shine, so why not focus on those? Bam.
In all honesty, I don’t know what possessed me to Google “Quechua New York” one day but that’s exactly what I did and the Quechua Collective was the first thing that popped up. After reading about Elva I knew I had to talk with her. There are a lot of wonderful larger organizations out there doing the work to keep indigenous languages thriving, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to hear directly from someone who was living it.
I had already put in my notice at work and I knew I’d need some time away afterward anyway. So I actually booked my flight to New York and decided to shoot my shot at interviewing Elva. It was incredibly terrifying because uh, I’m nobody. For real. Just a language nerd whose version of ‘living my best life’ consists of puppies and copious amounts of kimchi. Elva had been on radio stations. She had a documentary. Thankfully the spirit of YOLO jumped into my body that day and I hit send on the email. Much to my surprise, I got a yes! I literally did a happy dance.
About ten minutes later my brain caught up and I started freaking out. How was I supposed to do this? I’ve never interviewed anyone before? What kinds of questions was I supposed to ask? Are there super-secret important protocols? Why am I like this? Praise the universe for Google because I spent like an entire day just researching how not to be a disaster come June.
While I was wracking my brain trying to think of a location I could maybe rent out for the day, Elva surprised me by offering to do the interview in her home. Which, definitely wasn’t expecting that. Fun fact: As an introvert, I cannot even begin to imagine having someone over just because(plus nobody wants to walk up three flights of stairs). Home is where I get to avoid people. I felt grateful that she was trusting me in her space in that way.
I’ve been to New York a dozen or so times and I love the city’s energy. Chicago is a big city but with a completely different vibe. I had actually given myself a couple of days before we met up and was relaxed up until that point (learn yourself people). When the time came I traveled all the way down from the Bronx to her apartment, a hot mess of nervousness because I’d never done anything like this before. But the second Elva invited me in it all dissipated. It literally felt like I was stopping by my grandma’s house. We settled at her kitchen table so she could have dinner while her daughter made tea.
Conversation with Elva was so free flowing and easy for me that I almost forgot to turn on the damn mic and start recording. She actually reminded me before we got to really talking which, wow. Way to go me.
After the interview wrapped up she asked if I wanted to take a look at the documentary made about her, Living Quechua (Runasimiwan Kawsay). I’d wanted to watch it before I even got to New York but couldn’t so I jumped at the chance.
Elva showed me pictures of her family and told me about her journey from Peru to America. I also got a chance to read her book, Qoricha. The synopsis:
Qoricha, Charanguerucha, Huk Kumpachata Tarin (Qoricha, the Charango Player, Finds a Friend) is the tale of an unlikely friendship, crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries. When Charlie, an English-speaking boy from New York, becomes lost in the streets of small town Peru, he befriends a local Quechua-speaking boy, Qoricha, who takes him under his wing and helps him to find his parents. Along the way, Charlie and Qoricha share their languages, teaching each other words in English and Quechua, and realizing a friendship that would last a lifetime.
This book is a trilingual book, written in English, Spanish and Quechua.
I’m super mad at myself for not getting it at the time (that’s what happens when you don’t carry cash kids) but I’m hoping to pick one up the next time whenever I get my butt back to New York.
Still, I’m glad I got to start my podcasting journey with Elva.
If you’d like to learn more about the organization or just Quechua culture in general, definitely check them out:
It’s Aquarius season! Well, technically Aquarius season starts in January but my birthday is this month so that’s all that matters. 😛
Despite how busy I was, I managed to get in a decent amount of studying last month. And I put everything in a super awesome chart because I’m a nerd like that.
As you can see I spent most of my time on input (listening, reading) rather than output (writing, speaking). If it weren’t for my exchange partner I wouldn’t even be doing the little bit of speaking that I am now.
The Ewha textbook is still my favorite. I’ve planned out the chapters for the rest of this month and a little into March so I should be finished with it soon. I need to do a full review on it because it’s one of the best ones I’ve used.
My friend and I went to see WINNER in concert! And yes I’m 100% counting that as listening practice because all the songs are in Korean. The boys were amazing and I’m glad they enjoyed the snow because we sure as hell didn’t.
I follow Talk To Me In Korean on twitter and I see people mention the Iyagi series frequently. I listened to the first one and understood maybe two words total. Not very encouraging. But my listening comprehension isn’t going to get where it needs to be just by using my textbook. So my goal for this month is to do at least three Iyagi sessions and write sentences using the vocabulary.
And the absolute best of anything I’m doing, my language exchange partner and I meet weekly! My 언니 really pushes me as far as comprehension. She speaks about 90% of the time in Korean unless I’m really not understanding. Unfortunately, I’m still not the best when it comes to speaking (any language to be honest), and I often get choked up when I need to say what I’ve already figured out in my head. This month I want to increase the amount of time with her that I’m actually speaking Korean.
Also! I want to start recording myself in Korean. I’m just not sure about the delivery. Should it be on YouTube? Instastories? I’m still trying to figure that part out.
What I’m Reading
I finished Evil and The Mask! Working out whether I want to write out a quick review or do a video on it. My next book I’d like to read from a Puerto Rican author. Don’t ask why I chose that country next, I promise it’s random lol.
Where I’m Going
Lunar New Year is this month (on the 5th) and there are tons of events planned all around Chicago. I’m going to be attending as many as possible so keep an eye out on my Instagram!
A new year means new opportunities to improve my languages and add a couple new ones along the way. The past 6 months or so have been difficult because of life things, but I’m ready for the fresh start that only January can bring. I don’t want to do too much this first month and wear myself thin though, so my goals for January are going to be simple.
Before I get into what I’m doing this month I definitely want to recommend this post over at Hobby Help for anyone planning to take up Spanish this year! It’s super thorough and not only lists resources (most of them for free 99, my fave), but it also walks you through how to choose the best way to study for you.
What I’m Studying
I’m continuing my focus on Korean for January.
The first thing I’d like to do is start keeping better track
of the time I’m spending doing different tasks. I already block out my day for study
time but I want to be more specific about how that time is allocated. At the
very least I’ll be tracking how much time I spend on the big 4: Reading,
Writing, Listening, Speaking.
I’m breaking out my textbooks again and I imagine I’ll be starting up with my exchange partner again in the next couple weeks.
My local study buddy and I decided to start up our sessions again next week as well! Super excited to buckle down this year.
What I’m Reading
Back when I was super active on LiveJournal (leave me alone, I’m old remember) I was first introduced to the concept of reading around the world.
There are a few different ways people partake but the gist is that you read books written by people from different countries. They can either be translated into the language you speak or in their native language. They can also either be set in that country or written by someone who’s from the country. I’ve been wanting to do this for like a decade now so, no time like the present!
This month I’m going to cheat a little bit and reread a book I read a long while ago. It’s called Evil and the Mask by Japanese author Fuminori Nakamura. I vaguely remember really liking it but it’s been so long. Great place to jump off the challenge.
See? Short and sweet! What are your goals for this year?
This Tuesday, October 9th, was “한글날,” or Hangeul Day! In celebration, we’re going to talk about the awesomeness of Hangeul and why you should give learning it a try, even if you hadn’t thought about studying Korean!
It Has a Rich History
Hangeul has an amazing backstory.
Way back during the Joseon Dynasty, before Hangeul was created, the Korean language was written using classical Chinese characters. As you can imagine, this isolated knowledge to a select few, almost exclusively those of upper class. Now, aside from the task of learning the absolute plethora of Chinese characters (been there, done that, almost died), it just wasn’t reasonable to have Korean’s sounds represented by a Chinese writing system.
Enter the great King Sejong!
Full disclosure, I kinda stan for King Sejong. He’s pretty awesome. So is his badass statue/museum. Musetu? Stateum? Yeah, let’s go with that.
King Sejong believed that everyone, including commoners, should be able to read and write their own language. He had great concern for the struggles of the common class and their ability to convey them effectively to those of higher status. He created Hangeul as a solution and hoped that people would come to use Hangeul in their everyday lives!
Is that not the best thing you’ve ever heard? Seriously. He worked hard to create an entire writing system just to make sure his citizens were all able to have their voices heard.
I’m not tearing up, YOU are.
It Was Made to be Simple
Now, if you’re going to teach an entire community of people to use a new writing system it can’t be rocket science levels of difficult. I know most things seem simple in comparison to traditional Chinese characters but still. King Sejong really thought this one through. For extra, bonus cool points, each consonant is shaped to represent tongue placement in the mouth when making the sound. When will your faves? Never.
ㅏ ㅐ ㅑ ㅒ ㅓ ㅔ ㅕ ㅖ ㅗ ㅘ ㅙ ㅚ ㅛ ㅜ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅠ ㅡ ㅢ ㅣ
ㄱ ㄲ ㄴ ㄷ ㄸ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅃ ㅅ ㅆ ㅇ ㅈ ㅉ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ
Looks like a lot but it isn’t!
Instead of putting letters one after the other, they go into ‘syllable blocks’. There’s an awesome explanation of how to do that over at.
For instance, Sarang (love) would be writing with the letters ㅅ ㅏ ㄹ ㅏ ㅇ. Broken down into its two syllables gives you ㅅ ㅏ + ㄹ ㅏ ㅇ. The last step is to put them in the appropriate order and…사랑! Tada!
How easy is that?
If you want to learn more about Hangeul, and Korean in general, you can check out the King Sejong Institute website as well as the National Hangeul Museum website. You can also try out Eggbun. I wrote a review on it a few months back. If you’re in Korea (or will be soon) I highly recommend visiting the Hangeul Museum. I had a great time learning about its history. And I got to play with stuff!
Are you learning Korean? has Hangul been easy or hard for you?
From the very first time I visited Sol’s On Sheridan, I knew immediately it would become one of my favorite places to hang out. The vibe is chill, the music is good, and the food is even better. Sol, the restaurant owner, is the epitome of welcoming. Her laugh is infectious and honestly, it’s not hard to see why people keep coming back.
Sol’s parents have been restaurant owners in Korea for over twenty years. Like a lot of kids who’ve grown up in restaurants, she’s helped out there ever since she was young (10). But initially, Sol never actually saw herself going into the restaurant business. After college, she planned on continuing to graduate school. But that all changed when she came here to the US to visit her brother.
As she traveled around (New York, DC, Chicago) she noticed that there were plenty of Chinese and Japanese restaurants, but hardly any Korean ones. “It made me really sad to see,” she told a friend and I while we chatted after our meal. When Sol got back to Korea she decided to work to save up enough money and open her own place. Although her first restaurant was in Wisconsin, lucky for us she loved Chicago so much during her visit that she decided to set up shop here! Sol’s on Sheridan celebrated its first anniversary this year in April.
Meet the food
We got both the Honey Soy and the Sweet & Spicy Garlic. If you’ve never had Korean Fried Chicken you’re truly missing out. The double frying keeps it juicy on the inside but crispy and delicious on the outside. It’s one of my favorite things to order when I’m out at Korean restaurants.
But nothing compares to Sol’s bingsu.
You can find bingsu (usually patbingsu) at other places around Chicago, but none as good as at Sol’s. Having brought her bingsu machine all the way from Korea, the taste is much more authentic; like snow instead of shaved ice. Right now she offers four flavors: traditional Patbingsu (red bean), Oreo Bingsu, Matcha Bingsu (Green Tea) and Mango Bingsu. Proper bingsu is soft, creamy, and sweet. The perfect summer treat!
A talk with Eunsol
At the end of the night, we got a chance to sit down with Sol and talk a little about running a Korean restaurant in Chicago.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Oh, favorite thing? Stews (찌개). Korean stews. I’m really good with stews actually. So this winter we’re gonna do a lot of stews. They’re so good in the winter right?
E.n: I’m disgustingly excited because I love jjigae.
For those who might be new to it, what do you want people to know about Korean food?
You know sometimes when you go to Chinese restaurants, you don’t really wanna try something new. I mean for me, I can’t handle the spices. But Korean food, I think it’s really easy to get into it.
The menu is delicious but also super simple. How did you choose what to put on your menu?
I just wanted to have what I can do good. Some places have really huge menus, but I don’t think they can make everything good because it’s so huge. How do they keep everything fresh and [tasting] right? So I wanted to keep it really simple. I go to [the] grocery every single day. I prep everything every day.
4715 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640
Sunday through Tuesday; 5 PM – 9 PM
What to try:
The KFC (Korean fried chicken) is amazing. Sticky sweet and crunchy, it’s hard not to like. Also, try the bingsu. You can go traditional and get the 팥빙수 (read: pat bingsu) complete with delicious red beans. Or maybe get fancy and try the Oreo bingsu!