[FOUNTAIN]A manner of speaking

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[FOUNTAIN]A manner of speaking

Perhaps it was after the Tower of Babel collapsed that mankind felt the need to translate languages of other races. In the Old Testament, Esther speaks words that reflect such needs. In the 5th century B.C., Haman, the minister of the Persian King Ahasuerus, vowed to destroy all Jews. When Queen Esther, the Jewish wife of Ahasuerus, urged her husband to stop Haman's plotting, the king accepted her request and called off the army.

The process of delivering the king's demand, based on the Bible, "was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, 127 provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language."

The first English word, that the Korean linguist Yang Ju-dong (1903-1977) discovered when he was a child was "trademark," written on the cover of a matchbox. When Mr. Yang went to a local scholar, who had been exposed to contemporary studies at the time, to ask the meaning of the word, the scholar was able to pronounce the word but could not explain the meaning. Mr. Yang wrote in his book that he did not understand why words such as "listen" or "school" were pronounced as they were written.

An old saying teaches us that one should speak words of love in French, discuss God in German, preach in English and punish in Russian. But to do that, one has to understand the languages first.

Numerous books and theories by those who were able to achieve foreign language skills tell us ways to learn languages quickly and easily. But one still needs great time and effort in order to speak and understand the languages of others.

Toshitaka Hidaka, a Japanese linguist who is known for investing his daily time on the toilet to learn foreign languages, became fluent in at least 20 languages.

Looking back at the abduction of native speakers of Japanese who were assigned to North Korean spy schools, perhaps North Korea was not an exception when it came to learning foreign language skills. It is better to learn from native speakers or where a language is spoken.

Despite the apology recently made by Kim Jong-il, who acknowledged his country's deed as "rash behavior" to Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, the kidnapping was an unspeakable atrocity in many ways. The question is, was this the only "rash behavior" North Korea committed?

The writer is a deputy foreign news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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