Something I encountered back home in America which I wasn’t expecting to encounter is the fact that people here, my family included, seemed so surprised that I can read and write Korean.
Maybe it is the fact that they have little knowledge of the Korean language.
When I first moved to Korea knowing no Korean I thought it would take forever to learn how to read and write it.
And it did take me a while, more than some people who moved to Korea at the same time as me.
But to me it seems ridiculous to live in a country for 1 year and never learn how to read the native language or write basic sentences.
I would compare my level of Korean to the level of English some immigrants to the USA have.
I know Survival Korean. I can understand a little Korean, I can read signs (even if I don’t always know what it means) , I can say essential sentences like “Where is the bathroom?” “This is delicious!” “I will meet my friends tonight to go shopping.” “Korean is hard!” “My head hurts.”
If I can’t fully get my point across in Korean, or the Koreans I am talking to can’t speak English too well, then I use hand gestures, body language or my trusty friend called Google Translate.
Actually, Google Translate sometimes does such a horrible job of translating, but it’s better than nothing when you are desperate.
According to an article I read, Korean is ranked as the 9th toughest language for a English speaker to learn. I would agree there are times I find Korean quite challenging in terms of pronunciation and also remembering when to speak politely and when you can speak normally to your friends.
But, what helps a great deal to learn Korean is that the writing system is really easy once you have memorized the characters. Also, the pronunciation of words is mostly phonetic, with some words trying to trick you here and there.
While I have taken various Korean classes and have studied with friends, colleagues and students, I know my Korean could be a lot better than it is now.
However, most Koreans, especially young people, want to speak English with me to practice their language skills. If I say something in Korean they will often answer in English assuming they don’t start giggling hysterically.
I can get by in Korea fairly easy knowing only a little Korean.
Definitely my students liked me more once I made an effort to speak their language. They find it amusing the “foreigner” tries to speak their language.
I am not sure how much longer I will live in Korea, but I am doubtful it will be forever. So while I am game to learn more Korean, I know that my ability might only go so far because learning Korean is not my #1 priority living in Korea.
Regardless where I will end up next, I know I will learn the basics of the native language so that I can survive.