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Not Speaking Korean in Korea

January 21, 2013

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So we know this video was about people who don’t speak Korean at all, but we’re going to use the blog post as a chance to talk about our feelings of how much Korean we speak and where we want to go from here. Basically, we’re really torn about where we should take our development of the Korean language from this point. It’s something we’ve talked about for a long time and maybe having some of your input would be beneficial:

Basically, our Korean now is at the point that we can get by in this country perfectly fine. When we leave our apartment and interact with the world, we don’t speak English unless someone speaks English to us. Oftentimes it’s a Korean person who will speak English to us, but we insist on speaking Korean back so they don’t feel uncomfortable and forced into speaking English. We want to keep on practicing our usage of it in the real world. We appreciate people’s consideration for speaking English to us, for sure, but the irony is we’re trying to practice our Korean while they’re finally getting to use English after being forced to study it in school. It’s almost like being a Canadian in that sense. We both grew up learning French since we were little kids, but it felt so awkward since there was no conversations taking place in French outside of Quebec. It often felt like, why am I learning to speak French? And then your teachers and parents would insist that it’s because it will help you get a better job, like with the government where everyone MUST be bilingual. So once you finally go to Montreal (or somewhere in Quebec) you’re so damn excited/horrified to finally use your 10+ years of French–only to be greeted by French-English speakers that can see your horrific French accent so decide to switch to English. NOOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOOoooOOooo! I failed you French language learning! Anyhoo, the long point is, we understand when our Korean friends don’t want to speak Korean with us because they really want to practice their 10+ years of English studying.

We’ve digressed here. The point is, we think the whole reason why someone should learn the language in a country is for communication. It’s so that you don’t go into a shop and expect everyone to speak your foreign language. It’s so that you can go to a restaurant and easily read and order what you want, and hold light friendly conversations. The more of a language you learn, the easier it is for you to communicate, and the more ideas you can get across to someone else. In our case, we have basic communication down. We can order anything we need at restaurants, ask for everything we need at supermarkets and shops, tell taxis where to go, ask for directions, all that. But we can’t have deeeeep discussions. We can’t talk politics or religion. We can’t tell you what Spudgy did to that teddy bear in the park (you don’t want to know what he did to that teddy bear in the park). We’re not fluent or 100% conversational, but we’re perfectly functional to the point that our local shops think that we ARE fluent speakers. It also helps that we can understand Korean, so even though our responses are basic, we’re still communicating.

So, the question we often face is why don’t we learn MORE Korean. We live in Korea, we plan on living here more, so why not become super fluent? Well, there are a few factors for us to consider.

From a very honest personal standpoint, we don’t need to. Totally honestly, majority of the people that we know that have become or are trying to become fluent in Korean have a Korean love interest, or want to have one. NOT THAT THIS IS TRUE OF EVERYONE. Everybody has their own reason for learning Korean, but the reasons that we see most predominantly in people’s attempt to learn the language don’t apply to us. If learning a language is to communicate, we are not interested in communicating deeply, as one would in a significant relationship. The communication we want to do we can do perfectly fine.

Don’t get me wrong: if we were single and trying to get a significant Korean other, then we’d be all about learning Korean. But, we’re already married and we don’t go out that much, because we spend so much time editing and filming. We’re with each other all the time, talking to each other all the time. More importantly, our Korean friends speak English as well, and want us to speak English with them all the time, because this is their chance to practice it when they otherwise don’t have many opportunities to do so. So from our personal perspective, learning Korean won’t really do that much for us.

There’s something special about being in a language bubble. Seriously: when we go back to Canada, we’re overwhelmed by everything around us. The first couple of days back our eyes dart from side to side to read all the signs. Every conversation that passes us by we think is directed at us, and we turn around. It’s amazing how overwhelmed we get. We get headaches from it, really. But coming back to Korea, even though Seoul’s such a bustling city, we feel a sense of calm and peace. We can appreciate it in our silent bubble, in our thoughts. We’re not drowned out by noise and advertising. It’s really a state of being that we’ve come to love.

I feel cheesy in saying this, but the movie “Lost in Translation” kinda captures a glorious experience of not being fluent in a language. To us, there’s nothing wrong with feeling lost. There’s something special in the experience of confusion. It’s hard to explain, but it’s enjoyable. We’ve become adequate in Korean while we’ve been here, but the couple of times we’ve been in Japan, we remembered just how great it is to be totally lost like we were when we first moved to Korea. Going to a counter, not knowing whether to say yes, hai, neh, or tak, oui, si: there’s a thrill in that. It’s not a thrill like hang-gliding, but it takes you out of your comfort zone, and – in doing so – makes you rethink you comfort zone, and appreciate the fact that there’s a whole world happening around you that you not only know next to nothing about but also doesn’t revolve around you and your experience, and that’s a very worthwhile experience to have.

Ok, that might have sounded weird. But those are some points that really keep us from wanting to learn any more Korean. There are a couple more things that get in our way as well, mainly, learning Korean is really bloody hard. Really really FREAKING really. We know people who have taken the intensive Korean study program for over a year. Intensive, as in, full-time course-load. Going to class and doing homework everyday. Not having any other job. Just…studying. And they got very proficient in Korean, but still not fluent. And it’s frustratingly difficult for them to get to the point of fluency. Not that it’s impossible, mind you, but – from our perspectives – they put in very much work into it and aren’t fluent.

So our question is this: how much time do we have to put into studying Korean until we’re fluent? We run a site that calls us into work everyday. We don’t have days off. We work from morning to night. When can we fit in an intensive language study program, really? How long will it take for us, giving up our few precious spare moments of time when we just want to shut off after working all day, where we want to just relax and not strain ourselves anymore—how long will it take for us to sacrifice those few moments for us to achieve fluency in Korean? Is it worth it for us to sacrifice those moments for years? Will what we gain from Korean fluency be worth the sacrifice?

This is a hard post to write. People will combat by saying “But you should be perfectly fluent or make the effort to do so out of respect for Korea!” But aren’t we doing a lot of that already? We made a website out of it. We’ve provided jobs for others out of it. Aren’t we already trying everyday to show the world, through our videos, how much fun we’re having here, how much we like the place, how you should come here too, how fun we find the music, how interesting we find the indie scene, how much we like the food? Aren’t we already paying our respects to Korea everyday?

Oh God, this post is getting too long. I’m sorry for rambling for so long. This is just something we feel really guilty about, and it’s something we grapple with every week. We come home after a late night, and think to ourselves that this is when we should study Korean so that we could stop feeling guilty, but we really just want to say “guilt be damned! Let us rest!” Let us know your thoughts. Is there something we’re missing out on here? This post is highly personal, we know, and it doesn’t apply to everybody. There are paragraphs we wrote and paragraphs we deleted, but there’s so much more we can say about this. People learn languages for different reasons, we know, than just the ones we listed above, and I’m sure there are good reasons to learn the language, and – no – we’re not telling you to not learn Korean. Learn Korean if you want to. Don’t learn it if you don’t want to. We, personally, are just torn as to what we want to do.

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Not Speaking Korean in Korea

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  1. I think that happens because your native language is already english, but as a portuguese speaker that studied english the entire life and also studied spanish, french and korean, they are all “foreign” languages to me, so if I live in another country, I would rather be using the native language, because it doesn’t make any difference since they’re already not MY native language.

    4 years ago
  2. Ane

    I went to Korea last summer, To both Seoul and Jeju-do. In Seoul I think the egnlish is pertty good, taxi drivers know no english what-so-ever, But we still took taxis everywhere we went, Just made sure to bring along LOADS of the hotel cards, so that we could get back, our hotel would write down our destination for us. Sometimes we were really confused and the drivers would get kind of annoyed, But that’s because they kept on speaking korean to us. We took some busses wich all worked out just fine, we could easily find our stops with all the signs that were in english.

    Jeju-do was something else though, I thought I had booked a hotel just outside of Seogwipo, turned out to be half an hour from Seogwipo, There was one lady at the hotel that was really helpfull, she printed out a little map and dew the way to the bus station for us, Helped us book stuff and so on. Every morning she would ask us how our previous day had gone and where we were going that day. Wich was really nice. The bus drivers didnt speak any english, But we learnt our stop, and asked before getting on the bus, just to make sure we got on the right bus. Even though there were no english speaking people there, It was alot of fun traveling like this, Rather than having the grumpy taxi drivers in Seoul, people seemed alot more interested in helping us out on jeju.

    4 years ago
  3. Nic

    I took Korean classes for a bit over a year part time and my Korean is still very very basic. And I have a Korean husband! I sometimes see comments online like “omg if you are in Korea you should learn how to speak Korean” or “I hate when people don’t learn how to speak it properly” (Usually said by people haven’t even been to Korea or tried to speak Korean with Koreans before). People are trying! It’s just for native English speakers it’s a very hard language to learn! It can take some time..

    I only stopped taking classes because we were busy with weddings and travelling, I want to continue again. My listening skills have improved a lot because I’m hearing Korean a lot but I really need to get back into study. When we move to Korea next year I’m planning on just forcing myself to learn as much as possible.

    The problem with living in Sydney, even though we are surrounded by Koreans, everyone wants help with their English. Everyone wants to practice their English, so for many conversations everything is in English. I do spend a lot of time listening to Korean when I’m with my husband and his friends, but it’s not really an opportunity for me to just butt into the conversation and try out my Korean skills. What can I say about business plans, sport or military service?

    My husband is terrible at teaching me Korean, he doesn’t know how to explain things- so yeah, don’t always assume a Korean partner means you automatically learn Korean! I do say things to him in Korean, but it’s like I have a set amount of sayings I know and that’s my limit.

    Oh the one thing I can do is greetings fluently- because I mimic my husband and others. One old Korean man thought I must have grown up in Korea because of the way I greeted him…. no, that’s all I can do! I can mimic how my husband talks on the phone too, like the type of tones that are used. It’s sort of a party trick now, Koreans get me to do it and laugh.

    4 years ago
    • I am sorry if my English is not making much sense. I also heard that if you want to learn a language then learning it from your partner is not the best way to go. People think that just because you have a partner from a certain country then it will automatically mean that you will be able to learn the language easily and that your partner can teach you and you get to practice every day. Oh so convenient. This is however seldom the case. Often trying to do this leads to conflicts and strains on the relationship. And most people do not have any understanding of the structure of their native language since it is their native language so they are not directly the best teachers. I think that as Serelem say watching drama and tv can be good. It depends on your personality and what you like to do and how disciplined you are. I am basically lazy so if I do not have a teacher that tells me what to do and gives me homework I do not feel that motivated to study. So language classes are always nice. That said I am now learning Korean but I am doing it by myself at a slow pace. I already know Japanese so I am hoping that my Japanese will make it easier for me to learn Korean. I am also using a free app and software called anki for learning words. I learn a new word everyday and I am also using this to review words. After having learned Japanese for about a year I started to watch Japanese tv without subtitles. I did not understand almost anything but I looked up a couple of words every time and after living in Japan for one year as an exchange student studying in Japan, and learning it for about 7 years I can say that I can watch tv in Japanese and I get most of what they are saying. But it takes time. My Japanese is not perfect. I still have a lot of grammar that I do not know nor understand. I can read some books but there are still so many words I do not know. But I still believe that practice makes perfect and any kind of studying is better than no studying, so find something that you likes and that you can keep up and if you get bored of doing that find something else. books, manga, tv-shows, drama. Learning languages is slow and difficult and you do not see the result of your learning immediately. However one day you will suddenly realize that you can do something that you could not do before, like understanding a word when you hear it that you did not know a month ago but since reading it and looking it up you are able to recognize it, or going to karaoke and finally understanding the lyrics, and realizing that the song that you love singing is actually a pretty sad love song and not at all the happy song that you thought it was, or just understanding peoples conversation on the metro. Going to a country and speaking the language everyday is a very good way of learning it. However when making friends it is important to start the relationship by speaking in their language instead of your own native language or in English. It is often very difficult to change the language that you are communicating in. If you have started as friends in English it is difficult to start being friends in another language such as Japanese. Finding a space or a place where you can practice the language might be a good way of doing it. I knew and American girl that joined a choir where she only spoke in the native language of the country she was living in, while she the rest of the time was living in this English language bubble. But I do understand that it is hard to do this. It is hard, painful, frustrating, boring and makes you feel stupid to hang out with people and have almost no idea what they are talking about and of course there is no way that you can but into the conversation because when you understand what they are talking about they have changed the subject. But there will come a day when you do, it will just take a lot of time.
      Also being selfish can be a good thing. To not feel bad because the other person wants to practice their English with you. One of the Japanese girls that I met when I first arrived in Japan told me that if they want to use me to practice their English I should just tell them to go to a language school (she was talking to me in Japanese even though she could speak English after being an exchange student in USA). Not that I ever had that problem. I was in Japan in order to learn and speak in Japanese. I was never interested in becoming friends with anyone that was Japanese that were not interested in speaking in Japanese with me. But then I guess that I am a bit special that way and maybe some people might think that it makes me into a bad person not being interested in making friends and talking in English with them. For me talking is the most effective way of learning a language, grammar giving the basic idea about the language and helping in sorting the sentence so that I can make sense out of it. When I was a freshman at Japanese we would practice all the new grammar by doing simple exercises when we were talking and using the new grammar and words. These classes were the most difficult and fun and it was during these classes that the grammar and words actually stuck. I could keep on writing about this forever since I love learning languages and I have a lot of different experiences about learning but I believe that I’ve written way to much already.

      4 years ago
      • I feel so identified with you, Ellen. I’ve been learning Japanese for more than 4 years now, only 3 hours of class a week, and now I feel that I begin to understand some song lyrics, or TV shows without subtitles. It really feels warm to see that you’re starting to understand new things, and also that you’re able to say something that you thought you couldn’t say. About a year and a half ago, I started to study Chinese and Korean as well, and, it is truly a hard experience. Learning only one language takes a lot of hours of dedication, so learning 3 at a time is hard x3. But I agree with what you said: learning languages is a long long process, and takes a lot of practice, and exercises… Also, all being said, I’m Spanish, and I started studying Korean by my self, with the help of some Korean friends that came to Spain to learn Spanish, and in my case, I am the one they use to practice my language, mostly because I can’t really speak Korean, so, as both of you (Ellen and Nic) said and I’ve also experienced, it is hard to be surrounded by Koreans speaking Korean and trying to follow the conversation, and for me it’s impossible to but into the conversation. But well, I still love learning languages, and as long as I can, I want to do my best and keep studying the 3 languages. So, let’s all do our best!

        4 years ago
    • My wife used to teach me useful Korean expressions but then that just stopped. I tried to get her to teach me but I got frustrated when she couldn’t answer my questions and never seemed to get it when I wanted her to repeat something; she responded to my frustration by closing off.

      I have a French friend who complained a lot that his wife never made the slightest effort to help him learn, even though he spent a lot of time coaching her in French when they were over there.

      4 years ago
    • a year is a long time to ” just the basics”, maybe you should try to see dramas, or read things in Korean, that helps a lot, but them again I`m a spanish native speaker…

      4 years ago
      • I’m Mexican, so i’m spanish native speaker, and one considerable thing is that spanish is a pretty hard language, it have so much complex language concepts.

        And that help us to learn new languages far more easy, because most of the foreign language complexities, are like trimmed versions of spanish, and basically you will just need to learn new words, and learn the structure, but the hard “concepts” are already there.

        Sorry about my english, i’m not that good

        3 years ago
      • Ive been learning korean also and im a spanish speaker! Isnt it hard? XD

        4 years ago
  4. I totally get what you’re saying. At first I really wanted to learn Japanese, which I still do, but then I tried my luck with Korean. Now, learning the basics is really easy in Korean and the Hangeul makes it seem easier than Japanese, but in reality, it’s not. When it comes to Korean I feel like I haven’t learned much or that I’ve forgotten what I’ve learned. I have been away from academic Japanese, but I can still easily read and know what’s going on a lot more fluently than I would with Korean. It’s strange, but that is the way it is. I’m currently studying Chinese and while it seems intimidating because of tones and characters, I know SO much more than I thought I would EVER learn in just 13 weeks. My teacher will give me a word and I’ll make up a sentence on the spot. She’ll ask me why and I can give her a why. It’s not just introduction, it’s an actual conversation regardless of how basic it is. I truly think that Korean is just a very difficult language, more difficult than Chinese or Japanese. The Hangeul really tricked me at first and I do think that the pronunciation was just a challenge at first, more challenging than Chinese tones. Tones were difficult for me at first until I started getting them right and then, I started KNOWING them without pinyin and just by looking at characters I know.
    What you say is right about other people wanting to use their English after studying for so many years. I’m already bilingual. I speak Spanish as well, but where I live it’s very necessary. You really do get paid more than those that only speak English. However, Korean or Japanese wouldn’t be very beneficial. These languages are only good in a limited situation. I have had Korean clients walk through my door and really, I can’t communicate with them because my area of work was more complex and involved, being that it was court related. It’s practically impossible to translate information about laws that only exist in say my state or country and not in Korea. In Chinese the same difficulty level can be found, but I knew enough to greet the client, ask them if they spoke Mandarin, tell them I spoke very little, ask them if they understood what was being explained in English, ask if they had a friend who could help them understand the paperwork. While I could tell them they had to make an appointment, I couldn’t tell them for what because that explanation was just too technical to explain without having first figured out what I was trying to tell them. It happened to me in Spanish paperwork translation, but with a little thinking and dictionary lookup, it could be figured out.
    Korean is complex because of their honorary system. While it might be possible to read the newspaper, if you know a decent amount of hanja characters, I think it would be difficult to read scholarly texts. That’s really what I was going for, reading Korean literature because I’m not a fan of translations. The same with Japanese. Aside from speaking the language, I wanted to read historical texts that I could not find with English translations. Oh, and original manga/manhwa. I would never have to wait for an official English releases again! I agree with what you said that everyone else wants to speak English so that THEY can practice. I know someone who offered to teach me Korean in exchange for practicing his English, but there’s just no way I’m going to learn beyond the conversational It’s really not possible unless I spend years learning and studying to read texts. You two can do very well without speaking more than the basic Korean because there really is no need.

    4 years ago
  5. So if you don’t live in Korea and wish to learn better Korean, what are somethings that you could suggest?

    4 years ago
  6. I think you two are doing a GREAT job by promoting Korea. If I were to move to Korea in the future, I’d learn Korean. The reasons I think, is that I love to discuss and learning new languages. Up until now I speak and understand Norwegian (danish and swedish too since they’re fairly similar), english and french. I started studying Korean a year ago and so far, I really enjoy it! :)

    4 years ago
    • Svenska, danska och norska är ju ganska lika varandra.

      Trans: Swedish, danish and norwegian are quite similar.

      4 years ago
  7. Honestly, I think it’s what makes you guys happiest. Though I think there is no harm in trying it for a month or so and see how you handle the workload – if it works, hey, that’s great! But if not, then you can say at least you tried and you knew that you couldn’t fit it in your lifestyle. Since you both don’t have an issue communicating adequately, I don’t really see it as a problem.

    4 years ago
  8. To be very honest I completely understand where you’re coming from.
    The Korean language is not easy to learn, and I AM Korean!
    It’s a phonetic language and there are so many rules that must be followed.
    To be honest, if you feel like you have a relatively firm grasp of the language… then you shouldn’t have to worry about learning more; you shouldn’t feel guilty about anything.
    And hey, if you’re exhausted after working nonstop? You deserve to rest and enjoy what little free time you have!
    So I guess in a nutshell… I think you two have done what you can and have learned what you needed to learn.
    Don’t feel guilty about a thing!

    What you do on a daily basis is just so beneficial for Korea.
    Heck, even I want to go back and explore my parent’s homeland.
    Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t change a thing! :D

    4 years ago
  9. Yes, learning Korean is so hard! But I love it. I’ve been taking classes from Rob Julien for a year now (and unfortunately had to take a break from current sessions to pay for college classes), and I’m still far from speaking a complex sentence comfortably. I’m more confident in my reading and writing than speaking ability. “otz
    I’m jealous that you two have had the opportunity for full language immersion, because it’s the best way to pick up any language. :)

    4 years ago
  10. Having such a “working vocabulary” of Korean, it would be hard to gauge what level you guys are at – as much as you can function conversationally, like you said, the topics can be a bit shallow. My only advice would be to expand into specialty areas first, learning vocab to help you get along… for example – now that your in business, your going to need to know a lot more related words to that, such as terms of administration, taxation, business practices, legal matters… and you might find as you delve more into being able to talk about your business, that you can expand into other areas much more easily, tax and business issues are part of politics and you would have to learn less vocab… president, tax hike, no like! lol.

    You have already put so much effort into it, and are doing so well… with so much work, maybe even a word a day and try to use it at least 5 times.. could help you.

    also… just in case of emergency: 내 호버크라프트는 장어로 가득 차 있어요
    you never know when you will need that phrase!

    ~S

    P.s I have a 166 collaboration document on the intricacies of Korean Grammar – close to university level. easily emailed.

    4 years ago
  11. Seeying you guys work you butts off really motivates me to do the same and learn Korean. It’s not about fluency, it’s about understanding what’s going on around you, which will make everything more enjoyable. You should not feel guilty about not having any time left to learn how to be fluent, you both got a busy schedule after all. I’m Dutch, so English is not my native language. I’m planning on learning basic Korean before I’ll make a trip to Korea. I’m a little scared to take the jump in the deep without it to be honest…

    4 years ago
  12. I couldn’t camembert that cheese song, edam you both.

    4 years ago
  13. there’s a Korean store nearby my house and my friend and I are really close to the family that owns the store. Everytime we go there they are always so excited to see us and practice their English and even introduced their kids to us so we could all be friends. We practice our Korean with them and they become so amazed with how much we’ve grown (even though it would only be like one new word each time we saw them). And they give us free stuff all the time and almost treat us like their own kids. This is what really pushed me to learn more Korean and visit Korea soon!
    lol random story, but their cheese lady story reminds me of this family ^^

    4 years ago
  14. So you don’t lose your precious down time, I would suggest an audio file of Korean lessons that you can listen to in the office or while traveling or in the bathroom…you get the idea. I have a Spanish audio book that I listen to in the car so it doesn’t interfere with family time

    4 years ago
  15. The only reason I can see a major benefit in becoming more fluent in Korean for you all would be the interviewing of Korean groups/people. Being able to communicate a more difficult idea or question would be helpful. But I know you all put so much work into doing these videos and, to be honest, I wish you could get more rest, you certainly deserve it.

    Also, if you did want to practice your Korean more, I know what we did in my high school Spanish class was wrote letters to a Spanish speaking class (I think we had one from Spain itself) in Spanish and they would write their responses in the English they learned. Of course, you could probably apply this to a face-to-face conversation as long as both sides are patient enough.

    Anyway, no matter what decision you ultimately make on becoming more fluent, I’ll still be watching and laughing. ^^ I love you guys~

    4 years ago
  16. Can you guys teach us korean in the next TLDR? pleeeeeeeeeeease?

    4 years ago
  17. That video was awsome like usual ! Thank You ! :3
    Martina I love your hair !

    4 years ago
  18. The cheese lady story was very sweet. ALSO, how do South Koreans feel about North Korea and North Koreans? Especially North Korean refugees living in South Korea? And how do you feel about the whole issue?

    4 years ago
  19. Well, I know you have connections with the Talk to Me in Korean team. And, not being in Korea, they are my lifeline to the Korean language. I don’t think you can make a wrong choice in this case. And, there are only so many hours in a day…..

    I learn Korean because I have a Korean-born son (We live in the Great Northwest if the US). I want to give our family a connection to his mother-land….It’s the same reason we got into KPop. That said, it is the HARDEST studying I have ever done. I have a degree in Chemistry…For me, Organic Chemistry was easier to learn.

    If it were me, I wouldn’t focus on becoming fluent. I would focus on improving. Learning something new (even a tiny thing) day by day. You may never be the university definition of fluent but, you will get more and more conversant.

    On another note, I want to thank you for everything you have meant to our family. We love the window you have opened to us into our son’s birth culture. You do it with humor and skill. We honestly love you guys; and, love Korea more because of you.

    4 years ago
    • Props to you for getting a chem degree! I am currently getting mind ninja’d by my second semester ochem homework and while I have always wanted to learn Korean I think I shall save that for next semester :)

      4 years ago
    • I like your attitude toward your son! loving mom <3

      4 years ago
    • @facebook-1484746058:disqus I think it is great your are learning the language. Be sure to have him taught or he will regret it later. (Speaking from personal experience) :)

      4 years ago
      • Thank you, we have an excellent Korean tutor. :). She loves him;and, he loves her. Because of her brother, my eldest who is an 8th grader, plans to go to spend a gap year in Korea after high school.

        4 years ago
  20. Personally I think that if you’re staying in a country for an extended period of time, or even just a short trip, you should make an effort to learn a bit of the language. Even just simple words like Hello/Please/Thank you. Ofc, this is most likely a result of my fear/hatred of not understanding people… living in a lost bubble is a nightmare situation for me. xD

    4 years ago
    • Some people just really don’t mind don’t being able to really communicate in the country’s language, I think they look at the experience from another point of view…
      I personally wouldn’t like being in a country without knowing at least some sentences, words, etc… I just don’t like, because the way I want to be a part of the situation includes this: feeling the people and their communication, etc. Plus I like a lot to learn things.
      The level of knowledge of a language too is very personal. I understand what S&M are saying, and being on their feet I would probably do the same, except for the fact that I’m competitive even with myself, and I like to have deep conversations, but that’s my personality xD
      But I don’t actually get this “learn the language out of respect” thing. There are a lot of ways to praise something, and even if you think this way is the best, the other person may not see from the same point of view and think you’re not praising enough because of such and such acts…(or I don’t know if “praise” is the best word for it, sorry ^^)

      4 years ago
  21. Kes

    Question: how have things changed since you first came to Korea? I know that some of the things I received dire warnings about (people in your tiny rural town will have never seen a foreigner! good luck getting foreign foodstuffs! no tampons anywhere! no bared shoulders!) didn’t actually end up being true, so since you’ve been here for years I’d really like to know what’s different, and what you think is changing now. ^^

    (if you have deja vu it’s because I asked this before what what!)

    4 years ago
  22. The main reason my family learned English was because they planned to live in the United States their whole life and needed English to get a job. But Martina and SImon have a job that doesn’t necessarily require English and as far as we know they won’t be there forever. Either way guys do what is best for you! Love from Texas!!

    4 years ago
  23. that’s an interesting take. i honestly really enjoyed learning korean and i think it came easy to me. but, i was being taught by a friend. and now i’m taking french classes at college which are RIDICULOUSLY hard. homework ALL THE FREAKING TIME. and i’m so behind. T.T anyhoo. i think it comes easier to those who really want to learn it, and have the time. great post, y’all. <3 ^_^

    4 years ago
  24. super junior teaches me korean the same way rammstein taught me german! i can’t say anything useful, of course, but i understand how the language works and what it should sound like. reason #75690 why music is the answer to world peace.

    4 years ago
    • Apparently, it really helps with pronunciation. When I met my Korean friends and they started teaching me a few words, or making me read phrases in my Korean book, they all were so impressed with my pronunciation XD and I was all O.o like… I never learned korean before, but I guess more than 4 years of Kpop have helped somehow

      4 years ago
    • you actually like that stuff??!!

      4 years ago
    • It sounds silly, but music is actually a great way to remember wonders and even practice pronunciation. And it never hurts if the people singing the music are beautiful/handsome.

      4 years ago
      • Yes, exactly. I’ve picked up a few words from 2NE1 and Sistar. I’d personally like to learn Korean, at the very least to read it, so I don’t have to wait for subtitles for the shows I like watching and it would come in handy while singing along to Kpop songs in the car. I feel bad slaughtering the language phonetically everyday…

        4 years ago
    • Kes

      Definitely! Music gives me not just sound but context. I can remember ‘미워’ and its meaning much better after hearing it in my favourite bilasa song, and I’m pretty sure every kpop fan will remember eottoke. XD

      4 years ago
      • that was one of the first words i picked up.^^ also ipsuri. they’re always touching ’em, so why not sing about them too, right?

        4 years ago
  25. I think you guys shouldn’t feel guilty. Like you said you know enough to get a long well, and all your friends speak english, and you use english on your job as well. Idk… I think you should only learn more if you felt the necessity to do so and also if you had time. Please have time to rest. We don’t want you guys to work 24/7 just to get a video in the right schedule or if you decide to study korean. I mean to us it won’t make any difference if you speak fluently or not. So it’s completly up to.

    OMG I’ve rambled so much. But thanks for the long post. I appreciate reading it.

    4 years ago
  26. I love Korean culture, food and music but sadly.. I’m Chinese.. I live in America and am only fluent in English.. I personally dislike learning Chinese (language) but I’m trying to learn it since it may help me in the future. But after reading this, it makes me really think if I’m honestly need to learn the WHOLE freaking Chinese language.. I don’t hate my own culture.. I LOVE IT but I would choose learning Korean over Chinese anyday…..

    4 years ago
  27. You don’t have to rely on English in your everyday life in Korea. I think that’s more than anyone could ask from a foreigner! I wish I could speak Korean as well as you guys.

    4 years ago
  28. Learning a new language is really really hard, and as long as you’re making some effort (which CLEARLY you have) I don’t see how anyone could fault you for not having the desire to push forward into being super fluent. For me right now I understand some of what I hear, and I know lots of little words and expressions, but I still have no idea how to put my own thoughts together to express them. >_<

    4 years ago
  29. As a teacher that’s a few months into his first year in Gangwondo, you’re definitely right about needing to step your Korean learning up. I live in a town with a few hundred people and one other foreigner, and I’m about 4 hours away from Seoul and Busan. All of the store names and what not are in Korean, so if you’re not going to be in a metropolitan area then you definitely should put more of an effort into learning. The upside is that from what I’ve noticed, after the first nervous laugh at least, Korean people really appreciate the effort. At least in the rural areas, where foreigners probably aren’t as common a thing, being able to chit-chat or say even a few things goes a long way.

    Also, made it out to Seoul for the first time last weekend and wow, Seoul/Itaewon/Hongdae are like completely different countries compared to what I’m used to here!

    4 years ago
  30. Please make that a T-Shirt. “Cheese Lady’s not a STRANGER!”
    Please respond with yes, no, or a LOL.

    4 years ago
  31. I really appreciate your honesty and I understand why you don’t want to become fluent. My situation is a bit different: I’m European and trying to learn Mandarin and Korean, but it is really hard for me because I don’t have much free time. I work as an it technician and also go to vocational school which I have to study for. I also started learning programming languages because I sometimes need them for me job so I bet you can imagine how hard it is for me. But I really want it and if it takes me 20 years then who cares… Me, the perfectionist…^^

    4 years ago
  32. I started learning to speak/read/write Korean last year, I feel like I’ll never get fluent enough to be able to hold a conversation T-T I really want to visit Korea one day but I’m afraid I won’t be able to get around so well, even with all the english about D:

    4 years ago
    • I know how you feel. I studied Mandarin Chinesefor a year at Uni, but it wasn’t until after I had been in China for a few months that I could say I started to grasp some of it.

      4 years ago
      • I guess being thrown into the culture (well being surrounded by the language 24/7 in this case) you’ll pick up a few things a lot easier than studying now and then in Uni :D

        4 years ago
    • Jen

      My friend spoke no Korean (and she’s Asian..so of course everyone talked to her lol) and I had started to learn Korean but couldnt remember a whole lot when i was over there, but I had some of the basics down. I think the phrases i used the most (other than she;s not Korean, she’s American, lol) were how do i get there, how much is this, thank you, etc. just very basic stuff. Many people were able to help us with their small amount of English, and hand gestures become your friends! lol. We were able to get around a bit easier b/c we had some maps or business cards from the hotels to give the taxi drivers, and the basic Korean writing i knew helped us when we were on the bus or looking for a specific place.

      Seoul, Busan and Jeju island were pretty English speaking friendly. The more rural places we went were not as much, but the people were still awesome and we were able to get around. :)

      4 years ago
      • Thats somewhat good to know :D To know from someone who’s had first hand experience I feel a lot more confident now, thank you n.n

        4 years ago
  33. I don’t really know what kind of idiot would say “You should learn blah blah blah language out of respect for blah blah country.” -_- I just don’t see how you can correlate those two. It’s as obnoxious as someone saying “Learn English, this is Amurrica.”

    4 years ago
    • Actually, I agree with your first sentiment. But I also do agree with “Learn English..”. I’m an American in a heavily multilingual state (California). When I worked at a retail home goods store, I was several times yelled at by non-English speakers for being unable to speak Spanish. I know a little bit, and tried to learn it in HS (largely forgotten). I found it really insulting for one guy to be yelling “How could you not know Spanish!” at me while he couldn’t speak any English (the only phrase I can remember in Spanish). I finally asked in German if he could speak that and he stopped yelling.

      That said, I think of it like the stereotype of the ugly, loud American, with the Hawaiian shirt shouting “Look Martha, it’s Kim…Chee, you Korean fellers take dollars?” lol. At least learn a little bit to function with. S&M clearly function pretty well. so I’d have to agree with so many others that you don’t need to feel guilty, just get a little better each day. The more you understand the more you can participate and appreciate the culture around you, just like Chio said above.

      4 years ago
    • That actually happens a lot in America (I speak Spanish and know a lot of Spanish speaking people) there are some rude people that say that. (Nt everyone ) but they do get some attitude when they meet someone that can’t speak their language ….. Specially at McDonalds.

      4 years ago
      • Yeah I know :( I’m from the US lol I was on the bus once. A father asked a woman if she or her grown son could move so his toddler and wife could sit together. He had a slight accent. The woman immediately got angry and told him that this was America and he should learn to speak English properly. She only moved after everyone gave her dirty looks lol

        4 years ago
    • I think that’s more of a you-should-at-least-try-to-learn-the-language-of-the-place-you’re-going-to-live kind of mentality. I don’t think that the above statement about respect is incredibly sound, but I understand it. It’s basically like what Martina and Simon explained in the video and blog post: No, you shouldn’t have to be FORCED to learn a country’s language because some people think you should, but if you want to have a more meaningful time there, then you should at least learn something. Everyone has different situations, but that’s the jist.

      4 years ago
      • I understand the sentiment but not the statement (how does not knowing a language indicate disrespect for a country)? Spitting on and lighting fire to a flag–disrespectful. Not knowing how to say you are allergic to bees, you got stung by a bee and you need an epi pen–maybe a little reckless, but certainly not disrespectful. I might even understand when some douche on the subway yells at you for not speaking English in the US (because he’s too lazy to try to understand anyone who doesn’t speak it). Just not someone who equates a visitor not speaking their country’s language to spitting and then urinating on their flag.

        4 years ago
        • I think where people get miffed is when you “expect” them to help you and yet you are not speaking their language at all. For instance, as an American myself, I’ve traveled the world extensively. Do I speak every language? Nope. I also do not expect to get help in other countries when I speak to them in English. I’m not speaking their language and it’s disrespectful in a way to “expect” them to help me as if my language is the language everyone should speak. When I need assistance, I am always very apologetic and ask them very kindly “English?” and they’ve always been as helpful as they can be because I make it clear *I* am the one who doesn’t know their language in their country. In the U.S. I work in a very touristy area. I often have people ask me for help in broken English and I am more than willing to help them because they’re trying. Even if they couldn’t speak English i would still help IF they didn’t expect me to help them and they weren’t treating ME as stupid for not knowing their language when I’m in my own country. It’s all in the delivery of the message is what I’m getting at. :-)

          4 years ago
        • Yeah, that’s totally understandable. But I can’t believe someone would say it to S&M, who can communicate in a functional way and probably aren’t demanding those around them to speak English for them, but rather making an effort to speak Korean. So in this context, I still can’t see how it’s appropriate to say something like that.

          4 years ago
        • Yep, me too! I live in a resort area, and I love hearing all the different accents. When I worked in retail I learned to say white bag or brown bag in a few different languages because we’d often get people who would smile self-consciously and say “No English”. So i’d try to say the object in their language. They’d laugh and would even wave if I happened to see them outside the store.

          I’ve always loved helping people that at least try to communicate in English. But I’ve never forgotten the unpleasantness of people that have yelled at me or worse insulted myself or a coworker for not being able to speak (or so they thought) in their own language. Best comeuppance ever is when you actually do speak it and tell the obnoxious person to “Have a nice day!” in their own language. Happened to a coworker who spoke Farsi, the woman’s shocked face was priceless.

          4 years ago
    • I take it you don’t use Tumblr often? You’d be surprised by what people say there…

      4 years ago
  34. I bet Spudgy humped that teddy bear just like how he humped that pickle.

    4 years ago
  35. I’m from Germany but my English is pretty good, weird to say that about me – but hey, I’m just being honest. It was actually really really easy to get from A to B. But thankfully at the Hotel in Yeouido we were staying at, they had business cards and on the backside was a map as to how to find the hotel, so we could simply show this to the Taxi driver. That was a huge relief. :3
    However, as we can read Korean it was sometimes a bit easier I assume.. As for the Speaking / Understanding.. uhm.. not really..
    If I ever plan on moving to Korea I’ll definitely want to be able to speak / understand Korean for the same reason as you two stated. :3
    (I mean, I always get annoyed when people in Germany can’t speak proper German.. xx)

    4 years ago
  36. I went to Korea for vacation during summer and my friends and I did a lot of research before going. Like memorizing phrases and recognising characters because we thought it would be hard since we dont speak korean. We were pleasantly surprised when we were in Korea though. Eg. We were lost trying to find 63 building because we tried walking, so we asked some random pedestrian in English. We thought we were gonna get ‘sorry no english’, but surprise surprise, the old man stopped and thought hard, then he started giving directions in English. There was also a shop in Dongdaemun where the owner and the workers could actually speak Malay (Thats my native language :p) because they decided to learn it since they always have a lot of Indonesian/Malaysian tourists. Most people I have met could speak English to be honest, but yeah I guess learning some Korean wouldnt hurt :) Oh yes, its worth taking note that we only went to Seoul, I mean I can’t say the same for places like Busan or Jeju.

    4 years ago
  37. Kes

    Honestly I mostly want to improve my Korean because my accent is really good, so even though I don’t know much, Koreans think I am super fluent in their language. Seeing as people are always talking to me like I’m fluent it would save some time and trial if I would just become so. ><'

    4 years ago
  38. Are you frowned upon for not knowing Korean? Or are they helpful?

    4 years ago
    • It’s different, some people do frown at you, but those who has international connections or are quite curious about people of other countries generally happy you are trying from my knowledge.

      4 years ago
      • I guess that’s the same everywhere. Here in America some people love to help people who don’t speak English and some get offended that someone does not speak English or does not speak it very well.

        4 years ago
    • In Korea, we haven’t been frowned upon. Every time we speak Korean to people in Korea they’re amazed at how much we speak and commend us for it, even if we just say a few words :D

      4 years ago
      • Is it better to speak bad Korean over not speaking Korean at all? I have been learning Korean and I am afraid I might say something offensive in Korean. I know Spanish and French but those cultures are closer to mine than Korean so I know what not to say.

        4 years ago
        • Korea is def way more accepting of people trying to learn the language than other countries I’ve been to. Korea is kinda in disbelief that other people from other countries have such an interest in it!

          4 years ago
  39. Not a bad post at all. Also, many Korean lessons won’t teach you as much as actually interacting with Koreans here will do. I’ve been living in Korea for 5 months now and nothing taught me more usable Korean than actually talking to Koreans, listening to them and picking up on the grammar that NORMAL people use. A lot of the Korean grammar taught at schools, at Ewha and KLI is no where near as useful as simply SPEAKING with people. Many schools (I’d dare say ALL) want you to memorize, memorize and memorize – which is why most Koreans aren’t that good at English for example. They’re not used to speaking – they’re used to memorizing and translating texts using dictionaries and charts. No one will become fluent at anything with that.

    4 years ago
    • I’d have to say that at least taking a couple of classes at the very beginning would help one just get a basic grip of the language. After that, self-study and speaking is where it’s at.

      HOWEVER, it’s been my own experience that for languages like Korean and Japanese, it’s hard to go with the “just speak and worry about the grammar later” approach, since the grammar is so vastly different from English.

      4 years ago
      • Yeah, I agree with your point about Korean and grammar (can’t speak to Japanese). The whole pattern of speaking is different and to ignore it will really only hurt the learner. Even if you just take a cursory look at something about the grammar, it’ll make language learning that much easier.

        4 years ago
    • it’s like that with english here in germany. when i was still in school we started english classes at age 10/11 (nowadays kindergarten kids have to learn it) and the things we learned were the usual directions and order food in restaurants etc but it was so basic like…no one talks like that in the uk (or anywhere else really)
      same with french and spanish, i had those for 2 years in school and wanted to cry when i visited france/spain because it was so different there i felt like i just landed on another planet

      4 years ago
      • Oh yeah, I agree. This is because the teachers are forced to stick to the books the schools want them to use and they are 99% non-native speakers. Slang is another topic which is not dealt with in schools here in Germany.
        I studied English and French (translating and interpreting, my mother tongue is German) at University and we had native-speakers for all those subjects. This showed me a whole new way of using / handling those languages.

        Someone said: Books are like instruction manuals. It is nice to read them but you’ll learn more by using and trying out your device’s functions.
        This is the same case for learning foreign languages. Expose yourself to the actual use of it: watch TV channels in that language, read books, watch DVDs with dubs/subs, read newspapers or blogs, talk to people…
        I just wish that some of those methods could also be used in school – so many kids are bored by the way English or French is taught in middle or high school. That would instantly change if they felt like what they learn is of actual use and not just theory (where speaking practice often consists of repeating like a parrot what the teachers say).

        4 years ago
    • Same goes for Chinese, I seriously think this is a flaw in their educational process.

      4 years ago
      • No kidding! I studied Chinese in grad school for a year, and I never learned more or used it more than I have in the last 4 months.

        4 years ago
      • You need to know at least 2000 characters to be considered literate in Chinese. How do you think you would learn those characters? The language is also tonal, so you have to memorize what character goes with which sound AND tone. There’s pretty much no other way than rote memorization.

        4 years ago
        • For a Korean, memorizing Chinese characters is effective because there’s no issue with comprehension: they’re an integral part of the Korean language, used in half of all Korean words, and hence readily understood.

          When it comes to English, ‘learning’ an English word by memorizing the Korean ‘equivalent’ is no good, for there are few equivalents. In fact, it may mean the Korean learner will need to unlearn all that false learning before they can really get ahead.

          4 years ago
        • While that’s completely fair, I think it’s important to remember that literacy isn’t the same thing as conversational ability. I personally enjoy rote memorization but it’s a very specific learning style and there’s always different ways to teach a concept.

          4 years ago
        • Agreed; As an American living in China, I bet I could get by if I could only speak well and read a little bit.

          4 years ago
        • When I lived in China, I found knowing certain characters essential for living in China. Especially food characters!

          4 years ago
        • I would definitely be open to learning Chinese without having to just straight-up memorize everything, but I can’t imagine it being done.

          Yeah, I’m aware of the difference between literacy and conversational ability. But again, since Chinese is tonal, you pretty much have to memorize the tone that goes with the word you want to say. It’s not really intuitive at all. You can’t necessarily “just speak” and have people in China understand you.

          Rote memorization is definitely flawed, but that’s just how the Chinese learn their own complex language (esp writing which is probably one of the most valued cultural artifacts) and thus they apply it to many other educational aspects (whether for good or ill). I don’t know if people understand that it’s not just a “Asians are mindless robots and aren’t creative” thing, but it’s very deeply culturally ingrained.

          4 years ago
      • Yeah, I think it’s the way they educate their students. I’m Taiwanese Canadian so when I was younger, my parents had me take all these extra math and english classes bc of reasons (bc I’m Asian that’s why -___-” ). I rmrbr loving English classes in school but hating the extra classes solely bc the chinese teacher teaching english had me MEMORIZING texts word for word. Obviously at 7 years old, I had no idea this was absolutely not helpful to me at all and just went along with it. To this day, I still don’t understand how memorizing texts word for word is useful bc (in my opinion) the purpose of learning a language is so you can use IRL.

        4 years ago
        • that’s a big problem in China’s educational system: it’s all memorization and rhetoric, no attempt to nurture an individual opinion. I see people who want to study in foreign universities, but can’t pass (or put in the work to pass) any section of IELTS or TOEFL.

          4 years ago
        • Honestly, memorization is the easiest way to learn the Chinese language, or at least for vocabulary. You can’t build phrases without memorizing the characters and how sentences are structured. This is then supplemented by regular conversations people have everyday with their friends and family. Yes, it is problematic when they apply the same learning style to English, especially when they don’t learn how (or have the opportunity) to converse in English, but it is also understandable why try to learn English like this.

          4 years ago
  40. EA

    That is the frustrating thing about living in Korea – it’s hard to practice your Korean because everyone wants to practice their English on you. I don’t mind if I can’t speak fluently… but I’d like to be proficient enough in reading and writing so I can at least understand what’s going on around me. The YMCA in Daegu offers night classes so I do that twice a week for two hours/session, plus self-study online and via Rosetta Stone, etc. I’ve always liked learning languages, though, so my motivation for learning Korean is mostly for self-improvement. I find it fun, and although the grammar is confusing sometimes I’m getting better at figuring out how it all works. It’s fun. I guess it’s not for everyone, but as long as you can communicate effectively you can definitely get by in Korea without having to know too much Korean.

    4 years ago