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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.

ToFebruary
  1. Victoria Sahara

    When you guys mentioned Bucheon I freaked. I was there for a month and I miss it so much!

  2. SWalkerTTU

    And then people wonder why Mexicans in the US don’t speak more English. Well, usually it’s because they too are working and don’t have the time or energy to learn.

  3. 21tigermike

    So, Korean signs, but no actual people speaking English. Sounds about right. So visiting for a few days is okay, but not to live.

  4. clever luck

    I am a English Spanish speaker and would like to learn Korean (and a few other languages) but i have absolutely no idea where to start. I practically just watch kdramas and pick up what i can but i would really like to be fluent because i plan to visit Korea. Where would you recommend i start and progress too?

  5. you guys seem more like japan-loving foriegners…
    just an observation

  6. Joyness 로라 ♡

    Wow, can I really see Lithuanians here? It’s so amazing *-* I thought I was here alone all the time *cries*

  7. I’d like to ask you if you can introduce banking in korea. Do the bank workers know english well ? Banks have english websites ? :)

  8. If you don’t teach anymore, what is it that you do for a living in Korea?

  9. Brandon Stevens

    im a finance major looking to study Korean intensively for several years as a grad student and I agree with you completely. we have to ask ourselves what do we have to gain by learning more and what is our motive. I personally want to have very close relationships and be a part of people’s lives more like your cheese lady. to me that it’s well worth the time and headaches because then my story and dedication will help others. everyone is different and we can’t expect everyone to share our ideas or beliefs. keep up the good work and stay positive.

  10. Scott Harris

    when I was a tourist in Korea (2011) I found it quite easy. However, I was quite put off by going in to the small restaurants (that the locals were loving) because there was not 1 piece of English to be seen. [I could’ve ordered Bulgogi, but that’s all I knew]. I did have the luxury of having Korean friends with me for 70% of my holiday, so then it was GREAT and we went to real korean food places (not big chains or US imports). :-)

  11. The joy of traveling is completely embracing the country and culture you’re visiting. So I totally agree that you should learn the language at least enough to greet the locals. The locals are the BEST part of traveling. I can greet and order and ask for the bathroom in so many languages because I make sure to learn them when I travel. I love your attitudes. They match mine. I’m self-teaching Korean right now and learning through drama (SARANGHAEYO OPPA!….*birds chirp*) okay I know a LITTLE more than that, but y’know. Korean is hard. I think your attitude and efforts are more important. If you dont have time ot learn and function well, f learning for now baby!…babies…okay…stopping.

  12. Jeeyu Kim

    im actually really glad that eyk exists because i believe that once u go to somewhere whether it at someone else’s house or a different country u should try ur very best to act as the people within that place. if u dont wouldnt it be somewhat rude or leave a bad impression? the saying “when in rome, do as the romans do” is a perfect explanation. i dont think u have to be perfect on it but know the basics of it, which eyk tells us about. THANK U SIMON AND MARTINA!

  13. Lee Barton

    I had an interesting experience regarding language today. The lady that owns the dry cleaning business that I use in the US is Korean. She was born and raised in Korea and english is clearly a second language. I am pretty sure that she has lived more of her life in Korea than in the US. We have had casual conversations in english for a number of years. Today I asked her how to pronounce Miryo’s name from BEG. I told her it was a persons name and verbally spelled it for her. The only letter she understood was “M”. After spelling verbally a few more times with no luck, I finally wrote it on a piece of paper. She instantly understood and told me how to pronounce and which letter was silent. I admire her and anyone that can speak more than one language. I certainly cannot. But was surprised that understanding the spoken english alphabet was a struggle.

  14. Drama_addict

    how did you guys learn korean?and how long did it take?

  15. weirdly, last time i went to korea, most koreans i talked to was fluent in mandarin rather than english, especially those in the tourism business. Thats because alot of koreans took a chinese language course so most of them sound more chinese than i do =P

  16. Merissa-lake

    I WANT A CHEESE LADY SHIRT.
    Ok and for next tl:dr

    How the heck do you move to Korea? What are the necessary qualifications I would need to move there? Like visas and passports and the such ^^

  17. Huh? But didnt u already told us what spudgy did to the teddy bear in park in one of ur older TLDR video? lol that was a fun episode.. xD

  18. I never thought about learning a language in that way before. It’s true that when you learn another language you don’t really get to practice it unless you travel somewhere that they speak it. Even after that most people just learn how to communicate their basic needs. Also it seems that Korea is becoming more and more friendly to foreigners. Is this more of a sudden change or slowly over time?

  19. Emily Howell

    The short version of the below text: Make it fun, keep it simple. You don’t have to kill all your free time if you do it little by little. :)

    Do you remember sentence diagraming in college English classes? I think its as simple as adjusting to how they build their sentences, and then make it fun. Like refrigerator magnets. As for deep conversations, if you know enough to speak basic, you already have a good grip on the way to form a sentence. It could be as simple as it was in elementary school where you have a vocabulary list. Make a short list of words around a topic, and flip through them once in a while and maybe even fit it into a conversation. Like when people get those word of the day calendars, then find a way to use it in the day. It won’t take long, and helps expand your vocabulary. You don’t have to sweat out all your free time to learn more. Small steps. Like if you are a scrabble dork like I am. Do they have Korean scrabble? If they don’t, it wouldn’t be hard to apply it. My French teacher used to incorporate all sorts of games and things to help us learn, and I feel like it helped. I may be an “Adult” now, and it may seem childish, but at least its fun and takes the stress out of it.
    I really like board games and trivia. I plan on making some games to help me learn about Korea as well as practice Korean.
    Like with trivia, get or make dice and put stickers or colors on each side, and for each corresponding color make a category like Politics, Music, Film, Sports, and etc. Then make cards with a question from each and the answers on the other side. Maybe I am getting too detailed lol. Its be nice if there were games made already like this for the language learners. I have more free time as well as two nieces who love foreign languages. It’d be more fun to have a partner my age to play with, but as a couple you have a partner x3. I feel like maybe this is jumbled, but the point I am trying to make is it doesn’t have to be as stressful as it seems. I am working on a blog for learning Korean. I am not fluent yet either, but why not share my study materials and learning tips with others? Since I don’t have a partner to play with, We can learn from each other. I plan to upload printable stuff and worksheets I make (yup, I make worksheets for myself. I like school.) that others might benefit from as well. I love learning languages, and I feel like if you think in your head “This is going to be really hard” then it will be. Not to offend anyone who studies really hard. Everyone learns differently.

  20. how do the south Koreans that you know, view north Korea and its activities

  21. TLDR Question: What do Korean landlords think about tenants who write on doors with sharpies and put appliques all over their kitchen?

  22. This might not be related but ermmm, lately I’ve been watching Reply 1997 (Yes, I’m slow XD) and I’m on episode 10 and I just saw the part where the guys confessed why they like the girls (excluding Sung Jae?) and I was kind of expecting a better confession rather then ‘She’s pretty’. I hope I didn’t I sound rude there, but is it a big deal for guys to say that? I know there’s a a certain type that Koreans tend to follow in terms of beauty and I was thinking maybe that’s the reason but can someone just clarify this or did S&M already mention this in one of their tl;drs? Please and thank you! :)

  23. Since you live in Korea, is your TV in korean or do you have one where you can watch korean tv with english subtitles? Or is it the one you brought with you from canada?

  24. Or maybe a t-shirt that says….What a friend we have in Cheeses…?

  25. bigbangfosho
    bigbangfosho

    What is the eating etiquette in korea? Are people allowed to slurp soups or noodles in public? What are some differences between eating etiquette in korea and in north america?

  26. Seoul was soooooo English friendly! As a tourist I became completely confidant with the public transportation within a day of being there. Although a lot of the restaurants I wanted to try didn’t have any English, so that became a leap of faith ;) but when I had an emergency come up everyone I encountered was so nice and so willing to help it made a potentially disastrous situation one I will now remember happily!

  27. Mikhala W.

    Can You Do A TL;DR On: What materials (books/websites/audio) do you guys recommend to study korean language?

  28. disqus_lk1Q58SQi8

    Please talk about sasaeng fans! I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

  29. Charles Denison

    I’ve been learning Korean on my own. I try to spend about an hour a day studying but it’s really hard to find the time sometimes! I have a really good textbook recommended by a friend of mine who speaks Korean and it’s going pretty well. But it definitely is way different than English and at this rate it will take me quite a while to become proficient. I still think it’s worth it though. I love K-Pop and I really want to be able to listen and understand (without subtitles!). I also want to be able to speak Korean with my Korean friends. At one point I was trying to learn Mandarin (during and after a visit to China) but I found it to be so much harder, and I didn’t really love Mandopop as much as I K-Pop. So I think I’ll be able to stick to Korean much better. Perhaps once I’ve mastered that I can go back to Mandarin and master that too. Am I too ambitious?! Haha

  30. Hi ~ My school give me the opportunity to do an intership ( i’m a French student in CGI animation ) and I would like to know if you think that it’s possible to made an internship in Korea?
    Thanks !

  31. Nikki Taylor

    Could you go over some common responses that are totally unexpected by North American standards? Like describing your age with the year you were born? Or why on Running Man, projectiles to the crotch gained sympathy and butt pats?

  32. Juan Carlos Torres

    Do you think their is any singer of Kpop that is gay or lesbian?

    I know that only one celebrity had accept being gay and was Hong Seok Cheon, but i’m wondering if do you link their is any gay or lesbian celebrity.

  33. Greta Coll

    There is soooo much guilt and pressure and comparisons made and jealousy surrounding language learning (esp I found in Japan when I lived there to do with learning English, I guess cause people don’t get a choice about it) that I’m really glad you guys (Simon and Martina) are able to just come forward and say you are happy where you are with your language and not get guilt tripped into doing more than you fell comfortable! Good on you!

    In regards to having a love interest who speaks the language you are learning:

    I’ve been learning Japanese most of my life and lived there for about 2 years and am almost fluent (I can speak fluently but have a really small vocabulary). After working in Japan in several Japanese only speaking jobs (as a waitress) I met my current boyfriend of 2 and a half years who is a fluent speaker. He is Korean but was born in Tokyo.

    I found that whilst I got about ten times more confident in speaking and my listening improved greatly at first too (He is a reaaaally fast speaker, all my Japanese friends called him a ’早口’), my speaking actually seemed to become a little more restricted! The reason was that we were talking all the time (we lived together for 8 months and speak on the phone every day now) and often about the same kinds of things and things which I wouldn’t normally be able to talk about in the same way with others.

    So I wouldn’t put too much stock into it as a way to get better at language either, HOWEVER, (which is what I think what Simon might have been getting at) it is a really good way to keep up your interest in a language over a long period of time. AND a great way to learn lots of innuendo…. or at least…. that’s how it worked for me…

    • Greta Coll

      Oh also question! – Do you know many Korean & non-Korean mixed couples? Does it seem to be pretty common and are there any problems these couples face in terms of others reactions or cultural differences?

  34. I lived in Korea for a total of 6 years 3 different times. The first time was in 1980 and the last time was 1995. I was able to get around the country speaking simple Korean even in the middle of no where. Koreans appreciate your effort when you try to speak Hangul.

  35. Haligonian

    Hey I just moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia with my wife. Question: Do Koreans differentiate between different Western countries? In Europe I made a point of making sure everyone knew I was Canadian….sorry yanks but some people don’t like you. Is that true in Korea or are we all lumped together? If they do differentiate then what countries have the best rep and which ones are looked down upon?

  36. Haligonian

    Hey I just moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia with my wife. Question: Do Koreans differentiate between different Western countries? In Europe I made a point of making sure everyone knew I was Canadian….sorry yanks but some people don’t like you. Is that true in Korea or are we all lumped together? If they do differentiate then what countries have the best rep and which ones are looked down upon?

  37. How did you guys end up deciding to go to Korea? What is it the thing that convinced you the most about moving to Korea? Because I like Korea but I feel you should have a reason for leaving your country for another one all across the world. Anyways, thanks and grettings from Panama!

  38. This is my first time to your blog. My question is, How did you guys get so COOOL!? I just want to be your best friend! ^_^ Okay, weird stalking aside. I really appreciate the info. I grew up knowing ‘of’ Korea, but didn’t really know it was so amazing until I stumbled onto South Korean TV. Now I’m so in love with Korea. Their personalities, their culture, their way of life! I just want to pack up my whole family and move there. But I would want to be able to communicate…and their language sounds like machine guns firing to my ears. I can scarcely make out vowel sounds, much less anything else. I’ve picked up a few things like, yes, no, thank you, I’m sorry, (some variations of those) do you want to die?, etc… But it’s SO HARD!! And their written language! YIKES! Can you guys read and write Korean? Or send a text message? Aish…

  39. HEY GUISE, I has a question!! I was wondering if Korea caters to certain dietary needs. For example, I’m intolerant to wheat and can only eat rice noodles etc. Is there a way to work around problems like this in Korea? Do they have special stores/sections in supermarkets with wheat free/gluten free/dairy free things, or is it a case of just only ever buying rice and rice noodle things?

  40. Mallory Lacoste
    Mallory Lacoste

    I have a question for a future tldr
    Is it easy to find english language books/bookstores in Korea?

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