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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. 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?

    7 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.

    7 years ago
  3. 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!

    7 years ago
  4. Hmmm
    1. They ARE foreigners
    2. They DO love Japan

    I think you are correct.

    (Just an observation)

    6 years ago
  5. 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.

    7 years ago
  6. 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.

    7 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

      7 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).

        7 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.

      7 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.

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

      7 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.

        7 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.

          7 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.

          7 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.

        7 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.

          7 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.

          7 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.

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

          7 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.

          7 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.

        7 years ago
  7. 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.

    7 years ago
  8. I live in Hawaii and I remember my parents were trying to get me to learn Japanese in school. Didn’t work since I was sorta forced into taking Spanish instead and there’d was no reason in me going all the way back and struggle in another language.

    I grew up around people speaking broken English all the time, mainly because the slang came from a bunch of people forced together with nothing but a few words here and there. I’m super white washed though, even the bits of Hawaiian I should know goes over my head. Hell, my dad listens to Hawaiian music all the time, I grew up with it and I still know jack shit.

    I’ve been torn between learning another language and not doing it. I have the need because for me it’d be a way to get to know the parts of my family and heritage that gets swept under the carpet because it’s not needed to “keep the Hawaiian culture alive” or it’s not Japanese and won’t help me in getting a job. I don’t because I took 5 years of Spanish and I can barely understand it. I don’t even need to since I’m not even Filipino or Catholic. (I went to a school where everyone was Filipino and Catholic and that was the reason they had us learn Spanish)

    7 years ago
  9. i think it’s sad that in the US we only have to take 2 years of a foreign language, but other countries around the world not only learn to speak English fluently, but also learn some American History…*hangs head in shame*
    I’m working on learning Korean. I can understand a lot of conversations thanks to watching so much media in Korean, and i can read some words, or at the very least sound them out.
    My brother who’s about to be a dad in a week or 2 said that he’s going to make sure his daughter doesn’t become just another American who can only speak English.

    i would personally hate a world where everyone just spoke one language.

    7 years ago
  10. I’ve had 2 trips to S. Korea. Both times I was a magnet for people wanting to practice their English, where as I wanted to learn more Korean. Total strangers coming up to me at rest areas and asking the reason for our trip etc. Now, it was a group of 20+ Americans. Maybe it’s cause I give off that “mom” vibe.
    My only experience with non-English foreigners was at the World Taekwondo Expo 2 in which we competed. Most of the staff knew just a little English or none. It didn’t appear they were fluent in other languages. There was one woman from Turkey who tried for so long to have a question answered. I would say it is probably more difficult for non-English speaking foreigners. Though I did want to use my Korean, especially on the second trip, it was fun to have little kids run up and say “hi” or have families ask about our group and why we were in their country. I had a nice chat with two college aged black belts. One of them had to show me pictures of his girlfriend and ask if I thought she looked like Angelina Jolie :) I met another nice family at Soraksan. The college aged son approached me then the rest of the family came over to smile and wave “I’m father” said his dad. I know they appreciate the chance to hear a native speak. It’s much different than learning from books, tapes or a class.
    I know what you mean about rural areas. When we were off in the countryside, my air conditioner had a leak. In my limited Hangugeo I was prepared with the word for air conditioner, mul and making motions with my hands saying plop plop and hoping they would understand. I was saved by our Taekwondo master who laughed and interpreted for me. Whenever I made an effort to speak to someone in their language, it was well received and appreciated. I think that is why I had such a good experience there. A friend who is a Korean native asked if I found people to be rude or welcoming because his experience is that they can be somewhat rude to foreigners. I really didn’t get that. I think it was my effort to at least attempt to understand and be understood.

    7 years ago
  11. “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.” Oh guise… you shouldn’t feel guilty! You’ve got plenty on your hands… and I know that once a work day is over..you feel in the mood for pretty much nothing.. it’s fun but tiring I know! I do believe you find it hard but maybe if you take it easy (when you have the time). I actually subscribed to the 101 language service center and they provide your “word of the day” for free; not to mention examples of sentences with the specific word. I know the alphabet, some usual expressions but I just feel I want to learn more… I feel like I’ll somehow regret it if I let it be plus I love it too much to do that. Do you know “Talk to Me In Korean” have BOOKS?? > . < (if only I could get a hold of them – . -). The point is if you feel you're satisfied with your level of Korean then don't study further. Don't feel pressured… and take some days off(regularly)! – . -' (it's ironic that you told U-KISS to take a break when you're actually among the ones that need one).

    ♥♥ ♥ ♥

    7 years ago
  12. I think you’ve captured the essence of languages perfectly here, and I can totally understand why you guys can’t commit to intense Korean study. I speak 5 languages (grew up with 2, learned 3 later), and whenever I bring up the fact that I do speak 5 languages, they ask: Why? For me, languages are a way into exciting new worlds full of interesting people and experiences that you would never have experienced had you not learned the language. I think the prospect of a richer, and fulfilling life is worth all the work that you put into it. (And believe me, there is A LOT of work that you have to put in.) I’d encourage everyone to try to pick up at least a few phrases and words in another language- trust me, it’ll be worth it. :)

    7 years ago
  13. I quite understand what you’re talking about in your post. As a french studient i had to learn 2 foreign languages. I took english and
    spanish. Now I’m trying to speak fluently english because i like this language and I love having the feeling to understand foreign people. On the contrary spanish isn’t as fun to learn (no offense just my opinion) that’s why i didn’t and still don’t put so much effort in it. I can understand it and speak enough of it to ask and respond few basic things. I don’t want to try harder. As long as i can communicate I’m fine. Anyway i liked your TL:DR this week

    7 years ago
  14. Hmmm. I feel like since you are proficient enough in Korean to get by and communicate then that is fine. If your goal was like you said, to get a significant Korean other or to express yourself religiously or politically, then learning more Korean would be needed. But from where I’m standing, you guys are doing just fine. You’ve learned the language well enough to bond with your neighbors, to speak to someone passing by, to order food and get around the transportation systems. Since you are torn about whether or not to continue learning Korean, you’d normally list the pros and cons, which you have in this post, then make a decision. Just keep it simple. You could ask yourself WHY do you need to expand in learning more Korean and WHAT BENEFITS are to learning more Korean and HOW would this affect your relationship (with each other), your job and your personal me time. You guys already work waaay to many hours just for our benefit in putting out videos. Why go into your own special together time if you don’t have to? Well, good luck. I hope this post helps.

    7 years ago
  15. Je suis sûre que tu te débrouilles mieux en français que tu ne le penses ! Je vais donc écrire en français :

    Just kidding :p
    Actually, I don’t think you guys have to be fluent to appreciate Korea, you already know enough language for that!
    As a french speaker in Canada (Quebec, but at my job everyone speaks english and very little french, so it’s almost like living in the RoC!), I am not good enough in english (When speaking, writing is very different) to debate about political or religious stuff, but I speak it enough to talk about casual things, and never needed more than that. People at my job know that I am not that good and we just deal with it, it never have been a problem.

    Just do as you want, and don’t ever let what people say bad stuff about how you are living your life!

    7 years ago
  16. Perhaps it comes down to personal interest. I’m very interested in learning languages. I’ve studied dead languages (Old English) and I study modern languages for reading-knowledge only. I actually totally suck at learning languages, but I find it stimulating and satisfying and endlessly fascinating. But if you don’t get all excited about grammar and comparative philology, and you can achieve your communication goals with the language level that you have, maybe there is no reason to keep studying. If you find that you want to study, then go for it! But if you just don’t have the time or the interest, then, well, maybe there’s no reason to overthink it too much. It’s not like the language is going anywhere — you can always come back to it later.

    7 years ago
  17. In my opinion, learning a language should be fun … and in taking the little time that you do have for resting and forcefully willing yourself to study, it loses the fun and becomes a chore. I personally love languages and I think they are brilliant.Languages are for communication and if you can communicate AND you are comfortable with the amount of Korean you know, I don’t see why you should need to learn.

    Plus, by living in Korea, you have the added bonus of, when you do go out, learning on the go. You can improve everyday when you do speak in Korean, if you look at it that way.

    However, and this is something that has greatly improved my language skills, watching dramas or reading newspapers in Korean would help too.

    I really hope you will read this and hope that I might have been a little bit of a help, but the bottom line is, you should learn because you want to learn, not because you feel guilty about not knowing it fluently :))))))

    Aicha <3

    7 years ago
  18. I am not confident in myself to learn Korean (or any language, really). I could probably pick up key words as needed, but despite my heritage, I don’t see it happening. ^^;;

    When we made plans to visit Korea two years ago, my friend decided to learn the alphabet. That helped tremendously when we were making our way through the trains without my mom.
    The few times I went out to buy things on my own, there was hardly any talking between me and the cashiers (save for the coffee places) and the couple of times the cashier didn’t speak English, they used their hands to “draw” or signal what they wanted to ask/tell me. My favorite was the girl who drew a square with her fingers to ask if I wanted a bag.
    The most difficult time I had was at a food vendor/tent where I was apparently in charge of asking for food. xD;; I didn’t know what small or large was, so trying to show that with my hands and the woman trying to relay it back to me in both Korean and English felt awesomely nerve-wracking to me. There was a Caucasian couple who were there watching us with amusement, and the man took a photo of us. I can’t tell if I should’ve been embarrassed or not. ^^;;

    Luckily, for our trip this year, both myself and my friend have family there who will probably escort us throughout our trip, but my friend speaks and understands Korean enough to probably get us by in non-touristy areas.

    7 years ago
  19. 0:23 I have that too Simon… right before a herpes attack : /

    7 years ago
  20. I think you should open to learning Korean, but you don’t necessarily need to take a class on it. That’s where I am now. My friends got me into kpop and korean dramas last year, and since then I’ve been learning the language through songs and dramas and this website called talktomeinkorean. I decided to learn hangul one day over break (I’m in high school), and now I have a notebook full of Korean words (all in hangul so I can practice it) and their meanings. I’m not taking a class or anything (even though I am planning to in college, but this is mostly because I think it’ll be fun and this is my time to learn, right?) I’m pretty much just learning Korean by myself because it interests me, and it’s gratifying to know how far I’ve come just by teaching myself.

    Obviously, you know a lot more Korean than I do, and learning more complex words isn’t going to be as easy as learning beginner words like I am. But I think you should try following this way of learning the language. Learn Korean on your spare time for fun. This way you’ll have something to do in your spare time, you’ll feel gratified doing it, and you won’t feel guilty for not learning anything more about the language.

    7 years ago
  21. Hey. This is the first time I’ve noticed Simon (and I saw Martina do it once or twice as well), continuously look to his left. Do you have a teleprompter set up over there?

    7 years ago
  22. That thing you said about learning French reminded me of how we in Finland have Finnish which is the country’s language, and then we have Swedish, which is considered the second official language, but it’s really only spoken by about 5-6% of the population. But Finns still have to learn Swedish in school, and it’s called pakkoruotsi (“force-Swedish”) for a reason, since there’s a lot of people who don’t really wanna learn it and don’t really get to use it anywhere, but you have a better chance at getting a job if you speak both Swedish and Finnish. I am a Swedish speaking Finn myself, but I’m so fluent in Finnish I don’t use my Swedish at shops at all basically. But I have friends who have Swedish as their mother tongue and they’re not so good at speaking Finnish. There are areas/cities in Finland who basically speak only Swedish.
    Most people in Finland are pretty fluent in English so you get by pretty easily almost everywhere even if you don’t speak Finnish. And there are people living in Finland who have moved there and don’t know Finnish/are learning it but they just speak English and get by well with that.

    Well anyways, I got a bit discouraged hearing Korean is hard to learn since I’d really want to learn it, and actually be quite good in it, but I will still try and do that and see where it leads. But I guess I’ll never be fluent in the way I’ve dreamed of being though.

    7 years ago
    • Owl

      It always amazes me when I see posts from people living in Europe. So many of you are bi-lingual and multilingual that I actually find myself envious of it. I mean, from what I can take out of your comment, you know three languages, and you want to learn at least one more (Korean). Linguistic skills are something I really admire in others, so forgive me if I rant or gush about it.
      As an American, I was raised with only English. I think in some ways that’s hindered me when it comes to my capacity to learn other languages. I’ve pretty much given up on learning Latin or Germanic languages because I find them too difficult to wrap my head around; I’m just not able to absorb the knowledge. It’s incredibly frustrating and discouraging for me to look at something I’m passionate about and realize that I have no capacity for it whatsoever. (I’m going to college for a degree in Linguistics.)

      However, when it comes to Asian languages, contrary to popular belief, I find them far easier to wrap my head around than languages more similar to my own. I guess it’s something about starting with absolutely no pretenses or perceived knowledge of what the language is supposed to be, or how it’s supposed to work. In fact, I’d say learning foreign alphabets is probably one of my favorite parts of the learning process. (I can read Korean Hangul and Japanese Kana.) Being forced into a completely foreign system has its uncomfortable aspects, but it’s also very rewarding. It teaches you to be open to things you don’t understand, and that’s just as important for learning about foreign cultures as it is their languages.
      I’ve been learning Korean going on two years now. I’m nowhere near fluent, or even at a conversational level, I’d say – much in part to having absolutely no one to practice conversing with. While working with a blank slate has it’s advantages, it also means I get confused very easily at times. Some things I grasp with almost no thought at all, but there are other things about the grammar that befuddle and frustrate me. I can say, though, that learning Korean has been one of the best, most rewarding experiences in my life so far. It’s become one of my greatest passions, something I would spend all of my time and energy on, if I could.
      If you can find a good method of learning that suits you, I have no doubt that you can get somewhere with any language you want to learn, including Korean. You’ll never know how you’ll do with it until you give it a shot. :) Don’t be afraid to jump in and try something new!
      (If you ever do want to give Korean a try, here’s a good free resource to start with: http://seemile.com/renewal/index.jsp ;D)

      Anyway, sorry for rambling. I get easily excited when it comes to language discussions. Like I said, I’m going into the Linguistics field. I just… love languages. ^.^; Especially Asian languages.

      7 years ago
      • Yeah I come from a bilingual family so I speak both Swedish and Finnish and then I have English as a foreign language. Studied French in school too but it has become quite rusty nowadays lol.

        Thanks for the link, I’ve looking for good online study programs and I shall check it out!

        I myself have found some links too, like http://www.rocketlanguages.com/ which costs tho if you want to use the full course but there’s a free starter pack for some basics (and what I really like about this is that you can practice pronunciation/intonation ^^)

        The supply for Korean courses in Finland is quote small which is a shame because I’d really like to learn it with a teacher, but I guess it’s just about searching well enough (and then self-studying with these online programs…)

        7 years ago
    • Yeah, I actually thought the same. Although my mother tongue is Finnish and I’m not good at all in Swedish, but well, I’m still in school. :)

      And don’t be discouraged! It’s different for everyone. It might be harder for some people than to other.

      7 years ago
      • Yeah I get that, and you can’t know until you try! :D Harmi vaan että Suomessa ei löydy kauheasti korean kielikursseja joten sitä saa pärjätä näillä nettikursseilla jotka on englanniksi…

        7 years ago
        • Niin, paitsi jos asuu Helsingissä, niin työväenopistolla olisi korean kurssi, mutta sekin englanniksi. On kyllä aika harmillista, kun itseopiskelussa saatta aina oppia jotain väärin, eikä ole ketään sitten korjaamassa. Mä ja mun siskoni ollaan just tilattu netistä korean kielen teksti- ja tehtäväkirjat ja aiotaan yrittää niillä. Nekin kyllä on englanniksi, mutta kyllä se englanti on meillä tarpeeksi vahvaa. :) Tulee vaan tosiaan semmoinen fiilis kuin täältä ei löytyisi keinoja opiskella koreaa suomen kielellä…

          7 years ago
  23. And here I thought I was going to get the Rosetta Stone for Korean and make it into my passion for a few years…I’m pretty good at learning new languages, but this sounds daunting…S&M work as hard as U-Kiss to make these wonderful videos to show us their love for Korea! I don’t lame you guys for not heaping more onto your plate :P

    7 years ago
  24. There’s nothing wrong with not learning Korean if you don’t want to. If you guys plan on spending the rest of your life there, it might be good to try and become fluent, but since that’s probably not going to happen, there are other things to spend your time on.

    I plan on becoming fluent in Korean, and it’s going to take me 4 years to get through all the language courses at college, but it will be worth it for me because learning languages and being able to help people communicate is something I really want to do, one of the only jobs that sounds interesting to me.

    7 years ago
  25. I don’t think you have to feel guilty, guys. If you are living the quality of life you want to live, and are happy, then you have achieved your goal already. Since I live on the East Coast in the States, I’ve met a lot of people who only have passable English, and I’ve enjoyed our light conversations together and don’t think any less of them. Don’t let others make you feel pressured!

    7 years ago
  26. Personally I think that if you at least try to speak another language in
    a country then that is ok. I remember when I was on holiday in Spain
    and I said gracias to the waitress and she said de nada back, I felt all
    fuzzy inside because I knew she understood me, even though it is the
    basic of basic Spanish. :3
    If you think about it, everyone learns their native language at school for more than a decade so to get proper fluency would take a while. And when you get to the teenage years you adopt a ‘new’ language anyway. So technically if you are or have been a teenager then you are bilingual. :P

    7 years ago
  27. If you guys are happy with your level of Korean, then it’s your decision. I know that I want to learn Korean for the sole (heh-Seoul pun) reasons of the language sounds beautiful, and I would like to understand what I’m singing when I sing kpop. I know that when I listen to spanish music (I’m okay at spanish) it makes me really happy when I understand what the singers are saying, and I’d like that feeling when I listen to kpop.

    7 years ago
  28. There is a Korean restaurant in Ottawa “Le Kimchi” that my friends and I love. Although we have only been there 3 or 4 times staff is super nice and friendly with us treating us like their regulars even remembering what we ordered last time. they love it when I try to speak in Korean because I am sure they don’t get many people making an effort to learn their language. last time our waitress and her husband who also works there talked to us for half an hour after we were done our food about Korean dramas and anime. I can’t wait to go again, and the food is really good too!

    7 years ago
  29. I totally understand your point and say it´s ok. If it´s adequate for you, why force yourselve?

    On the other hand, I had the experience that the people in Germany say often: “If you live here, learn the language!” And that you should be fluent as possible. Nobody will be angry or not helpful if you aren´t fluent, but if you live here for a couple of years, they expect you to be more or less fluent.
    Of course the people would talk in english (if they can), when you can´t speak any or only a little german.

    I didn´t thought about problems with languages in other countries like that, but with reading your blog I think it´s ok to not know the language, if there is a bubble like you said. Personally I don´t mind if foreigners aren´t fluent as long as they can communicate,careless if english, german.
    So you can communicate in korean so it´s ok. ^^

    7 years ago
  30. My personal opinion as a German, who was in Poland for 7 years as a kid, learned English and French in school and now i majoring in Japanese language is: do what’s comfortable. You will have noticed by now that you’re probably not even 100% in your own language, as frustrating as that is. Languages have no limits, even native sprakers don’t know all its quirks. And even less in any foreign language. So study, if there’s a pressing need and don’t, when you got better things to do. ;) After all you already realised that you’re not gonna mutate into Koreans any time soon, so why force youself to bend over more that you need to?

    7 years ago
  31. Just wondering – do Asian-looking people who don’t speak Korean (e.g. Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Canadians) have English spoken to them by default as well? Or are they assumed to be Korean?

    7 years ago
  32. DEA

    Well.. let me first tell you something about myself. I live in Romania and I work for a multinational company. The official language we have to use at work is english, even though the company has its roots in France and most of the foreigners that work here are french people. When french colleagues come for the first time in my country, and meet us for the first time they tend to ask us what language we prefer to speak english or french. From time to time there are some that start speaking french without even bothering to ask. In both cases i choose to answer them in english because i have this idea that if i have a hard time expressing my thoughts in a language that is not my native one so should the person that i am speaking with (if not not a native english speaker in which case…oh well). Now romanian and french are quite similar: the same grammar, lots of common words, the expression used have almost the same meaning so it is not that easy to get lost in translation. The point that I am getting at is that even though I try to keep an open mind and like a person for who she or he is, without my intention I tend to like more the people that are trying to speak my own language (I am referring here at the long term expats) or that are using a language that puts us both on even grounds. Depending on how much language knowledge they have and how much they use it I noticed that, not only me but people in general tend to react more kindly, to be of more help and to offer to teach more of the aspects of our daily life, culture, politics, etc. Of course this has also a reverse, when one can get confused with a naturalized citizen if knows too much, and then “YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN” :))
    I don’t know if it makes sense, but what i would like to say is that if you watch learning and speaking korean only from your personal life’s point of view then, conversational level is more than enough. But if you think at it from your work’s point of view is it enough? Can you communicate well enough with the korean artists you are interviewing? Can you fully express your work ideas in korean? If you would were to speak with….Junsu could you tell him everything you would otherwise tell him in english? Do you know how to say “I’m a sexy latex rhino” in korean?
    Yes it isn’t that….that thrilling knowing you’ll maybe have to sacrifice years to be fluent in korean, but if you want to have more common ground between you and korean artists and if you want to make them open themselves up more to you then it’s an aspect you should think about.
    Also the good point is that if you want to learn more korean, since you have to hire korean people you can hire someone that would stay with you in the studio and teach you all the nasty expression they couldn’t teach in a normal classroom :))
    But be careful not to become a naturalized korean, otherwise you’ll loose your touch, so to say.
    Hope it makes sense.
    Have a good day, week, month, year, decade and so on :)

    7 years ago
  33. I don’t think it’s I problem for people not to become totally fluent, even if they live in another country. But it just drives me absolutely nuts when people go live in another country and don’t even bother to attempt to learn the language-because it’s not usually just the language itself that they don’t bother to get to know, but the culture on the whole. People who go live in a new country and only want to stay in the bubble of comfortable, foreigner-only culture with no desire to expand their horizons. Especially when they have that “why doesn’t this foreign country cater more to my English-speaking needs” attitude. That mentality drives me up the wall! Why leave your country in the first place if you only proceed to experience your own culture? That just makes no sense to me. I have tremendous respect for people like you guys that make the effort to experience the culture through your use of the home language ^^

    7 years ago
  34. I think that you are awesome and you should not worry about furthering your Korean as like you said you do shead light on Korea and show people how awesome the place is. I think that as long as you can communicate and get by there is not thing wrong with that. I’m actually learning Korean at the moment and i’v have been doing so for about a year and i’m still very basic. I think it’s a life long thing, You just need to surround your self into it to become fluent and if you are not, it can become hard. ^_^ I enjoyed this video guys thank you <3

    7 years ago
  35. I understand the bubble. I’m German American, but since my mother passed away when I was little, I didn’t learn German growing up. So the times when I went over to Germany, my older brother acted as translator. But as I got older and the opportunity to study German, I took it so that I could speak with my grandmother myself. And that was one of my driving forces. But I found, now that I’m basically fluent after like 6 years of instruction, that Germany isn’t a fantasy place anymore that it was before. Then again, it means I can talk with my Grandmother and be able to find out her personality beyond her making me food and acting like a mother when I go over there since I can actually talk to her now. So it’s a trade-off.

    I’m also studying Korean and Japanese, though my Korean has been placed on back-burner for the moment since I’m going to be studying abroad in Japan this Spring. But then, neither of those languages are fluent for me, Japanese intermediate and Korean probably advanced beginner I guess. It’s nice to be able to speak with my friends in a language they’re more comfortable with, but then again the necessity isn’t always there. But on the other side, as I’ve been learning German, I’ve learned that one of the biggest driving forces I have comes from situations where I’m by someone who doesn’t understand English and I’m trying to address a point that it vital to the conversation we’re having. In such cases (they still happen, especially with my grandma), I feel really bad when neither of us can understand it and the other person wishes to wait and come back to it when someone they know who speaks English (better than them) is nearby. In German, I know enough to be able to talk around this, to describe it to others in another way to be understood. But in Japanese and Korean, I fall into the trap of not being able to. And It hurts me to put such a burden on someone of not being able to understand.

    But still, I agree that one doesn’t have to necessarily be fluent to get by, especially in countries that teach English in schools. If there’s no time or real drive, why bother? You shouldn’t feel guilty about that. If I was in your situation, I would do the same. As it is, I’m still a young college student trying to explore the world, so I’ll keep raking up language classes and real-life practice as much as I can before my life closes on a profession and I don’t have the wiggle-room for it. If anything, it gives me an excuse to watch dramas and I’m perfectly fine with that. O.O XP

    7 years ago
  36. 237

    I was wondering if you guys could describe times you have been recognized on the street? What was the first time like? Can you describe some of your experiences with fame?

    Also, is there anyone who you wish watched your videos that doesn’t already?

    7 years ago
  37. Simon and Martina, obviously you are making the most sensible decision. We already know how long and hard you guys work and it is not fair for you to have to use what little free time you have to learn a difficult language, which as you already pointed out you don’t even have to. I can’t believe people would say you have to learn the language out of respect for Korea. I’m korean and I am so thankful to you guys for making these videos about Korea in the first place. You didn’t have to and you could have gone back to Canada or gone to Japan but you didn’t and for that I say thanks. 사이먼 앤드 마티나 화이팅!!

    7 years ago
  38. This is actually a very interesting topic and all of the comments here are very interesting to read :) Before I comment I want to say that I personally believe there is no one way to learn a language and that being fluent in a language does not have a single form.

    My native tongue is Spanish and I didn’t learn English until I was 5 years old. I was born in the US and have lived here ever since except for the year and a half I lived in Mexico when I was 3. Today I can confidently say I am fluent in both English and Spanish. I know and use more English and Spanish even though Spanish was my native tongue. I don’t know how to write like a person who has only spoken Spanish their entire life and I also do not think in Spanish as if I lived in a Spanish speaking Country but I still consider myself fluent in Spanish because I can communicate in it. To me being fluent in a language isn’t so much to do with grammar and rules (although it is obviously important) but it is about using that specific language to communicate with others. I hope I explained myself well here.

    Simon and Martina, I think I can understand why you guys feel guilty. I find hard to write a college level paper in Spanish and for that reason I took a class that taught me Spanish grammar and such (it was a class where we discussed in Spanish more than anything). In Spanish there are accent makrs and I never used them when I wrote in Spanish until now. And I still have trouble (thank goodness for Microsoft spell check!) but the point is I have also felt guilty for not knowing much Spanish grammar and the fact that Spanish was my first language made my guilty feelings worse.

    This comment is too long! Sorry you guys. I still wanted to add one more thing though. I’ll make it short.

    I am currently learning Korean and Japanese (more Korean that Japanese) and by learning I don’t mean studying books alone but also watching Korean Dramas and Japanese anime (btw if you have never seen CLANNAD, I STRONGLY recommend it!!! Anyone else here seen it?) Although using Songang’s University did help me learn Hangul I would have never gotten as far (Though I only know a couple of phrases) as I am now if I didn’t watch them. But I will keep learning. The learning process has no fixed procedure which is why it is awesome :)

    7 years ago
  39. When visiting Seoul i found it so easy to get around, but even during those two weeks of staying and visiting the same couple places in the area and having minimal conversations in the little bit of Korean i did know made it much more enjoyable, and the respect level at the slightest attempt at trying to speak korean was heightened – people appreciated the effort.

    7 years ago
  40. I am from Indonesia and I can assure you that people from my country speaks English pretty well (ignoring the accents). Last time I went to Korea, it was smooth sailing, like I have no trouble at all adjusting to speaking in ENglish to people around Seoul (or at the worst time, body language). But if you are aiming to go explore Jeju or Busan or the countryside by yourself, you might need to be able to learn and read korean.

    I have never had any trouble since I am quite fluent with everyday Korean (I got into kpop 6 years ago, like during DBSK era, so I’ve absorb plenty of korean since then), but people who don’t speak/read korean at all might want to prepare to learn stuff like the currency (how they pronounce money stuff like baekwon, cheonwon, manwon, shipmanwon, baekmanwon, cheonmanwon etc), the numbers (hana, dul, set vs il, ee, sam), and how you address people (because korean have different way to treat people and respect age hierarchy a lot). It won’t hurt to learn that much, and if you come as a tourist, I think, that amount can get you pretty much okay with shopping.

    7 years ago