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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. Funny what you said about foreigners living in a bubble and not knowing the language at all…

    I live in São Paulo – Brazil and 2 years ago Hyundai suffered a huge boom and brought a lot of Korean employees higher in the company’s hierarchy to work here. My Korean tutor came with her husband and two children and she’s one of those people who live in that kind of bubble, only in the opposite situation from you guys. She only speaks Korean and barely speaks English (with a horrible accent, I must add) and no Portuguese at all. She has no intention in learning it also, since they’re moving back to Korea in 2 or 3 years. Most of the people Hyundai brought has no interest in learning Portuguese, only one girl my age did – she was the only child who went to Brazilian school here and now enrolled on a Brazilian college =)

    Some of them are taking their time to improve their English, mainly the wives since they didn’t get jobs here. The main problem is that people hardly speak English around here. You see, my tutor loves going to the shopping mall but she has problems whenever she needs to ask things. She can only eat at franchises like Starbucks where food names are all in English. When she runs into a problem she texts or emails me asking help with Portuguese, from talking to their gardener to renting houses… They can’t even communicate with people who live or work at they condominium… I wonder how they can live that, it must be awful (>_<)

    LOL, sorry for the long comment… ^_^''''

    7 years ago
  2. Aw guys~! Your cheese lady story <3 That's so cute!

    7 years ago
  3. I can relate to that situation! I am an Indian, and in India each state has a different language. The official language is Hindi and I don’t know a word of it (My mother tongue is a regional language). I live in Qatar (Middle East) and was born and raised here. I am fluent in English but I speak very little Arabic. So it’s a bit hard for me to communicate with locals (Qataris) here since not everyone knows English. But I don’t think it’s necessary to study the language to be able to get through. I think it’s okay if you know the basics.
    PS: Don’t worry too much and do what YOU want to do!

    7 years ago
  4. I was wondering if you know “Can you take tours the entertainment companies in Korea? do they offer that?”

    7 years ago
  5. Kind of related to this- one of my father’s best friends and long-time business partner is Italian. They communicate in English, which neither of them are totally fluent in. While everyday interactions are no problem, my dad laments that he can’t talk about deep, real issues with his friend.
    On the other hand, thanks to my parents, I was able to acquire English to the extent that I can enjoy works of literature, enjoy English humor and such. I think that’s what allowed me to enjoy American and Canadian culture to the fullest, as well as keep, and make, friends outside my nationality. (I lived in Canada for a short while)
    Point being, I think learning a language extensively contributes to a deeper understanding of that culture. This sounds way too boring for your fun site, but I think language should be regarded as more than just a means of communication.

    Thanks for reading. I sincerely enjoy your site!
    p.s. I see your studio every time I go to Hongdae and it makes me lol.

    7 years ago
  6. Honestly I think it’s a personal choice and no one should make you feel bad if you do not wish to continue. I mean you can get by in Korea just fine. No one is telling you that they can’t understand you or that you should be better so they can talk to you. And you do work hard and I know how it can be to be tired after a long day at work. Don’t push yourself to do it because other people you don’t know in real life will look down on you.

    However I do think that if you really wanted to talk to friends in Korean more to become more fluent with conversations then I think that they should be understanding enough to switch languages with you every now and then. I understand how excited they must be to practice their English in a real setting and yes you guys do get to use it when going out and ordering food or what have you, but it sounds like you may want to be able to speak it with friends as well. They should be understanding enough to not only speak in English with you guys all the time so you can learn more as well. They after all had the 10+ years in English classes where, correct me if I’m wrong, you had none. I hope you can see the point I’m making here. This of course is only if you want to become 100% conversational. See if your friends mind letting you practice every now and again.

    7 years ago
  7. Im learning korean now well learned alittle while im in college I got a d and I need a c in order to go on to korean 2 can you tell me what you guys did to learn it because even though I got a d I still remember alittle bit like hi, yes, no basic stuff I cant read it very well but my tutor that taught us(me and my class mates that I became friends with) said I was good at pronouncation but I need to work on remembering what they mean so can you guys help me

    7 years ago
  8. I agree with you 100%. It is difficult to learn another language and you really don’t need to learn more to function in Korea. I say you’ve got the right idea. You two are doing so much to promote tourism in Korea and living in Korea.

    7 years ago
  9. The Korean language IS really difficult to learn! i plan on a trip to Seoul this year and downloaded an app that would teach common phrases, i think I can only manage to say ‘hello’ at this point! I mean, a word in another language is a phrase in Korean! So what I’m saying is that for you guys to be fluent enough to interact and get by in Korea shows dedication and love for the country!
    i think the ‘problem’ comes when (I am a BBC-British born Chinese ) BBCs go back to Hong Kong or China and don’t speak Cantonese or Chinese and only use English. People get shocked and maybe even annoyed (mainly the elderly) in that sense, that may seem a little disrespectful.

    I am a new fan to your channel and I must say I’ve been having eatyourkimchi-thons for the past few days! I can see your dedication and love with living in Korea, I can only imagine how scary it is moving to a country with a completely different language and culture. I really admire you guys for doing that! Keep it up and we never just stop learning, I’m sure you still learn something new everyday. Don’t stress yourselves out by thinking you should study more!

    7 years ago
  10. I really enjoyed this post and I think you two hit in on the head. Each person’s situation is different and we should not group or set the same rules for everyone. In your case, you know enough Korean to get by and be -happy- and that is indeed good enough. =)

    In terms of everyone being different and having various reasons or motivations for learning another language–well here is mine. My husband is Thai so I want to learn Thai too. Currently I’m at the level where I can read, write, I know the 5 tones and I have a fairly random vocabulary. We live in the U.S., so no it is not even necessary for me to learn Thai. My motivation, nevertheless, is my desire to communicate among him and his/our mutual Thai friends here. When they or we visit another Thai person, of course they’re going to speak in Thai because it’s their mother tongue, it’s easiest for them to communicate. I would love to be able to join in on the conversation. At the moment I can only slightly grasp what they may be talking about, but I can’t contribute to the conversation.

    I also wish to be able to talk easily with my husband’s father when he visits. Sure he speaks a little English, but it is still a challenge. On top of that, when we finally visit Thailand, I really want to be able to interact relatively easily for both our enjoyment. Not that my hubby minds translating for me, but I’d want to give a break. =)

    I know I could ramble on more about this, but I will leave it as such. Again, thank you Simon and Martina for this insightful post. =)

    7 years ago
  11. Are those eatyourkimchi-family shoes on the shelf? They look amazing! <3 Sorry, I got side-tracked there…

    When I went to Korea in spring 2011 (right after the BIG earthquake in Japan…yes, I admit it, I ran away…*embarrassed*) for about a month I was soooo damn thankful to my korean friends who showed us around places in Seoul (& outside of Seoul too), so I discovered the non-touristy Korea a bit.

    Myself, I was completely lost, language wise. I neither read nor understand korean, so I had friends write down directions etc. so I could show the taxi driver & stuff. Over the month however, I lost my panic of being dropped like a hot potato into a strange land, & I realized there was quite a lot of english around me. I still had to do my research before I went somewhere, but it got easier getting around. Communicating not so much though. When I tried saying something, my pronunciation was so bad they couldn't understand me…*groan*

    I would def. decide to learn a language fluently of the country I decide to live in, but that is my opinion. I just really want to be able to understand the little nuances of the language that cannot be translated. That is one of the main reasons why I am learning Japanese. It is just sooooo much more rewarding & interesting to understand it 100%. Not that I'm there…noooo, far from it.

    The point about always being an alien, even if you are fluent in the language is something I also experienced in Japan. & it can be really frustrating. BUT it can be funny too: I had a situation where I went to buy freshly made sushi, & I talked to the saleslady in Japanese. She was so flustered & confused I spore japanese that she didn't really know how to reply to me…

    Well, that was very long indeed. Sorry about that…

    Heartfelt greeting from a snowy Switzerland <3

    7 years ago
  12. I decided to study Korean because I am thinking of making a career out of it (like a translator maybe) and that’s really my main reason for studying this language… But you guys already have a job that takes up most of your time and if you feel comfortable with your level of Korean, I say you shouldn’t push yourselves to study more.

    7 years ago
  13. If you decided to take Korean classes, is the only option those freakishly intensive, all-study-nothing-else classes? Like, are there any more laid-back, less intensive lessons you could take? Because if there’s not, then I agree, I wouldn’t be jumping to do it either…

    7 years ago
  14. I very much believe in learning the language but then, I major in Linguistics so I think it has a totally different sort of excitement for me that I wouldn’t expect everyone to have. I was really interested in Korean linguistically even before I got really into Kpop etc. I didn’t have that much time to study it because my focuses in order of priority were Japanese, French, German then Korean. I don’t think you all should feel pressured into becoming “fluent”. If there are important things that you can’t do then you need to put in some work, however, if there is no need driving you, how can you force yourself into it? I tried many times over the years to push myself into Spanish as it’s probably the most common second language where I live, but I was just wasting my time. With Japanese though, I am always trying to improve because there is more I want to be capable of. Read manga? Meh. I want to read the newspaper. So while I wish you all were more interested in the language (because Korean Language Lessons would be awesome! KLL!), I don’t see anything wrong with your position. It’s quite realistic.

    7 years ago
  15. Very interesting post! I live in Montreal and am fully bilingual. When I was working in retails back in the day, I used to switch back and forth between English and French, depending on the accent of the person speaking to me as well. It didn’t occur to me that the other person simply wanted to practice French (or in some case English). That is until I went to France and people keep speaking to me in English because I’m Asian, and continue to do so even when I reply in French. It was weird but I eventually got used to it :P

    7 years ago
  16. What books/ learning programs would you suggest to start off with learning the Korean language?

    7 years ago
  17. Oh I can totally agree with the ‘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’ seriously… I was in Japan for 3 weeks and when I came back I was like that xD(well I came back to Sweden >.>) Even if I tried to listen to every conversation that passed by when I was in Japan the first week(to try to improve my japanese) Then I got used to it, and only listen to some small and quiet conversations on the trains(You have to be quiet on the train :P)
    and about learning languages. I have quite easy to learn basic grammatics and stuff in new languages, and I think it’s fun to learn as much as possible from the language that I’m trying to learn. But I too feel like I don’t need(want) to be talking about politics and stuff, that you don’t have in a basic friendly conversation, as long as I can live a normal life, order food at restaurangs, ask for directions, talk with friends etc.

    By the way ;) Loved this TL;DR, I think it was really good :3 It have stuff in it that you can relate to even if your not learning korean, but any language :3 (hope that made sense xD lol)

    7 years ago
  18. I think what you two said in regards to how much of the language you have learned is perfect. I feel, having going to Korea to study abroad, as long as you can understand what is being said to you and respond even basically! Then you’ll be fine. Yes it would totally super amazing to be fluent but Korean is a hard language to learn. Very hard. Ridiculously hard. Thankfully the characters weren’t hard to learn but still lol.

    I feel like you two were right! :) and I totally agree~

    7 years ago
  19. Just do what you feel is more comfortable. Learning more or even other languages is only going to benefit you. I am trying to learn because I want to understand the things I visually enjoy , and it sure would be nice if I didn’t have to look down at subtitles all the time. I’d love to be able to do the dishes while watching a K-drama. XD haha~ It’s also fun and challenging to try and mimic the pronunciation or to share with your friends a new word you learned. I think whatever you are doing is working well for you, and as long as you’re happy then you should stick with it!~

    7 years ago
  20. Hi! I am a Korean-American in Southeast Asia in a similar position. I know barely enough to get by, but I don’t need much of the language in everyday life since I teach English at an international school. I understand what you mean by feeling guilty out of respect for the country. The guilt might be specific to Korea and Koreans, or it might be the impulse and desire (in my case) to benefit the country in some way. In my instance I really do need to put more effort into learn the language because I am planning on staying and working here long term, and that involves not just communicating with younger students, but older adults and professionals. Then it’s a matter of long-term planning as well as timing. Everyone’s case is different, but here are a few questions you might consider if you hadn’t already.

    Would your work in Korea expand beyond Kpop and cultural experiences of younger generations? Do you think you will need more of the language in the future because you need wider professional connections in Korea? Do you ever plan on getting into a Korean organization or working very closely with them? Would you ever encounter older professionals who might speak English but may not quite open up to you in a way they might with someone more fluent? If you think you should devote a focused time for studies, when should that be – after your business grows to a certain point? A few years from now?

    Btw I enjoy your videos, especially with the Korean street scenes. I miss Korea.

    7 years ago
  21. I can totally understand what you feel. If you think you have enough fluency for your daily needs, I think it’s understandable that you think like this. But I also think that even if you want to continue learning the language, you don’t need to go into some kind of intensive program! Since you know enough already, why not just taking a few classes here and there, when you have free time? I think it would be a good compromise ^^

    7 years ago
  22. I found this topic very interesting! I’m also from Sweden, where you start learning English from an early age. We are also very americanized, so we’re basicly surrounded with a lot of English, which I believe is a very good way of learning a language. Thus many Swedes in general have a perfectly sufficent level of English, but I think it also depends a lot on who you are, eg if you have a talent for languages or if you’re too shy to try to speak to people. I’m kind of both, actually. I’ve studied a lot of French in high school, and I’m now at a quite high level compared to people in general (without a connection to France that is). I can understand a lot, especially written French. But am I fluent? Nooo. I’m too shy to speak in class, which means I get no practise whatsoever. I would either have to live in a French-speaking place a while (which I hope I can do in the future) or get a French-speaking friend to practise with.

    So I think you’re doing really good who are making an effort to speak Korean with the people around you, because it can be difficult to get over the barrier and start talking, even if you’e interested in languages. And I’d guess those who tell you to become fluent in Korean haven’t tried to learn a language well themselves, cause then the’d know that it’s difficult and takes a lot of time. I understand that you don’t have time to study it, and I think you’re doing a wonderful job promoting Korea iwth EYK!

    7 years ago
  23. In the nordic Europe we all have english lessons since 3 or 4th grade so you kinda get used to talking it (-:
    Im from Denmark btw! :-D And, its so cooold! Colder than Greenland x_x

    7 years ago
  24. Sorry for any typos in my comment, but I’m typing all of this on my phone and it’s lagging and not letting me correct things. I hope it is understandable.

    Also, from a highly associated with Japanese point of view, Japanese, while being more available here than many other languages, it is available less than English and it is difficult to get by with much Japanese. All the Japanese I met here (at music core and at my hotels) could speak Korean as well. I wouldn’t say it’s completely necessary for them, but it’s more necessary than from and English background. Combining the two language doesn’t even fully work all the time as I have tried to do here. Basically, things are easiest if you know Korean. Also, I’d I couldn’t read hangeul, I would have had a much more difficult time getting around because I don’t listen on the trains, I wear headphones and listen to music so I have to read the signs in trains saying which stop I’d next and since it flashes though Korean and English catching it at English isn’t always easy a requires practically staring at it the whole ride…

    7 years ago
  25. I’ve read in a magazine about people who speaks a lot of languages, and their advice for people who wanted to learn new languages was to not aim for fluency or having no accent, just to try to understand the language and be understood.

    7 years ago
  26. Hello guys. Here’s my answer. I’m not fluent in english, I’m mexican, therefore I speak spanish. We learn english since we are little kids and because we live right next to US, we get all kinds of things in english (music, movies, ads, books, etc.) So it helps to know at least enough to understand. Not everybody learns english, but to know helps, why? I get to know more than average, I get to understand the music I listen and like, I get to read books before they are traslated, I get to talk with people I don’t know AND I understand what you guys say and write. But that’s MY motivation and from what you wrote, you don’t have any to learn korean. As simple as that. You don’t need to and you don’t have the curiousity, and that’s ok! I’m the kind of person who wants to learn many languages (and much better english!! don’t rate me just yet!!) because I want to learn from the other’s points of view. To me, language is a huge part of someone’s culture and customs, it says a lot of the country and their history, if it’s messy, if it’s simple, if it has long words or different words for what seems to be the same, it also helps to understand the very core of a person, even when your friends like to speak english to you, they will always be more accurate in their feelings and thoughts in their own language. You’re right about not having enough time, but if you want to do it, if you really want to, you’ll find the time just as you find time to do other stuff you love. Hey, but how about this, I don’t know how are you learning what you already know, you said you know how to read, right? so you can buy books to learn some words and such, right? you don’t have to turn it into a marathon to learn everything as fast as possible, you don’t even have to live in korea anymore to fully learn it, if you like the language you’ll be happy just to know it a bit more. But then again, that’s if you want to, otherwise you seem to be ok. Hugs!!

    7 years ago
  27. What a good post to stir up my memories in Korea! As a foreigner who lived in Busan for about 4 months, here’s my take on surviving there with dismal amount of Korean. Shopping in places like Nampodong and Seomyeon are more English/Chinese/Japanese friendly if you enter Beauty/Cosmetic shops or the Lotte Mall. For those street side shops selling clothes/fashion etc, chances are, you will be communicating with the owners via hand gestures and calculators if you know NO Korean words at all. Travelling by subway in Busan and Seoul is relatively easy because they named the stops in English, but I can’t quite recall if the buses in Busan provide English naming stops as well. I just remembered myself staying away from buses because (1) I feared to miss my stops and (2) the way those buses drive…my god…you need good arm muscles to stop yourself from falling or slamming to the person next to you, because the buses just zoomed down the streets and swerved as if there are no passengers in the vehicle (-_-).
    For those who live in hostels populated by tourists, the owners are usually very fluent in English and are well educated about the places you wish to visit/how to travel there etc. So ask them anything before you decide to travel out. Some may even provide recommendations of places to visit/eat as well!
    Taxi wise, in both Seoul and Busan, I find them to be extremely difficult because chances are, the drivers won’t understand your pronunciation of the place you wish to go (no matter how hard you tried). So for me, I will usually write down my desired location in Hangul and show it to the drivers. If they do not know the exact area, then I would usually tell them to drive me to subway station that is the nearest to that area and either (1) from there, direct them to the area, or (2) get off and walk to the area myself. It would be best to learn to read Hangul if you wish to order food from a menu because it makes things way easier. Kimchi is Kimchi, Bibimbbap is Bimbimbap, Kimbad is Kimbab (if you get what I mean). But again, you might have to watch for your pronunciation, because there was one time I ordered Tofu soup and I was served a whole different thing. If you cannot pronounce or read Hangul, you can try ordering in English, if not Chinese. I find that in Myeongdong, there are more waiters/sales people who are more comfortable and fluent in Chinese than English? Not sure about this but this is just my own personal opinion.
    Lastly, when I first arrived in Korea, the few sentences that I viewed as the most important and have used most frequently are “Where is the toilet?” and “Sorry, I don’t know”, the latter being that I was often mistaken as a Korean by other Koreans and am frequently approached by them when they ask for directions. And just to be on the safe side of not wanting to appear rude, I always end my sentences with a ‘yo’.

    Hope this helps to anyone who wishes to travel to Korea!

    7 years ago
  28. SIMON AND MARTINA I FEEL YAAA! I’m Indonesian and I’ve lived in Turkey for three years now. I am also capable of living finely in Turkey with my Turkish ability. But it’s so nice to have a language bubble where I don’t have to be overwhelmed with the information I get each and every second. It really challenges me to pop the comfort bubbles I have built all these years. I’m so glad you guys blog about it! I totally feel the same way, I just never thought of it that deep. Love you guys, MWAH!

    7 years ago
  29. I’m Indonesian living in Busan for about 2 years (for undergraduate studies) luckily, I attend intensive Korean course for 6 months before I go to Busan, and I’m totally agree with you about the fluency rate! Its like even though I learn and learn Korean for almost 2 years now, I can’t get into this super fluent state, I still misses stuff out when I’m conversing with Korean (It’s either I’m the stupid one or Korean is hard btw) and I only have like this super few friend speaking in English (fluent or not).

    I also experience people that want to practice English with me, but I’m not native, or half born, or even studied English overseas (English is NOT Indonesia’s second language) so even with English-speaking-Korean It is still kinda hard for me! :/

    7 years ago
  30. So, I’m currently vacationing in Seoul from Studying abroad in Japan, and I saw your tweet about this just before going to bed and so I decided to watch and read it quickly before sleeping because this is topic for any language/country, that I’ve been having long discussions with people about since I first started applying to study abroad back in November 2011… For me, the level you’re at is my goal, at the moment (though that could change if as you mentioned I were to get a Korean significant other…) so I see no reason you guys should give up your few minutes of free time to learn to say deeper things that you very well may never use which just makes it harder to learn any ways. From my experience studying abroad and vacationing here in Korea, the words you use the most are easiest to learn. I think you guys should concentrate on things more important to you during your free time.

    My personal belief is that people should be able to speak a language at least as well as you guys speak Korean if they are planning to live in the country for an extended period of time. It makes things easier for yourself and for those around you whose English may not be so good. My foreign friends love me for this opinion.

    As for what you said in the video, I can give you a perspective of an American who has lived in Japan for the past 4 months before coming here for vacation between semesters. It’s actually a really strange perspective honestly. Coming here my culture shock has been more from a Japsnese viewpoint, though I am originally from America. I tried to get by here with a small knowledge of half-forgotten Korean, and a vast knowledge of Japanese that I’m used to using; so when I ran in to Japanese people, I was very relieved. Though the signs were all in English and I cn read hangeul easily, but trying to get information is all in Korean unless you can find some who speaks your native language, or a language you are better at than Korean as u wound up doing most of thi time. I tried to go to music core on one of my first days in this country. A young Korean girl tried to explain things to me in English, but her English wasn’t very good. I then saw girls carrying things that said “Japanese fan club” on them and that is when I realized I could use my knowledge of Japanese to my advantage in Korea which honestly made me more comfortable by a large amount.

    7 years ago
  31. I am 1/2 Korean and grew up in a Korean American community. I have been trying to learn Korean since I was a small child (and that was a long time ago, not trying to give away my age). But I’m still not fluent! And I don’t even dare dream of fluency. The way I see it, unless you have a passion for it, knowing what you need to know is good enough (learning is tiring and Korean is difficult for native English speakers). But, I think the longer you are in Korea, the more you will just pick up vocabulary naturally, 천천히 천천히, without even thinking about it. The same is true of watching K Drama or listening to Korean music :). Don’t let mean people guilt trip you!

    7 years ago
  32. Back in the states, I was at a bookstore and suddenly someone surprise-hugged me, put their chin on my shoulder and said into my ear, “Hey, sexy.” I turned to look at him, totally mortified and he looked at me and said, “Oh my God, you’re not my girlfriend.” I said, “No, I’m not!” It was quite awkward, but makes for a good story now! XD

    7 years ago
  33. This is a personal decision and it’s very much up to the both of you. As far as I can tell, you guys are not inconveniencing anyone with your lack of in-depth Korean knowledge, and that’s the most important thing from an objective standpoint. You shouldn’t feel guilty about being able to discuss politics, religion, etc.! I’m from the US, and there are plenty of people here who have about the same level of English as you guys have in Korean and I don’t see them as being disrespectful towards my country. I see them as the exact opposite; they’ve chose to live here and bring their talents here, and that’s more than good enough for me. I’m very passionate about foreign languages so I want to deepen my knowledge of them, but I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

    7 years ago
  34. As a junior in high school planning on going to college as a language major these are some of the things I ask myself almost everyday. I’m really glad you guys posted this because it gives me more inspiration to go out and continue learning Spanish, and maybe Korean. And the points about how normal Korean people don’t speak English fluently because all they’ve had to do is memorize is exactly what I’m feeling right now with my 4 years of Spanish. I would absolutely love to go to Korea to learn the language, but I don’t think until I think I’m comfortable with Spanish will I start learning it seriously. Until then I’m continue to fan girl over K-pop. Thank you Simon and Martina ! :)

    7 years ago
  35. I say you just keep learning how you are learning. Think about how much you’ve improved in the past 5 years, 3 years, even 1 year? Maybe try reading some Korean magazines and books in your free time, just to pick up different things you may not know. Looking up the words you don’t know and trying them out on your Korean friends. Or even getting a Korean tutor. I know you guys are crazy busy, but maybe one night out of every week, for like one or two hours just sitting down and focusing on the language. Granted that’s just if you guys want to. If you can get by and have no problems understanding day to day life and speaking to people you encounter every day, then I say that’s good. If you want to become fluent, or more proficient than do it. If not, than don’t. I personally want to be able to work with Korean companies and be a kind of translator/cultural adviser, so for me it is kind of necessary to learn as much as possible and be as close to fluent as I can. Your job does not require that, so it just becomes personal preference. Either way, you guys are awesome. I’m so jealous and happy that you guys are living the dream. Hwaiting!!! <3

    7 years ago
  36. hi simon/martina! first off, i want to say that you shouldn’t feel any burden or pressure to learn korean. it seems to me that the pressure you are receiving comes from non-koreans rather than koreans. honestly, koreans don’t care how fluent you are. from watching your videos, it is evident that you guys have put forth the effort to learn and that you are open minded. that is good enough and we appreciate it much more than you think. spend your time in korea being happy and if coming home after work and learning korean doesn’t exactly make you the happiest people, then don’t do it! you will learn korean in other ways. seriously, i know that it is easier said that done, but DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT! it appears you have a bit of stress when it comes to this topic, but let it go!! be happy and don’t worry about what people say about YOUR language skills. they need to worry about themselves!! am i right? or am i right? :)) hope this brought some encouragement to you guys! xo

    7 years ago
  37. I agree with everything you’ve said ^^ you guys shouldn’t have to feel guilty or feel like you’re not respecting Korea because you’ve influenced so many people to want to learn more about Korea! I know my desire to go to Korea has only grown MORE after watching your videos! I think the more time you spend in Korea the more Korean you’ll learn naturally ^^ I don’t think you need to sit down in front of books and learn. Keep doing what you’re doing ^^ You make all your Nasties proud <3

    7 years ago
  38. You converse as much as you want to – why should you do anymore? Don’t give your time to something you’re not passionate about. Life is far too short for that. Stop feeling guilty! What a silly thing to feel guilty about! You can converse as much as you want to! You are not a burden to others. You are making your way. If the level you know stops working for you, then learn more. Until then just be at peace with the choices you’ve made and the progress you’ve made!!! Living in Canada I know several immigrants who have NEVER learned fluent English but I don’t begrudge them and they still seem perfectly happy. :)

    7 years ago
  39. Simon and Martina!

    I can share my pov from how you learn languages. I’m from Sweden. I basically started learning English since I was 7/8, around the same time Pocahontas and Lion King came out as video. My dad literally had this idea that if I started listening to English from a really young age, I would learn it faster, and surely I did. He sneakily planned to use my interest for Disney movies, so that each new movie that came (Hercules, Mulan) I would watch the Swedisg version on the movie theatre and later he’d buy me an English copy to watch at home. That way, I would know what they said as I’d seen the Swedish one, and yet hear English. When English lessons began (at the age of 10, nowadays it’s apparently 9) I was ahead of most of my classmates to whom this was completely new. Grammaticaly I did struggle a bit, but I could understand it to a certain extent.

    Around the same time I started watching the pokémon series on Sky One, a brittish channel we kind of pirated over satelite. This also forced me to know more and more English, because it literally took a year before the dub came to Sweden, and the dub (in my ears) sounded horrible in Swedish. I also learnt to read shorter novels in English.

    At the age of 12, my mom who loves books, bought me the Harry Potter books. It literally took me 6 months to read the first book. 6 months, which involved the book lying at the top of a shelf because the first half didn’t make any sense to me at all. however, when 5 months had åassed I gave it another go, and loved it. I read book 2 in 3 weeks, book 3 in 2 weeks. Waited for book 4, which took me a week until the final book (which only too me a day without any meals at all).

    After all this however, did I feel fluent… not at all… I could read, write, but had never spoken much. By mere wonder and weirdness, while I studied in China I ended up befriending a group of americans. Gone was my lovely Brittish english (that we practise in school, I guess because Britain is closer to sweden) and in came a very confident English.

    And yet today, do I feel fluent… not at all. Unless you literally are born with parents of one language, I highly doubt we can call ourselves experts. I still struggle at times with English, mainly since there are in general 10 English words for every Swedish word. You can become good in a language, you can become more and more secure on what to say, how to say it and what to talk about, but you will never become as good as those who learn it from birth or very, very early childhood. I’ve literally also tried French (partly forgotten), Spanish (mostly forgotten by now), Latin (almost all forgotten) and Chinese (trying to keep this one up, but I hope to study another year in China to actually grasp it well enough to speak semi-fluently.)

    There are also, as some people point out here, flaws un the Korean (according to someone who says she/he has studied there) and Chinese eductational system. They learn to memorize, translate and mostly don’t speak too much (which I guess depends on schools and teachers, sorry S&M). I met Chinese students who would ask on how to translate things, and they used such weird English the British and American students had to update them on how English is normally used. I sometimes think I wasn’t that good speaking English, but many are almost ashamed how bad they are at it. At least to my knowledge.

    Then again, it could also do with how we are open to social networks. My usual advice for learning a language is to listen and talk. If you want to learn more about pronounciations you can find hundreds of videos normally on local sites from news or movies. If you wanna build your social skills, like S&M says, just go out and be out there, talk to people.

    7 years ago
    • Nina – compliments – you write amazingly well and I would say sound quite proficient to the point where I’d have guessed you were a native English speaker. Except of course, that you get everything right. :)

      7 years ago
      • Thanks for those nice words, I try my best, even though I know I do end up with an occasional spelling or grammatical mistake.

        I’d love to have a conversation with you one day, then you’d have no doubts that I am indeed not a native speaker. As my American friends said: “You speak really well, but your accent shows.” I guess, that is something you would really need to train to loose if you felt like it, but meh… I don’t mind others knowing I am not native.

        7 years ago
    • Hi Nina! Learning any language is trying and hard and sometimes sooo discouraging! But I don’t think anybody is really an expert even in their own native tongue.

      For example, I’m Mexican American, my mom immigrated to the US when she got married to my dad (who was already a US citizen) and finished Medical School. So I grew up listening and speaking both English and Spanish. I got my Bachelor’s degree with a double major in Anthropology AND Latin American Literature. One would think that studying Latinamerican Lit would help a person become an expert in the language, but I have to admit that I’m definitely no expert in Spanish. These days I’m living in Mexico because I decided that I wanted to study Medicine. And sometimes I’ll be having a conversation in Spanish with some friends and I end having to ask for clarification on what they meant or what certain words mean. Not to mention that they make fun of my “gringo” pronunciation.

      7 years ago
      • Hi Claudia, and indeed it is hard. I tried doing five simultaneously in the Swedish equivelent to college, and like I said above, I know some phrases and a few words, but not enough to make much of everyday speach. I know a little more Chinese from actually having lived there and trying to talk to people at times (with mixed results). As for English, I don’t know how many times I end up stumbling on words, The most annoying part is when you cannot remember a word in another language it sometimes connects to that you cannot even remember (at the time) those words in your native tongue.

        7 years ago
  40. When I went to England to study at a university there I had been studying English from the age of 12 (I was 18 when I left for England). Was I fluent? Of course not, dialects, accents, idioms, nothing of the sort had been taught at school. Did I know what ”faffing around” meant, no. I think the problem here is to define ‘fluent’. Does that mean knowing all the words? ‘Cause I’m a native Dutch speaker and I still don’t know all the words. I think ‘fluent’ should be defined as being able to do what you need to do in the country. So for me I had to improve my academic English skills. If you had a different type of job that required a certain type of speech you would probably improve on that area. Seen as you’re fluent in all the areas that are applicable to you, shouldn’t that be enough? If you start to notice that you’re lacking in a certain area just improve how you have improved before. For me, I found that reading helped me out a lot, I’m sure that for you doing a course wouldn’t be particularly helpful.

    7 years ago