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

    6 years ago
  2. There’s a really good website that Simon & Martina mentioned a while back that’s good for learning Korean

    http://www.talktomeinkorean.com/

    It has lesson plans & workbooks, and a whole bunch of links that are super helpful.
    Give it a go :)

    6 years ago
  3. Hmmm
    1. They ARE foreigners
    2. They DO love Japan

    I think you are correct.

    (Just an observation)

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

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

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

    7 years ago
  7. 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
  8. I have a question for a future tldr
    Is it easy to find english language books/bookstores in Korea?

    7 years ago
  9. I think that you guys are already doing it though, the seemingly momentous task of studying Korean. I mean, you have gone from understanding nothing to easily holding casual conversations in four years, so if you keep making effort to interact with Korean society via people, music, TV shows and whatnot, your Korean will most likely improve to another level of fluency in a few years.

    7 years ago
  10. Not gonna lie, I teared up a little bit at the cheese lady story…

    7 years ago
  11. I love how you became like internet-celebriteeh just by being yourself, you seriously make my week happier everytime there’s a new video to see :)

    7 years ago
  12. I think that being fluent enough to get around every day and hold interviews is a fantastic level to have achieved for the short while that you have been in Korea. Given what you do every day, I think it’s also impossible to not learn new Korean words, ideas, and cultural concepts and I don’t think that anyone in their right mind could criticize your intentions or think that you are lazy. Please don’t beat yourself up over not putting in more effort to be fluent in Korean. Without MANY years of study, it may just be impossible. Not just for you, but for anyone, in any language…….it’s just the way the human brain works. Even people who have learned several languages as a child (granted, it’s easier to learn as second language as a kid and once you’ve got one, picking up more is also easier) lose them if they don’t constantly use them.

    On top of that, I don’t think that there’s one of your fans that honestly thinks that you will spend the rest of your life in Korea and I think that we would all just prefer that you spend your time more wisely to keep doing the stuff that you’re doing that we all love you for. Fans don’t want to think of this fun time ending but it will come to a point (maybe a few years down the road) where eatyourkimchi it’s not so fresh and fun for you any more or plainly, life happens. Since it’s your life and not just a job, it will be time to move on to the next adventure. Hopefully we can all come with you when you do something else ’cause we’ll all be ready for something new too. You never know, you may have to start all over with another language, so think of it as saving some studying time for later, just in case.

    This is my first post, and I just wanted to say that I happened to “find” you on youtube a couple of months ago due to your Itaewon Freedom review (completely tangential to what I was looking for). You guys are fantastic most posts but truly glorious when you’re in your element and I would humbly suggest that once in a while (maybe every quarter) you review a song for kpop music mondays that _you_ want to review. Yes, the fans help make you what you are, but they keep loving you for doing what you do best, and only you can say what that is. Don’t be shy about making some of the decisions for yourself, it will give you more opportunities to shine in the end. Sorry for straying a little from the topic.

    Cheers from the cold and bitter wasteland (Canada) ^_^v

    7 years ago
  13. Well, if your long time goal is to move to other countries, like Japan, to create other Eatyour____ sites, then investing a lot of time in learning Korean would not make sense. It seems like you are doing great, so don’t stress over it! I have a question for you, though I don’t know how easy it will be for you to answer since you don’t have kids yourself. My husband and I have considered moving overseas, Korea’s probably in our top 3 choices, but we have 2 kids, both 9 years old. I’m just wondering what it would be like for them. Would they have to go to a Korean school, even though they don’t speak the language? Or do they have schools that are taught in English? I homeschool them here in America, but would homeschool even be an option in Korea? And do you think they would be well accepted by other kids their age? So, in general, what are your thoughts on bringing children to Korea? Thanks!

    7 years ago