Saturday, September 1, 2012

Learning a new language

I get a lot of people ask me "So, are you fluent in Korean yet?".

The short answer: no.

While immersion into a society is the best way to quickly learn a new language, there's a problem. I'm an English teacher.

This means I'm expected to speak English all the time.  Don't get me wrong, I still try out a little Korean here and there with my co-workers, but since I work with other English teachers, their english is just fine and they'd much rather use it with me to help their own skills and pronunciation get better.

This is also the case in the outside world. I'll use Korean with shopkeepers and the like, and they will use English back to me.  (Not necessarily good english..) Korean isn't a widely used language, so they assume I don't know beyond a few simple words.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind this... my Korean skill is actually very low so if someone did try to have a full conversation with me about something besides the weather I would probably get confused. However, it does make me become very lazy when it comes to learning Korean. 

We don't realize how lucky we are as English speakers.  Its a global language. Everyone knows at least a little English.  So, we can get by practically anywhere without a real need to learn a native's language.  A majority of the foreigners here in Korea put little to no effort in their Korean, and they really don't need to.  Sure, it makes things like banking a hassle, but if you have a Korean friend then problem solved. 

So my Korean isn't improving as fast as I'd hoped it would, but I am slowly getting there.

As for learning the language itself... it has its ups and downs.  For example, Korean uses a lot of american words like computer (Cahm-pyu-tah) or coffee (Caw-pee).  They also have an alphabet system... but it's not a romanized alphabet system.  I can read it just fine, but it takes me a lot longer to process. A lot longer.

This should be a no brainer, but I realized that things do not translate directly. A lot of times there is a word that exists in one language that doesn't exist in another. A good example is that in the Korean language there is a word for two people who are not in the friend zone yet not yet dating either.  You know that awkward place where you like eachother but it's not official? Yeah, there's a word for that. I've been asked by my students if i'm in those types of situations. 

There's also having to understand Konglish, which is how american words are used in korea. Most are fine, like coffee, but then you get a word like manicure. I think, oh, you went and got your nails done. Nope. Manicure in korea is any time of anything on your nails or toes. So when people asked if I got a manicure when I had only painted my nails, I said no, and they gave me weird looks.


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