Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Korean Review: Day 5 – Speaking Korean


One of my biggest regrets about my time here in Seoul is that I never took the opportunity to really sit down and learn Korean. I gave every excuse in the book:

“I don’t have the time.”
“When will I ever use Korean once I leave here?”
“Classes are twice a week? On Saturday? That’s a big time commitment.”

While Korean is not a widely used language outside of the peninsula, I still feel like I let myself down a bit by not trying to learn it more aggressively. I am able to read things written in Korean; I just have no idea what they are saying (most of the time). The reading of the Korean language is actually really very simple and straightforward and can be learned in a couple of days of diligent studying and commitment. (Check out this website which does a good job of introducing the Korean system).

The spelling of "Hangeul" in Korean

There are a few observations that I’ve made regarding Koreans and how the speak. I’m sure that a lot of this can apply to Americans and other Westerners as well, but I’ve definitely picked up on the following tidbits:

  • Koreans are super whiny when they talk. They always seem to be elongating the last syllable of at the end of their sentences. Females are especially guilty of this. Males do it as well, but it’s not quite as annoying/noticeable as females. Of course, I realize that many Americans are whiners. But it’s one thing that many of my friends and I have picked up on and notice when we are out and about with our Korean friends. 
  • When talking on the phone, there is no formal goodbye; just a dial tone. I’ll be at school, in the office, and the teachers around me will be having a phone conversation. At the end, instead of saying goodbye or terminating the conversation with some sort of salutation, they hang up. End of story. I remember the first time that happened to me with one of my Korean friends. I was a bit taken back, but soon learned that a dial tone signaled the end of the conversation – in a polite and non-offensive way of course.
  • The grammatical structure of Korean is a bit different than that of English. The word “is” is inserted at the end of their sentences (signified by the phrase “ib ni da”). Many times, all that I’ll pick up from a conversation between my co-teachers at lunch is “blah blah blah blah ib ni da.” This leads to excessive amounts of chuckling and self-amusement on my part. Gotta do something to entertain myself at the lunch table.
  • Koreans are not afraid to talk about you when they know that you are in earshot. When I first started at Seoul High School, my teachers would be talking in Korean and all of the sudden, I’d hear them say my name. My ears would perk up, I would peer over my cubicle wall, and try to find the culprit. Most of the time, they didn’t actually want to talk TO me, just ABOUT me. It took me a good couple of months to finally just learn to ignore them. If they really wanted to tell me something, they come and tap me on the shoulder. So if when I get back to the states and I ignore you the first couple of times that you say my name, forgive me. I’ve been Korea-fied and mean no offense.

In 5 days’ time, I’ll be back in the States, understanding everything going on around me conversation wise. I’d better make the most out of playing the “foreigner” card while I can!