[Junior AJA] Learning Korean is not pali pali (빨리빨리)

Learning Korean is not pali pali (빨리빨리)

One of the first things I learned upon arrival to Korea was the culture of doing things quickly (빨리 빨리 문화). In fact, this country achieved a developed economy within about 50 years. If one looks at history, Germany and Japan took about 150 years to reach a developed economy. The rapid development of its country compared with other developed countries seems to make the Korean people used to doing everything quickly. Time is money. However, it seems that the Korean education style of teaching foreigners Korean is also applying the same formula. But, earning this language cannot happen in a “cook in the microwave” way, but needs to be learned through “simmering” and an enabling environment for everyday conversation to apply what we have learned.

During a visit to the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, I was surprised to see on a map of the number of schools that teach Korean around the world. Certainly, these schools are a reflection of the efforts of this country to promote the internationalization of the Korean language, but the internationalization of the Korean language cannot be measured by the number of Korean schools that exist in the world nor by the number of students that take the TOPIK test (Test of Proficiency in Korean) each year, but by the amount of actual speakers that use it in their daily lives. The real proof of globalization of Korea should be measured by the number of foreigners who use the language to solve their daily activities. Therefore, I think globalization of Korean depends on number of foreigners who actually speak Korean.

I have known several non-Asian foreigners who can speak Korean fluently, but it has taken them a long time to learn compared to many Asian foreigners. In everyday life, Koreans generally tend to speak in English to non-Asian foreigners. In a visit I made to the doctor, there was a Vietnamese lady and a Mongolian girl. The receptionist spoke to them in Korean. However, when my turn came, the receptionist was nervous because she does not speak English very well and although I spoke to her in Korean, she insisted on talking to me in English. Age and the environment in which you function in are very important. The ease in relating with others is influenced by the age group you belong to. In Korea, there is a respect for hierarchy and age that determines the type of relationship that you can have with others. Thus, one must seek relationships with their peers in the same age groups in order to develop long-lasting ties. Of course it is possible to relate to all people, but if you want to get involved in the culture through the Korean language (not through English) one must respect certain customs.

Korea offers the ease of finding numerous English services, from ordering in a restaurant to seeking medical services (mainly in big cities), which makes life more bearable for any foreigner who has a basic knowledge of English. Speaking English saves the embarrassing moments of carefully repeating phrases in Korean to other people who sometimes do not understand what you are saying. However, if a Korean is going to study English in Canada for example, hardly anyone will speak to him in Korean, so it will create the conditions to force one to speak English and get involved in the culture. But here there are no such conditions for improving one’s Korean because of the tendency to speak English to non-Asian foreigners, especially at universities, which is the environment where I live.

Language is alive, dynamic, and when used gives meaning to one’s environment. While Korean is not becoming a tool to solve daily problems of international people inside or outside of Korea, the more Korean publications written by foreigners are needed for Korean to be considered international. Foreigners interested in speaking Korean and to use their Korean, opposed to English, in their daily lives should be encouraged. Although there are many foreigners in Korea who do not have time or are not interested to learn Korean, there is a group of foreigners both Asian and non-Asian that are interested in promoting the language and using it as part of our lifestyle.

On the other hand, the Korean way of teaching emphasizes memorization more than the actual use of the language. There is little time to talk and use what we learn in the classroom. This delays the process of getting the feel of the language, to live it, and to apply it. It seems that the classes are geared toward Asian students who have a similar cultural background of Korea or at least are familiar with popular culture. They can learn Korean much faster than non-Asian students. Non-Asian students have different cultural backgrounds and different linguistic backgrounds. However, if Korean classes encouraged an environment to speak freely, it would be easier to use Korean on the streets. I have met come across many gatherings where Koreans and foreigners engage in activities to practice English together, but only twice did I find a gathering designed to help foreigners learn Korean.

Currently, I attend an English class where everyone is Korean and I am the only foreigner. My classmates were initially surprised that I was there because they assumed that I did not need to study English. When I explained to them in Korean that I am Mexican and my native language is Spanish they realized why I was attending this class. During these English classes, we all enjoyed fun activities with our teacher, joked a lot in English, and we even met each other outside of class. The atmosphere of this class encourages one to enjoy the language. English classes are totally different from Korean classes that I have taken during the past two years.

Non-Asian foreigners who are trying to use Korean in their daily lives are a minority. So, if you are Korean and you meet a foreigner who speaks Korean, help him to improve his/her skills, give them confidence, make an effort to understand him/her even if you are not used to hearing your language with a Western accent. When a foreigner speaks to you in Korean, it is hard to imagine how much effort they are putting forth just to articulate a single sentence (either consistent or inconsistent). It is extremely frustrating to put so much effort into expressing thoughts in Korean and then hear an English response. The adventure is just beginning. In this country, I learned that Koreans never give up and that an economic miracle happened here that led Korea to occupy a prominent position in the international economy. About 50 years ago it was thought that this was impossible, but the Korean tenacity led them to reach its goal. In this way, I too encourage myself.

Although some people tell me Korean is difficult, although some people in the streets answer me in English, although the conditions are not in my favor, although I have to put extra effort into finding opportunities to speak Korean, although it seems impossible, I know the miracle to speak Korean fluently is coming.

By Saul Serna Segura

10 Responses to [Junior AJA] Learning Korean is not pali pali (빨리빨리)

  1. Mr Korean June 30, 2013 at 11:11 am

    There’s a lot of interest in learning foreign languages in modern times. That’s why you get people using watching jdramas. So there’s more interest in study methods. All of this is very helpful.


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