Why I’m Learning Korean Again






Yup! I’m going to study Korean again. I finally got a lot of time and “some motivation” from my husband, and well. maybe from my in-laws, too, who always tell me I’ve been in Korea for 3 years but my Korean is still “bad”. (T.T)

Being a language teacher, I know it isn’t that easy to learn a third language when you’re 30, but I can’t possibly make the in-laws understand this and I can’t keep using it as an excuse for my idleness and lack of interest in learning my husband’s language. I’ve had this wrong idea that being able to read, write and speak “a little” Korean would be enough to get me through life here, since hubby and I speak Englishand at work, I am not encouraged to talk in Korean… but a realization dawned on me a few weeks ago when I encountered some “mean” Korean women and I couldn’t defend myself because my Korean is “limited”. I’m not actually sure what the argument was about. I was shopping in Jamsil. The shop was crowded. I saw this pretty orange chiffon blouse and I was going to buy it, so I removed it from the hanger and held it for a while as I was looking for other items in the shop I might like. Just then, one of the ladies working there approached me and without a word, took the blouse from me. (This reminds me of the “ajumma” incident a year ago.) I told her I was going to buy it, but she said, “No, no, no!” I tried to speak Korean to explain myself, though I didn’t think I needed to do that. I was shopping, not shoplifting, for Pete’s sake! Two other ladies came. I’m not sure if they work in the same shop or they’re the “schizophrenic” lady’s friends, but though they weren’t talking, they were blocking the door! I felt so helpless like Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption” ’s shower scene.

Maybe my Korean wasn’t good enough, and they couldn’t understand what I was telling them. The more I spoke, the more the “schizophrenic” lady yakked, and people were already staring at us, wondering what was happening. I was also wondering what the fuss was about, wondering what to do, if I should call the cops or not; then I realized that the cops would not understand my “broken Korean”, too, so to make the long story short, I decided not to dial 112 (phone number for the police in South Korea), stop explaining myself and just pay for the blouse.

That has got to be the most humiliating moment of my life. I was so angry and frustrated that I couldn’t defend myself, because I couldn’t express myself well in Korean.

The story I have shared is not the only reason I am learning Korean again. I’ve always known it would be a problem not to be able to speak the language fluently when hubby and I raise our own children.  A couple of weeks ago, I visited a multi-cultural center. The head of the center, a Filipina, who happens to be a friend, showed me a group of children from multi-cultural families who are having tutorials and free Korean lessons. She told me that some of the children are having difficulties in school, because they can’t speak fluent Korean. This is more likely to happen when the mother can barely speak Korean to her child. I don’t want my children to go through the same dilemma. My husband is busy with work and I am certain that in the future, the task of teaching our children and helping them do their homework will be my responsibility.

My knowledge of Korean isn’t so bad, at least not how my father-in-law describes it… but I know that it isn’t enough.  I  stopped attending Korean language classes, because I thought they were irksome and confusing, or maybe this is just another excuse. The point is, whether or not I want to study Korean, I HAVE TO learn the language and be able to speak it well. I could name a gazillion reasons why, but mostly, it’s because that’s what I am expected to do.

At home, the in-laws understand most of what I say in Korean. In the market, at the mall, in restaurants, ajossis and ajummas try to understand me when I use Korean language. Most Koreans I talk to try to understand my “not-so-fluent” Korean that they even think it’s “cute”… but in the real world, there will always be people who will not try to understand you when you don’t speak their language.

In Korea, being a foreigner doesn’t exempt you from speaking Korean. Once you decide to live here, you are bound by this obligation.

Tomorrow is the first day of my Korean language class in Yeoksam.

Wish me luck! =)


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