Hello, can you speak Korean?
This week I have a big test! I am about halfway through my Korean language class and it’s time to show off what I have learned. I am very nervous!
I have been studying Korean for about two months now. That is not a long time to study a language, but I have learned so much. Before I came to Korea, I knew very little Korean. I knew how to say a few of the basics, like hello, thank you and I’m sorry! I knew some of the letters, or characters, but I could not really read a sentence or even a word! I still have a long way to go before I am fluent, but I am better than I was before I came, that’s for sure!
Do you speak a language other than English? There are many languages in the world. You can think of them like different types of animals, and group them into different families or categories. For example, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are all in the same language family, called the Romance Languages. If you speak any of these languages you will hear similar words in the other languages. Learning a new language that is in the same family as your mother tongue or native language is pretty easy. The alphabet will be similar and the rules for how to form a sentence.
Learning a language that is in a different family from your first language can be tough. The alphabet can be very different. For example, think about Chinese and Arabic. They are both written differently than English. They are also different from each other. The Korean language is very different from English. It is in the same language family as Japanese and Chinese. Once I learn Korean, I could have an easier time learning one of the other languages in the same family.
Have you ever thought about the order of the words you use? Probably not in a long time. Speaking, reading and writing in English comes naturally to you now. However, you had to learn how to make sentences that make sense in English. Now I am having to learn how to make sentences all over again! The order that you put your words in to make a sentence in Korean is different than in English. For example, in English I would say, “My name is Kelsi”, but in Korean I say, “My name Kelsi is”.
There are some words that sound the same in Korean as in English. They are written in Korean to sound like the English word. For example, computer programmer is pronounced cohm-pyu-toh poo-roh-goo-ray-mah. Coffee shop is kopi-syohp, and television is pronounced teh-ray-bi-john. Can you think of any words that we use in English that are borrowed from another language?
When I arrived in Korea, I learned how to order food, how to ask for directions and how to ask about prices. Now, I can navigate the city, buy things and eat with a few phrases all by myself now! I still have troubles communicating though, and sometimes I get embarrassed. This happened to me today in fact. I was in Paris Baguette, a bread store, buying a salad when the cashier asked me if I wanted to eat in the shop. I did not realize that was what she asked me until she saw my blank stare and motioned with her hand, finger pointed to the ground, an easily recognizable gesture meaning “Here?” I immediately shook my head, feeling a bit ashamed.
This happens all the time when cashiers ask me if I would like a bag. They see my blank stare and reach around to grab one of the plastic bags, holding it questioningly until I nod my head, “neh” (네) I say, “yes”.
Other times I walk into shops and get greeted in English. “Hello! Where are you from?” the shopkeepers ask me. “Me-gook” I reply, “America”. America they say, insisting on speaking English to me. Although it makes it easier for me, it does not help me improve my Korean!
I have wanted to learn Korean since I was in high school and I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity to study it here in Korea. I hope you will all have this opportunity one day, but if you want to get a head start on learning your language of choice, my best recommendation is to start watching movies or television shows in that language with English subtitles. This does not work for everyone, but many people I know including myself, taught themselves Korean this way!
I also recommend finding out if your school or your public library offers free online language learning programs. I used one from my public library and I found it very useful. If you can, take a class on the language. Last, but not least, try and find a friend who speaks it, maybe they would be willing to teach you! Languages are difficult, but it is very rewarding to be able to speak to someone in their own language, to be able to meet someone you might not have met otherwise. What languages would you all like to learn to speak?