Wait, what Did I Just Say?
Have you ever been to a country where they don’t speak English? Or maybe just a restaurant where the menu had titles of foods that were in another language? How did you know what to order?
What does that sign say? What are these things on the menu? Where does this bus go? I never realized how much I rely on my ability to read until I came to Korea, where I can’t read anything! Simple tasks like ordering food have become much more difficult, and often end with me pointing to a random thing on the menu, hoping I chose something edible. I have grown to love menus with pictures! I have been studying the Korean alphabet, known as Hungul. I am now able to sound out words, similar to the way I did in the first grade. It is very humbling to try to navigate around a foreign country. One of the biggest difficulties I have is that once I have figured out how to say a word, I still don’t know what that word means! I always get very excited when I can read a word and know what that word means. Many people in Korea have studied English. My Korean friends at my university are excited to speak with a native English speaker, since they have been learning English since elementary school. I am extremely thankful for their willingness to speak English and to help me to speak Korean. Many Korean people are afraid to speak English with me, and although I would love it if they tried, I understand why they are hesitant. I have learned many Korean words, but I am often reluctant to use them in fear of making a mistake. I know that this is silly, because I will never improve my Korean skills if I don’t practice, but I can’t help but feeling this way. If you meet someone who does not speak English fluently, please be patient with them and know that they are doing their best to communicate with you. It is important to remember to speak slowly and choose your words wisely. Slang can be very confusing to beginner level English speakers. Shortened words like “cuz” instead of “because” will likely result in a lost look on the other’s face. I admire the Korean people for valuing language skills so highly. They realize all of the new opportunities that are opened to them when they can speak a new language. Korea is a small country, even smaller than the state of New York! Many young Korean people like to travel, but the Korean language is not commonly spoken around the world. They use their foreign language skills to help them explore new places! Our world has become much more connected in the past several years, thanks to technology like the Internet. I think that this is great! It does, however, increase the need to learn about other cultures. Many Korean people hope to get jobs outside of Korea, so they take their language learning very seriously. Those who plan to work in Korea still benefit from knowing another language, since they will likely need to communicate with people from other countries as a part of business deals. Learning a new language can be very exciting, but also kind of scary. The first time you try saying a foreign word, it will seem very strange. Don’t give up, even if you receive a few confused looking faces. If you see someone in your own country who does not speak English well, please be patient with them, speak slowly and smile. It takes time to learn a new language, but I promise to keep trying. When I go home to the United States, I will make an effort to help the confused foreigners I meet, even if it’s something small like reading a menu.