Studying Korean

When I first came to Korea, I was among the disgruntled many when it came to the idea of studying Korean. Unlike some, I did learn the alphabet and had that mastered for a long time. When it came to learning words though, I barely tried. There are quite a few BIG reasons for this. First of all, Korean is difficult (duh). Secondly, you don’t *need* to speak Korean to live here fairly comfortably. Last, and I think most importantly, is the lack of positive feedback from Koreans.

I’m going to elaborate on that last point. When you first come to Korea (and even after), there will be some who are like…WOW you can say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ This tends to rub me the wrong way because it comes off almost like praise for a dog. Okay, so beyond pleasantries…let’s say you’ve mastered some basic conversation. First of all…you MUST use the correct pronunciation and accent or else you get SO MANY blank/confused stares. Trust me; it’s not easy. The younger generation is nicer to talk to, typically. However, for a lot of Koreans, especially older generations, they seem to approach you speaking Korean as a test. So if you start out with basic conversation, they will keep upping the vocabulary and grammar (this is also to show that they are smart) until you stumble. So in summary, while most Westerners just try to understand you if you’re speaking English, Koreans will either look at you like you’re speaking Alien or they’ll try to test you’re ability to prove how much smarter they are.

You can use chopsticks???  (image source)

You can use chopsticks??? (image source)

Side note, did I mention the jerk of a teacher I had at my old school? He would come up to my desk and say hello to me (in Korean). I would reply back, and he would LAUGH IN MY FACE. It wasn’t like this fool did it one time. He did it for like a week straight. It only stopped when I would consistently keep my headphones in my ears and pretend to look busy.

Korean for 'hello'  (found on this website)

Korean for ‘hello’ (image source)

Moving on… As I said, the younger generation is a bit nicer when it comes to speaking Korean but none of them are used to slowing down for someone. I’ve been self-studying Korean for about 8 months now; but I’ve really only been focusing for the last 4 months (as in studying daily). Anyway, in my self study, I have started to review words in Google Translate (instead of just relying on MS Word for spell check). I often mix up my vowels when I’m studying; like switching the ‘u’ (ㅜ) with ‘o’ (ㅗ). In English, this isn’t a big deal; you just spelled a word wrong and now you have word that doesn’t exist. Not the case in Korean. I was typing the word ‘mainly’, switched the ‘o’ and ‘u’, and ended up with the word for ‘premature ejaculation.’ Hahahaha…I’m just glad I learned it in typing before I tried to use it in a conversation.

Anyone else have a similar or different experience (or just gave up)? I’m definitely curious to know!



  1. Its not praise for a dog. It is the way Koreans treat the mentally handicapped. I’ve had the comparison made directly to me before.

    1. ugh…I can totally see that. The condescendence here is just beyond frustrating.

  2. It is the same here in Japan.
    I get praised for being able to use chopsticks, by people I have been eating lunch with for 3 years.
    I also get told my Japanese is very good when I say hello, thank you etc.

    One of the most frustrating things for me is people trying to speak the little English they know at you during a Japanese conversation.
    They will say everything in Japanese except the numbers, or left or right, or basically the easy bits which I can understand.
    Pick a language and stick to it !

    1. The same people for 3 years still praise you?! That’s pretty epic (and funny)…and I think true for some people here. At least Japanese will try to help you with an occasional English word (I have met very few Koreans who have done that)…I’m sure it can be frustrating, though.

  3. Simon and Martina (from made a good point about speaking Korean. Even if you could speak it fluently you might get the same amount of praise and a jaw-dropping experience.

    1. Yeah, I’ve read from some people who are really good at Korean and are just as frustrated with the ‘complimenting.’ This one person described the experience of speaking to an older Korean man who at first praised the Korean ability, but then just kept raising the grammar and vocabulary. When he saw that the ‘foreigner’ could keep up with it all, he grew frustrated and left.

  4. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Interesting that you are from Texas as well, I will be moving to Gwangju South Korea in February with my boyfriend (and our dog).

  5. I remember walking into my Level 2 Korean class at Sogang University and the prof. said “many of you think you’re good at speaking Korean. Other Koreans will say ‘wow you speak Koreans so well’ after you say hello. When you graduate from our program and reach level 6 then you can say you speak Korean well. Right now you don’t speak Korean well” I LOVED THAT PROF. Keep up with your studies. And thanks for the comment on my blog 😉

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