한국 말을 잘 하세요!

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Another week, another class with no actual “learning.” Instead, we went out and got coffee and a melon filled with yogurt. I ate the melon while they focused on the yogurt. And talked at length about my being single along with the program director’s own bachelorhood.

I’m not too disappointed with the lack of learning though, as I’ve been crashing at the academy around 3-4 nights a week with the sole purpose of vocabulary expansion. So these past couple of classes had been more learning about Korean culture, with a break from cramming thrown into the mix as an added bonus.

So all in all, no complaints. My teacher said that she thinks I’ll have a great grasp on the langauge in a year’s time if I keep up my enthusiasm and willingness to learn. This is a hurdle I can climb, since I’m already climbing it.

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And I can’t help but feel that her optimism in me is on point. The evidence being how, while on a stint at Byeonsan Bando National Park, a fellow mountain climber complimented me on my Korean!

This is amazing on two counts. One: literally the only thing I said to him was “안녕 하세요,” which is a respectful way of saying “hello” in Korean. While I don’t personally think being able to say “Hi” in Korean is all that great (especially after living here for over a year), the fact that he was impressed with my pronounciation is comforting. I try very hard to make everything I say sound as Korean as possible.

Reason number two is even more impressive however. See, the man said I spoke Korean very well. But he said it in Korean. Meaning I heard him say something in Korean that I had no prompting of. I mean, I can follow most conversations I’m involved in, but often I have some kind of clue as to how said conversation is going to go.  Cashiers are likely to ask me if I want a bag or the receipt. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined a native Korean complimenting my ability with the language. Especially a random stranger that I had no thought of communicating with.

(Especially after my boss told me on Wednesday that I needed to make some Korean friends to practice my Korean on. Apparently he felt it is lacking.)

The icing on the cake is how, not only could I follow what this man was saying, but I also had an answer ready for him in a matter of moments! “아니요, 한국 말을 잘 모라요” (“No, I speak Korean very poorly). And yes, I fully recognize the futility in trying to downplay your ability in a foreign langauge while simultaneously both understanding and speaking in said langauge.

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I’m not saying I’m great (again, all I really managed to say was “Hi”), but I am starting to think my faith in myself isn’t all hot air. One of the toughest things about both teaching and learning a foreign langauge is the plain fact that you never really know if it’s working. I pass my vocabulary tests every time, but those wins can also be attributed to rote memorization. Being able to listen to, understand, and then respond to someone speaking about you, on the other hand, is the real deal. That, my friends, is an accomplishment.

Not to mention how plain impressed my teacher was with my willingness to travel to a small coastal town like 부안 (Buan) all by myself in an ill-fated attempt to make it to the beach. Tackling a small town and its local bus system solo while saddled with a serious langauge barrier is apparently a lot more impressive than I give myself credit for.

My teacher’s amazement doesn’t seem to just be pandering either. She expressed concern over her own ability to navigate a small town’s bus system, and she’s a native! This concern seems based in reality too, as a fellow (bus) passenger was clearly from a bigger Korean city and even she had no clue what was happening on said bus. Of course she had the option to ask a local, whereas I just followed what the locals were doing.

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