No, I Can’t Speak Korean So Please Stop Asking

I’m tired of people asking me if I’m fluent in Korean yet.

I get it, though. I’ve been living in Korea for almost 2 years and I spend most of my time around folks whose native language is Korean. I get why you’d assume that my Korean is on point.

It’s not because I didn’t make an effort to learn Korean. I taught myself how to read Korean before I came to Korea, which was fairly easy to do. Once I was here,  I faithfully went to Korean classes twice a week for about a year in an attempt to learn the language. So it’s not that I don’t know any Korean. In fact, I tend to understand a lot more than I can speak because I spent most of the time in my Korean class confused trying to understand what the hell was going on. (The class was taught in Korean so you know I was lost in the sauce for a while, but it definitely helped with my listening and comprehension skills.) I also have amazing co-teachers who always answer my questions about grammar, teach me different phrases, and are available for me to practice my Korean if I wish. But no, I’m not fluent.

Learning Korean is one thing and actually using it is another. And while learning in a classroom is cool and all, I’m someone who learns through practice. I want to be able to use what I’m learning in the real world. Otherwise, what’s the point?? But here’s the thing: every time I try to use Korean outside of the classroom, people almost always respond in English!! **except for older people, like 60+**

Once again, I get it. Koreans begin learning English in elementary school, but rarely get the chance to practice what they’ve learned outside of the classroom because everyone is speaking Korean. So when they see someone like me, who’s CLEARLY not Korean, they view it as an opportunity to get a little bit of English practice.

I’m not mad at it. It’s kind of the same thing that I’m doing. But it doesn’t help me practice my Korean and learn to use it authentically. I don’t want to learn a language so I can speak to myself, I want to talk to other people!! So after a while, I stopped trying as much. I’ll practice using my little phrases with my homie at the 7/11 who always asks me if I want a receipt in Korean.

There’s also the reactions that I get from Koreans when I use Korean. I usually encounter two extremes: either people overreact immensely at your use of Korean or they try to play you. And both reactions are kind of annoying. For example, it’s really awkward when someone claps, gasps in amazement, and tells me how good my Korean is just because I said hell0 in Korean. Huh?? It’s not difficult and doesn’t require effort. And it’s definitely not worthy of applause. On the other hand, I also don’t need you snickering and laughing if I say something in Korean and the pronunciation may be a little off. I’d never make fun of someone who’s going out of their way to try and communicate with me in English and I’m going to go above and beyond to try and understand them. So you getting your giggles in every time I say something is not going to make me want to keep talking.

All I’m saying is, send me the memo. If we’re laughing at grammatical errors now, LET ME KNOW so I can free up my schedule. I won’t have time for anything else if that’s the case.

And then there’s the issue of understanding too much. This was my biggest issue. You know that saying “Ignorance is bliss?” Well, there’s some truth to that.

When you don’t understand the language, you can go about your day kind of oblivious to what is being said around you. There’s no point, because you can’t understand  most of it anyway. But when you start learning more, you start understanding more. And with that understanding comes picking up on the slick shit that people are saying about you. I began to notice and understand when people were saying rude shit about the way that I look or my hair and it became hella annoying. It’s also a bit frustrating because you know that it’s pointless to even say anything about it because it won’t make a difference. You just have to “understand their unique situation.”*

*I was told to do this by someone because I should understand that Koreans are not used to foreigners. But rude is rude, no matter how you look at it.*

So I stopped putting in loads of effort to become fluent in Korean. I definitely encourage you to engage with the language in whatever way works for you. You might find that you truly enjoy it and don’t have to deal with these issues as much as I did. But I’ve found that life in Korea is a little easier FOR ME when I can’t understand everything that’s being said around me.

So please, stop asking me if I’m fluent. I’m not. And I’m cool with that.


P.S. I still have an uncanny knack for knowing when people are talking shit. It’s a gift and a curse LOL….


4 thoughts on “No, I Can’t Speak Korean So Please Stop Asking

  1. Wagtailtravel says:

    Hi Mimi
    So sorry that you had to go through all that shit actually!
    I’m kind of in the same place, though, here in Switzerland.
    I’m absolutely trying to do my best to speak German and make myself conversant. Most of the time, the students are very friendly and they help me, but some of them just laugh at me whenever I make a mistake. I know it is horrible and rude, but not everyone is luckily like that!
    Just try to tell them immediately that you want to practice your Korean and not speak English. Then, they will probably help you because they appreciate the effort you put in it.
    And try not to bother about the laughing or the gossip anymore because this just happens to anyone who tries to learn a new language.
    You’re not alone in this girl 😉




  2. Sarah says:

    Totally understand this one. I have put a lot of effort into learning Swahili but the majority of people I encounter just switch to English as soon as they see me even if their English is worse than my Swahili! It means I never get chance to practise so it can be really frustrating.

    Also, the ‘understanding too much’ thing. Yes! When they think you can’t understand why they’re laughing at you…and you do…and it hurts. Same with the ‘laughing at my pronunciation’ – at least I’m TRYING!


    Liked by 1 person

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