Many English-speaking foreigners I come into contact with in South Korea speak very little to no Korean yet a lot of them have been living in the country sometimes for years. The longest I’ve known someone to live here and not know more than about 5 phrases is about 8 years. Now as a fellow English speaker, I know that there we can definitely get by with little problem if we know little Korean, however I’d be lying through my teeth if I said knowing a fair amount doesn’t make my life much easier. So, here are some benefits of learning Korean while living in Korea:
1. You can retain some of your dignity.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who resort to using hand motions and acting things out in order to say very simple things. For example if you’re at a restaurant and you want them to remove something from the dish (like onions), all you have to do is say “양파 빼 주세요” but I’ve seen fully grown adults turn into air traffic controllers trying to accomplish such a simple task.
2. Accomplishing daily tasks will be easier.
I see this over and over again on Facebook groups that I am apart of. A will need to go to a pharmacy for some simple medicine, or to a doctor over a minor illness or to get their hair cut or buy clothes/products etc. However, because they live in not Seoul, they find it very had to accomplish such simple tasks because they don’t know simple phrases like “It hurts here” or “Do you sell deodorant?” or “Please give me medicine for a cough” so they must go to the internet to find the answer through a more experienced foreigner who has been here longer. I’ve also watched people not be able to figure out how to get from point A to B simply because they couldn’t go up to a bus driver and ask “Does this bus go to X?” which again, is not a very difficult phrase.
3. You will know what your co-workers are saying about you.
You would be surprised at how freely Koreans will speak about you when they think you don’t understand them. I’m ridiculously good at playing the ignorant foreigner card around Koreans when they are talking about my height, hair, debating my nationality etc. People all over the world are more comfortable when they think they can’t be heard/understood. Everyone knows that Korea is a very face-saving society and often people will talk indirectly or covertly and contrary to what many foreigners think, they will sometimes do it in front of you, but trust me, nothing is more hilarious than the moment a Korean is saying something rude and they realize you understood them.
4. You will know what your students are saying.
Kids are kids. At some point they are bound to say something smart especially if they think the foreign teacher can’t understand. My students (who are far from bad) would sometimes do this. For a long time I would sit and pretend not to understand them, then I started replying to them in English. At first they were a little suspicious because they thought “No way she understands Korean” and then after a while they realized I did. Guess what happened? Smartassness was greatly reduced. Whenever one would think about leaning over to complain about the task just given to them they would stop and say “Nothing teacher” because they knew I would understand them. You can also get them for using 반말 in regards to speaking about you. This isn’t a huge deal to me, but my boss will go crazy if they use 반말 to speak to me so when one of them is being especially difficult I call them out on it and they shut it up. On a more positive side, it can help you to connect with kids who have much lower English levels and want to talk to you but can’t in English. Many of my students will start out speaking English, then throw in a phrase or two in Korean because their English isn’t good enough yet. However, I’ve never spoken Korean with them.
5. You can deal with Koreans being rude to you.
At some point in Korea, you are going to encounter some Korean being rude to you in some capacity. I’ve heard of people being bothered during daylight hours by Koreans on the street. One girl had a man come up to her in broad daylight and try to take her hand and some Korean man had to stop him. I also know a girl who had a taxi driver try to kiss her in the middle of the day when she was in a cab. I read a story about a male teacher who would be harassed by the same mentally challenged kid everyday on his way to work. People will have problems with someone trying to rip them off because they are not Korean etc. I was out buying winter gloves once with a Korean friend and I went up a grabbed some gloves and said “How much are these?” but could see the price on it. Wouldn’t you know this man tried to peel the sticker off in front of me (and my friend) and say they were 5,000 won more expensive? I ended up getting them for the sticker price but that tickled me pink.
6. You can hang up your “Is there an English-speaking….” belt.
I see this phrase everywhere. People expect everything in Korea to have an English-speaking version for it. I’m American, and there ain’t a Korean-speaking version of anything in most of the US. You can probably find a lot of stuff for Chinese but Korean? Nope. I can’t for the life of me understand why some many English speakers expect their to be an English version of stuff in Korea. Also, did you know that if a Korean speaks English, they can charge higher prices for the same services to foreigners than a Korean just for knowing English? Now, this isn’t all bad. I can understand wanting an English speaking doctor for more serious things, but you do not need an English speaking doctor if you have a head cold. A Korean one will suffice. This is often taken so far that people will avoid using simple conveniences because they aren’t in English. For example, the Korail phone app. Of all the teachers I know, not one has this application. It’s basically a way to buy and refund all of your Korail train tickets. You can purchase them on the phone app from anywhere and hop right on. I got it when I first came and couldn’t read it at all, but it has pictures that are self-explanatory and I use it, a lot.
7. You’ll get all kinds of praise for it.
And maybe build some relationships. Since learning some Korean and speaking it when I’m out and about, I’ve found that Koreans really enjoy hearing it. They often assume I can’t speak any, and are very plesantly surprised when they realize I can. Just like how they are so excited when you can eat Korean food well or use chopsticks well. Someone once told me that they hated when Koreans clapped and complimented their use of Korean because if felt condescending to them (and I’ve experienced the same) but I’ve also improved relationships with people in the two around me. They will greet me, try to help me out and often times give me a “service” as good faith. If you live in Korea, you know that Koreans can be very kind, but I’ve found the level of kindness is increased when they that you’ve taken an interest in learning something about them.
8. You can learn another language.
How can this be a negative thing? I’ve heard people say “Korean isn’t really that useful outside of Korea” and that’s fine and dandy, but you’ve been here for 6 years and you still think there is no point in learning some of it? Also, how can you gauge how useful something is if you’ve never attempted it? If you have the time, why not learn a language? 30 minutes of Korean a day for a few years and you would at least be on the intermediate level. What is the downside of learning another language? If you have a bit of time to do it, why not? Many of my Korean students often complain about having to learn English. I remind that learning a language is a skill that can only add benefit to your life. It can not reflect on you negatively and who knows, it might open your eyes to somethings you didn’t already know.
So that’s my list. I’d like to hear other peoples opinions on learning Korean while living in Korea. Do you think it is beneficial or not worth it? Why?
Going to the hospital in Korea can be a very interesting experience. It is very much unlike doctor offices in the west. Many N.E.S. here in Korea often look for the a “English-speaking” doctor whenever they get sick. This is usually not the most difficult task if you live in Seoul or in Busan. However, it can be an impossible feat if you live outside the big cities. So, through having to drag myself to the doctors office, I learned a lot of simple phrases to help you make it through a routine visit. Many of these phrases can also be used at a pharmacy if you want to drop by to get some medicine. Unlike in the U.S. you have to tell them what’s wrong with you and they will give you a recommended medicine. To hear phrases spoken, watch the YouTube video or paste them into Google translate and hit the speaker button.
The first thing you have to do when you go to a doctor’s office in Korea is fill out a card. It’s the standard fare: Name, Date of Birth,Address, Social Security number.
In Korean, name is written as 이름 or 성함(honorfically).
You will need your DOB or 생년월일 as well.
Address is 주소 which is pretty simple and easy to member.
Finally you have your SSN which is your 주민번호 and is located on your ARC card.
Once you’ve made it through this, the person at the desk will usually ask you what’s wrong with you. In Korean, it is written as:
It literally means “What’s wrong with you?”
Let’s go through a list of simple responses:
My head hurts.
My eye hurts.
My ear hurts.
My neck/throat hurts.
My hand hurts.
My wrist hurts.
My arm hurts.
My back hurts.
My chest hurts.
My waist hurts.
My stomach hurts.
My leg hurts.
My knee hurts.
My ankle hurts.
My foot hurts.
I caught a cold.
I have a stuffy nose.
I have a runny nose.
I have a cough.
I threw up. I vomited.
I have indegestion.
소화가 안 돼요.
I have bad menstrual cramps.
I have diarrhea.
This list contains so VERY simple ways to say that you are hurt/sick that will help you get through the process of seeing a doctor very quickly. Once you’ve told the nurse your problems, you will need to sit down and wait. While you are waiting, the nurses begin to type in your information and can check the status of your insurance through your social security number. Some teachers end up finding out they have no insurance the moment they go to use it. If the nurse can’t find your insurance she will most likely say:
보험이 안 되는데요.
This means: “I don’t think you have insurance”. So, they have entered the information in several times and the system has turned up nothing. This phrase will most likely be followed by:
비쌀 것 같아요.
This means: “I think it will be expensive”. If you are an American like me, you know prices to see doctors in Korea are ridiculously cheap for routine things like minor sicknesses. I’ve found that treatment fees will be around 30-40k without insurance which isn’t a big deal to me.
There are some possible responses to this revelation of no insurances.
1. “I have insurance”. 보험이 있는데요.
2. “I’m sorry? Please check it again”. 네? 다시 확인해 주세요.
3.“I know. I will pay for it.” 알아요. 지불할게요.
Knowing these small phrases can help you get in and out of a doctor’s office with zero problems and they are not difficult to learn. Even if you are not someone who plans on studying Korean seriously, it can definitely come in handy to learn small phrases.
One of the first thing I noticed in Korea is that at a lot of stores there aren’t always cashiers present at the front. Being born and raised in the US, this is strange because there is usually money in the register and it is considered good customer service to always be ready at alert to check out customers. However, I learned in Korea that this is not always so.
For the first year since I’ve come to Korea, I didn’t even realize there was a Korean phrase for calling a cashier when you were ready to check out. I just simply stood their and waited figuring someone would come to check eventually. I’m not saying that I ever had to wait a long time, however, knowing this simple little phrase has made things so much easier. The phrase is:
It is pronounced “gyae-san-ee-yo” in Korean, however it’s best to learn to read Hangul in order to make sure you are pronouncing it correctly. The meaning of this phrase is literally “calculate” but means “check me out” or “I want to pay” or “ring this up.” 계산 means calculation in Korean. In verb form 계산하다 is correct. Another word that uses 계산 is the Korean word for calculator which is 계산기.
I decided to start off the Bit of Korean series with this because the first thing most foreigners do when they touch down in Korea is attempt to eat. You can easily learn words like ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ or ‘thank you’ from a book, but for some reason, I’ve never seen this phrase written in any of my Korean books.
Whip this baby out the next time that kimbap cheonguk ajumma has disappeared from view and you will surely get checked out in a timely manner.
Hope you found this useful!