Life in Korea: 10 things you’ll appreciate more when you learn Korean

LEARNING Korean is a struggle for most foreigners – and it’s definitely a tough language to learn. There’s a reason why it’s considered a critical language for the U.S. State Department. Knowing Korean – and more importantly passing their test – gives you extra consideration in that hiring process. Even if you’re not American, there are at least 10 things you’ll come to appreciate more when you learn Korean:

1. Koreans are aware of the social issues in Korea – and are actively campaigning or demanding change. It’s too easy to pass by the signs and flags demanding such, since they’re not written in English.

2. People aren’t really talking about you that much – even if you hear waygook-this or waygookin-that. The caveat: if you’re in the countryside, they probably are talking about you more often than you think – maybe you specifically, and maybe just foreigners in generally, but especially if traveling off the beaten path.

3. Eavesdropping gets to be more interesting the bigger your vocabulary gets – especially since they’ll assume you’re unable to understand what they’re talking about.

4. Public announcements – especially on the subway, Korean websites, or travel websites. If all you’re looking at are English-language versions, you’re missing anything the translator didn’t get paid to write.


5. Coupons, sales, point cards, specials, and shopping on Korean websites. If you’ve been living in Korea for more than a few months, you’ve probably built up some points and don’t even know it. Ask at your bank – some programs have English guides, but they’ll all have the Korean guides.

6. Meaningful conversations with a local – sure, you can chat up a local in English at various language exchanges, but you’re limited by whoever has the weaker second language. Talking in Korean means you get exposed to their full vocabulary – and you can always look up the words you don’t know using a smartphone or translation device.

7. Entertainment – movies and video games, and maybe even K-pop if that’s your thing. How many times have you watched two guys playing Starcraft and wondered ’what the heck are they doing?’. The Korean movies worth watching sometimes have English subtitles, but understanding the Korean means understanding the nuances often lost in translation.

8. Food! Whether you’re watching TV or overhearing recommendations, you’ll be able to figure out where the savvy locals go when they have the choice, rather than where they end up out of convenience. That you’ll also be able to read and understand the Korean means you’ll avoid issues where the menu is ‘selectively translated’ into English (skewed towards the higher price stuff, naturally).

9. Travel – and more importantly directions. Until the Korea Tourism Organization gets their English-language site together, you’re better off using a Korean site or Naver Maps to find your way. This goes triple if you get off the beaten path – there’s often little English.

10. You’ll appreciate the accidental humor you’d otherwise pass right by. Two examples seen around Seoul recently:

A poison clinic? We didn’t want to ask.

OK, this one may have been an accident, but you’d think ‘1001 Glasses’ would have a phone number that matched…

So how to learn Korean? I’ll humbly recommend my e-book, Korean Made Easy, as being one possibility of many – head to your local bookstore for plenty more options.