Language plays a prominent role in adventures. On this adventure I have tried to learn some Korean, and noticed some progress. However, I feel caught in a stalled situation at times. On campus, my job is to speak, teach and interact in English. Socially most interactions are in English as well. During my previous experience living abroad this was not the case. I was forced to leave English behind at all times, and my fluency in the new language grew quickly. The comparison often leaves me frustrated with my Korean.
I have found 한글 (Hangeul) a wonderfully logical script to read. Yet this exposes my shortcomings at times. Walking around town, looking at ingredients, or scanning a newspaper I am able to read and create all the sounds with a decent level of proficiency. I don’t easily get lost because I can always read signs. However, I will read a poster or notice with near perfect pronunciation, but if it’s missing any of my key vocabulary words I won’t have a clue what says. When teaching I may ask students to orally give me a Korean word – attempting to expand my vocabulary – and I will correctly write it in Hangeul without assistance. This often elicits claps and cheers for my ability, but I quickly use the occasion as a teachable moment on my shortcomings and their strengths. I explain they are witnessing the near full extent of my Korean: my understanding of pronunciation and writing Hangeul. Throw in my ability to say “maekchu juseyo” or “dong-dong-ju juseyo” and I’m almost expended. I then explain that their fluency in English is much more developed. I try to encourage them to express themselves more, ask more questions and not be as shy as many appear to be initially. Generally, the “maekchu juseyo” line lightens the mood and students will talk more.
Experiences have reinforced the power of language to connect people by more than words. Students, shopkeepers and Koreans in general are so very kind to begin with, then attempting Korean brings on excitement, encouragement and makes the encounter even more positive. Also, it has been a pleasure to get to know those who have been so patient and helpful in teaching me. Unfortunately, I have not been under the same stress to learn and express myself as when I first learned a second language. With approximately two months left I will have to keep hitting the books, practice the phrases and push myself not to rest on the crutch of English.
Anglais may be great at getting one by, but it alone can only get one so far in connecting with a different culture.