South Korea: Learning the Local Language

Bao Yang is a student at Mount Mary College and a Classmates Connecting Cultures Blogger corresponding with the Social Work Club at Mount Mary. Bao is currently studying abroad with ISA in Seoul, Korea.

Can you see the mixture of English and Korean? A clash of the old and new society.
Can you see the mixture of English and Korean? A clash of the old and new society.

What’s the need for there to be so many different languages in the world? Wouldn’t it be easier if the world spoke only one language? But of course, that would require the people of the world to have the same culture. After all, language distinguish one group from another. Otherwise, we would all be grouped into Asians, Caucasians, Africans and so on. By the way, these race groups (Asians, Caucasians etc.) don’t exist; only ethnicity and culture exist.

But aside from ethnicity, languages distinguish age. Every country has teenage slang. Why do we have teenage slang? So our parents wouldn’t understand us of course! This is also true about the texting language. Emoticons, lol, gtg, OMG – teens created them and we continue to pass them on to the next generation, further annoying parental units.

The sustainability of the texting language also gives us insight into the world that we live in. It would be impossible for the texting language to spread as it does without the rise of electronic communication and the accessibility of it by the masses. If texting was only for the rich, no one would use the texting language, but it’s not. It is also for the huge middle class of the world and it is growing even in third world countries.

King Sejung who created Hangul (Korean written language)
King Sejong who created Hangul (Korean written language)

But I digress, I am in South Korea and I am learning Korean. A little background on the Korean language: The Korean written language was created by King Sejong in 1446. Before this, the written language used in the Korean nations was Chinese. Chinese is a hard language and only the aristocrats could learn the language since they were the only ones to have the time to study it. Korean consonants are based on the shape the mouth makes when pronouncing the character. Korean vowels are poetically created after the shapes: sky (.), flat earth (–) and standing person (). (Let’s learn Konkuk Korean, 2011, p.3).

I believe that learning any language outside of English is rather difficult, because English has many words to create a sentence. For example, in English one would say, “Is everything okay?”, in Korean one simple have to ask, “괜찮아요?” This issue made me realize that to learn a different language one simply can’t just learn it, one has to think and understand the language like a native speaker. In Korean, don’t think of the sentence as “I am going to school,” think “ I to be school is going.” Subject then object then verb. “저 는 학교에 가요.”

Mouse Rabbit is a Korean cafe. My K-pop loving friend says a K-pop idol owns this store, yet they chose to use English, because it's "cooler" according to them.
Mouse Rabbit is a Korean cafe. My K-pop loving friend says a K-pop idol owns this store, yet they chose to use English, because it’s “cooler” according to them.

What I am most fascinated by is the Korean language in society; or rather the equally dominant English everywhere. Most stores have English names rather than Korean names. Understandably, I know some stores originate in English speaking countries, therefore the store name will be in English. Second, I rarely, rarely see any clothing with Korean words on it, while it is a common sight to see Koreans wearing shirts with English on them. Lastly, English is used in popular Korean songs. This goes to show the influence of the western countries in South Korea. But the globalization of English in South Korea is one where English is interwoven with the local culture, not where western language dominates. Koreans still mostly speak Korean not English.

Reference: Konkuk University Language Institute. (2011). Let’s learn Konkuk Korean together 1-1(1st. ed.). Seoul, South Korea: Konkuk University Press

2 thoughts

  1. Thank you for your lesson on Korean language. You make an excellent point about the fascinating mixture of culture, age cohort, and language, which makes learning a language both challenging and terrifically interesting. Your photos nicely document the points that you are teaching about the incorporation of the English language in South Korean language and society. Again, thank you for sharing this insight from your study abroad experience, Bao.

  2. Interesting introductions about Korean culture and language! For English speakers Korean may be difficult to learn because the two languages are widely different from each other. Korea is one of the most active participants of globalization and westernization I think, and Korean fashion and pop culture have many fans around the globe. But at the same time Koreans also have maintained their tradition very well, seen from various historical sites…a good combination of modernity and tradition.

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