I can now write like a kindergartener in Korean! I wrote an essay in class that said, “Hi. This person is an American Singer. His name is Jason Derulo. Jason is a handsome man. I’m a Jason Derulo fan.”
Once while I was out this week, I was studying my Korean flash cards while waiting on a friend, and a Korean girl read them over my shoulder and laughed (playfully, not condescendingly). I suppose it’s pretty silly to see someone studying words like “dog” and “cat” in the language spoken in the country in which you are located.
My guesstimate would be that about 10% of Seoul residents speak fluent English, and 50% know enough to interact with tourists in the context of their trade.
Those who do speak English well often go above and beyond foreigners. In Hongdae this week, a woman saw my friends and I struggling with a map (looking for the sheep cafe of which we knew the address), and she went out of her way to escort us all the way there.
Later this week, a non-international student in my math class befriended me by offering to give me some study materials. When he emailed them to me, he said “Please understand me about speaking and writing english not well. Today’s talk is my first conversation with foreigner. So I was nervous in talking with you, but I want to be your friend.” First of all, this was precious. Secondly, his English is solid enough to take Numerical Analysis- I would consider that highly proficient.
While I can appreciate that it’s convenient that I speak English since it’s such a universal language, it’s disappointing to not relate to the struggles of others. People around me are taking difficult courses in their second language, and I have no idea what that’s like. It makes me want to live in a non-English-speaking country long enough to use the native language more than English.
Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time here to get to the point where communication in Korean is at all smooth, and for the sake of time, Koreans often revert to English for me. That said, I can order food now without pointing and write about Jason Derulo, so I’ll take it!