Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Korean Class

When I first got to Seoul, I walked around hungry for two days because I could not figure out what was safe to eat, and more importantly, how to ask for anything.  Pointing and grunting seemed rude (until I got really hungry).

There is no guessing what anything means in Korea, the way you can bluff your way around Europe.  Bathroom is hwa-jang-shil (not toilette), Family is Kah-jok (not familia).  And some sounds in English, such as "I,"  don't exist here, so my name -- Michael -- is pronounced more like Ma-EE-Keul.  It looks like this:

I took a beginner's class in DC at the Korean Embassy last summer, but somehow in the midst planning a wedding and working full time, I managed to show up late and without my homework often, and I remember feeling like the slow kid, making the same mistakes over and over again.

My teacher,  aka "san-seng-nim"

I did learn the alphabet, which is a good start.  Hangul, as its called, was designed in the 15th century as a departure from hanja, the Chinese characters that were used. It's phonemic and meant to be more accessible to regular people, most of whom were illiterate at the time. Koreans are very proud of its clean lines and simple logic and they have a holiday each year to celebrate its creation.

My class - composed of students from
Russia, China, France, Hong Kong,
Vietnam, Canada, and me (USA)
Once you learn the 14 basic consonants and 10 vowels, you can start sounding things out.  The next challenge is knowing what anything means.

In my class now, we are finally learning actual sentences, fun little phrases like:  Is that your water? This is my cellphone! That person over there, who is that?

I still don't know how to understand answers to most of my questions, but the language is becoming a little more than noise to me now, and I am having fun asking.


  1. hi Michael,
    I've enjoyed reading your blog so far. fyi Just noticed under "Why South Korea?" an error in the 4th paragraph-- "Here in this city of high rises and 23 million people"
    I think you meant to say 13 million.
    Look forward to learning more about South Korea from your firsthand experience.

  2. Hi - Sorry I just saw this post. I have seen the population of Greater Seoul estimated at 23 million. Not sure how wide an area that is, though. Thanks for staying tuned in!!

  3. Good job with your Korean studies. As long as you learn at least a couple new words each day, then you'll be speaking decent Korean in no time.

    Study well! Or as they say in Korean, "수고 하세요!"

  4. Looking all through your blog so far... haha :)
    It's so nice of you to try to understand Korea while you're staying here.
    I'm really looking forward to seeing you and working with you tomorrow!
    from Eun Ae Cho :)