My Korean Language Journey

Over the past year or so, I’ve been studying the South Korean language (not North Korean; that’s way different) and it’s been going well!”Why Korean?” I hear you ask.

I could tell you that I had a love of Korean dramas. Or that Korea is breathtakingly beautiful and I want to go there. Or that I love the food. And all of that is true, but it came later.

The whole place!
Jeju Island is a Word Heritage Site

Honestly, the answer is a little odd. I’ve always studied random languages (usually learning nothing in the process), hoping one day to be a polyglot. I just happened to be on Korean when I finally figured out how to get good at learning languages.

Rather than drop Korean and move to another, day-to-day useful language and have to start over from scratch, I decided I’d go down the rabbit hole as far as I could. I mean, why not learn one of the most difficult languages on Earth, when you have no particular reason to , have never been there, don’t plan to go, and you don’t know the culture? What could possibly go wrong?

Well, How’d Your Language Adventure Turn Out?

I’m reaaaaally glad I did it.  I heard a lot of advice not to pick a language where you don’t know about the culture. But I ended up learning about the culture along with the language, so it turned out great.

The people I’ve met so far are kind, polite, and diligent, and I love them all.  They are very good, if very busy, friends. The food is exotic and great, even if it takes a little getting used to. I’m a sucker for all sorts of Korean dishes now. Especially Kimchi Jeyuk Bokkum.

Learn a language to eat better food!
Kimchi Jeyuk Bokkeum

Here’s a recipe.

The culture of South Korea, as I said, is fascinating, if sometimes tragic. All cultures are tragic, I suppose. I know the U.S. certainly is. Utopia means “no place” for a reason.

South Korean Culture – Oh, the Humanity!

South Korean are probably the most capitalistic society in the world. It’s really survival of the fittest, with barely any rules to level the playing field.  Most of the population lives in Seoul, which is just… so unimaginably big to me. Wow. It’s huge.

Seoul at night.

In South Korea, like the US, you have to work extremely hard just to get an interview for a good corporate intern job, but if you get it, you are expected to get certain promotions at certain ages. Most people in corporate jobs get to 39 or 40, and then miss the promotion to executive level. They’re out on  their ear, and have to work menial jobs for the rest of their life. It’s pretty unforgiving.

That means South Korea has the most highly educated and business-skilled janitors in the world! And the thing is, even if you’re one of the very few to get to the executive level, and you’ve focus your entire life on it — you’ll never get to be a C-level. All the major corporations in Korea are family owned, and all top level positions are inherited. Because of the family aspect of corporations in Korea, there are always sex scandals and government bribery scandals. Never a dull moment!

That said, South Korea is the only country in the world that I know of to use it’s legal system to oust a corrupt President. So they do have that going for them. And their health care is very inexpensive, unless you go for their gene therapies (which are some of the most advanced in the world).

Epic Koreans

I find it ironic that North Korea is the most Communist country in the world while South Korea is the most Capitalistic. My take away is this: Koreans don’t do anything half way.  They are truly epic!

Also, if you haven’t watched a Korean drama and you like romance, check it out. There’s a joke among Koreans that all their TV dramas are romances, and it’s pretty much true. Series are usually 1 season long, 16 episodes each, with a full, completely wrapped-up plot arc.  Usually episodes are 45 minutes long.

You don't need to speak the Korean language to get there, but it helps
Epic, beautiful nature!

So, How are You Progressing with the Language?

I’m getting pretty handy with rudimentary conversation, and  I have over a thousand words in my working vocabulary. But I have a long way to go to be fluent or even to understand a TV show (I can understand about 25% of one right now!). Korean’s a fun language, and I’ve made some fascinating friends and learned a lot about South Korea.

I can talk with folks about a lot of stuff, though. So I guess I’m bilingual now. I never in a million years would’ve thought my second language would be Korean. But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Soon it’ll be time to dig in deep on Japanese. I’m already messing around with it. I know hiragana, katakana, a handful of kanji, and a few dozen words, but the way I’m going at it won’t ever work. I have to shift into high gear for a few months so I can get a solid foundation to build on.  Then, if I’m lucky, maybe after a year or two of consistent work I’ll get my polyglot unlock.

Maybe by then I’ll get a novel sold to a big publisher, too! (Cross fingers)

If you’d like to see some of my fiction, check out my bibliography here.

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