Did I ever think I would be learning Korean?

Ha. No.

Yet. Here we are.

It’s only taken about 4 months for me to go from completely illiterate, to being able to read at the pre-school level.

Please tell me you read that as sarcastic.

If it sounds like I am frustrated with my progress, it’s because I am.


I came to Korea knowing essentially nothing about the language.

I sort of  knew that “Annyong” meant “Hello” but that’s only because I’ve watched Arrested Development about 10 million times. And there’s a running joke where the family mistakes their adopted Korean brother’s name for Annyong. (Fun fact! Annyong isn’t even the correct way to say hello unless you’re talking to like a baby or a dog or something.)

I definitely didn’t know how to spell it or or read it, or what it sounded like with authentic Korean pronunciation even.

But everyone says immersion is the best way to learn a language and I have to say after these past months I definitely agree. Especially since I don’t live in Seoul, not a lot of people speak English. So I have three options:

  1. Make a close Korean friend, then drag them everywhere and treat them as a personal unpaid translator
  2. Play charades
  3. Speak Korean

Option number one presents significant drawbacks. First I would have to make a close Korean friend. Which is hard…when the main problem is that I don’t speak Korean…Not only that, but then I have to convince them to follow me around, for free, and translate things for me. While seemingly the most convenient, this is also the most impractical solution.

Option number two, charades, is definitely something I use frequently. You would honestly be amazed with what I can communicate simply by miming. I really feel as though I am living up to the “Most Likely to Become an Actress” superlative that I won in 8th grade when I successful communicate something solely by acting it out. It also doesn’t hurt that I, as my high school students like to say, “have a loud face!” (What they actually mean is that I am expressive) This gets tiring quick though, and there is a large margin of error.

Option number three is the most terrifying, but ultimately the most rewarding. I hate speaking in another language. I know I make a ton of mistakes, and I know I sound funny. Yet, its the fastest, most accurate way to get my point across. The drawbacks are many Koreans WILL laugh at you when they hear you speaking Korean. Which is incredibly demoralizing.

Now the one thing that has helped me more than anything when learning how to speak Korean is knowing the Korean alphabet aka Hangul. Korean IS an ALPHABET. It’s not like Chinese where there is a different picture for every word. It’s a real alphabet with spelling and everything. The thing is though, the sounds of this alphabet are for the most part, different than English.

That’s why reading has become so important, because if I read a word in Korean there’s a way larger chance I will pronounce it right. I would even go as far to say that the Korean alphabet makes more sense logically than the English alphabet. Once you know how to read Hangul, the English alphabet seems unnecessarily complicated.

My Korean still has a long way to go, but I can say with confidence that I CAN speak Korean. At an elementary level, but I can do it. I can also read, write and understand it. Much to the dismay of my kids who can’t say everything they want anymore because there’s the chance I’ll understand them now. Especially my high school-ers.

If you’re interested in knowing the basics of the Korean alphabet, check out this cartoon:

Learn to Read Korean in 15 Minutes

It helped me A LOT. While you won’t be fluent, you’ll be able to understand the basic patterns and sounds that make up Korean by the end of it. I promise.

And now, because I like showing off, a small demonstration of my skills (with the translation of course):

안녕하세요! 로라 이에요. 미국 사람 이에요. 24 살입니다. 영어  선생님이에요. 초등학교과  고등학교를 가르친어요. 한국 음식 좋아해요. 한국 영화도. 진짜야! 욱자에 재미있다. 제이크 질렌할이 새로운 한국 영화에 출연했습니다 (욱자). 봐세요. 주세요. 내 남자 친구가 고칱거야. 그가 이것을 읽는지모르겠다. 아마.

(Hello! My name is Laura, I am American and 24 years old. I am an English Teacher, I teach elementary school and high school. I like Korean food and Korean movies too. Really! Okja is a good movie. Jake Gyllenhaal is in the new Korean movie (Okja). See it! Please! My boyfriend will correct all the mistakes in this. Actually, I don’t know if he reads this. Maybe.)

Yeah. Okay. So maybe I’m not writing the next great Korean novel anytime soon, but I spelled Jake Gyllenhaal out in Korean all on my own so I will take that as a win in itself.

My Korean sucks, that chunk of text is probably riddled with mistakes. But moral of this post? My Korean is definitely better than it was back in February.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. sullykathy says:

    This is so interesting!! I bet you are doing better than you think. I took Russian in high school so I understand the being able to read the language but not being good at speaking it. I could read it OK but speaking was so difficult. I bet you get better everyday. I also agree – Okja is a good movie.


  2. maria says:

    Great post! I’m on year three of learning Chinese here and it’s still a challenge haha.


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