Welcome to Linguistics and Korea

Ever wondered why Koreans speak "bad English"?
Why it's so hard to learn Korean?
Why it's so hard to have "normal" conversations with Koreans?
Why it's so hard to fit in with Korean culture and society?
We don't claim to have the perfect answer to these questions, just a few hints that we hope will clarify the situation.
If you have questions, comments or suggestions, we'd be happy to hear from you. Email us at raphael.hadid [at] gmail [dot] com

Complaints foreigners make when they communicate with Koreans

Communicating with any cultural group we don't belong to can be uncomfortable. Cultural groups are not limited to "race" or "ethnicity", nationality, social class, gender, age, religious affiliation etc. etc. are all determining factors in one's culture, and anyone who has to deal with someone "different" will feel "uneasy" communicating.

Here are the most common complaints people make when communicating with different people:

1- I did not say anything wrong... why does he keep interrupting me?
While when we communicate with people who belong to our group we always know why we're being interrupted, when communicating with strangers we don't. In Korea, interruptions have to do with two factors:
-mentioning a taboo topic
-talking longer than we should.

Each culture defines taboos and the amount of time we should speak differently. In Korea, cultural, political, religious or social issues are taboo when addressing someone we do not know well. "Showing off" economic or social status is also taboo, therefore Koreans will feel uneasy if you give long explanations on how you got to that ivy league school or how everyone at your company respects you. The rest depends on people's idiosyncrasies. Some people do not want to hear about that church you attend, while others do. Some want to know about your the daily difficulties you have adapting to Korean life, but most don't.

As for talking longer than you should, some questions require longer answers in foreign languages but require shorter answer in Korean. Questions asking "do you like..." are often "yes" questions, meaning that Koreans do not expect your answer to be anything other than yes. Foreigners often complain that Koreans ask them their opinion on a topic, and interrupt them as soon as they start elaborating their opinion. When Koreans ask someone his or her opinion, they often expect a brief answer of the likes of "I like it, I don't like it", and no further explanations are expected. Age is also a determining factor and older men will tend to interrupt people more. Older men tend to be respected in Korea (the tendency is slowly disappearing) and dislike it when younger people contradict them or even express opinions or make comments in front of them. Older people are expected to "lead" the conversation and expect younger people to talk only when they invite them to, and therefore will interrupt frequently.

Finally, Koreans feel responsible as a group rather than individuals. Therefore, criticizing someone else who belongs to their group or something which belongs to the group is like criticizing the individual. Therefore, Koreans will tend to censor criticism related to their group when talking with an outsider to the group. This means: Korea when talking with a foreigner, the company or school when talking with someone who does not belong to the company or school, etc. Note that Koreans will tend to criticize their country, school or company once they begin to trust someone.

2- I'm trying to have conversation... why does he keep his answers short?
When Koreans converse, the older person tends to lead the conversation. Before the relationship is established and it is decided who will lead the conversation or if both can lead the conversation, Koreans will keep their answers very short. Therefore, when meeting a Korean for the first time, he will tend to answer your questions very briefly. He will then tell you that you are his "older brother/sister" which means you can lead the conversation, or that you are his "friend" and that both of you can lead the conversation. He may ask you to refer to him as your "older brother" which means that he will lead the conversation.

Leading the conversation does not mean monopolizing the conversation. It is a sort of "tacit" agreement on who will decide how to take turns in conversation. So if you are "leading" the conversation and don't ask him questions, he will not talk. If he leads the conversation and that you interrupt him with a comment or decide it is your turn to say something, he may not appreciate it and may do everything to finish what he had to say first.

3- Why does he stubbornly refuse to discuss the news?

I can't say that enough, Koreans only discuss serious topics with people they know they can trust. In fact, any topic which may involve different opinions or debates will be left to when both people know they can trust each other. This is because it is taboo to disagree with a stranger.

This means that regardless of whether the person has a Phd in political science, is a lawyer, or even a politician, they will not discuss current events with strangers. Note that if such people meet you they may compliment you on your beauty rather than on your country winning a world cup in any sport the previous day. However, once they trust you, they will discuss anything with you.

4- Why does he have no interest in my country

Interest in foreign countries are motivated by the need to know information about foreign countries. Koreans know a lot about the US financial system but do not feel the need to inform themselves about US culture, US politics or US sports.

Korea is an export-oriented country and does not feel the need to import from other countries. Despite some problems with agriculture, local Korean agricultural, manufactured and service products can be found. Cultural products are also widely available.

Therefore Koreans do not feel the need to know what is happening abroad, because it is a self-sufficient country. With Chinese and Indian products competing with Korean products in the global market, Koreans may sooner or later feel the need to inform themselves about foreign culture.

The reason they don't want to know about what you grew up doing in your country? People only listen when the information given is useful to them in some way. When they will want to send their children to study in your country, they will contact you to ask you about the local system there.

5- Why isn't he direct and frank when he talks to me?

Korean culture regards hurting someone's feeling as something which should be avoided. Therefore if he wants to say something that might hurt your feeling, he will keep it to himself. If you do something wrong, he might even take the blame for it.

These are aspects of culture that are not likely to change overnight, or even within decades or centuries. Lecturing Koreans on how communicating your way is the better way makes as little sense as them lecturing you on how their way is the better way.

Learning Korean as a second language - An American linguist's perspective

There is a saying that languages are best learned "under the pillow". This means that those married to a Korean person or dating a Korean person are more likely to learn Korean than anyone else.

No matter what language one learns and how they learn it, it is technically impossible to:
-Get rid of their mother tongue's accent or intonation
-Adapt to the second language's body language
-Adapt to the conversation etiquette of the language
-Refrain from translating idioms or phrases which exist in one's native language
-Speak with minor grammar mistakes

This, no matter how long you learn a language and how frequently you practice it. I hear people here and there asking whether it is possible one day to speak Korean like Koreans, but, for complicated scientific reasons which have something to do with how the human brain functions and the like, it is therefore impossible to reach such a level.

Korean instructors often complain about the quality of their students' Korean and insist that students should speak Korean like native speakers. Had they listened carefully in their linguistics class, taken a linguistics class or perhaps even read a serious book dealing with second language acquisition, they would not make such complaints about students.

Why do Koreans have trouble understanding foreigners when they speak Korean? First of all, Koreans get very little exposure to foreigners speaking Korean. They do listen to people like Ida Daussy or watch the global show on KBS, a show where foreigners speak Korean. But such foreigners speak Korean in front of a camera and have what is called the "observer's paradox": people tend to speak more carefully when they are facing by a camera, being recorded or speaking in public. Also, such shows tend to put subtitles and illustrations when foreigners talk to clarify what they are saying on television.

Another reason why Koreans do not understand foreigners speaking in Korean is that phonetically Korean is very different from other languages. Korean has lots of consonants and vowels, but unlike many other languages, it has very short syllables. While a word like problem can be understood when pronounced "prablem", "priblem" or "prublem", in Korean, words like 간장 "kanjang" (soy sauce), 긴장 "kinjang" (nervousness) or 건장 "keonjang"(sturdiness) or even 곤장 "konjang" (a stick) all have different meanings. This means that if you mispronounce that one vowel or consonant in Korean the word is likely to have a different meaning and you will not be understood.

I would add that Korean people only trust people who belong to their group (school, company, family, church etc.) and therefore unless belonging to a group it is very difficult for foreigners to make friends who are native speakers. They can of course make Korean friends if they attend a Korean school or company, but most foreigners do not have such opportunities. And even when working for companies or attending schools, very few conversations involve academic topics or other "serious" topics, as most conversations are centered around food, personal issues and gossip. It is therefore very difficult for foreigners to be able to converse fluently about "serious" topics.

Finally, foreigners face the reality that many Koreans working for companies are "supposed" to be bilingual. That is, these days, Korean companies only hire people who performed well at standardized English tests. Therefore, Koreans will feel obliged to speak English when they meet a foreigner, or will remain silent rather than speak Korean with foreigners. That because accepting to speak Korean with a foreigner means admitting that they did not perform well at English standardized tests which got them the job in the first place.

Institutes teaching Korean often expect students to read Korean newspapers and watch the news on Korean television. However, foreigners find little use in reading such newspapers because a large number of Chinese and English newspapers are in circulation, and because foreigners see very little use in watching the news in Korea, since they have no one to discuss the news with.

Perhaps a realistic approach to learning Korean is to expect to have decent conversation with Koreans. As Korean companies seldom ask foreigners to get tasks done in Korean, and rarely hire foreigners in positions where they have to use Korean, though this might soon change.

Korean language education case study - Yonsei University Korean Language Institute

Yonsei University Korean Language Institute, know by some as YSKLI or KLI, was the first institute entirely dedicated to teaching Korean to foreigners.

More than 4,000 students attend the institute. The institute is a "cramming" institute, trying to teach as much as possible in as little time as possible. This formula makes it attractive to foreigners from all over the world, but mostly from Asian countries, as foreigners want to learn as much Korean in as little time as possible.

The institute has a curriculum divided into 6 levels, each level having 200 hours of class. Since different students have different backgrounds, KLI has placement tests which determine what level students will be attending. The program has a reading, speaking, writing and listening part, but the very little importance is given to the speaking part.

Here's a summary of how KLI teaches Korean:

Students are separated by nationality and language spoken. Students from China will be put together, Southeast Asia together and North Americans and Europeans together.
Level 1 includes around two grammar patterns a day, about 10 words a day to memorize and a lot of speaking activities. Knowing that students can not converse in Korean with native speakers, students are put in situations where they have to practice their spoken language: they will do role playing games, including games like being a taxi driver and a customer, a shopkeeper and a customer or friends going to a restaurant. A workbook was designed to practice the vocabulary and grammar learned, and teachers will explain concepts several times so that students can understand. While Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese students have an easier time memorizing vocabulary because 65% of the Korean gloss is made up of Chinese loanwords. Japanese students have no trouble with both grammar or vocabulary because both languages are Altaic and both borrowed a lot from Chinese. Western students however may complain that two grammar patterns a day and 10 words a day is too much, and that there are too little games or situations where that vocabulary can be used.

Level two is a "shock level" for westerners and many give up at that point. Games and spoken practice is set to a minimum and the curriculum focuses on memorizing grammar and vocabulary. Students have to complete hand in lots of homework and still have to memorize two patterns and ten words a day. While in level one all words which are new are defined in English at the bottom of the textbook, level two requires students to search a lot of words in the dictionary as many words are left unexplained. Students are separated by "Korean ability", meaning that those ethnic Koreans who spoke Korean at home but did not learn how to write it will tend to be placed together. There will usually be at least one class solely made up of ethnic Koreans. Japanese students will also be placed in the same classes, while Westerners may end up in classes where they will be the only non-Chinese student.
Class material in Level 2 is very dry and includes topics that require no discussion, including going to the bank, to the post office etc. There are no class discussions and the only speaking activities are when students try to make sentences using the grammar learned in class.

Those who survived level 2 will find level 3 relatively easy. The grammar is explained and is often the combination of two grammar patterns which were learned previously. Students may have trouble understanding the passive voice and causative verbs, which have peculiar forms in Altaic languages. However, while there are speaking activities in the textbook which include describing Korean culture and student's culture, they are skipped altogether. In fact teachers are often worried that such speaking activities may lead to students saying negative things about Korean culture or about each others' culture. Level 3 still teaches those ten words a day and two grammar patterns a day, but they are relatively easier to memorize. The curriculum centers around everyday life (apologizing, being sick, greetings etc.) but most of the focus is put on the grammar.

In level 4 all English explanations of Korean words are removed from the book, meaning that in order to succeed, students need to spend a significant portion of their free time searching for words in the dictionary and memorizing them. Most of the vocabulary is not commonly used, therefore students have problems memorizing it as they do not find where to use it. In level 4, one's ability to speak or write the Korean language no longer determines whether one will pass the level or not, it is the ability of a student to take KLI tests which will determine whether they will pass. There are very few speaking activities, and some teachers will skip those all together, meaning that the class will be a four hour lecture on Korean grammar and vocabulary, coupled with listening and writing exercises. Teachers will sometimes recommend students to practice speaking through writing activities. Some classes have as many as 80% students failing to pass the test.
Another novelty is that students have to make newspaper presentations and moderated debates. However, many students memorize their newspaper presentations and debate interventions and recite them, or read them altogether.

There is a novelty in level 5 which consists in including non-studied materials in the examination. This means that in the listening examination, passages will involve topics that the students will not have studied in class and will not be familiar with. The listening examination includes words which were never studied in class, and multiple choice answers as long as two lines each with words that were never studied in class. KLI wants level 5 students in addition to doing homework and memorizing vocabulary, to listen to the radio and news in Korean and to read Korean books. However, no emphasis is placed on conversing with native Korean people. Most will fail their listening examination.
The curriculum centers around dry semi-academic topics including culture, education and science. Less grammar is taught and a large focus is placed on vocabulary, since as much as two hours a day may be spent with the teacher explaining vocabulary words. The only speaking activities are presentations which students memorize in advance.

Examinations are relatively easier in level 6, however, there are no speaking activities at all. Students are no longer required to take speaking examinations, they do paper presentations instead. As students are busy preparing for life after KLI, few students study or listen in class. A large portion of the curriculum is once again centered around explaining vocabulary words. Students are no longer asked to try to make sentences to practice grammar and the curriculum is made up of long teacher monologues. The curriculum focuses on even more specialized academic topics (sports and technology, elections, gender issues etc.) on which many Koreans themselves know very little. Students are also required to write a newspaper article and an essay in Korean.

To summarize, KLI does accordingly to the demand. Most students study Korean to go to university and get jobs and have no actual interest in having conversation with Koreans in informal contexts, thus the lack of focus on spoken Korean. Therefore emphasis is placed on understanding Korean rather than speaking it, and the kind of Korean used in formal contexts.

Most KLI students say 나는 날마다 친구들과 공부해요 which sounds very weird and too formal to a native Korean speaker's ears. The fact that a lot of level 6 students say such sentences which a native Korean person will never say shows that students in fact interact very little with native speakers. Any native speaker would say 내가 메날 같은 친구들이랑 공부를 해. However, KLI refuses to teach the spoken form of Korean and insist on students to use the written form even when they speak, though students do not get penalized when they use the spoken form.

Despite attending Korean classes for 1,200 hours, students have difficulties following college classes or even conversations with Korean people. In fact, in order to learn a language, teachers should make students participate in class to make them feel that they are using the language. If you learn about, say, elections in Korea but never actually discuss the topic, you will not understand a conversation related to elections in Korea, despite knowing all the words and understanding all the grammar which is being used.

People learning languages with economic motivations dislike being asked their opinion on any topic and having to answer in speaking the language i.e Korean. Such students want to prove that they have the grades and degrees which are needed to prove that they speak Korean, not the actual ability.

More on Korean langauge education and immigration

Most foreign students studying Korean know that while knowledge of Korean language is a must to enter the Korean job market, mere knowledge of Korean will not help them get a job in their countries. If one speaks English, Korean can be a plus to get a job in China or Southeast Asia, but knowledge of Korean alone can only get such students as far as getting low paid translation jobs or jobs as tourist guides in their country, but no high paying jobs.

Therefore most Korean language students have one thing in mind: they want to stay in Korea for as long as they can. After all learning Korean can be a huge investment: 6-8 million won a year plus housing and daily expenses. Foreign students of Korean do not want to invest that much money to go back to their countries and get low-paying jobs.

This is not only true of Chinese and Southeast Asian students. Many Russian, European and North American students invest in learning Korean so that they can get a job in Korea. The problem is will the Korean job market accept them?

So far, entering the Korean job market is very competitive and even Koreans have a tough time getting a decent job. Positions for foreigners are limited, Korean companies will put the priority on Koreans for any job that Koreans can do. Even jobs like translation, where technically foreigners should be hired, Koreans hire locals to perform such tasks. As I mentioned previously, Koreans work with people they can trust and know they feel comfortable with. They would rather choose a Korean who respects the local etiquette but performs poorly at tasks than a foreign who can get the job done but behaves "exotically".

What does this mean for Korea? This means that Korea will have an abundant number of foreigners who are unqualified in their countries who will desperately try to stay in Korea. No matter what visa restrictions the Korean government will impose on them, such students will find ways to come back to Korea and get a job.

Such foreigners are "economic immigrants". They choose to live in Korea not because they like the culture but because they can have higher salaries in Korea than back home. They will make little efforts to adjust to Korean culture.

Technically, the Korean government knows the consequences of such issues: the formation of "ghettos", racial discrimination which can result in riots. Last year, when Korean protesters tried to stop the Olympic torch from traveling around Korea in protest for the treatment of Tibetans in China, and Chinese students, most of them studying Korean, gathered in front of those protesters and violent clashes occurred between Chinese and Korean protesters.

Such clashes may happen frequently once a group of angry qualified foreign workers speaking Korean and holding Korean degrees but facing economic and cultural discrimination will try to make their voices heard.

Learning Korean: introduction

The first Korean classes taught to foreigners were in the late 19th century, when a Russian university started offering Korean as a second language classes in 1897.

Since, a large number of people started learning Korean. The first Korean language Institute in Korea was actually in North Korea, established some time after independence from Japan, and the first Institute offering Korean language classes to foreigners in South Korea was the Yonsei University Korean Language Institute (KLI), established in 1959.

While in North Korea, most people learning Korean were Russian, Chinese and Eastern European diplomats and military officers, in South Korea, Japanese and Western journalists, diplomats, military officers and mostly missionaries were learning Korean. As of today, while most Korean language institutes in North Korea have ceased to function, in the South, more there are large numbers of hagwons and universities offering Korean classes to foreigners, with around 90% of the students being from mainland China.

With the sudden inflow of Chinese students learning Korean in order to attend university or get a job in Korea, hagwons and language institutes have been caught by surprise. There was suddenly a high demand for Korean as a Second language teachers, textbooks, and other materials, meaning that there was very little time for such institutions to carefully elaborate such materials and to design a policy for teaching Korean.

One should know that South Korea is one of those countries with what is called "diglossia", meaning that there is a "high form" and "low form" of language. By high form I don't mean jondeamal or "polite speech", but differences between how to language is written and spoken in front of a crowd and how it is spoken when having conversations.

Korean institutions have issued official dictionaries and grammar books on how language should be spoken and written "properly". Therefore, Korean language institutes teach that form of language rather than the more colloquial form.

Why? With large numbers of Chinese students seeking to attend university or get a job in Korea and who have actually very little interest in learning the language, as well as many other students learning the language in order to get a job, there is a strong demand to learn "written" rather than "spoken" Korean.

Korean authorities have shown disappointment at the way Korean as a Second language is being approached by foreigners. The Korean government wants "rich" people who learn Korean in order to make important financial investments in Korea, not students from developing countries seeking economic opportunities (in other words, stealing jobs away from Koreans) to learn the language.

Indeed, surveys indicate that while a few years back most Korean language students were overseas Koreans, Japanese, Europeans and North Americans, today, most students are Chinese and Southeast Asian students. The Korean government is desperately trying to attract students from developed countries to learn the language, with little success.

The Korean government is faced with a dilemma that it may arise in the future: while those studying Korean do so in order to stay in Korea. Indeed, languages like English are preferred in the countries of those who are learning Korean, and learning Korean will only limit their opportunity to get a job in their home country. Korean language students therefore choose to marry Korean citizens and stay in Korea or do their best to get a job in Korea. While it is bringing a lot of cultural diversity to Korea and helping solve the demographic problems Korea is facing, they are "economic immigrants", not "cultural immigrants", and will therefore do very little efforts to fit in Korean society.

Why they will only hire white English teachers?

This question has been the object of heated debates among citizens of countries where English is widely spoken as a first language but which are not qualified to teach English in Korea, i.e., India, the Philippines and several countries in African and the Caribbean. Some have accused Koreans of being racist. I have heard the craziest excuses regarding this question. Some (Americans) even told me that African Americans, Indians etc. were not genetically feat to teach English. Others claimed that Black people and Indians had an "accent". What would a linguist think?

If you ask me, the fact that they hire teachers from Ireland or South Africa, Scotland or Wales, Australia or New Zealand means Koreans have no problems with accent. You can argue all you want, a Scottish accent, a Wales accent or a South African accent has as many differences as the differences between an American accent and an Indian accent. To be more specific, if you record a Scottish person, an Indian person, a Philippino, a Nigerian, a Jamaican, a New Yorker and a Texan pronounce the same word, the charts analyzing tone, stress, intonation etc. will all be completely different.

So why White people. Koreans do not consider accent as a requirement to teach, they consider socio-economic factors.

Koreans want English teachers to be temporary teachers and to stay in Korea temporarily. They want them to be people who, once they go back home, can find better jobs and make more money. They don't want teachers who teach for the money, they want teachers who teach because they want an adventure, they want to be in contact with Korean people and who are happy to teach.

English teachers from African and Asian, or English speaking countries in the Caribbean would come teach English in Korea because of the high salary, not because they want to teach English. Most importantly, they would be reluctant to go back to their country and would try every trick in the book to spend as much time as they can in Korea. They would also bring over their families, and settle in Korea, and since their stay in Korea will be motivated by economic rather than cultural motives, they will have very little interaction with Koreans. This is not something the Korean government would not like to happen.

Finally, Koreans learn English because they have to in order to get a job. Their role models are successful businessmen. As there are very few non-White western successful businessmen, they want their teachers to look like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Therefore, even Moroccan, Iranian or Turkish teachers who have more or less the same features as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (Jobs is part Syrian) they will be hired by hagwons to teach English even though it is technically illegal.

Therefore, Koreans want their English teachers to:
1- Leave Korea as quickly as possible
2- Look like middle class western citizens.

Different methods Koreans use to learn English

With the fact that a good TOEFL or TOEIC score will be a decisive factor to getting a job in Korea, Koreans teach their children English as early as pregnancy, and some adults spend every minute of their spare time studying English. Here's how they proceed:

Pregnant women teaching their baby English:
They read their children stories in English, make them listen to tapes in English, watch educational English programs and other English language programs on television. In some cases, they will hire a native speaker to read stories out loud or even have conversations with their to-be-born baby.
Does it work? There is no scientific evidence that a fetus who listens to people speaking any language around them will grow up to speak the language. So far, linguists have demonstrated that language acquisition is a lifetime achievement, but that the crucial stages of language acquisition are between the ages of 8 and 12. That is, languages learned before will be forgotten, languages learned afterward will be spoken with minor grammar mistakes.

Hiring English speaking nannies to talk with babies from 0-5 years old:
They hire nannies and ask them to play with their children so that they can learn English.
Does it work? Depending on how much time the child will spend with the nanny, some English can be learned. But as soon as the nanny will be gone, so will the English.

Making children attend English-language pre-schools:
Some Koreans pay of fortune so that they children can attend kindergarten with teachers from English speaking countries. Since linguists have demonstrated that language acquisition in schools is made through interaction with students and not through that with teachers, and Korean children will spend most of their time speaking Korean to each other. And what five year old child would pay attention to a language class or to a teacher speaking a language he does not understand? Children attending such kindergartens may at most learn a few English words and phrases, but will not be able to build constructive grammatical sentences.

Making elementary school children attend hagwons:
Those children have often reached the crucial age to learn a language: 8-12. They attend English hagwons and take English classes in school, classes which require them to answer standardized questions and check whether they memorized the vocabulary, but where they don't have actual conversations in English.
Does it work? Though children have reached the crucial age to learn a language, once again, languages are learned through interaction with classmates. They may learn a great deal of vocabulary and grammatical structures, but they will only remember them if they use them. If class consists in answering written questions, they will be good at answering questions, period. If class consists in memorizing vocabulary, they will be good at memorizing vocabulary. And if class consists in having conversation in class, they will be good at having conversation inside the classroom, but will not be able to have conversation with an actual English speaker.

Hiring private tutors for children:
Private tutors are expected to help their children with homework and check if they have memorized those lists of grammar or vocabulary. In some cases, they will expect tutors to have conversation with children.
Does it work? It may help children get better grades in school but it will not actually help kids be fluent in English. To be fluent in English, constant interaction with classmates or parents is required.

Sending children to foreign countries:
Some parents send their children to English-speaking countries so that they can learn English. They attend local US, Canadian or Australian schools and interact with local people.
Does it work? Children will learn the language and speak it more or less fluently, depending on how old they were and how long they lived in the country. They will learn the language regardless of their personality. However, they will also learn the culture and start to view some aspects of Korean culture as unacceptable. When they grow up and become adults, they are not likely to live in Korea, and if they do, they will tend to own their own businesses or work in the education sector or any independent job that does not require having to deal with the local culture. Note that children who only spent one year as part of an exchange program will not learn to speak the language fluently.

College students spending a year in an English-speaking country:
Some college students go to English-speaking countries and attend English language institutes for one year or more. They often get their information from Korean websites which recommend schools where there is a large number of Korean students, and will sometimes live in towns where there are large Korean populations.
Does it work? It depends on what ambition those students have in mind. Some will want live in a foreign country, forget about Korean life and interact with English-speaking people without worrying about that TOEFL test they will have to take when they go back to Korea. Such students are often cast out by their Korean circle who considers they betrayed them, and get pressured by their parents to spend less time talking with local people and more time studying to get those grades and that degree. Others keep in mind that they have to get a job in Korea, take standardized tests in Korea, therefore focus on getting good grades without ever talking to foreigners or actually using the language. Finally, some travel to English speaking countries because everyone else does, do not have the TOEFL in mind but do not want to interact with local people either.

Adults attending hagwons:
Adults attend hagwons expecting vocabulary lists that they will memorize. They want native English speakers because such teachers will pronounce words with a standard pronunciation which will help them memorize the word. Others want to learn conversation, understand movies, understand the news etc. but always do so underlining words they don't understand and memorizing them.
Does it work? Hagwon students often focus on vocabulary and grammar rather than on actually speaking the language. Their goal is to expand their vocabulary and expand their understanding of the grammatical structure of English, but not to understand actual conversations in English. Those who have family, friends or spouses who speak English will usually "practice" speaking English with those people rather than attend hagwons.

Adults hiring private tutors:
Adults often hire private tutors to have conversation with them. There are two complementary reasons why adults hire private tutors: in Korean culture, it is a social taboo to have conversation with a person who was not introduced by a third party or who belongs to the same organization.
* Korean people rarely answer adds posted by English speaking individuals. They usually look for a private tutor through their Korean connections who will help them find one they already know and can trust.
The second reason is that there are few native English speakers living in Korea and that it is difficult to sustain lasting contact with native speakers. So the only way to have English conversation is to pay for it.
Does it work? Since tutors are paid to have conversation, they are expected to listen rather than have a two-way conversation. Some individuals are comfortable with foreigners, have two-way conversations, and their conversational English improves dramatically after each session. They also familiarize themselves with the conversation culture of the English native speaker, and actually want to learn more about how to make conversation with foreigners. Others will want the conversation to go their way. Although conversation will make perfect grammatical sense, they will learn "Korean style" English conversation. But students hiring tutors do end up more comfortable speaking English.

Language exchange:
Some individuals will opt for language exchange with a native English speaker. They will have English conversation for a certain amount of time before they switch to Korean.
Does it work? Though language exchange is a great way to practice conversational English, in the end, it is a question of commitment. No money is involved, and both individuals should feel that they are learning the language equally in order to commit to having frequent language exchange sessions. If one feels left out, he will drop out.

Konglish politics

I hear some people here and there blame Koreans for using English loanwords or for using "bad" English in sign boards and speaking "bad" English.

Regarding English loanwords in Korean, it has been argued that the words do no have the same meaning in English, that English and Korean are unrelated languages therefore Korean should borrow or use words that are only derived from related languages.

I would like to start by saying that approximately 65% Korean words are derived from old Chinese. Chinese and Korean are not related languages, and are as unrelated as English and Korean. Chinese is an analytical language, a language in which each syllable has a meaning. Korean however is an agglutinative language, a language where chunks of words "stick" together to form longer words or grammatical elements. Therefore in Chinese, a word like 알밥 (a dish made up of rice and fish eggs) could be broken down into two words, 알 and 밥, meaning eggs and rice. However, a word like 하나, which is a Korean word meaning one, can not be broken down into syllables. Most importantly, Chinese is a Sinitic language which evolved in China, while Korean is most probably an Altaic language which evolved in a part of what is today Russia.

*There are a lot of French loanwords in English, yet French and English are only very distantly related... both are Indo-European languages, but French is a Romance language and English a Germanic language. There are lots of Yiddish loanwords in Hebrew yet to the surprise of many Yiddish and Hebrew are not related at all. Actually, Yiddish is related to English as they are both Germanic languages, whereas Hebrew is a Semitic language of the larger Afro-Asiatic family of languages. Japanese and Korean are related but both languages are not related to Chinese. Therefore some languages can loanwords from other languages without impairing the language.
Being Jewish or having slanted eyes does not automatically qualify people to speak related languages.

As for "incorrect" use of English, we first have to define what the "correct" form of English is. British English? American English? What about inner city English or Ebonics? Politicians widely agree on the fact that "correct" English is upper middle class White English, because they are usually themselves upper middle class white people. However, linguists agree that all forms of English spoken by people as their first language are correct forms of English. Konglish may not be a correct form of English but it certainly is a correct form of Konglish.

However I must say that since Korean people usually read Korean signboards and that only those who don't speak Korean read signboards in English, Koreans should write their signboard in English rather than Konglish. But, hiring native English speakers to proofread Konglish is an investment that authorities are not willing to make. After all still relatively few foreigners come to Korea, and even fewer speak English.

Let's just say that according to the Korea Immigration Office Website, out of 873,000 foreigners registered in Korea, 806,000 are from Asian countries, a large majority from countries where English is not even spoken as a second language. So the sign boards in English are for the minority of People who are likely to speak English as their first or second language. If I had to write signboard for 50,000 people out of a population of 48 million, I would not put too much effort into them. With 350,000 of the foreigners, or almost half, being Chinese, there should perhaps be more signboards in Chinese. However, it is important for Koreans not to offend their English speaking investors, which is probably why there are English signboards in the first place.

Explaning Konglish

Some foreigners complain that English loanwords in Korean do not have the same meaning in English. Korean is not the only language where loanwords evolve, they do in all languages. Promiscuity means what it means in English, but the word was borrowed from French where it means "proximity".

Therefore Koreans have the right to use whatever word they want to use what they want to describe in their language. If they want to call their cell phone a "hand phone", foreigners have no right to tell them to start using "cell phone" or to use the Korean term hyudae chonhwa, as much as the French have no right to tell Americans to mean "proximity" when they say "promiscuity".

Without being too political, "hand phone" is not Konglish when it is used in a Korean sentence, nor is it "code-switching". It is a term that is now a full member of the Korean language, and Koreans treat it as one.

What is Konglish then? Konglish is a "sublanguage", a language spoken by many as a second language but by few or no people as a first language. It is a language with grammar rules, words and everything else languages have, but those rules differ from any other type of language and the language is therefore called Konglish.

Since Koreans interact relatively little with native English speakers, the arising of this sublanguage was inevitable. The language is a mixture of English and Korean patterns. It may sound cute to some foreigners, or be a sign of ignorance to others, it will nontheless be very difficult to teach Koreans not speak Konglish and to speak American English or whatever English instead.

When speaking a foreign language, foreigners calque their native language. This means that they will use the conversation etiquette I described in previous posts, and ask the same kinds of questions that they ask foreigners, use the same appellations, titles, respect forms etc.

Since it is inconceivable for Koreans to call a teacher by his first name, they will call him "teacher" regardless of the language they speak. Therefore if you are an English teacher in Korea, most students will call you "teacher". They will also use Korean expressions in their cultural context, so when they ask you about your kibun they will ask you "how is your feeling".

English loanwords which experienced semantic change in Korean will be used when speaking Konglish. For example, words like "announcer" (anchor), "one piece" (dress) or "live English" (colloquial English) will be used by Korean English speakers.

Other rules include drooping the final -s plural marker when it is phonetically a [z] sound("two car" instead of "two cars", but "two cats" and not "two cat") dropping the auxiliary "to be" ("no one there" instead of "no one was there" or "if you wanna pretty" instead of "if you wanna be pretty" etc.) and many many other rules.

Asking Koreans to switch from Konglish to American English would be like asking Americans to switch from American to British English. Remember, Korean people's intention is not to make lots of American friends or to be more Americanized, but to get a decent TOEFL score and get a decent job.

Why Koreans learn English

A lot of Koreans learn English. They put a lot of time, money and efforts in learning the language. However, to native English speaker's eye's, Koreans do not speak as fluently as they should after having invested all those efforts. Many view this as a problem, a national disaster, a tragedy. However I will argue that it's not.

First we need to ask the question of why Koreans learn English. As I argued in the previous post, if you ask Koreans why they study English, they are likely to say because they have to get good scores at standardized English tests in order to get a good job, get admission from universities in English-speaking countries, or get a promotion at work. Those who want to learn English to communicate with their English speaking friends don't attend hagwons, they hang out with English speaking friends. Those who want to learn English to understand Hollywood movies don't go to hagwons, they download Hollywood movies. So if you're an English teacher at a hagwon, your students are most likely studying English to nail that TOEFL, TOEIC or TEPS which will get them their dream job.

Though tests like the TOEFL do have a speaking section, that speaking section is very predictable and Koreans found a way to study for it. Rather than spending time having conversation with English speakers to improve their skills in a language they don't like speaking, they memorize sample answers (sometimes as many as 500-1,000 sample answers) and use the sample sentences during the test. What they are looking for is a good score, not the ability to prove that they can speak good English.

In class, they do not learn English because they want to communicate with foreigners. The Korean job market is very competitive and chitchatting with foreigners is considered a waste of time that could be gained studying for other standardized tests or doing something that would look nice on the resume.

In fact, some people prepare their children to take standardized tests from a very early age. Foreign language high schools are very prestigious, and an excellent TOEFL score may guarantee admission to one of those schools. Others want their children to be familiar with the TOEFL so that they achieve excellent scores when they become adults. The important thing is getting a good job in the future, not being regarded as a "cool guy" by native English speakers.

So why the TOEFL? Why not design a Korean language test that would be designed to fail those who did not perform well? Koreans are very cooperative when it comes to tips on how to improve scores in standardized tests. There are online lectures, books, websites that know every trick in the book to get a perfect score in a standardized test. However, when it comes to foreign languages, people have to start from scratch and to use a very methodical approach to study languages. And while one can easily ace a test in his native language without being too disciplined, studying for foreign language tests requires discipline.

Standardized tests use a form of language which can not be acquired through chatting with friends or enjoying cultural products. They use academic language, the kind of language you will find in academic publications and conferences, a language that even native speakers can have trouble with. In fact without familiarizing one's self with the TOEFL or TOEIC formats, even a native speaker may get a low score.

Recently the Korean government has promised to focus high school tests more on speaking ability that on writing ability. However, without conversing with actual native speakers, high school students will be likely to speak using sentences that they memorized from a book or write down what they will say first, and their objective will remain obtaining a high score to enter prestigious universities, and not interaction with foreigners.

So why don't Koreans want to learn languages to talk with foreigners. I hear a lot of people say that it is because of Korean culture, Confucianism or what not... But I see it as a question ambitions. Koreans have a difficult time remaining competitive within their own community, and they would be even less competitive in foreign countries where they have to beat the language barrier, the cultural barrier and racial stereotypes in addition traditional competition.

The bottom line is many Koreans attending hagwons have no intention to be closer to foreigners. They face tough competition at home, since they have a small country with few natural resources, all speak the same language, and are geographically a landlocked country. Since they all speak the same language and all have access to the same products, and with little diversity in the economy, jobs are all pretty much the same. The only difference that will determine whether they are competitive or not is how well they score in tests, not how well they get along with foreigners.

Foreign languages in Korea

Over the past few years, Korea has become an industrialized country with a globally competitive economy. This means that an increasing number of foreign companies are investing in Korea and many Korean companies are investing abroad. There is also an increasingly large number of foreigners in Korea and of Koreans going abroad.

Those foreigners living in Korea and Koreans who work with foreigners may learn of foreign language. Foreigners try to learn Korean (although an increasing number of foreigners are attending Korean hagwons to learn English or other foreign languages) and Koreans usually learn English, all though languages like Chinese and Japanese are also very popular.

People wonder why studying English in particular has become so popular in Korea. Well the Korean job market is very competitive. And Korea is still a relatively homogeneous country. Therefore most job applicants look alike and have similar backgrounds. Just like graduate schools in the US have lots of applicants with similar backgrounds who may have their sample papers and SOPs carefully proofread, one thing they can not cheat with is a standardized test like the GRE, therefore many schools require the GRE as an additional factor to select students. In Korea, it used to be very hard to select job applicants since they all did well in their applications. However, standardized English test scores have become a good way to select students, as some do well and others don't.

Standardized TOEFL, TOEIC etc. tests in Korea are only a way to select job applicants from a shorter pool of applicants, as those who did not perform well will be eliminated. Companies have no interest in the actual ability of applicants to speak English, although some may also carry out interviews in English. As more and more Korean students perform well on English standardized tests in Korea, some companies have required ridiculously high TOEFL scores as a precondition for recruitment: a 100 score in the TOEFL (out of 120) when most ivy league schools in the United States only require 70 or 80.

So why study English in Korea. Studying a foreign language is motivated by a need. Some need English for economic reasons (getting a job, making money) others for "kinship" reasons (fitting in a foreign community). Most Westerners studying Korean do so to fit in with Koreans (but not all, many study Korean for economic reasons) while most Koreans study English, because as I just said, it is a precondition to getting a good job.

Here are the main differences in behavior between those who learn English for economic reasons and those who learn it to fit in:


-Have a very negative approach towards learning the language
-Refuse to speak the language unless they are forced to
-Always carry textbooks with them
-Refuse to say anything that is not in the textbook
-Memorize lists of words
-Practice grammar with grammar textbooks
-Tend to get very good grades in class
-Insist that writing is more important than speaking
-Insist that "they don't speak the language very well"
-Dislike being corrected but constantly ask themselves and other people "am I speaking properly?"
-Do not talk in class if they are not asked a question
-Give very short answers when asked a question
-May ask teachers lots of questions about the meanings of certain words or grammar
-Very nervous when they speak, may sweat, blink constantly, refuse to look at the person
-Are very careful when they speak and speak very systematically


-Have a very positive approach towards learning the language
-Try to hang out with as many people who speak the language as possible
-Make lots of comments in class
-Only study before the exam, if at all
-Think speaking is more important than writing
-Tend to perform poorly at exams but still pass
-Enjoy the language's cultural products (foreigners in Korea may enjoy watching Korean movies, Koreans may enjoy watching channels like "on style")
-Like to tell jokes, are very relaxed when they speak the language
-Their relaxation means that they are more prone to "cute" mistakes which will not impair intelligibility
-Confident or overconfident with their language skills and highly dislike being corrected
-dislike being reminded that the foreign language is their second language

So yes, most Koreans study English to get good TOEFL scores and know that they may never use English when they get their actual job. Just like students applying for graduate schools in the US memorizing GRE words that they know they may never use once they get admission.

What language foreigners use with Koreans

Before you start a conversation with Koreans, you may wonder what language you should use.
Choosing a language does not only depend on your ability to speak Korean or not. No matter how fluently you speak Korean, you may encounter moments where you will be invited to speak English.

Being bilingual is a state of mind. There is a difference between claiming to be bilingual and thinking we are bilingual. While Koreans will swear that they are not bilingual and don't speak English, the fact that they try to use it very often when them meet English speaking people shows that they clearly think that they are bilingual. In sum, if you try to speak a language -say Korean- no matter how rusty you may claim to speak it, you are claiming to be bilingual.

Studies have been made about when two bilingual people meet. They have concluded that they will speak the language they are both comfortable with when cooperating, and speak a language they are less comfortable with when they are trying to take a distance. "Being comfortable with" a language is also a state of mind, as some people may speak barely comprehensible English or Korean but may still feel comfortable with it.

In other words, if a foreigner and a Korean are in a situation where they have to cooperate, they will use English if both speak good English, Korean if both speak good Korean, a mixture of both if they're comfortable with both languages, or a "bastardized" language mixing ungrammatical English and Korea when both are not really bilingual. That "bastardized" language is called a "pidgin".

However, if they are in a situation where they should take a distance, like when meeting for the first time, when both people are total strangers, or at work, they may use languages one of the speakers is not comfortable with. That is, when bilingual Koreans talk to strangers ("bilingual" is a state of mind) they will use English rather than Korean, in an attempt to take a distance.

Also, when bilingual people meet another bilingual person and are in crowded places, they like other people to "notice that they can speak a foreign language", as if people were really paying attention. Therefore some Koreans may insist to speak English when in a coffee house, in a restaurant or any crowded place because they like other people to notice that they can speak English. The conflict arises when the foreigner also wants people to notice that he speaks a foreign language - Korean. Therefore while the foreigner will be making an attempt to speak Korean, the Korean will try to keep the conversation in English.

However at work, colleagues don't want people who may be paying more attention to notice that their foreign language skills are in fact not that great. While the foreign employee will try to use English as much as possible to avoid people noticing his grammatical mistakes and other weaknesses in Korean, Korean employees don't want other employees to notice their not so perfect English and will try to speak Korean, even when talking to a foreigner. This means that your boss or colleague may speak what you consider good English, but will insist on using Korean at the workplace. Your colleagues may even be offended if you speak to them in English publicly at the workplace.

Final step: saying goodbye

Once the conversation is over and people have to go their separate ways, there are manners when it comes to saying goodbye.

Note that Koreans will consider someone very rude if he leaves without informing them he is doing so. For the rest, it is a question of the degree of friendship and social relationship.

Koreans only say anyeongikasaeyo to older people and to strangers with whom the relationship is not well established. anyeong is usually used when separating in the streets or in crowded areas.

However, if the relationship is stronger between two people, different forms of saying "goodbye" may be used. "You should come to my place some day", "let's have dinner some time", or "let's call each other" are all substitutes for anyeong, and therefore the traditional "bye" will be omitted.

Finally, other words can replace "good bye". "Get home safe", "go safely", "be healthy" etc. are all words that substitute bye.

In sum, if Koreans don't tell you expressions like "bye" or "see ya", anyeong or jal ka it's not because they don't like you, but because they have different expressions to say goodbye, expressions they will often not teach you in schools or when you ask them because they are not conscious of it.

*Also not that there are different ways to say "hi" when people meet for the second time on. The expression anyeonghaseyo is very formal and only used in formal contexts or when people meet for the first time.

Note that the answer for anyeonghaseyo is ne which may then be followed by anyeonghaseyo but that is not mandatory.

When meeting for the second time on, people will use expressions other than anyeonghaseyo or anyeong. pap mogossoyo? meaning did you have lunch/dinner can be a remplacement for "hi" and the expected answer is ne, even if the person did not have lunch/dinner yet, unless the two people formally established that they met to have a meal together. Other expressions like 일 다 끝났어요? (did you finish all your work?), 어디 가세요? (are you going anywhere?) or 누굴 만나세요? (are you meeting anyone) all remplace anyeonghaseyo. The expected answer to all these expressions is 네 (ne, yes).

Finally, note that any question with a rising intonation should be answered by "yes". That is:
-Is she pretty (rising intonation)
-Yes (no matter what you think)

-Does he speak good English (rising intonation)

-Is she pretty? (falling intonation)
-Well, you know...

-Does he speak good English (falling intonation)
-kind of but still...

Step three - What to talk about

Now that you and the person you are talking to have established the relationship and agreed on what form of speech you should use, the most important part of the conversation may start: what should you talk about?

Conversation topics vary greatly depending on personality, occupation, social class, age, gender etc. However, without knowledge of the Korean family structure, Korean education system or Korean entertainment you may encounter a tough time finding a topic you may share with Korean people.

Korean people seldom discuss their past lives. They are very future oriented, goal-driven people who see no use in discussing past events or memories. They may talk about past accomplishments but usually do so "modestly": they do not give every detail of how they made it to succeed.

Perhaps in order to know what to talk about with Koreans, it is better to ask them about what they do during their daily lives. Koreans tend to avoid specific questions like "what does your job consist in doing" or "how do you proceed in studying". They tend to speak more generally about what they do. Koreans tend to ask each other what their hobbies are and what their goals are in life in order to establish what they will talk about. "What are your hobbies" and "what are your future plans" are very common questions for which Koreans expect a clear answer.

Hobbies vary from person to person. Some people have many hobbies, while other may only have one. It is not considered deviant in Korean society to put all one's efforts into one hobby. Some will focus on learning English for an entire year, others on learning an instrument etc. While for those who have a great variety of hobbies it is very easy to focus the conversation on a great amount of topics, others may be ignorant of a great amount of topics. Middle class women, female students and housewives tend to spend a great deal of their time cooking and watching television and may never reject a conversation about Korean entertainment gossip or sharing recipes. Korean middle class men however spend a great amount of their time worrying about their bank accounts and are likely to discuss stock prices, the job market and studying English - which has become a crucial element to make money - more on that later.

As for future goals, both men and women may be busy preparing for very competitive examinations until their late 20s or early 30s. Many plan to go to graduate school abroad some day. Those married may plan to send their children to study abroad. Most study English to improve their TOEIC or TOEFL scores: a key to securing a promotion or good job position. Koreans readily discuss those topics, but do not discuss the details. While it's OK to ask them what they plan to major in, what they plan to study or how many hours they spend studying every day, most Koreans do not have discussions about the subjects that they will study. For example, they rarely discuss English grammar or what they plan to write their dissertation about. However, they do discuss what kind of job they expect, but do not discuss the logistic aspects of their future dream jobs.

Most importantly, Koreans do not like discussing topics which require specialization, no matter how close they may be to their friend. This means that politics, the economy, society or sports are topics that tend to be avoided. People may discuss their political affiliations with close friends, why they like or dislike the president, how interest rates have gone up etc. but tend to discuss those topics concretely, citing lots of concrete examples and very little theoretical data. Although Koreans do vocally disagree on certain issues with people they trust, many pretend to agree, or avoid topics that invite to discussion alltogether.

Finally, note that Koreans keep their explanations short but their descriptions long. This means the "how" rather than the "why" tends to be elaborated. For example, when complaining about something, Koreans will describe everything that happened, all the circumstances, but will not analyze what happened by issuing statments like "I think that when this happens he always does that in order to prevent yonder from happening". They prefer statements like
"after this happened he did that
_and did yonder happen?
_no. "

Step two - using polite forms and plain forms

Korean is an honorific language and has several speech forms. There are basically six forms of speech, but I will only discuss deferential, polite and plain speech forms.

Deferential speech (also known as the -imnida form) is used in official contexts and only when adressing a large crowd (by news anchors or politicians addressing crowds for example). While words like kamsahamnida and pangabseumnida are often kept in deferential form, some Koreans will argue that it is "better" to use the -imnida form when talking to his boss or professor. The reality is Koreans would be considered very weird by their bosses or professors if they did so. And bosses or professors would consider that foreigners do not master the language fluently if they use the -imnida form and will not take them seriously. However, during a meetings that a lot of people are attending, Koreans do expect each other to use the -imnida form.

The polite form, also known as the "-yo" form, is used by people who do not know each other well or people who should show respect to each other. It is used by both people only when getting to know each other, being strangers or talking on a television set. This means that in a Korean conversation, at least one person should use the plain form. Technically, the -yo form should be used when addressing any stranger no matter how old we are. However, some older people, including taxi drivers or shop owners, may use the "impolite" or "plain" form towards customers who are visibly younger the first time they meet them, or any older person for that matter. Textbooks argue that the -yo form should be used towards people no matter how old they may be. According to textbooks and most Koreans, even when someone is one year older than you, you should address him using the -yo form. However, close friends use the plain form regardless of age. If a Korean uses the -yo form towards someone older, it means that he does not consider the person as a friend, or in other words, does not trust that person 100%.

Finally, the "plain" or sometimes called "impolite" speech form is used by older people towards younger people, two people who consider themselves friends, between couples, between children and parents etc. However, a lot of Korean men and women married to foreigners insist on their foreign spouses using the -yo form. In older times wives tended to speak to their husbands using the -yo form, but never husbands towards their wives. It is very rare to find a modern Korean couple that uses the -yo form when addressing each other, though they may use it occasionally to sound cute or when they are fighting to show that they are taking a distance.

Also note that -yo is only attached at the end of the sentence by native speakers. Textbooks insist that -yo should be attached at the end of every verb, but that's not really how Korean people would speak naturally. Note that this rule does not apply when addressing upper class people or one's boss.
Textbook: 오늘 뭐 했냐고요? 제가 너무 바빠 가지고요 세수까주 못 했어요. 하루 종일 발표 만 쓰고요 잠깐 자 버렸어요. 그 다음에 밥 먹고 왔지요. 사모님은 잘 지내세요?
Actual native Korean: 오늘 뭐 했냐고? 내가 너무 바빠 가지고 세수 까지 못 했어. 하루 종일 발표 만 쓰고 잠깐 자 버렸어. 그 다음에 밥 먹고 왔지. 사모님은 잘 지내세요?

Note that Koreans may be more sensitive and pay closer attention when foreigners are talking to them and may correct foreigners and ask them to speak like the textbook.

* Use of 께서 ( ggaeso): the particle ggaeso is only attached to one's boss's or parents name when
-talking to the boss
-talking about the boss and that the boss or team members are within hearing distance
-talking to people who are both old and members of the elite class.
It is not using when talking about one's boss, parents when talking to other people.

Conversation with Koreans - getting started

A lot of foreigners complain that conversation with Koreans is not always easy. Technically it's not easy with any society other than the one we belong to. You might have problems conversing with people with different religions, ethnic backgrounds, social backgrounds etc.

Before I even get started I think it's important to point out that no two Korean people are similar, talk the same way, or observe the same rules when they talk. But some rules are more observed than others.

These are the main rules observe when Koreans meet someone:

-Koreans never talk to someone with no clear relationship. Before Koreans even start conversing with someone, they should know that the person they are talking to is related to them in some way: same family, same company, same school etc., otherwise, a third person has to introduce them.

*This rule is not clearly defined when it comes to relations with customers. Some restaurants, coffee shops, taxi drivers etc. will engage in conversations with strangers, while others refuse to do so.

-Koreans always start introducing themselves by saying their full name regardless of age, class or social position. They then use formal "phatic" expressions like "nice to meet you", "I think this is the first time we met" etc. They usually use two or three of these expressions.
*Koreans find it very unusual when someone does not start the first conversation by saying his name first. They find it even more unusual when people (for example French people) refuse to answer the question "what is your name".

-After formal greetings, Koreans will start a conversation to get information which will help them establish their "social relationship". They will ask each other how many siblings they have, whether they are the eldest son, their age, their marital status, their job, and sometimes when it's older people asking younger people, their salary and intentions to get married. These questions will help determine who is in a higher social position than the other. Age is a determining factor, but sometimes marital status, economic status etc. can narrow the social gap between two people of similar age.
*Koreans do not immediately call each other by titles like hyeong or nuna, or switch from "polite"(jondaemal) to "plain" (panmal) forms of speech. If their age and social status is similar they may do so, but if they have considerable different social backgrounds or age gaps that may take longer.

-Once the relationship is established, conversation can start. The first few times Koreans will always discuss "light" topics, that is, no gas prices, politics or the economy or any other topic that invites debate or specialized knowledge. Topics depend completely on age, gender, and personal preferences.

This is not set in stone, but usually, when someone is older and male, he will completely monopolize the conversation and there will be little to say for the younger person. Younger people can ask their male seniors questions, but never comment on what they say. Females and people the same age tend to have two-way conversations.

-Once Koreans are absolutely convinced that they can trust the other person, they will discuss more intimate topics.
*Intimate topics include personal problems (things related to family) as well as political, social, economic opinions. Koreans only have debates with people they know they can trust. They tend to pretend to agree with everything the person says when they don't trust each other yet. It may take very little time to gain some people's trust, and a lot of time to gain others.

Welcome to linguistics and Korea

Hi all and welcome to my blog.

This blog will contain information on anything related to both linguistics and Korea.
Since linguistics is not only about learning grammar and is certainly not meant to teach people how to speak properly, this blog will contain few posts actually teaching Korean grammar/vocabulary in any form. There are a lot of great websites, textbooks out there to learn Korean and don't forget that the best way to learn Korean is to actually speak with Koreans.

This blog will attempt to describe how Koreans speak and perceive language, that is, how Koreans converse and what they say when they converse. It will also be about how foreigners perceiving Korean language and conversation with Koreans, and Koreans perceiving foreign languages and conversation with foreigners.

So indeed, there I will try to talk about a lot of the social, cultural and anthropological aspects of Korean language and Koreans speaking foreign languages.

I hope language teachers in Korea will find useful information in this blog. I also hope that any foreigner who has to converse with Koreans will find this blog useful.

Finally, I will try to describe rather than prescribe, that is, I will refrain from judging or commenting on any aspect of the Korean language.

Hope you all enjoy reading it!