Monday, December 14, 2009

Tolerance of language learning.

I find it so charming that foreigners can seriously slaughter a common phrase in Korean and still get a nice "한국말 잘 하시네요!". You just don't have that in America. Or France for that matter.

Korean second language

In America, even though we recognize that there are more cultures and languages represented here than any other country, we still don't do so well in being forgiving with our language. We tend to have a mindset that if you are in America, you must speak English. The use of any other language is often subtly considered sub-par, if even acceptable.

It's a little uncomfortable to admit all that, sure. But Americans haven't exactly been politically correct despite our long standing history of immigration.

Phonology seems to be be a big part of what is desirable of an English speaker. Oh sure, syntax and a knowledge of the lexicon is nice, but having a heavy accent? "Geez! Go back to !" If the supposed critical period (or sensitive period depending on whom you subscribe to) has already come and gone in terms of phonology, then why should foreigners even attempt to learn a new language if they will only receive blank stares are unnecessarily loud Americans in return?

So how come I can smile like an idiot with my electronic phrasebook clasped tightly, sweating bullets, all the while unintentionally murdering this poor taxi driver's native language and STILL get a compliment? Not sure. Perhaps it goes to show Korea's understanding of its place in the world. Mandarin Chinese holds the coveted "Most Spoken Language in the World" title with English proudly clutching the silver medal... and the little-country-that-could Korea ranked 22nd. Well, at least they still get to go out for pizza after the game.

Perhaps Koreans really are aware of their small presence in the world. Of course, venturing outside of Seoul might change your mind. It's not so much the ethnocentricity of it, but there is something almost charming about the 아저씨 who thinks only of life inside Korea.

However, when a foreigner does indeed start to grasp the fundamentals of the Korean language and begins to venture outside of the phrasebook, a whole new set of standards exists. "Well, if this guy can say THAT, then he better well say it using 존댓말." Granted, this can be a bit stressful at times but knowing that I got through the whole newbie phase unscathed is still something to be proud of. All things considered, I feel that Koreans can be more sensitive to the linguistic needs of foreigners when compared to Americans. Perhaps because of the close proximity and influence (scandal!) of China and Japan?

Many Americans feel uncomfortable when a language other than English is spoken in their presence. There's that pestering , paranoid thought of "I wonder what they're saying about me" or "At least have the decency to say it in English!" or even "Can't this wait until I'm not in the room?" Koreans, by and large, on the other hand will try their best to communicate even though speaking in English for some can be quite possibly more stressful than meeting new in-laws. Non-Korean in-laws.

Too far?

Regardless of the reason, as a newcomer to the language - rejoice - and be at ease! Most Koreans will likely know more about your language than you know about theirs so sit back, relax, and read those .pdfs.