Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Nice to Meet You" and Other Stupid Things Koreans Say

Each time I sit down to study Korean I discover new linguistic differences that explain many of the "mistakes" made by Korean speakers.  Each time I feel my heart break just a little bit as well.  The first reason my heart breaks is because I realize that, we English teachers, spend far too much time making fun of students, and far too little time trying to understand why they might make the same mistakes over and over again.

However, my heart is mostly heavy because I see how much Koreans are ridiculed for their English mistakes (even though they are making an effort to communicate in a new language while their teachers often make no effort) as if they are "stupid" for making them.  I've most certainly engaged in this without thinking, but no more.

First, let's look at how we judge our kids when they use "nice to meet you".  In Korean this is a perfectly normal expression to say over and over again, each time you "meet" a person.  In fact, it's the polite thing to do to your elders.  You are meeting, and it's nice.  For Korean students, it's hard to grasp that - in English - this is tied only to a FIRST meeting.  Students don't understand why it isn't always "nice to meet" English speaking folks.  English is the weird one here, not your students.

So, please, stop freaking out when your students always say, "Nice to meet you."  Slow down, explain the different perceptions of the verb "to meet".  They learn this simple phrase early in their language development long before they can understand the conceptual, abstract uses of phrases and verbs.  They are doing their best.  They are using a new language as best they can, based on the rules that they know.  They are trying to be respectful, so take a moment to respect them and their effort.  You are their teacher after all, not their school yard bully.

Second, lets look at how we judge the adults we meet.  Excited Korean's will often refer to everything they show you as being "famous".  Many Westerners get all caught up in this.  Annoyed because Korean's think everything is famous.  The Westerners start going on and on about how "Korea isn't all that" and Korean's need to learn that that what they haven't isn't the most famous thing ever.

Now, before we even get into the linguistic issues I would like to say, "This is their country.  Let them be as proud of it as they want to be."  We should all be proud of where we live and think it's the best.  It's not a big deal and doesn't make where you are from any less awesome.  Just because Korean's love Korea, doesn't affect that I think Alaska is the best thing to ever happen to the world.

But back to linguistics,  in Korean "famous" and "known for" are the same word.  So, when Korean's learn English they don't see any difference between "famous" and "known for".  They will just throw famous around like it ain't no thing.  When they say someplace is, "Famous for their noodles",  it's the same thing as saying they're , "Known for their noodles".  It's not some over prideful statement. It's just a statement of fact.

I beg of you, take a moment to consider the world from a perspective not your own.  Step back and respect the world around you before you jump on judging the world around you.  You are living in a new culture, in a new country, with people that don't speak the same language as you.  Maybe, just maybe, you don't have all the information.


Unknown said...

I really enjoy your blog. I think this post is especially true- too many foreign teachers judge and ridicule their students and other Koreans. Thanks for putting your words and opinions into the world. Good luck on the Korean!

You Are Here said...

Thank you, I need all the luck I can get in my studies. Although I'm pretty functional in Korean, I'm far from conversational. Thankfully, my kids keep me motivated. Studying Korean gives me a lot more patients and inspires much better lessons.

Sometimes the sudden realization that people unknown to me read this drama makes me feel like I'm standing outside without any pants. However, it's also nice to know folks enjoy it. It makes me feel a lot less like I spend too much time talking to myself. :p