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English Trouble for Native Koreans Abroad

“Condoms, please,” he whispered. What the hell are condoms, I thought.
The line was long and people were waiting to pay for their merchandise, while I stood behind the register, trying to get through the midday rush.
“What?” I asked him.
“Umm… condoms,” he repeated. I could see the other customers sniggering and trying to hold in their laughter. His face turned red, but I still had no idea what he wanted.
It was my first week on the job and the only thing that was going through my head was Is he asking for cigarettes? After all, this was Canada and unlike Korea, there were many different brands and sizes for cigarettes. That’s right, he’s probably asking for a pack of smokes!
And so I asked him with my broken English, “Mmm… Haoou BIG ij eet?”
Everyone in the line broke out laughing, and the guy asking for condoms suddenly flushed red all over. I didn’t understand. Why are they laughing? I was just asking what size cigarettes he wanted.

Hmm... I see no

Hmm… I see no “condom” cigarettes…

“Well, uhhh… it’s not too big, but it’s uhhh… not too small,” he replied.
“Cooud you pleaj explain the product?” I asked him, still confused.
I didn’t think his face could get any redder, but it did.
“It’s uhh… used umm… when… uhhh a boy and a girl… uhh… share… a bed…” he stammered. Ah, I finally understood what he wanted.
“OH! Okay! You want COHN DOME! Okay, you cohn dome okay,” I answered relieved in comprehending his request. I handed him the condoms and he briskly paid and left the store in a hurry, while everyone else laughed merrily.

Cohn domes!

Cohn domes!

That was one experience my friend MJ encountered during his year abroad. I’m sure there are many other stories for non-native English speakers who were caught in funny situations because of their trouble with the English language. Some people choose to Learn English abroad while some people choose to keep it classroom, all to differing levels of success. MJ chose to stick to the classroom and didn’t get any real world experience which is why this whole debacle happened!
We often hear of many situations when English speaking foreigners go to a non-English speaking country and run into difficult situations revolved around language. However, the opposite is true for non-English travelers as well.
Here are some things to know about Koreans staying abroad in English speaking countries.

  1. They learn non-practical English in Korea
    English is huge in Korea. People learn English from an early age, and a lot of people believe the language is absolutely necessary in obtaining a prestigious job. Many companies look for TOEIC (Test Of English for International Communication) scores when they recruit new blood. It’s no wonder the Korean education system puts so much pressure on learning English. The kids learn English in school, private cram schools, private tutors and online tutoring tools, customwritingservice.com is one that is widely used. However, the system teaches English for testing purposes.
    Thus, when Koreans study English, they focus on the parts that would get them the highest scores, which are heavily concentrated on grammar, reading, and listening. However, the education system in Korea does not focus as much on practical English.
    This is why Koreans abroad have trouble understanding what other people are saying. They definitely understand some words here and there, and they even get a gist of what the person is trying to say. But because they never had much practice with conversational English, it’s hard for them to catch every piece of detail when speaking with native English speakers.
    Another thing to note is that in Korea, American English is taught. That means accents from England, Australia, and any other country that has a distinct accent are hardly understood. Nowadays, Koreans are using courses such as the Effortless English Club to brush up on their “after school” English ability.
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wF7qw6TSP8g]
  2. They tend to flock among their own kind
    This probably proves true with any other foreign community in a different country, but it’s more blatant among Koreans. I have seen Korean students immigrate to America during middle school and watched them grow and go to high school. During those seven years, some of them barely improved their English. The reason? They would stick with other Korean immigrants, and because speaking Korean among each other was much more comfortable, they didn’t have many opportunities to mix with native English speakers.
    I’m not saying Koreans don’t associate with anyone that isn’t from their native country, but given the chance, they will almost always choose to hang out with one another.

    “So where are you from? Korea? OMG! We must hang out!”

  3. They still crave rice
    My parents have lived in America for over twenty years, and there is not a day that goes by without rice for at least one meal. As I talked about in my “5 Things to Know About Koreans” article http://idigculture.com/5-things-to-know-about-koreans, Koreans bleed rice.
    Sure there are some that don’t need to eat it every day, but most Koreans can’t help but think about having rice for their next meal. This proves a bit truer with Koreans who have recently traveled abroad.
    When traveling, you can’t help but want to try the local cuisine and dishes. But after a while, you get sick of it and begin thinking of food from your native country. For Koreans, that would be rice. Many Koreans I have personally known that have lived abroad always told me that Western food was too greasy, salty, and overabundant. That’s why Koreans can never give up rice for good.

    The secret to being Korean is in the bowl of rice

    The secret to being Korean is in the bowl of rice

Traveling is important. Going out to see the world helps people to find a story they have never read before. Everyone should go abroad and experience new encounters. However, sometimes language can be a big barrier in enjoying the world out there. Just as you hope you will be accepted and treated with respect, do the same for foreign travelers and dwellers in your native country.

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Written by Isaac Kim

Hey there, I’m an aspiring journalist who is in the prime of his life. I’ve lived in America most of my life, but because I can adapt to anything, I’ve integrated quite well in Korean society. I hope to see the world and write about and share what I see. I like places with large bodies of water (especially the ocean), and one day, I will have a kickass beach house where I’ll spend my time writing and sipping mojitos.

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