Survival Korean

South Korean flag.
South Korean flag.

Our trip to Korea is getting closer.  We’ve got pretty good at reading individual characters in hangul, but it’s not doing us much good.  I can  see when it’s pointed out to me that 부산  is Busan, the city where Emily lives, but I can’t decode it all by myself.  Hey ho.

So now we’re busy learning Useful Phrases.  This is proving so hard that we’re keeping the list to the minimum.

Will these get us by, do you think?

Hello:  안녕하세요 – annyeonghaseyo.

Goodbye: 안녕히 가세요 – annyeonghi kaseyo

Yes:  네 -Ne (how confusing…..)

No: 아니오  – anio

Please: 그렇세요  – kureoseyo

Thank you: 감사합니다 – kamsahamnida.

Bon appetit! 잘 먹겠습니다 – jal meokkesseumnida

Thank you for the meal: 잘 먹었습니다  – jal meogeosseumnida

What have we left out?  This is the most basic list remember, just to try to remain polite.  We’ve abandoned all thoughts of real communication.  And even this little list is taxing our poor brains.  I’m sure we’ll be fine …….

Now.  Can you translate this please?
Now. Can you translate this please?

Mangled Hangul

I’m learning hangul.  Why’s that?  No, stop.  WHAT is that?

It’s a writing system.  It’s the Korean writing system.  And it didn’t just evolve over the years as so many do. A Korean King, Sejong devised it in 1446. He realised that the classical Chinese script used at the time was unsuited to the sounds and grammar of the Korean language, so sat down and invented something more suitable.

It’s a writing system so appreciated by the Koreans that they even have a day off to celebrate it.  Hangul day is in October every year.

I don’t appreciate it much.  I find it quite tricky.  But learn it I must, and  Malcolm too, preferably before September.

Why though? Because in September we’re going to visit daughter Emily.  You may remember she’s working in South Korea for a year, and how could we not go to the other side of the world to visit her in a place she’s so enjoying, where she’s seeing and experiencing so many new things (raw octopus anyone?)?

And if we want to read a menu outside the few tourist areas, if we want to read a few street names, and catch the right bus, and not wander into the gents if we want the ladies, reading hangul might be a good place to start.

There are 40 characters.  Some of them aren’t too bad.

Korean consonants

Can you see the ‘n’ sound?  Well, that sort of looks like a nose. And the ‘h’?  That sort of looks like a man wearing a hat.  And it’s easy enough to get your head round the ‘s’ sound looking like a ‘moustache’.
And once you’ve got the single consonants sorted, their doubles are a doddle.  Though I can’t for the life of me see how they sound different from each other.
That only took a couple of weeks to get to grips with  – please ignore all those internet videos called things like ‘Learn hangul in two days’, which begin by chattering over-excitedly about how easy it all is.  It’s just … not.
Then came the vowels:
Korean vowels
Honestly, these vowels are a nightmare.  I test myself on Memrise every day, and every day I get my yaes, my yeos, my yes, my wos and my wis, to name but a few, totally, totally muddled.
And it doesn’t end there.  Some versions of the script are neat, thin computer strokes, the Korean equivalent of ‘Ariel’.  Others, like the ones shown here, are more painterly, and yet others are positively ebullient. Shall I even recognise my painfully memorised lessons?
And then, these symbols don’t trot from left to right across the page.  Each word is organised in groups ….
….. like this.  This is ‘hello’ by the way.
So as to learning the language.  I think that may be an effort too far.  We’ll have to survive on ‘hello’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’.  And throw ourselves on the mercy of the people we meet.  Emily says everyone is friendly, courteous and eager to help.  They haven’t met us yet.
We understand the way forward is to pack a quantity of card and some chunky felt tip pens.  Then, when we want to catch a bus, or ask directions, we write our proposed destination in hangul on the card, thrust it in someone’s face, and hope for the best.
All the same, I can’t wait.  I’ll be sure to send some ‘Postcards from Korea’ on my blog.

Finding my Feet

Look, I promise I won’t just reblog my daughter’s blogs from South Korea every time she publishes one. You’re quite capable of ‘following’ her yourselves after all. But I ‘m so excited that her first month there has been such a positive experience. And if everyday life includes ballet yoga on Wednesdays, and kimchi jjigae on any day of the week, it’s worth reading about, I think.

Speaking Konglish

I can’t believe it’s almost been a month since I arrived in South Korea. I expected to be wailing under the covers by this time, sniffling and puffy-eyed because I missed home. Not true in the slightest. These few weeks have been very strange for me…mostly because I don’t feel strange here.

I imagined complete culture shock, foodshock, and oh-God-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life shock. Aside from the latter, which is felt by most people on a regular basis, I have yet to really experience any kind of shock. The language barrier is certainly very real, but it hasn’t been a cause for any kind of trauma (yet), apart from a shouty taxi driver who pretended not to know where I was going. 5 minutes later, we pulled up outside my local metro station – I get the feeling he only pretended not to know so he could drive around the block for that extra 200…

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Korea Kalling

We did something like this in 2011. We kissed our daughter Emily ‘Goodbye’ and waved her off as she set off for Barcelona, to become a teaching assistant for a year in a Catalan primary school. She ended up spending more than four years there, and now she’s a fully-fledged English teacher with a flat in Barcelona, fluency in Spanish, a circle of friends, and a happy life .

But this morning, after her three week break in the UK, we waved her off again. She’s off to South Korea this time, to its second city, Busan. She’ll be teaching English in a school there, for one year only. Or so she says…. Read what she has to say about it in her blog, currently called ‘Speaking Spanglish’ – I imagine it will have a name-change quite soon.

Speaking Konglish

Four years ago, I moved to Spain. In the UK, I had wanted to become a teacher. Applying for jobs and schemes usually had the same result though – ‘looking for someone with experience’. How can you get that experience if you can’t get the job in the first place? However, I soon saw a light shining at the end of a tiny tunnel. A conversation assistant in a Spanish school: great! That’ll give me something to pop on my CV. I’ll go back after a year.

Four years later, and there I still was. TEFL-qualified, experienced, and loving it. Barcelona is full of charms, and I am incredibly glad of my decision to move there. It helped me learn a language, blend into another culture, and taught me so many things.

Four years ago, I was also looking down other small tunnels, in the maze of life. One such…

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