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Recently, I’ve gotten this question from a lot of people.  They want to reach out to Korean people.  They want to visit, or even move to Korea.  But they are afraid that they will say the wrong thing and offend Korean people.  Or they are so afraid that no one will understand them that.  I’ve had negative people in my life tell me that this would happen to me.  But that was not the case for me.  When I was in Korea, people understood me just fine.  I could converse in Korean with total strangers and was shown a lot of love.  In fact, people in Korea understood my Korean better than Korean Americans that have known me the entire time I’ve spoken Korean can.  So here are my tips on what you can do if you feel nervous about talking to Korean people because you feel that you Korean is bad.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

It is said that there is a difference between speaking English and speaking American.  What does that mean?  It is a recognition that people in the United States typically don’t speak perfect English.  This is despite the fact that English is the official language and that most people in the United States have spoken English their entire lives.  If people who have spoken a language their entire lives make mistakes, why would you be expected to speak perfect Korean after a short period of time?  No realistic person would expect that of you.

Even Korean people make mistakes when speaking Korean.  There have been a number of times when I’ve seen a Korean person try to say something in Korean and a non Korean corrected them.  The same mistakes that a person who is American makes in English will be made by a Korean person in Korean.  Just as no one hits an American person for speaking bad English, no one hits a Korean person for speaking bad Korean.  And no one will hit you if you make a mistake also.  So yes, you will make mistakes in Korean.  But so do many Korean people.  Learn from your mistakes as best you can.  Afterall, no one can fix a mistake unless they see it in the first place.

Korean Is A Changing Language 

The following example will show you how Korean has changed since I first started learning.  We will use the Korean term for the word boyfriend.  When I first started learning Korean, boyfriend was spelled 남자 친구.  Later, it became 남 친구.   After that, it was just 남친.  남자 친구, 남 친구 and  남친, all mean the same thing, but as time goes one, that one word has changed many times.  This means you will keep studying Korean, but so will Korean people.  As the language changes, things tend to become simpler.  So don’t be afraid of change, because the change will help you in the long run.

You Know More Than You Think

You may feel that you know little or no Korean.  But truthfully, you do know some Korean.  How do I know that?  Well, think for a minute.  Korean is a language that is very old.  So what is the Korean word for internet, computer, handheld phone, signal and hotel?  These words are almost the same in English as they are in Korean.  The biggest difference is that the Korean words have a Korean accent to them.  As you learn Korean, you will be surprised as to how many English words are the same in Korean.  In fact, there are many times when if you forget the proper word in Korean, you can say the English word and people will still understand you.  You truly know more Korean words than you think.

You Don’t Need To Learn That Much To Understand

Could you make it a goal to learn one Korean word a day for a year?  Many feel that they could do this.  But do you know by some estimates, if you know the 200 most common words used in Korean, you would understand a little more than 50% of what is said in Seoul?  Yes in less than a year, you can reach this milestone.  Before you ask, I do not have that list.  Google will be your friend on that one.  But in Korean, you will repeat many things over and over again.  Often times, when you know one key phrase, you can just change a couple of words to alter the meaning.  Yes, you truly can learn Korean.

Your Hard Work Will Be Appreciated 

The top reason that my friends gave up learning Korean has been the feeling that they are not making progress and that they are wasting their time.  But if they knew how much Korean people appreciate the fact that they want to learn about Korean language and culture, they would have stuck around longer.  Many people have a negative view of Koreans.  And very few people try to reach out to them.  However, many of the negative things people say are false.  Most Korean people are very nice.  And when you make the effort to learn more about Korean language and culture, you are treated even better.  Even though my Korean is not perfect, people in Korea talked to me.  They would kindly correct my mistakes and offer suggestions on how to improve.  But everything was in a love way. Your experience with Korean people will be better if you truly make the effort to try and learn to communicate with them.  You will be more loved than Bulgogi.

I hope this helps to give you the confidence to speak Korean next time you see a Korean person.  Don’t be afraid of what could go wrong.  In time, things will go right.  Feel free to share your stories of learning Korean and speaking to Korean people.  Or if you are Korean, let me know how you feel when someone speaks Korean to you.  And as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to #askthewaygookin.

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