Learning #Korean in #Korea

When I was in Canada, I was simply stunned at the number of immigrants that simply refused to learn English.  There are whole communities that never leave their area and never speak the language.  I find this attitude to be the ultimate insult to the place you are living in.  I mean, you wouldn’t go to a friend’s house, use his TV, toilet, fridge but never speak to your friends would you?  Yet there are people who do this.

So, since I am here, I am trying my best to learn the language.  It is not easy.  Oh, not because the language is hard, certainly there is a challenge there without question.  What I mean is that I have to learn English in order to learn Korean.

“What did you say?!”

You heard….errr….read that right.  I have to learn English in order to learn Korean.  Why do I say that?  I say that because as a native speaker, you rarely get into the technical details of a language of any significant depth yet that is what many books on other languages do.  Take this example:

어더 is attached to a noun to form a predictive verb.

– Practical Korea, my study book

What the heck is a predictive verb?!  Sigh….Google time.  Wikipedia should be fine.

There are two competing notions of the predicate in theories of grammar.


Theories?!  THEORIES!  You mean this term, which I don’t ever recall hearing in high school, is not even a FACT?  Great, so not only do I have to learn English, it now seems I must learn English theory too before I can begin to learn Korean.  This is not my day…

Lets try another site.

Every complete sentence contains two parts: a subject and a predicate. The subject is what (or whom) the sentence is about, while the predicate tells something about the subject. In the following sentences, the predicate is enclosed in braces ({}), while the subject is highlighted.

Judy {runs}.
Judy and her dog {run on the beach every morning}.

University of Ottawa

Well this is certainly a hell of a lot better and easier to understand yet my brain is still mush over the first explanation.  I guessed this is just not the day for reading comprehension for me….

Survival Korean aka Learning what you need to learn

I found this little quick survival guide.  There is a lot more to Korean, like any other language, but Survival Korean will get you through some fairly common things.

Koreans are kinda funny when it comes to knowing their language.  First, they are always surprised that you know ANY of it.  It’s like they don’t expect anyone outside of their country to learn their language despite they themselves learn English.  That surprised can be expressed in many ways.  The most common is “Wow, you know Korean?” but I have had one guy who replied with the most oddly nervous laugh I have ever heard.

Now, when you pick up a few phrases another weird phenomena happens.  They think you know more than you do and will start talking to you in Korean.  That’s when I learned how to say “I only know a little Korean.”(Pun not intended but amusing still).

Another common phrase you will learn while here is “How much is this/that?” All-my-e-o. This is a simple phrase to learn but there was a problem.  See, before I learned that, they Koreans would either type it out on a calculator and show it to me, or point to the cash register.  When I asked them this in Korean, they would automatically reply in Korean.  That was when I needed to learn the Korean numbers.  Even after that, they still spoke too quickly to me.  That was when I learned ‘Could you please repeat that slowly?”

What is funny is while you are learning Korean, you want to practice it.  It becomes somewhat frustrating when you walk into a store, say hello, pick up your product, ask how much it is (all in Korean) and the guy behind the counter replies in English because he is a University student who wants to practice his English!

The first Korean I learned was actually the subway names.  The digital signs on the subway alternate between English and Korean (Chinese too but I haven’t the foggiest clue on that language).  So it is easy to learn alternating words.

Once you know the alphabet, you can read everything, almost.  There are a few tricky rules where the sound of a character does actually change depending on it’s position in the syllable.  Still, outside of that, most things are pretty straight forward.  Until you read the ‘Konglish’.  Konglish is an English word made using Korean characters.  Here I am thinking it’s great to read Korean when I get this while reading the name of a restaurant “Chee….ken….dok…ter….oh, Chicken Doctor!”

The importance of English for Korean businesses

English is pushed pretty hard here but not very accurately.

Then there is this wonderful video.

It is near impossible to miss grammar too.

Words to live by!

And let’s not ignore this little gem I found in Hongdae…you know, that area which is the hub for all young party drinkers.

Umm, I’ll pass on this place thanks.

Looking to teach English in Korea?

I posted earlier about what to expect under some of the worst case scenarios.  Now here are a few amusing job ads that seem to go with that post.


You really gotta laugh when you see dumb listings like this.  First, smoking is still way too popular here but slowly declining.  Recently the Government passed a new law banning smoking from restaurants.  Now, regardless of any laws, they have to be enforceable and given that the vast majority of restaurants are not franchised, these owners will not alienate their clientèle but trying to tell them they can’t smoke there any more.  Now the bigger chains, the ones that are easy and obvious to control and fine, have done it.  It’s only a matter of time before this really starts to get into the smaller places but I’m not holding my breath (heh) on that to happen any time soon.

Now for the ‘right handed’ thing.  That’s just ludicrous.  Superstitious and severely outdated.

apartment is quite nice except...
“apartment is quite nice except…”

This guy is not helping any.  It is odd that the school is looking for a married woman.  In fact, we suspect that my wife didn’t get many offers because she IS married.  Heck, even one recruiter asked her ‘What happens if you get pregnant?’ as if that has never happened  or could never happen to any other single female who has sex.  Geeze.

“The apartment is quite nice (EXCEPT FOR THE MOLD)” (emphasis mine).

This is both a dumb design on Korea’s building code and subsequent lack of effort to control mold on the tenants part.  See the vast majority of building do not have anything like central air or heating.  They are not designed to allow air flow.  The only way this happens is by opening the window, regardless of the weather.  Although we have learned a well placed fan running on a low-speed will keep air moving around and prevent such crap from growing.  It’s amazing how many people don’t realize this.

Correcting a view

So I came across this article about how Canada can take a lesson from Korea. While the odd point I am in agreement with, there are many things that the writer just completely is ignorant of. I am surprised at this, especially given the fact that he claims to have taught in Korea and ‘written extensively’ about Korea. Guess he is just wearing some very odd shaded glasses. Let’s pick out a few points that are severely missing/glaringly wrong.

“A Korean wave is sweeping the world. The secretary-general of the United Nations is Korean, the head of the World Bank is a Korean-American. “Gangnam Style,” a song by the Korean rapper Psy, has become the most watched video on YouTube.”

Ok, first goof, and one that he admitted, was that Ban Ki-Moon is NOT Korean-American but pure Korean. There was a ‘correction’ listed at the bottom of the article:

“Correction: This article was edited from a previous version that incorrectly said the head of the IMF is a Korean-American. “

Onto the rest of his article.

“In the past decade Korean companies, Samsung, LG, Hyundai and others, have become household names across the globe. The epic battle between Apple and Samsung for dominance in mobile devices is testament that Korean companies stand second to none. In Ontario, Samsung and the Korea Electric Power Corp. are spending more than $3 billion to build wind and solar energy plants.”

I would like to know about his definition of ‘household’ name. See, LG used to be known as Lucky-GoldStar. They used to make electronics products of low-end quality. I recall buying a tape deck ghetto blaster at my local supermarket back in the early 80s that was a GoldStar brand. So LG HAS been a ‘household’ name for a long time. Now, if by household, the writer mean ‘quality’, then perhaps he may be closer to the truth of his words but without that clarification, the words he uses are meaningless and lets people assume things without proper knowledge of the subject.

“The success of Korea is particularly astounding since until the 1960s the nation was dirt poor, having suffered a brutal period of Japanese colonization followed by the devastation of the Korean War. Until five years ago, Canada’s GDP was greater than Korea’s. Now Korea outpaces Canada and the gap grows each year.”

Has anyone ever really looked into what GDP is? I decided I wanted to know the numbers to see this for myself. I got lost and confused because StatsCanada website listed a TON of GDP ratings.

Canada: Economic and financial data (10 tables)
Gross domestic product at basic prices, by industry
Gross domestic product at basic prices, by industry (monthly)
Gross domestic product at basic prices, communications, transportation and trade
Gross domestic product at basic prices, finance and services
Gross domestic product at basic prices, manufacturing and construction industries
Gross domestic product at basic prices, primary industries
Gross domestic product, expenditure-based
Gross domestic product, expenditure-based (quarterly)
Gross domestic product, expenditure-based, by province and territory
Gross domestic product, income-based
Gross domestic product, income-based (quarterly)
Implicit chain price indexes, gross domestic product (quarterly)
Latest statistics (monthly)
Real gross domestic product, expenditure-based
Real gross domestic product, expenditure-based (quarterly)
Real gross domestic product, expenditure-based, by province and territory

So which one did he use to justify this ‘outpaces Canada’ statement? Let’s see if I can find something and not just go by some other random news article that he saw. Well, there isn’t one obvious answer but http://www.indexmundi.com seems to have a simplified chart.

Canada – http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?c=ca&v=67

Korea – http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?c=ks&v=67

Let’s just look at the numbers by year for the last five years.


2006 – 35,600
2007 – 38,600
2008 – 39,100
2009 – 38,100
2010 – 39,400
2011 – 41,100


2006 – 24,500
2007 – 25,000
2008 – 27,600
2009 – 28,100
2010 – 30,000
2011 – 32,100

Well, just by looking at these numbers it is obvious that Canada’s GDP is still significantly higher that South Korea. Was the author talking about GDP “growth”?? In which case Canada’s GDP rose 5500 while Korea’s rose 7600. Sure, that’s higher but given that South Korea is just really getting going, of course it’s growth will be higher that other, well-established countries. This is rather logical and nothing new here. Not much of a lesson here unless Canada abdicates from the world and starts over then it can claim 100% growth rate because it started from zero. THEN South Korea could learn something from Canada right?

“What are the lessons for Canada from Korea’s rapid rise on the world stage?”

So far, nothing but let’s see where this goes.

“First, that post-secondary education is the main driver of success in the global marketplace. Knowledge, both theoretical and applied, is essential in designing and manufacturing cars, supertankers, mobile phones, and making movies and videos. That many Koreans are willing and able to learn English and study overseas, allows them to access the world markets, be it in science, diplomacy or business.”

Ah yes, learning English is a key factor to South Korea’s success right? Sigh. The author seems to have miraculously forgotten that Canada already speaks English! So does the US, UK, Australia…this by no means, is in any way related to a ‘lesson for Canada’.

“The achievements of Korea are the direct result of a skilled workforce, as the country lacks natural resources and has no sources of energy. Canada, blessed with a land mass 100 times that of South Korea, and abundant natural resources, fails to prioritize education. That Canada has no national post-secondary education department or strategy is incomprehensible to all international observers.”

Yes, there are quite a lot of factual and valid points made here. South Korea alone will fit inside of Ontario 10 times and yet Canada only has 10 million more in population that the Greater Seoul area. Education definitely needs some help but having seen both sides of the pond, the education system is sorely lacking equally in both countries.

“If there was ever an argument for constitutional reform in Canada, it is surely to grant the federal government a role in ensuring that the nation’s universities, colleges and private vocational schools operate in a strategic manner in a knowledge economy.”

I can’t necessarily agree that we need the Government to ‘do the right thing’ here and tell educational institutes how to run their business. Sadly, the work that has been done by the Canadian Government so far does not inspire me. I mean, how smart is it that teachers in public high schools are now told that they cannot fail a child? This will make for smarter university students how? No amount of strategy will fix this poor base of students to begin with.

“The second lesson for Canada is that government strategy and support are essential for industries and individuals to compete, and succeed, internationally. A decade ago the Korean government made it a priority to strengthen the entertainment and cultural sector, after concluding that the nation could no longer compete in some manufacturing industries with lower-wage economies.”

Wait, wait, wait. Hold on there. We haven’t’ even established that anything is needed at all and you are already onto some supposed second lesson? So Canada need more entertainment now? Given the deplorable conditions of ‘lower-wage economies’, one would think that working on quality over quantity would be a better way to go. Why is everyone arguing about simply making more money? What ever happened to the welfare of their own citizens? Oh wait, we can’t compare this to Korea because Canada’s medical system would fall apart compared to Korea’s in many, many aspects. Costs of medical attention here is way cheaper for average things. I mean, no one can walk into a hospital, say they have a problem with their foot, get an x-ray done ON THE SAME DAY and pay only $4.

Don’t give me this ‘but it’s included in our health care system’. That only goes to show you how ignorant you are of where you actually pay for it and you can be damned sure you are paying more than $4 for that x-ray. Don’t even get me started on how pathetic the disabled people are preyed upon.

“This decision marshalled(sic) government departments, from education to foreign affairs to finance, to increase national capacity in this sector of the economy. The results are only now becoming apparent, as shown by the sensation of “Gangnam Style.” In its successful bid for the for the 2018 Winter Olympics, government, business and other groups worked together for more two decades, and through two failed bids.”

What I am seeing is more people writing articles simply to ride the ‘Gangnam Style’ popularity. By putting the topic in their article, they hope to garner more attention in the hopes that it turns into revenue. They also try to compare one freaking success that is way outside of the ‘bell curve’, and not the norm, and people think ‘yeah, why can’t we have such a success’. That’s because the majority of industries are self-serving and could care less about real talent than manipulation of what they already have.

“The last lesson that Canadians can learn from Korea is that success depends on reacting quickly to developments. Twenty years ago, when China opened its doors to the outside, Korean firms were the first to take advantage from a billion more customers.”

There we go with the presumption that the readers agree with any of these lessons. Still, the writer is correct but it’s not some awe-inspiring insight. It’s statement that can be broadly applied to any and everyone.

“Korean manufacturers responded swiftly by sending their staff to China to supervise the newly opened plants. Korean students embraced learning Mandarin, in addition to English. In contrast, Japanese and other firms were hesitant, waiting to see if China would truly adopt a market economy. Not surprisingly, the firms moving first and fast obtained the best market share.”

Now here is where I start to laugh. “Korean students embraced learning Mandarin” Really? This is like saying “Canadians embraced learning French.”. Not so much. Chinese has been taught here because at one point in Korea’s history, Chinese was all they had for writing. It’s not like there was a sudden surge to learn, it’s already part of their culture.

“In the past two years, Korea has signed and implemented free trade agreements with the U.S. and the 27 countries of the European Union. Canada, on the other hand, in the past 10 years, managed to implemented free trade agreements with Colombia, Iceland, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Norway, Peru and Switzerland. These countries represent so little of Canada’s annual trade that the total dollar amount is a rounding error.”

This may be true but then again, Canada’s prime source of income isn’t exporting goods like South Korea is. An unfair comparison to say the least. That’s not to say that Canada shouldn’t look at such thing, it’s just a much lower priority because we have ‘big brother USA’ keeping up warm at nights.

“Canada, after more than a decade of negotiations, is still uncertain if it wishes to sign a trade agreement with the European Union, India, Korea or any major economy. Watching from the sidelines is not a good strategy in the fast-moving moving global economy.”

Indeed, this is a good observation. Perhaps the Canadian mindset is so stuck in ‘we have everything we need, so no rush to do anything at all’?

“As Canadians become more and more enticed to spend money on Korean goods and services, they might well consider that if a dirt poor country can become rich in 50 years, could not a wealthy country become poor in the next 50?”

The basis of this statement means that everything the author said is true, factual and can completely be applied to a country with different cultures, different geographies, different politics, different everything really. It is also a severely broad statement that can also be applied to any other country.

Having lived in South Korea for over 2 years now, and see first hand how the education system is pretty broken both here and in Canada I wouldn’t take any educational lessons from South Korea at all, ever. For one, they focus on nothing but memorization. The kids don’t have much of a life when they are in school from 8am to 10pm(used to be midnight at times till the Government put its foot down and passed a law to make it illegal to have a private institute open past 10pm). They used to go to school every other Saturday but that too was recently stopped by the Government. This just meant that the private institutes get more business and some school even have longer hours two days a week because they aren’t open on Saturdays any more. No, I will not be recommending a lesson from the education system here at all.

I would never give up the go-cart building, tree-climbing, hide-and-seeking, snow-fort-making evenings and weekends just to be educated by a system that says ‘because I said so’ when I ask ‘why is the sky blue?’ (true story from a friend’s child, sadly this was in Canada). There is an inherent respect for elders. The problem with that is that you NEVER question your elders. Even if it means a potential new discovery or new way at viewing a problem. Innovation simply dies when you aren’t allowed to explore.

Edit: added link to original article in first sentence

Getting your slice of home in Korea

Many people come here to teach English.  Most don’t think beyond ‘this will be like a big holiday’ and are suddenly slapped with a grand dose of home-sickness.  They miss their Timmies or their family, or maybe just their surrounding environment.  The unfamiliarity comes rushing in when they realize that 2hrs after landing and getting driven to your new place, you are usually unceremoniously dumped and left to fend for yourself.  Although a good co-worker will at least help you get through your first night but they are usually busy with their own lives and do only as much as needed to make sure you get to your new place.

The vast majority of people go on holidays with friends, family but when you come to South Korea to teach, extremely few are here with anyone but the 4 walls they live in for one year.  So the holiday tends to end within 4hrs of arrival.  Then to add to this, what do you do about food?  Great co-workers will help you buy food.  They won’t buy it for you, you should have been told to bring some money with you to sustain you till you get your first paycheck and/or settlement allowance.  Just about everyone thinks that all they will need is food but the reality is that you have no idea what you are missing till you get here.  Sure the ad said ‘fully furnished apartment’ but oddly, this means just a bed, maybe a chair/couch and possibly a TV.  There is a distinct lack of mentioning of utensils, blankets, towers, toiletries, cups and those, while not terribly expensive, do add up and can chew heavily into your food budget.  Suddenly your 4 weeks budget is dropped to 2 weeks.  Then you find out you have to pay for your medical test because in order to get your Alien Registration Card you need this done.  But wait, before you can get your settlement allowance you need a bank account.  Oh wait, before you can get a bank account you need an ARC (Although this has recently changed and you can open a bank account with a passport now).  But wait, in order to open that bank account, you need to go to the bank during 9-5….same hours that you are working and you hope to God that a co-worker is nice enough to help you through this process…wait, did I mention that you work during these hours?  If you are reeeeealy lucky, the school will let off early because the day after you landed you are immediately working and of course your body had adjusted to the 13hr time difference right?

Well, that is a rather bleak view on your arrival here, but it is a common one.  You have to do your due diligence when you make such a decision to go to a completely foreign environment and realize that “you’re not in Kansas any more”.  Once all the initial crap is over, you can truly start enjoying your time here.  For the most part, you will be in the target age of 20-29 and will be hanging with other foreigners, at bars, drinking every weekend, partying in Hongdae with the crowd.  I find this to be truly sad because most of these people miss out on the experience that is surrounding them.  They seem to be continuing their ‘college days’ and have no one around them to be accountable to except their job.  Hell, even the girls (and guys) are good-looking, so why not hook up every weekend right?  Sadly these are the same people who end up quitting their job because it is not what they want/signed up for/believed they were getting.  They thought it would be fun and easy and get to see the world yet they spend more time-wasting (wasted?) on things that don’t help with their positive experience here.

Well, at least there are Foreigner Markets here so that you can get some thing familiar.

From Daily Image of Korea

These are a kind of ‘black market’ sellers.  Obviously not really illegal but more of where they get it from, typically US Military personnel, who are not supposed to be selling like this but it happens.  Don’t be surprised at the outrageous prices you’ll pay here.  I also question the dates on any food items here.  If you are close enough to a big city, there is always CostCo in Seoul and Daejeon.

Should you be one of the ones that truly take a look around,  spend the time to learn at least SOME Korean, you’ll find it truly rewarding and be surprised at how much the Koreans appreciate you trying to work with them on their terms.  I have found more positive and friendly gestures here than I ever have in Canada.  It can be somewhat of an odd feeling because us Canadians think we’re the ‘nice people of the world’ but get to know a few Asians and you’ll soon realize that there is a world of difference here to enjoy.

Teaching English in Korea

There are many times where most teachers simply want to scream, click their heels together and be back in their respective countries. They become frustrated by the lack of consistency, the seeming-lack of courtesy, the lack of language comprehension and the lack of consideration given to ESL teachers. Now that paints a pretty bleak picture but it is merely one side of the coin. The experience, the culture, the beauty and the sense of accomplishment that a teacher does eventually achieve plays a major balancing act and usually is the winner when it comes to deciding if you like it here or not.

Bharati’s school put on a performance of various English skits. Most were modified fables and stories to suit the number of students in each class. Her school is in the outskirts of her town. It really should be classified as ‘rural’ as the immediate area is surrounded by ‘low end businesses’, to put it politely. Small farms, what looks like scrap yards and a convenience store. Overall it looks like a part that has yet to be taken over by the urban sprawl. Maybe I’ll get pictures of it some other time.

In order to get to her school, Bharati normally takes this little ‘school bus’ (meaning something slightly bigger than a mini-van where 40 kids + her gets squeezed into). There is a public bus that runs ‘close’. Close meaning dropped off then a 20min walk. So with me going to see the performance we had to take the city bus. Short enough trip (45mins including the walk) but there was this cool little stream that ran beside the road we walked along.

It was neat to see some ducks but they were severely skittish.

What I really love about this country is the scenery. The landscape has real character, unlike southwestern Ontario. And the Hamilton ‘mountain’ is a real joke compared to something like this:

Nothing does wonder for the soul like a good scenery.

We arrived at the school and I got the customary tour and introductions to many people who understand I was Bharati’s “남편” (pronounced nom-peyong) husband. All the little girls kept saying I was ‘handsome’. The teachers were very polite and the principal smiled a lot (I don’t think he knows anything beyond hello and some other rudimentary English but I am sure he’s learning more each year).

Bharati has a very nice classroom, spacious and quite a number of computers for the kids.

Bharati’s room also includes the Library.

And here we have Bharati at her desk:

I’ve done the rest in an album slideshow, lest this post grow to 18 pages long :)

All-in-all, the kids did an amazing job. They were funny and many of them spoke incredibly clear. Bharati was also given to judge them with a sheet. The Korean culture is very big on academics (another point in the Korean favour as Canada doesn’t seem to care at all in comparison) and it was interesting to see one of the parent check out Bharati’s sheet and the scores she was giving each grade level. We got an invite for dinner from one parent, I am looking forward to that but also concerned that they will miss my strict ‘meatarian’ diet.