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me and korean language…

July 19, 2006

it was fall of year 2003 that i moved to boston to go to school… almost 13 years ago… it’s not a short time… the first 7 years i spent in boston, i had more links to korean people and language… had few korean friends and even lived with one of my baby brothers for 4 years… still english became my main language that i used more…
then after moving to new york almost 6 years ago, my usage of korean language declined even more… didn’t have any korean speaking friends around and even now still don’t… most of the korean people i know and hang out are korean-americans who speak almost zero korean… then after my brother went back to korea from boston 3 years ago, it became rare that i spoke korean at all…
then the problem arose that i started to feel awkward speaking korean… not to my family but to people that i don’t have any personal relationships with… for example there are tons of bodegas in new york operated by koreans but when i go to one, i feel awkward speaking it… a friend of mine who is korean-american thinks that i’m embarrassed but i’m not… i feel like that i’m not speaking it in the right way… see, in korean there are many different level of politeness according to the situation, age, social status and so on… and since i still have that stupid good-girl complex, i am frightened to use any words or sentences that are not appropriate… also when i speak in korean, i (almost need to) go into a different mental stage which even changes my physical demeanor… to the one from my teenage period which i grew out of long long time ago… as if speaking korean makes me feel that i’m that awkward shy teenager again… if i was talking to someone for 5 minutes and more, then i’m ok… because it gives me enough time to make the transition and figure out how to speak to that person… then also more vocabulary come back to me that i feel less stupid…
but then also i think it’ll be a bit weird that i start speaking korean to all the people in bodegas just assuming that they are fluent in korean…
then also that i feel like i lost a real connection to korean language… as you know language doesn’t stay still… it evolves with the culture… and since i’ve been so away from the culture for such a long time (i haven’t been home for 8 years, yep) it’s rather obvious that i lost the touch… so whenever i tried to read korean news on line, i have to read at least twice to really feel what it means… it’s like my brain understands the words but my heart doesn’t really…
yikes… i’m MIA in a massive pool of languages and cultures…

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8 Comments
  1. …1991, more than half a year after coming back from Japan (where I lived and worked for just short six month) some of my friends asked me about my strange kind of behaviour to always make a bow when saying hello! I didn’t notice it myself…!

  2. 굉장히 어려운 문제같아요. 이건…

  3. Sorry girl, at the ripe age of 45 I’ve decided to finally make an effort to learn Korean. So you will have to speak Korean to me when I become fluent… which should be in, what…a couple of months?

  4. yeah… also i ran into another situation today that made me feel awkward speaking in korean to strangers… so while i was on the 23rd street waiting for a bus with my cello, went into a bodega to get a cup of tea… and of course it was korean owned place… there was an older korean couple at the counter and the lady struck the conversation asking if i was korean… so since i told myself to make more attempt to speak korean, i said yes which led to her asking me more questions about what i was doing with my life and cello… the conversation followed the usual route of them asking which school i went to, what orchestra i belong to, then them getting surprised that i don’t play classical music and end with giving me somewhat suspicious look… which does NOT make me feel comfortable as you can imagine… i feel judged by them… i’m sure at least half of it has to do with my insecurity, yes, but still i kinda know what they are thinking… they do not approve what i do… so… it does make me hesitant speaking to a korean person who doesn’t have any idea about the kind of music i do and so on… yikes…hmm…yes, it’s an issue…

  5. yes indeed language is a strange thing. i think that when we speak different languages our personality shifts somewhat, it’s almost like becoming a different person. i like your point that it’s like going back to your teenage years. i think that can happen even within your own language. (when i go back to my town in the uk my accent, vocabulary and body language mutate into an older me). japanese students of mine have said that speaking english can seem more agressive/opinionated to them (both positively and negatively) in that they are using pronouns much more “i think…” “you are…” etc… i’ve had spanish friends of mine who never heard me speak english (only dodgy spanish) be shocked by the change in my personality when i switch into english (apparently i’m much more dry in english and more animated in spanish, probably largely due to needing to express a lot non-verbally due to severe language holes…) next year i’ll move to korea and am starting to study the language now and sure, the different registers seem like an element that is hugely daunting BUT at the same time there’s also something immensely appealing, like trying on new clothes, or wearing a mask… however for me these clothes are completely new whereas for you maybe it’s like trying on your old school uniform again. languages are other worlds but i like the accidental poetry of trying to speak and communicate in another world… do you feel the same way about musical languages (as in playing in different genres?) happy end of july, thanks for the posts. interesting…

  6. hmm… thank you for such a great comment… i feel somewhat relieved that i was able to explain how it all made me feel…would be very interested in your reaction to korea when you go there especially after being in japan… hmm… musical language… i just know that there are certain styles (?) of music i can relate to and am able to play with that language without losing my musical voice… then there are whole other styles that i just don’t feel connection to… hope it’s not too humid in japan…

  7. Yeah, language takes a lot of practice — not just practice actually, you have to LIVE with it. Culture changes with time, and language is a part of culture, that I know very well, because I grew in a country that’s full of different languages. We would mix other languages into our English or Mandarin and become a trendy word among the youngsters, but the older people might be scratching their heads while hearing it.

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