Learning Korean is a fun, rewarding and a perfectly balanced challenge. However, it does come with some rules.
Korea has a lot of manners and social rules to follow and, while you might be excused at times for being foreign, you still need to at least try and play by the rules.
So, in order to avoid any embarrassing situations, here are some tips to keep you out of trouble.
And now, setting a good example of what not to do when meeting Koreans, is CL of 2ne1 with “나쁜 기집애 (The Baddest Female)”
Respect your elders
This rule may not be exercised so much in the West these days, but it’s still a crucial part of Korean culture. Of course, not being Korean means you’ll be excused for little mistakes but you should still try to be as formal and respectful as you can.
Remember to address people respectfully, use as formal language as you know and remember that what you do with your body is important.
When sitting either in chairs or on the ground, always sit with your legs (at least your knees) together and try to maintain good posture.
When giving or receiving anything from an elder, always do so with both hands and a slight bow of your head.
Don’t show-off your extensive lexicon of Korean curse words
Many Korean learners like to find excuses to use Korean in everyday life, and that’s great… Until they get ticked off…
Now, in Kdramas and Kpop they use curses and expletives pretty liberally, throwing them in for dramatic effect and emphasis without really thinking about it. Normal Korean people, however, aren’t usually so quick to curse, especially in front of others.
So, with this in mind, try and hold back you ‘aish’es and ‘aigoo’s. It may be tough, but it’ll look better if you do.
That point also brings me to:
Don’t copy pop culture
We, as multi-cultural people, need to accept the fact that Korean Dramas, just like the dramas of our home countries, are fictional and not 100% accurate representations of real life. They’re dramas… Meaning dramatic portrayals… In other words, not real…
We all know Kim Soo-Hyun isn’t really an alien, so we can at least gather from that the fact that maybe we can’t totally rely on music and TV for accurate depictions of Korean life.
Try not to assume that all Korean people conform to the roles in TV dramas. All moms aren’t scary tyrannical helicopter moms. All guys aren’t rich. All rich guys aren’t a**holes. Sometimes the sweet guy does get the girl. And so on and so forth.
Koreans are regular people with normal lives, so respect and appreciate them for who they are, not who television makes them out to be.
Also, don’t trust copying what people in dramas and music say and do. That can go really badly. So, make sure you’re studying correct and polite Korean, rather than going off what people say in that song or drama. That’s why I made today’s song CL’s “Baddest Female”, because that song (or actually most kpop songs) is very arrogant, and you could get some weird looks or lose friends by being (even unintentionally) arrogant.
One thing that my boyfriend (who is Korean, for those who don’t know) really hates is when people call “야![Ya!]” to get someone’s attention. While it’s used every two seconds in dramas, it’s quite rude and can piss people off, so try to refrain from using it, unless you are very close to that person and are 100% sure they don’t mind.
Remember your 씨s, 님s, 아s and 야s
This point might not be vital for a foreigner to use, but it could earn you Brownie Points with people you meet (especially if you’re meeting your other half’s parents).
This is a formal but familiar suffix that you put after a person’s FIRST name to show respect. You use this with someone that you are not particularly close to. You may say it to a stranger or a friend of a friend, but it sounds weird if you say it to a friend. It is the Korean equivalent of saying Mr. David or Mrs. Helen.
So, for example, to address me, you may say “안녕하새요 애이미씨!”
The first word is ‘annyeonghasaeyo’ meaning ‘hello’.
The second word ‘애이미’ is my name, and you can see ‘씨’ [ssi] on the end. It’s fairly polite while still being casual.
Nim is a much more formal honorific suffix that you attach to the occupation of a person, not their first OR last name[!!].
You can also put this on the end of the words for Father or Mother to add extra formality. So you have 아빠님 for Father and 엄마님 for addressing a Mother.
For example, you would be expected to address a teacher by ‘선생님’ [seon-saeng-nim]. So, in a formal setting:
[Name]+님= Bad! Avoid.
“야! 아저씨/아줌마!”= VERY BAD! Like ‘hankering for a scalding’ bad!
아 [ah] and 야[ya]
아 and 야 are very casual ways to address someone very close to you. I’m explaining these two at the same time because they have the same meaning, but are just applied differently.
아 is used as the suffix when the last syllable block of a person’s first name has three characters.
For example, the name 예빈 [Yebin] has three characters (ㅎ, ㅣ and ㄴ) in the last syllable, so someone close could refer to them as ‘예빈아’[Yebina]
But 야 is used when the final syllable only has 2 character! So, the name ‘승리’ could be called ‘승리야’ by someone very close.
In situations where you aren’t sure about which suffix to use, go for the more formal option and, if you get an opportunity, gently ask the other person “제가 어떻게 불러야 될까요?” [jae-ga eo-tteoh-kae beol-leo-ya doe-kka-yo], which means “How can I address you?”.
Kdramas can help you learn
Exposing yourself to the Korean language will do wonders for your learning. Even if you use subtitles, hearing it spoken will help your listening, comprehension, pronunciation and vocabulary. And, it also means that you will soon be able to understand meanings in the character’s words that perhaps the subtitles cannot express!
Put a drama or a Korean podcast (such as the BRILLIANT Talk To Me In Korean or Korean Class 101 podcasts) on as you go to sleep at night and your subconscious will keep listening as you drift off, causing you to subliminally learn. Trust me, this works! I also do this to help me learn lines for plays and films, so it’s a pro tip!
And my final (and slightly conflicting) point:
Don’t JUST study Kdramas
Like I said, Kdramas can do wonders for your learning, but only as a supplement to your other study material. You’ll still need to get your textbooks out and knuckle down every so often – there’s only so much Lee Min Ho can help you!
If you only use the language learned from Kdramas, you will find yourself at risk of being labelled a ‘Koreaboo’ and Koreans may feel a little insulted (rightfully) if you take their language and culture for granted and limit it to only what you see on TV. Respect the culture, not just the TV shows, and you’ll be fine! 🙂
Korean, as I keep saying, is SO MUCH FUN, is a true delight to listen to and it sounds great to speak it. So don’t let it just become something you have to study or something you’re slogging though learning. Have fun with it and make it an adventure. You’re much more likely to learn it well if you approach it with passion, enthusiasm and a willingness to go through the steps, be willing to try, willing to make silly mistakes and ready to try. Keep learning and keep at it!
Also, Koreans are generally very helpful people and if they see you earnestly trying to learn their language, they will be compassionate and helpful. Show them how invested you are in learning their language and they will feel both respected and more encouraged to help your learning.
You’ll do great! Just remember to keep working at it and don’t be afraid to practice, practice, practice! 🙂
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