Cracking the Korean speaking nut — what to do when someone continues speaking to you in English?


Thinking about Korean speakers who don’t want to speak in Korean to language learners, I was reminded of a post Samier wrote at Gamcho a while back. Samier wrote in part:

Every time I meet a new Korean person, we end up chatting and continue to stay in touch. But even so, no matter what language I end up speaking, they never fail to reply in English unless they are unsure of the English word/phrase. It’s not because my Korean speaking skills are horrible… in fact every Korean person I’ve met has been taken aback from the way I talk. They even respond back withe ease… but in English. Being so, I’m usually forced to speak English with them. And the most annoying part is that they’ll speak Korean with each other… in front of me… :P

In the comments section, Shanna from HangukDrama commented:

 I’m not too sure how it’s like in America, but the Koreans that have been in Singapore for a long time (more than 6 months) usually don’t speak in Korean to me. I have Korean friends who are attending the same university as me. We dont speak in Korean at all even though they know that im pretty ok in it. It’s just somehow awkward. But they do speak in Korean among themselves. O.o

Is this partly a demographic problem? Or a ‘who is more insistant problem’? I’m not sure. Or is it a bilingualism problem? I’m not sure but I think even in these kinds of situations it’s possible to switch the language into Korean. It just takes a bit more work. I wrote Samier in the comments:

Interesting. This is actually extremely common frustration for Korean learners. I would recommend just keeping to speak only Korean even if they speak to you in English. I had one friend who six months after this lop-sided conversation switched to Korean.
(The only time when it might be impossible for you to speak Korean is if they are a lot older than you and are pretty adamant in speaking English — in that case to be ‘polite’ you might have to not speak Korean. I’ve only once been in that kind of situation though and even in that situation I tried to speak Korean as much as I could).
If they never here any English come out of your mouth it will More

Thoughts on speaking Korean


The last few weeks I’ve been thinking about what it takes to speak Korean. Whether it’s in person, or on language forums or on blogs it seems it’s a very common complaint among Korean language learners. It is definitely one of the challenges of learning Korean, particularly in the early stages.

Although it’s always a struggle to speak the language you are learning, this challenge seems somewhat acute in Korean versus other languages like Turkish or Chinese where native speakers are rather eager to speak with you in their language. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the general ambition among Koreans to learn English, but it’s also in large part because Korea is a very closed culture compared to other cultures. Knowledge and correct use of Korean is one of the primary keys to this castle and woe to him (or her) who tries to wrench those keys out of one of the gatekeepers!

It definitely gets easier the more fluent and comfortable you are in the language. Even so though, sometimes I still feel guilty for insisting on speaking Korean.

I was quite struck by something Greg Thomson wrote on this problem in connection with his growing participator approach. He writes:

But they feel insulted if I don’t use English!

Now one thing I don’t want to do in this guide is to foster guilt feelings unless they are constructive ones. For many years I’ve heard people talk defensively about the amount of English they use with host people, saying that the host people want it that way. “I mainly relate to educated people, and they feel put down if I don’t speak to them in English,” or “English is the language of business all over the world, and business people want you to use English with them.” I’ve challenged these claims in my own practices, whenever I encountered them in a situation where I was a growing participator. I’ve held many a conversation in which the other person persisted for a long time using English with me, and I More

My private language diary


When I started learning Korean I didn’t keep a blog. The first few months I didn’t even keep a journal. After seven months I started to keep a journal in a Google Docs document so that I could keep track of my progress and strategize about ways to learn language and culture better. Only a year and a half later did I finally start this blog.

A few days ago I found this old journal. It was very encouraging (for me) to read about the tripping and failing, the detours, discouragements (and successes!) that marked the the beginning portion of my road to Korean fluency. In the beginning I primarily used the Growing Participator approach to language learning — so it’s cool to More


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As I keep writing my strategies I’m a little discouraged because the first two ideas didn’t work. Of course I haven’t let the seeds grow very much, and you often don’t know people who can help off the bat. However, it’s a bit disappointing.

I had a 2hr session with M*. We covered a lot of Korean in Lexicarry but also there was too much talking in English. I think she is someone I want to start talking only in Korean with at least for part of our time, because sometimes we talk way too much in English. We did talk about a lot of useful things, and I learn a lot from her. Maybe our sessions are more useful than with her boyfriend. In either case there is too much English for my liking. I think with her now I’ll mainly do Lexicarry and maybe also reading help. We also worked on learning how to pray.

More Strategies
2.6. I have a new strategy for finding someone to record my textbooks. Stop by the public library, study some there and ask someone there if they can help me. I’m not sure how to ask anybody in Korean which makes strategy 3, 4,5 and this new strategy a bit more complicated.

3. Keep track of my hours better.

Looking back, looking forward

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I feel a bit discouraged today about my language learning work. I can’t seem to get 10 hours with language helpers every week. With the semester ending I’ll have to a whole new set of helpers. People are so busy it’s hard to even find someone who I can meet regularly every week

I met with two high school girls yesterday and we worked on a book for an hour. I almost felt I hadn’t progressed at all in the last several months.

I actually have made some progress. I am especially looking at the last two months.

1. In the last two months I’ve dramatically increased the number of words in my vocabulary. As I have a breather one of the most useful consolidating things I can do is make a word list so I have an idea of how many words I know and also what domains I am weak on.

2. I’ve become a lot more confident speaking and describing random situations. Some days it seems nobody understands me. Other days it seems I make am able to communicate well. Sometimes people seem quite impressed too (I don’t know if it’s for valid reasons though).

3. I finished 2 books — The Little Prince and The Little Match Girl. I have recordings for that.

4. With ne of my language helpers we talk more than half the time in Korean.

5.I have my first friend that I made solely in the Korean language. I think this might be the first same age friend that i’ve had the relationship solely in another language.

6. It’s been wonderful I’ve been able to find language helpers. Even though I haven’t been able to get 10 hours weekly, I’ve been meeting regularly with lots of people to help me in all different ways in language learning. This is a big difference than two months ago.

7. I have learned more how to conduct a language learning session (something I didn’t really have any idea how to do in December).

8. I can read street signs and Korean I see other places pretty easily now. This gives me more ways to improve my Korean.

9. I had a 5 hour conversation in Korean this Sunday. This was also a first.

10. I have many more materials, picture books and experience asking for help. I’ve also been able to ask for help and practice Korean with random people much more.

I’m pretty sure I’ve passed my the Mongolian language peak counting both vocabulary and grammar. However, I feel like I know less. Maybe I have much higher goals and know more of the work involved, so the amount I’ve accomplished seems little compared to the goal.

There are some positive developments for the next couple months.

1. G* is going to be my roommate. This will give me much more chance to ask Korean questions or practice Korean sentences with him. Also since I’ll be much more around him I can listen when he talks with friends or relatives.

2. Even though some of my language helpers are leaving for the summer or have already left, several will stick around for at least part of the summer.

Below I want to make a list of some of my goals and things i want to work on. It’s evident that working with people and using Greg Thompson’s approach and picture books is really helping. However, there are still many things that I need to improve on.

1. I want to continue to increase my vocabulary dramatically.

2. I want to make many more friends where our relationships will be only in Korean.

3. I think I need more helpers so that I can put in more hours per week.