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Did you know I spoke Korean ?

Updated: Feb 1

I didn’t know either. I just found out very recently.


A couple of things happened that made me realize that I spoke Korean. At least that’s what anyone within ear range would have thought if they'd heard me.


OK let me explain what I mean by speaking Korean.



Hello in Korean

Last month I was watching a Korean show on Netflix, this guy started talking really fast and not articulating. I had no idea what he was saying. I actually turned to my partner and said « huh? I couldn’t understand a word » and he answered, « I know, me neither! ».


And then the words we had just said sunk in and we just couldn’t stop laughing. Because we both knew what we meant by that even though in effect, neither of us speaks Korean.


This happened once before where we were watching a Japanese show and suddenly, I said “wait, I just understood that, are you sure it’s a Japanese show?”. It was, but someone said something in Korean :-D


I love Korean tv-shows. I've seen enough now that there are actors I "know" and like, other's whose acting I don't like. I’m slightly obsessed with their coats - yes coats, gorgeous coats, they wear them a lot, indoors, outdoors, and wear a new one every day - I'm surprised by the importance cars and watches seem to have. I have yet to see one show in which there isn't some type of car chase. I’m always surprised by how much anger and frustration is expressed while love is under expressed - I can't stand seeing people slap each other as if that was the most normal thing in the world but not hug each other when they meet after being apart for 10 years. I’m fascinated by the mourning rituals and by the amount of alcohol that is absorbed. I’m hypnotized by how often humiliation is brought up but also how much love can be expressed without crazy outpours of emotions.


I'm very curious about the ubiquitous "conglomerates" and how they seem to contro

A street in Seoul Korea

l politics and the justice system at so many different levels. The influence of social network seems to reach an all-time high if I were to believe what I see in these shows, the lack of respect for private life - on the media's part particularly- seems to be even worse than in western countries.

I have no idea if it's really like that or not.


Aspects of the culture – as it is reflected on my tv screen- I love, others I dislike profoundly. However, at the end of the day, as different as the cultures might initially seem to be, we laugh at the same things, cry for the same things, are frustrated by the same things. Humans will be humans.


Someone recently told me they were surprised I watched Korean series with my partner as they were under the impression that most of the shows were romantic comedies. Besides the fact that why wouldn't a man - my partner - enjoy romantic comedies, there are a lot of Korean shows without romance. In fact, my 3 all-time favorites don’t have any romance in them ("My name", "My Mister", "Miraculous Brothers"...oh and because I love the main actor, I'll throw in another one I really liked "Diary of a prosecutor").


I really enjoy Korean shows because they get me out of my head. That's the first reason. When I watch a show in a language I speak and read easily, I have a bad habit of multitasking. My mind wanders, I get up to do things while listening from another room. I come and go, look at my phone, work on my computer. I can't just sit and watch. Not with a Korean show: once I’m sitting in front of the screen, I have to focus only on the screen, I can’t multitask as I’m so focused on seeing what is happening while also reading the subtitles.


The 2nd reason is the unfathomable choice of shows I can pick from. There's always one that will match my mood.


The 3rd reason, and that might come less as a surprise, is the language. I love different languages. When I watch a show that's not in English, French or even Spanish now, I’m super focused on the language, on trying to figure out words they repeat a lot, expressions that don’t match what the subtitles are saying. Body language and all types of nonverbal cues are so important when you don’t speak the language and I'm always on the lookout for those.


I have a mental list of the words I consciously understand. They are very few, but these words are repeated a lot. I can say (from memory):


  1. Kamsahamnida (감사합니다) - formal "Thank you" in

  2. Gomawo (고마워) - also thank you, maybe more informal but also different context.

  3. Annyeonghaseyo (안녕하세요) - This is a polite way to say "Hello" or "Good day."

  4. Annyeong - the shortened version of the above, like a "hi"

  5. Bianhae (미안해) - "I'm sorry"

  6. Saranghae (사랑해) - "I love you."

  7. Hajiman (하지만) - "but" or "however."

  8. Aigu (아이구) - similar context as "Oh my God""

  9. Wae (왜) - "why" or "what"

  10. Deo (더) - "yes" (also seems to be used to answer a negative question, I have ot check that)

  11. Aniyo (아니요): "no."

  12. Ga (가 ) : go.

  13. Gaja (가자): let's go

  14. Ssikke (씨끼) - This is vulgar and offensive, I hear it when they want to say something like "asshole, bastard, bitch."

There's also a whole bunch of words I "understand" but can't remember. I just know what they mean, or the idea they convey. What I mean by that is even if I'm not reading the subtitles, I know what's being said. Words and expressions that are used a lot, but that I can't commit to my working memory.


Oh and you know what happened yesterday? my boyfriend asked me to put up the volume because he couldn't hear properly. We're still talking about not being able to hear properly a language we don't understand and for which we need subtitles :-D But somehow, over the years, we actually need to hear the language to understand the show better. Go figure.


So yeah, I speak Korean!


Seoul Korea bridge

Seoul, South Korea, that I so want to go to now!





Author : Feriel Temmar

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