This Question Came to My Inbox: "Do you have any odd/funny speech habits while speaking Korean?"

Usually, if I have odd speech habits, someone tells me, and I correct them.

I was learning to speak from my students, but they didn’t use the level I was supposed to use, and I got corrected. . Photo by Naomi Shi on Pexels.com

Not long after I got to Korea and began trying to speak, I was using the 습니다 (subneeda) form of the verb because that is what I heard all the time. When I rode the bus, they used it to make announcements, and I rode the bus everyday. I was teaching in an elementary school, and the students used the form when they spoke to me, and I am used to copying what I hear when I try to learn a language, so I just copied what they said. Come to find out, I was doing it wrong. I am in my 50’s, and no one thought I should be using that 습니다 (subneeda) form at all. One of my friends suggest that I learn the 요 (yo) form and use it, so I did. Less people get bothered by how I speak if I use the 요 (yo) form.

When I messed up, my university students always corrected my Korean too, and I appreciated it. They taught me to conjugate verbs and put sentences together. Photo by 周 康 on Pexels.com

In the beginning, I learned to use a verb ending like the one on the end of “하갰어요” (ha-kess-eo-yo) or “하갰습니다.” (ha-kett- subnida). However, at the university where I taught, I made up a game to help them learn to conjugate verbs in English. As they played, I played with them and tried to conjugate verbs in Korean. When I used the “하갰다” (ha-kett-da) form for future tense, they questioned what I was using saying, “Can that really be used as future tense?” It sounded strange to them. Even though they decided it could be used, they urged me to use “할거예요” (hal-keo-ye-yo) as my future tense ending.

That woman looked at me like I was absolutely crazy! She wouldn’t say a word to me! Photo by Thegiansepillo on Pexels.com

At one point, I realized I really had to get the word for “you” worked out. In every language I had learned to speak, they all use the word “you,” but it can’t be used often in Korean, and you have to use the right form with the right person. Before I got it figured out, I was in a grocery store standing in line to buy my groceries. I wanted to turn around and say something politely to the woman who was standing behind me. I didn’t know which word for “you” to use, so I used the word “당신” (dangsheen) to try to be polite. She looked at me like I was crazy! She didn’t say anything or respond at all to what I said. I knew I had messed up, but I had thought, “If I can just get the message through, even if it isn’t the right level or whatever,” but I have learned that just doesn’t work. Just getting the message through doesn’t work in Korean. You have to use the right word, the right level, etc. for everything. I learned when to use 당신 (dangsheen), when to use “너” (no), and when to skip the word “you” completely. It was strange, but if I wanted to communicate, I had to do it. Just basically communicating doesn’t work in Korean. You have to do it right or you get strange attitudes from people because they don’t understand that other languages don’t do the strange things they do with language.

“안녕하세요. 잘지내요?” “Hello, how are you?” Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

I do something even now that some Koreans may find interesting. I am American, and I am used to asking people how they are. I speak several languages, and have always asked people how they are in whatever language I speak. It is my habit. I realize in Korean, you can say “안녕하세요,” (an-nyeong-ha-sey-yo), and it can mean “hello” or “how are you.” It can also mean, “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” It is just too general for me. I might greet someone saying 안녕세요 (an-nyeong-ha-sey-yo), but after that, I want to say, “how are you?” However, I don’t want to repeat myself just with a different voice inflection because it sounds redundant and silly to me, so I say, “잘지내요?” (jal-jee-neh-yo) to mean “How are you?” I know it isn’t an exact transaltion, but it is close enough. I also know that I don’t hear the Koreans saying it, but I want to inquire about how people feel, so I use it.

I can say whatever I want to whoever I want in Korea, and they appreciate being able to communicate with me because usually they can’t communicate with foreigners. No one has told me in a long time that I made a mess of things. Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

If I am doing something else strange when I speak, I don’t know because people seemed to be satisfied and even happy when I speak. They even like me saying 잘지내요 (jal-jee-neh-yo). A lot of people I know can’t speak English, and they are just happy to be able to speak to a foreigner because if I hadn’t worked so hard at speaking Korean, they couldn’t speak to me. They don’t complain about strange things I do and say anymore. There maybe strange things, but no one complains, If they complain, I will fix it.

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