Sometimes, I have to say I am grateful to grow up in a country of difference races. This naturally gave me the privilege of learning several languages by ‘default’ and ‘FOC’ in our daily life.
I, who came from international school, was given an option to study additional foreign language, French. But it was a subject I never took seriously because my interest was mainly in Korean. Partly because my school comprised mainly 80% of Koreans. I started learning Korean seriously since I was 13-14, which I think peer influence played a big role for pulling me into this whole new world. Before stepping into this world, I once swore I will never like anything about South Korea but perhaps friends have made me changed my mind. So yeah, I wasn’t addicted to South Korea because of K-pop or K-dramas in the first place; they fall into second place instead.
‘Why did you fall in love with Korea?’ is a question probably everyone who loves Korea would be asked. ‘K-pop…Idols…K-drama’ is most notably 80% people would answer but for me, I fall into the other 20%. I like South Korea…for South Korea itself. The traditional, unique stories of South Korea. I love history, especially from Joseon dynasty. I’m not a historian or anyone who would study in-depth about the history of something, but I find myself occasionally reading about Joseon dynasty. It is an amazing fact to understand how Hangeul that we are learning nowadays came about, the chronological events from Three Kingdoms to Goryeo to Joseon to South Korea. To a certain extent, what happened in the past always has an effect on the future development of anything – which is now and also the future. In my point of view, you will never truly appreciate something until you start to appreciate the history of it.
History aside, the cultures that were being brought down from centuries ago up to now is also one of the points that made me loves Korea. Long ago before I love Korea, I thought South Korea was a country well-known for its technologies and modern inventions but never had I knew that a strong traditional culture were also heavily adapted and look up upon in this fast-growing country. Maintaining the tradition is never an easy task to any of the countries that are constantly emerging and developing but South Korea is one of the few developed countries that managed to achieve the win-win situation. In the city of Seoul itself, they still remain the major palaces that were built during Joseon dynasty. Although they were renovated to improve the construction’s quality and better adapted to the modern city, you can still clearly see its traditional essence in it.
Moving to a daily life example is the honorific that almost all Koreans (and so should foreigners in Korea) use. Let’s use the most basic example that I have learned from my Korean friends: Koreans often use honorific when addressing someone who is older than them, and never drops the honorific unless they are allowed to do so. Honorific is something that Koreans see it very importantly, and us as a foreigner should be more aware of. It is something that I always remind to myself whenever talking to Koreans nowadays, or anyone who’s speaking to me in Korean, because I might not want to sound informal/rude to someone I’m not very close to (yet), don’t I? In my culture, I have so far never heard of anything such as ‘honorific’, but they do have certain level of formality to be used to address older people or in a formal occasion.
I’m also learning Chinese at the same time I’m learning Korean. Yes, I am a Chinese and for this reason itself, I should be familiar with my own mother language. It is not something like an obligation to learn, but somehow like what my mother said, ‘You as a Chinese should at least know where you are from, have a basic knowledge of your own language and be proud of your own language’. I seriously never understand why I should learn Chinese when I was younger and until I started making friends with Koreans. I mean, I do speak broken Chinese but could never read or understand Chinese words when I was younger, which totally made me a half banana.
It was the bunch of Korean friends that changed my aspect. Whenever we have our little talks of our own cultures or countries, some of my friends would be like ‘Nah..there’s nothing great about our country..’ but Koreans would be like ‘I am very proud of my country. I love Korea and I am proud I can speak my own mother language’. To be honest, I felt embarrassed at that time and things started to change for me. To start learning a new language is to start learning your own language first. I started taking Chinese language seriously from then onwards.
I have to admit that Chinese is a much more difficult language to learn as compared to the well-organised Hangeul in Korean (which was why King Sejong came up with the Hangeul system in early Joseon dynasty). I can type in Chinese but I still cannot handwrite in Chinese, because every Chinese words are different and you got to memorise how to write each of them. However, I’m glad I’m born a Chinese because at the very least, I still can manage to understand and speak Chinese, which I think might be hard for some non-Chinese learners. I have a Korean friend who can speak Chinese very fluently too, so I guess I need to put in more effort in my Chinese as well.
I guess being able to understand a few languages is a good thing. There was a few times whenever I can’t manage to understand people talking to me in Malay, I started replying them in Korean unknowingly, and it’s a perfectly fluent Korean that I doubt I would talk the same with native Koreans. I do understand some very useful and basic Malay, but anything deeper than that, definitely a no for me. For Korean language, it was almost like a habit to me already (probably influenced by my Korean friends) is that..I would reply ‘I don’t know’ (我不知道) in Chinese whenever I can’t understand any Korean words. Lastly, the same thing happened to me when people started talking Chinese I don’t understand, I started replying them in English. I wonder what would happen if I don’t understand English….? I haven’t encountered this situation before but I am very curious to know what kind of language I would reply in.
Currently, I am learning Korean, Chinese and Japanese. I could’t comment anything about my experience in learning Japanese yet because I’ve only started learning it. But I am determined to learn all these three language seriously this year!