Don’t let language be a barrier to living abroad

But I can’t speak Korean!

It’s a common fear among many folks thinking about teaching in Korea, or English speakers living abroad in general.

The first time I lived in a non-English speaking country was when I taught in Ecuador for three months. Lucky for me, I had a decent command of Spanish, and chose to go there in part to improve my language skills.

When moving to Korea however, my language knowledge was pretty much non-existent. I had learned to read Hangul (Korean writing) phonetically a few years before, and that knowledge pretty much stayed with me. Beyond that though, I didn’t know anything. And one year later… I’m going to be real honest here…I still pretty much don’t know anything.

I’ve learned the basics–greetings, basic directions, ordering in restaurants. But I’m just not that interested in learning Korean. I know I’m only here for two years total, so by the time I gained any sort of fluency, I’d be leaving only to almost never use it again. I’d rather invest my time in skills I know I’ll take beyond my time in Korea, like writing, fitness, cooking, and blogging.

Despite the dismal English speaking ability within Korea, I’ve got on just fine. I’ve been able to make appointments, travel across the country, eat good food, and connect with others. Sure, not speaking Korean makes these things a little harder than normal, but the privilege of being an English speaker is that in the end we can usually find our way through broken conversations, body language, and translation apps.

If you are going to live in a country where you don’t speak the language, my number one tip is to establish connections with other people your community right away. Whether its other native English speakers who already know their way around, or locals who are learning English, these folks are often the best resource you can have. In particular, local English learners are often eager to help and support as it’s a great opportunity for them to practice their language skills.

Some other useful resources that have allowed me to happily exist in a country that doesn’t speak my language have been:

  • Translator Apps: I use both Google Translate and Microsoft Translator on my phone. The latter has an option to take photos for fast translation of written text.
  • Expat Facebook Groups: one of the hardest parts about not speaking the language is the inability to research things like dentists, doctors, etc. Many of these facebook groups, like “Expat Women in Korea” not only have hundreds of members that speak Korean and are a quick post away, but also have lists compiled of English-friendly services.
  • My Co-teacher and Coordinator: I’m extremely fortunate to have a helpful and caring coT and coordinator that are willing to help when needed.

If you’re an ambitious language learner and are planning on learning Korean while your here, I’ve compiled a list of some great resources for doing so, as suggested by my Korean-learning friends here.

  • Beeline Language is a specifically for learning Korean. For $12 USD/month (less if you get a plan), you can take Beginner, Reading and Writing, or Intermediate Korean lessons.
  • Talk to me in Korean is another website dedicated to teaching Korean, and it’s free. It focuses on day-to-day use of the language, and also has videos on youtube.
  • Korean class 101 is language program via podcasts and videos. It has different levels of subscription from the free account to Premium Plus.
  • Korean from Zero is another free language learning service that provides a free e-textbook or an affordable print version as well as a free online learning program.
  • Quick Korean at the Cyber University of Korea is free and offers a certificate upon completion, which can be used for training hours with EPIK.
  • Language Exchanges are another great way to learn. Many communities in Korea will have these set up already, but if not you can ask your co-teacher if they know someone that wants to learn English to set up an exchange.
  • Hello Talk is an app for digital language exchanges.
  • Memrise is a great way to drill vocabulary.
  • Hellolingo is another language exchange app, formerly known as Live Mocha.

What apps or websites do you use to learn Korean or another language?

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