Speaking Korean in America (미국에서 한국어를 말하기)

How many of you speak a second language not native to your home or present country of residence?

This is a snippet of my daily life.  Since I’ve been back state-side I’ve been trying to upkeep my Korean language skills not only in convos and vid-chats with my BF and Korean friends, but also in my everyday life. Unfortunately, my daily usage of Korean is limited to the opportunities that I may or may not have that allow me to practice my Korean language skills and strike up a conversation with someone else(*either a native speaker or another second language learner).

During the weekday and often times weekends at my place of work, I am surrounded by a diverse group of co-workers and international students. However, none of my co-workers speak Korean and the few Korean students that I work with feel more compelled to speak to their native English counselors pretty much in English. This off course is the practice in which all counselors must follow(*supporting our students in their English usage and retention). But, on some occasions I openly speak Korean with my students if something in our conversation leads me to do. For example, two weeks ago on a Friday when the student’s were off of school I spent some time working on a future Christmas activity with one of our student’s from Korea. Since we were talking about favorite food I chimed in, using Korean, about my student’s love for seafood. She was not surprised to hear me speak Korean since all of my students and co-workers know of my Korean history. However, she was surprised at me mentioning a South Korean delicacy called Sannakji (Korean: 산낙지), which is freshly cut live octopus.

In our brief Korean conversation about food I asked my Korean student about if she liked fresh seafood that crawls in your mouth. To my surprise she loved Sannakji the most. After discussing my first time experiencing or I should say eating ‘live octopus’ I felt a sense of joy in sharing my experience and using Korean. Thankfully, I received no reprimand for carrying the conversation outside of English. Instead, speaking Korean helped lighten the mood and office atmosphere more. Me and my Korean student each found out something new about one another and we were both eagerly open to talking about it with other staff present in the office lounge area.

hmart jericho.jpg
A local H-Mart, an Asian supermarket nearest to my house

Speaking Korean is something I am always happy to do, especially whenever  I am able back in the U.S. To tell the truth, I have always used words from second languages other than my mother tongue to describe, label, and occasionally explain things whether it be at home, school, or sometimes at work. I think that growing up in a multilingual household might have encouraged if not stirred my multiple language-usage interest. My parents use English, French, and Haitian-Creole in their daily lives. Somedays(*since they are now retired) they may only speak in French and Haitian-Creole and forgo English. It is something I respect dearly about my parents since my parents mother tongue is not English.

Earlier today, I stopped by my fav-K supermarket, H-Mart. While perusing through aisles I could not find a certain item I was trying to re-stock up on. I decided to use my language skills since many staff are either Korean or near native fluency level in Korean. Unfortunately, as a semi-petite black female the H-Mart re-stocker I spoke to was quite surprised that I could speak Korean and even read hangul(*Korean alphabet). However, I was not surprised by his surprise. This interaction ultimately made me think of the question I raised at the beginning “How many of [us] speak a second language not native to [our] home or present country of residence?

Truthfully, many people do, especially those who are new immigrants, children of immigrants, short-term oversea workers, naturalized citizens, new or old language-learners, etc. Whichever category you may fall into brings to light how languages are becoming more perfused, and transcending  borders, countries, and people across ages and race. It amazes me that maybe one day speaking two if not three languages in addition to ones mother tongue might become a norm.



What is the mother tongue of your native or present country of residence? Do you also speak a second language (like me) not commonly spoken in that country?

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