15 In Korean learning journey (:

Practicing Korean with a non-native speaker

Have I written about this? After 600 entries on the blog I can’t really remember. ):

It’s not often that we get the chance to talk to Koreans and more often than not, we practice our Korean with other learners, particularly if you are attending Korean classes.

So… Is this a good thing or not?

Some practice is better than no practice, some say.

Personally, I don’t have much experience in that, especially in Singapore. When I was in Korea, some of my close foreigner friends will sometimes speak to me in Korean, but it was more for fun than really getting any practice. They don’t mind that I’ll correct some of their pronunciation and they sometimes ask me ‘how do you say ____ in Korean’.

But I’ve never tried that in Singapore. I feel like I’m going to offend people if I try to correct every other thing they say. So usually I just smile and say nothing on the occasion that random people try to practice their Korean on me – more often than not they are just trying out a few phrases they learn in dramas, not serious learners.

In any case, let me share some true stories (personal / from friends)

I was talking to an Amercian friend and he tried to speak to me in Korean. His Korean was so accented that I had a hard time understanding what he wants to say. But he seemed unaware of it and continue on. So finally I told him I can’t understand. And he told me … HEY YOUR KOREAN IS NOT THAT GREAT HUH. OTL. I have no heart to tell him otherwise so I just laughed.

A Canadian friend told me that his friend wanted to practice with him (even though they are both in Seoul) but their standard was so different it was difficult to do it.

I’ve also seen people around talking in Korean to each other. But there are so many grammatical errors and they end up substituting a lot of English in it that I’m so afraid they will have their own Korean inter language soon >< I've also seen people who insist that they are right and try to change their partner's speech when it's probably incorrect. Hahaha bad experiences so far. When I was learning, I didn't practice with anyone at all. I think it's a different thing to practice with someone of a much higher standard than you and to practice among two new learners. I think somehow your friend's way of speaking will rub off you after awhile and you tend to accommodate to his or her speech. Great if you are improving and accommodating to the right thing, but otherwise... So far I haven't seen anyone who improved their speaking skills this way >< Anyone wants to offer a different view?

Overall I think it’s alright to practice with your friend once in awhile and have fun learning, but take it with a pinch of salt and continue to expose yourself to native Korean ^^

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  • Reply
    28 August, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    haha sometimes i have no choice but to speak in korean to a non-native speaker! ie my jap friends, cos they cant speak eng and i cant speak jap :p not a prob for u tho, since u can speak both! but when u try correcting singaporeans for example, they’ll probably be thinking that ure trying to show off or sth???

    • Reply
      28 August, 2012 at 9:33 PM

      haha!! i speak to my japanese friends in korean too. I think the convo will stop very fast if I try speaking Japanese. Yeah I’m scared they think I want to show off ><; But if it was me, I would want someone (even another Singaporean) to correct me.

  • Reply
    Debbie Wong
    28 August, 2012 at 6:45 PM

    I do not practice speaking with my classmates as the standards are different so it is difficult to do so. I only tried to speak to my Korean teacher whenever possible. Other than that, the only speaking practice I had was when I was in Seoul last year where I am forced to speak to the locals. Also, like Ethel, I speak in Korean to my Jap friend as well coz that’s the only language we can communicate in, as I don’t know Japanese and she don’t know much English 🙂

    • Reply
      28 August, 2012 at 9:32 PM

      hahaha i also speak in Korean to my Japanese friends xD It’s kinda cool, Korean is our only communicative tool!

  • Reply
    28 August, 2012 at 7:28 PM

    I can definitely offer a different view.
    When I was studying Japanese on my own in high school, I had some friends who were… slightly less serious. So, I would speak to them in Japanese, and they would respond back in English usually. But my Japanese was low enough that they were able to understand.
    When I finally went to university and took a Japanese class. My teacher was really impressed by my speaking ability, especially for somebody who had studied on their own rather than a formal class.
    Of course, this wasn’t the only way I was learning, but it helped me gain a more natural and quicker response when speaking.

    For me, part of learning a language, is thinking in the language. Forcing yourself to speak the language out loud also helps you be able to quick navigate the language in your head.

    • Reply
      28 August, 2012 at 9:31 PM

      Yes, thinking in the language definitely helps!

  • Reply
    28 August, 2012 at 7:29 PM


    I was talking to an Amercian friend and he tried to speak to me in Korean. His Korean was so accented that I had a hard time understanding what he wants to say. But he seemed unaware of it and continue on. So finally I told him I can’t understand. And he told me … HEY YOUR KOREAN IS NOT THAT GREAT HUH. OTL. I have no heart to tell him otherwise so I just laughed.

    This is so true. I cannot understand poorly proniunced korean either. Sometimes it’s not even the correct sounds. That sucks that his pronunciation is bad but then He blames you for not understanding.

    • Reply
      28 August, 2012 at 9:31 PM

      hehe it’s kinda funny xD

  • Reply
    28 August, 2012 at 10:12 PM

    I’m kinda weirded out by the idea of foreigners trying to speak to each other in Korean but I’ve also never experienced it myself. I have Kakaotalked/tweeted fellow Korean learners in Korean but only if it’s quicker to say something in Korean vs English (like 응) or if I’m fairly certain that I’m expressing myself correctly. Sometimes I find it weird when fellow English speakers try to have entire text conversations with me in Korean o_O

    • Reply
      28 August, 2012 at 11:13 PM

      ㅋㅋㅋㅋ I can’t decide how I feel about it. It’s not that bad when both parties are proficient but when it’s not the case……

  • Reply
    29 August, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    If you don’t mind, I would like to write about (almost) the same experience, just in connection with English ^^

    English is my 3. language (after German and Hungarian) and I was like “Oh maan, I’m never going to understand all this grammar and my pronounciation is poor as hell”. My best friend had been studying English for yeaaaars then, but I was too shy to ask her to help me out.
    After I passed the advanced English language exam, I made up my mind and went to practice English with her.. Turned out, that she was really REALLY bad in English.. But still, she was self confident. In the end, I had luck that I didn’t ask her to help me at all 😀

    But other than that, I don’t experience this kind of language practicing in Hungary. People here usually have a really strong accent and I’m sure that – because of that – many of them are insecure when it comes to foreign languages. So I have to find my “Japanese / Korean classmates” online ^^

  • Reply
    29 August, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    Self-study people should understand the pain of not having a proper study buddy. The only thing I could do was to constantly katalk with as many Koreans as possible, as some angels will start to correct you as you go. Most friends around me who’ve been learning Korean don’t seem to be as serious about it as I am and therefore, its hard to even converse with anyone in Korean. Working in the tourism line, I guess I’m rather lucky to be able to speak in Korean to Korean guests, and that definitely helped boost my speech confidence~

  • Reply
    29 August, 2012 at 2:38 AM

    Interesting thoughts.

    I speak to lots of Mongolian friends in Korean (and sometimes American, Turkish or Russian friends). When we do though we are not trying to practice Korean per-se. Rather, we primarily just trying to communicate and so we don’t correct each other’s pronunciation/grammar/word choice.

    The only thing I do try to insist upon is that if they are younger than me they speak to me in 존댓말 and if they are older than me I speak to them in 존댓말. (I’ve had a few foreign friends who try to tell me that since we are both foreigners we should dispense with niceties. I feel though that if we are speaking Korean we might as well follow their rules.)

    This 존댓말/반말 thing is not usually an issue if the friend’s Korean is at a high enough level, as in that case they are used to talking with other Koreans enough that they just treat me as another Korean.

  • Reply
    29 August, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    I actually think my Korean improved +more+ when I was speaking mainly to other non-native speakers than when I was just speaking to Koreans!

    I lived in Korea as an English teacher for a few years and learned Korean through self-study and help with Korean friends and ‘language exchanges’ which was good, but only got me so far.

    Then I went to study at a university in Seoul and while the classes were, of course, helpful, I think the best part was hanging out with my classmates all of the time outside of class.

    We were a mixed group – Westerners like me, Japanese, Taiwanese etc. but it was all those hours hanging out together in coffee shops talking only in Korean, just planning what we’re going to do at the weekend together/complaining about homework/talking about movies we’d seen etc. that actually raised my Korean from ‘understand some vocab and grammar’ to ‘can converse naturally about a variety of topics to actually get my point across’.

    They were the people I practiced with most – of course it’s also important to talk to actual Koreans as well, otherwise you can end up speaking your own pidgin-Korean based on what you have learned together in class and mistakes you make, but I think practicing with non-native speakers is great! At least in Korea…. and at a university where the atmosphere between students is a bit, err, friendlier than Yonsei 😉

  • Reply
    29 August, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Honestly, I dont think it’s wrong to communicate in Korean with non-native speakers.
    Just look at Singapore, there are different races living in the country and we are not native English speakers but we do speak English and write in English at home/in school/at work and it’s the only language we used to communicate effectively with other races.
    What I’m trying to say here is, it’s ok to speak in Korean with non-native speakers if both of you are comfortable in the language, or as mentioned earlier, when Korean is the only common language among friends of different races/country. However, if you wish to practise Korean and have someone correct your grammar, without doubt, the best method is to practise it with natives. However, I think it’s alright too to practise it with non-native speakers if the language partner is qualified, eg like Shanna who is at Topik Level 6 ^^. From a local context, it’s similar to getting correction from a teacher who is locally born, non-native English speaker but is qualified and can speak, read and write as well as the natives.
    Not meaning to insult anyone but not all natives are good in their own language ^^

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