Learning to speak Korean fluently might take two or three times more effort and time than learning a Western language like Italian or French.
Ouch… But don’t let that put you off. So few Westerners are able to speak Korean fluently that this alone should encourage you to learn as much as you can and stand out from among the crowd 🙂
You will not be expected to speak any Korean at school and some schools don’t like it if you do. The kids in your class are surrounded by nothing but Korean. They’re enviroment is monolingual to the core and your sole purpose is to break some of that and expose them to something completely different. So if you end up practicing your Korean on them you sort of defy that purpose!
As for daily life, those who speak even a little English are few and far between. Even if people know you’re a foreigner and realise you obviously don’t understand their language they’ll still blabber away in Korean as if you were just another family member. Many use straight faces without any form of body language or signs, making it nearly impossible to conclude what they’re saying. In cases like these even if you only recognize a word out of a sentence of fifty, it can help to make your day easier!
Nevertheless, with enough creativity and the usefull English/Korean dictionary on every cellphone in the country, you’ll manage day to day life without too much hassle.
A Note on Korean Vocabulary and Grammar
Korean uses a lot of loan words from Chinese, but follows a similar grammatical structure than Japanese. One of the most obvious differences between Korean grammar and most languages Westerners are familiar with is the placement of verbs. In English you’ll always put a verb first, with a subject to follow: ‘I want food’, but in Korean the verb is last and follows the subject: ‘Food, I want’. So now you know where Yoda learned his English!
The Korean language is spoken by about 70 million people on the peninsula and its official name is Hangkuk-Uh.
In spoken Korean, strong emphasis is laid on formality and your use of honorific endings and formal speech will depend on the relationship you have with the speaker. Informal language are only used between relatives, close associates or childhood friends.
When showing respect or politeness in English, we add words such as ‘Please’, to a request. In Korean, depending on the level of formality required, one of several different endings would be added to the verb stem, the most common being “Yo”. If you tell want to tell a student to sit down you might use informal language and simply say ‘Anja’ (Sit or Sit!), but if you’re telling a old lady on a bus to have your seat you’ll get a lot of stares and dirty looks of you use that word. Instead ‘anja-se-yo’ (Please sit down) adds the polite and respectfull honorific used with older people or strangers.