Sunday, May 22, 2011

Joy as Twelve-Year Foreign Resident Speaks First Korean Word

32-year-old Seoul-resident Kim is said to be "overjoyed" today that John, who came to Korea in 1999 and married her in 2004, has finally spoken his first Korean word. "When I heard him say 'bab'" (which means 'rice' in Korean but is also used as a general word for 'food') "my heart jumped. I quickly grabbed my smartphone to record the moment - hoping he would say it again, but even though I put some rice on a spoon and held it away from him repeating 'bab, bab' silently with my mouth, he just held out his arms and moved them a little, but didn't try to say anything else." Kim is still hopeful that John is finally starting to recognize the sounds he hears around him though. "Our eighteen month year-old daughter is beginning to speak and I'm hoping he might start copying her" she says.

However, 58 year-old Professor Kim, an expert in linguistics from Seoul International University, who we referred the story to for comment, advised caution in an email message: "Research shows that English-speaking foreigners who came here before Internet usage became really widespread in the mid-1990s felt a long way from home and tended to assimilate more quickly, because they had to. However, studies show that since then people have increasingly lived their lives online, making the world seem a smaller place and people more small-minded. Now it's possible for a foreigner such as John to move to Korea but still feel as though they're living back home, albeit perhaps in one of those rough neighborhoods where mostly immigrants live."

Curiously, research shows the inability of foreigners from the Internet-generation, or Generation-I as it's known in Korea, to learn Korean partly because they are too busy posting online about their inability to learn Korean, is a phenomenon which largely appears limited to native English speakers; statistics show that immigrants to Korea from other Asian countries tend to learn the language quite quickly. But Professor Kim says he can explain this - "The Internet in those countries is rubbish." he concluded.