For those of you who don’t know, I’m actually Korean-American….and believe it or not, Korean was actually my first language. Hard to believe considering how current day, I can barely hold a conversation with my family (or strangers) without starting to fumble or using English mid sentence.
I was recently asked a few questions about what it’s like to be Korean-American, but not be able to speak the language. You usually won’t find me in front of the camera, especially talking about sensitive topics, but I know I’m not alone in my inability to speak the language I grew up with and I wanted to share my experience.
Here’s the video below:
Korean was the language we spoke in the house when I was younger, but once I started school, where the majority of those around me were non-Korean, I started going to ESL and speech classes to improve and study English. I said “duh” instead of “the” and grew a fascination with spelling and grammar. This fascination came from the struggle I had assimilating to the American culture and language.
In the process, I pushed away my parents by telling them I would refuse to speak to them if they didn’t speak English and missed out on the opportunity to be fully bi-lingual.
I don’t have many regrets in life, but I so regret this.
I regret this every time I want to order food and my pronunciation just isn’t up to par. Everytime I see someone who needs assistance because of a language barrier of their own, and I struggle to translate for them. Everytime I want to say something secret in Korean to a Korean friend or a family member when in public, but the “code language” would be too obvious because I can’t even say what I want to say. I feel embarrassed whenever my other Korean-American friends can speak the language with ease but my accent and lack of vocabulary has me speaking Konglish, etc.
If I wasn’t as stubborn, actually paid more attention in Korean School, put more work into it, didn’t get so frustrated with myself and practiced more, I would increase my fluency and chances of connecting with double the amount of people- both in English and Korean. I would be able to tell my mom all of the stories of my new life in LA- not just the “yea I’m good. Things are fine” update. Not to mention in this globalized society, being able to speak a language other than English these days is not only impressive, it’s almost expected. If I had a better handle on Korean, learning Chinese would be that much easier.
I’m still working to improve my Korean everyday whether it’s by watching Dramaworld on Viki, or speaking with my parents.
In the meantime I’ll stick with the phrases I do know:
To my family: Saranghaeyo. Bogoshippuhyo.
Whether you’re Korean American like I am or in any similar situation where you have the opportunity to learn, practice or master another language, I encourage you to take it. Not only do you get to connect with and understand those around you, but also the world beyond your everyday.
Tiger, gomawuh for including me in this project!!
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