Why don’t they speak any English?

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The other day, I was listening to an expat who quipped that his Korean worker never spoke to him in English. He said all she did was smile and walk away. He thought it was stupid because they could be interacting more since they’re “co-workers.” He’s got a point in that they should be interacting as co-workers, but he makes the presumption that all Koreans who work in Hagwons (English Academies or more literally, a “cram school”) automatically are as friendly and as fluent as he thought he was.

Think about it in this way: Imagine yourself speaking the language you learned in middle school or high school. Well, 10 years or more later, a person from that country constantly walks by you at work. You don’ t “have to speak to them”, but it wouldn’t hurt & you could potentially become friendly. Well, do you? First of all, do you feel like your language skills in that language are strong enough to carry on a conversation? On top of that, why not change change your culture a 180 degrees and add the element of “saving face” or not being too boastful or confident. You have to act humble to be a part of your own culture. So, what do you do? Well, most of the people in this situation given these conditions probably would “smile and walk away” at best.

The funny thing is when I asked him “What do you do to interact with her?” He said, “I usually just smile and walk away because she does.” Interesting…


Filed under Communications, Globalization, Interesting..., Korea life, Linguistics, Random thoughts

2 responses to “Why don’t they speak any English?

  1. boom

    What about learning Korean? In every country that I have visited I have met people that are delighted to speak with me in english since they are getting valuable practice. Many others preferr to speak their own language. I believe it is their perrogative, when in Rome etc. I think that this guy is showing disrespect for Korean language and culture by expecting a native Korean, in Korea, to converse with him in english when he himself seems to make no effort to engage his coworker in the thongue of the land where he is a guest. American?

    • Kevin Kim

      The Korean who is working at the English academy is more than likely capable of speaking English in comparison to the expat knowing how to speak Korean. However, with that being said, the expat should make an effort him or herself to start the conversation. I have found that many Koreans can and will speak English, but they are intimated when it comes to speaking to a native. Try being friendly and start the conversation instead of making assumptions.

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