The Problem of Studying Language





11/28/18. 12:16. P5

/The Problem of Studying Language/.

/Category: Communication/

/Guide Question: What words/phrases do you wish you had known before arriving in your host country? What words/phrases would you offer to someone from your host country visiting the US for the first time?/


Sometimes it feels like I’m learning to live life all over again. I can communicate fine regarding simple matters such as asking for directions, shopping, and talking to friends about everyday life but as I live here longer I’ve been encountering situations where my Korean falls short of being understood nor can I comprehend what they tell me. Here are some situations where I should have learned the appropriate vocabulary to make things simpler for me and who I am talking to.

I should have learned pharmaceutical and medical vocabulary. Symptoms and ailments such as stomachache, muscle aches, diarrhea, acid reflex, dysmenorrhea, etc. (I don’t know why but I’ve always had mostly digestion problems. ?) I never thought about how important these words were until I had to go to the pharmacy. Also, I had dental surgery about a month ago. Luckily for me, I found a dental office that had an English speaker and I was very grateful that the lady helped me have a successful operation and recovery.

Even though English wasn’t her first language, she explained to me all the important things I needed to know. I was only supposed to replace my open crown, but the dentist found that because the tooth already rotted inside, a dental implant was the only option left for my situation. Prior to the dental implant, I had to have a bone graft because my gum didn’t have enough bone to support the implant, and a sinus lift because my sinus was too low. So, this is me now:


Nursing my implant!

I need to install the implant after five more months, and the lady told me she would have left the office by then. Hopefully she has a replacement. After the surgery, I brought my boyfriend (who is Korean) to help me go to the pharmacy to buy my medicine. To my surprise, they were already conveniently packed that I didn’t need to ask that much. In the states they usually don’t pack them this way:

I also went to buy my contact lens. I usually buy my contact lens in Korea, but before, the boyfriend, or some friends come with me and translate everything for me. BUT this time, I wanted to do it alone. I was a little sick (and embarrassed) of bugging people to help me. Since I wanted to live here in the future, I better start doing things on my own. It was tougher than I thought because I had to take a very extensive eye test. The eye doctor asked so many questions and even though I was trying to listen to the best of my ability, but if you really didn’t know the vocabulary, it would be impossible to understand.

Anyway, I tried to answer to the best of my ability and answered with my baby Korean. Whenever I didn’t understand anything fully (about 90% of what she was telling me), I tried to repeat it back to how I understood but with very simple (probably inappropriate) vocabulary. The doctor was extremely patient, now and again she would rephrase in more simple terms. but I should have learned more vocabulary regarding eyes and my situation. For instance, words such as “eye prescription,” “my eyes feel dry,” “How can I prevent dry eyes?” or “astigmatism.”

Another thing that takes longer than normal is cooking and grocery shopping. You know how there are some “How to Cook/Prepare?” on the back of some food packages? I did not learn any cooking vocabulary at all. Now whenever I try to prepare something, I need my phone with me to translate the words. It’s more of a bother than a handicap compared to the other situations above. Also, since I got my phone (through the help of others too, and not by my own skill), I’ve been trying to online shop and order delivery. I don’t understand most words so instead of just searching them myself which might take about an hour, I am still at that point where I ask others to do it for me. I really need to do better.

So sure, when we are travelling to another country, the basic words we need to know are greetings, words for asking for directions, and expressions for showing gratitude or remorse. Or depending on the itinerary, related words that can help you be understood. Other than that, there’s always google translate! But living in another country is a different story. It is no doubt more challenging. The problem of language study is you don’t really know what situation you would end up in!

On one hand, I feel grateful for all the help I receive and yet on the other hand, I feel apologetic to others because I can’t do some things on my own. But on the occasions that I do, it feels very empowering and fulfilling, something that I probably don’t appreciate as much if I did the same errand in the languages I am comfortable with. To others it may be discouraging, and I can understand the impulse to go back to the comfort zone.

Since this is my dream, I feel quite motivated to study more Korean and work harder because even though I thought my Korean skill was okay before coming here (it still is comparatively), and have significantly improved from last year, I lack in so many aspects still. I really envy people who can speak so many languages and switch languages so easily. I aspire to achieve some level of fluency one day with my Korean, Japanese, and French studies. All one can do is to keep on improving. If I learned anything from my language studies, hard work and dedication pays.

For me, one measure of fluency and one of my goals is to be able to read books in these languages that I am studying. I love to read and I long for the day that I can read beyond English books. Currently, I’m working on reading Korean children books. Here is a picture of one of the most unique libraries I’ve ever been to. It’s inside a mall! Whenever I see libraries and bookstores like these, they motivate me to study the language more! Life is too short for the many many many many books I want to read… ☹


Starfield Library at Starfield COEX Mall in Gangnam, Seoul.