A Glass with Billy

When You Speak Korean, but They Reply in English – A Glass with Billy (빌리와 한 잔) Episode 4

Imagine this: you're speaking with a Korean (in Korean). You say a sentence correctly, and you're sure they understood what you said... but then they reply to you in English. It can crush your motivation for learning Korean. "Did they not understand me? Is my pronunciation bad? Did I say something wrong? Is my Korean so bad that they would rather speak English? Do they just want to practice English with me instead?" There are a whole list of possible reasons, but let's talk about the real reasons this can happen.

I met up with SpongeMind TV to discuss this. Check it out here~!

4 thoughts on “When You Speak Korean, but They Reply in English – A Glass with Billy (빌리와 한 잔) Episode 4

  • I went to a Korean restaurant to practise my Korean, and the person responded in Korean, but then when it came to them telling me they were out of 팟빙수, my brain basically overloaded and had to revert to English. I felt a little embarrassed, but I've just continued studying to strenghthen my listening skills (one of my weak points). Afterwards, he told me my Korean was really good (I guess pronounciation wise), and wondered how I learned. Self learning for the win!

    • Great job practicing it! That's how you learn. You can think about what you might've said for next time 🙂

  • Yes, it is very frustrating when you are learning Korean and Koreans keep replying you in English just because you are a foreigner and therefore you are not supposed to be able to speak or understand Korean. And it is not because they did not know what you said or anything like that since they can answer your question although in English. If you keep speaking to them in Korean, they might eventually switch to Korean (but not always). I am not a native English speaker, and I certainly did not come to Korea to practice English. Sometimes even if you tell them that you do not speak English, they will keep using English 죄송합니다. 저는 영어 못해요. 한국어로 말씀해 주시면 좋겠어요. Or even worst they will just stop talking to you and point things to you. Some Koreans just believe that they are obliged to speak English to foreigners no matter what. In that case, there is nothing that you can do about it. One typical situation is when you buy something and just point out the price on the register. It feels weird. If they are not confident in their English abilities, they should say something in Korean. In that case I jus want to ask why 한국사람들은 제가 한국어 할 수 있다고 믿을 수 없어요? When they keep answering to my questions in English, I feel like replying to them in Chinese (I haven't try that yet...). That been said I have also met many Koreans that answer to your questions in Korean and keep a normal conversation with you. If you want to practice Korean, I suggest that you first meet a Korean through a website or an app. You will eventually meet someone who is willing to reply to your messages in Korean. That way you can get a lot of practice. Later you can meet that person, and since he/she knows that you can speak Korean (or at least write it), he/she will be more likely to have a conversation in Korean with you. Fortunately, there are there a lot of Koreans who are willing to talk to you in Korean and want genuinely help you to improve your Korean skills. Korean is a fascinating language, and it is worth learning it.

  • Clark Coleman

    I think this was very helpful. I appreciate you making videos based off of viewer's comments. I think you mentioned all the best steps to take when you encounter this situation. I think directness with Koreans is huge. Picking up on and then reacting to non-verbal cues of others is a huge part of the socialization process in Japan but my experience with Koreans is that you have to tell them exactly what you want. If you do that in a respectful, direct, and concise way, like Johnson said, I think the overwhelming majority of Koreans will respond positively. Like you mentioned, humor is very useful in Korea as well. That's a good suggestion to say something like, "사실 한국어가 저에게 더 편해." I've lived in Korea for about five years and Japan for about three and, in my experience, generally, Japanese are much more comfortable with "heavy" and "serious" discussions, whereas Koreans seem to prefer lightheartedness and simplicity. Humor is essential in dealing with Koreans and, at times, to maintain a semblance of sanity here! 🙂

    I think the ideal situation is when, if you're close enough with a Korean, you speak a mixture of both languages to each other. That way it's not one-sided either way and you're each helping one another to practice each other's language.

    I think because Korean society is so competitive (not to mention prone to quick judgments off of initial appearances) and since English is the ultimate status symbol--a "trophy wife" if you will--Koreans often attach a large portion of their self-esteem to their English abilities. That probably explains why so many Koreans are raring to both practice their English and show foreigners that they're more than capable of holding an upper-level conversation in English. The thought occurred me to recently that some Koreans might feel it a sign of weakness to speak Korean to an English speaking foreigner, especially when other Koreans are watching. I don't think Koreans are consciously thinking all this, but I think it's a subconscious self-preservation reaction in a society where being perceived as inadequate is a searing stigma.

    Once in a while, there are certain people I just wave the white flag to and, in essence say, "I'll just speak English to you." As a Korean teacher at the U.S. army base school in 평택 South Korea, I sometimes plan joint activities with a local international exchange foundation. A couple of the (female) employees there are super-aggressive with English and even when I mix English and Korean in my conversations and emails, all I get in return is a steady diet of English. Whatever. Those are the 10% (or more) that Johnson replied probably won't be accommodating. And, I don't have the kind of relationship with them where it's comfortable to have the "talk" about speaking some Korean to me every now and again. 🙂 Swallowing my pride and helping them feel good about their English abilities seems like the most Christian thing to do in encounters with hard-core English-philes. 🙂 Not that it's easy, but that seems to make me feel more at peace than the other options.

    Again, I really appreciate you making this video--it was very well done, like everything else you post on your site. Next time you're in Korea it'd be great to meet you in person!


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