As a recruiter, people often ask me “Do I need to speak Korean to teach in Korea?” It’s a fair question, as many assume that there is little use for Korean in an English classroom. While it is true that you do not necessarily need Korean to teach English, you DO need to speak Korean to live in Korea!
The issue is that your time in the classroom is only a fraction of your day. The rest of your hours are spent outside the school interacting with Koreans – many of whom won’t speak any English.
What Would Life Be Like in Your Home Town?
Imagine living in your hometown in the U.S. or Canada. Now imagine that you cannot speak any English. Would it be easy to go about your daily life? How would you…?
- Order food at a restaurant or ask for directions?
- Ask for a particular item at a supermarket or department store?
- Guide your taxi driver?
Shop and Order Food with Ease
Without knowing the local language, the most basic daily task can turn into an exhausting challenge. You may be restricted to only eating at restaurants with picture menus, never finding that item you’re looking for or being unable to read street signs! Additionally, from a cultural perspective, knowing Korean can help you fully embrace Korean society. Korean pop music (or K-pop) is an enormous part of the Korean life so knowing the language will shed light on that genre.
Interact with Locals
Lastly, speaking Korean is essential to maxing out the social aspects of life in Korea. Whether it is with your students, co-workers or people on the street and in shops – almost every Korean will love it when you make an effort. Most Koreans assume that as a foreigner, you cannot speak their language. So surprising them with a greeting or other phrases shows that you are interested in them and their culture.
At the beginning, your vocabulary will surely be limited, but that shouldn’t stop you from engaging in conversations with locals. The best way to learn is through practice, which you’ll get plenty of – whether it’s haggling at a market or determining movie times at the theater. By no means do you need to be fluent in Korean to survive. But the point of moving to Korea isn’t about surviving. It’s about making the most of the experience and without speaking Korean, there’s no way you can do that!
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