Language Barriers.

Anyong haseyo! (Me: Smiling and bowing)

I am a born-communicator.  Ask anyone who knows me.  According to my mom, I said my first word and sentence at 11 months (“See the dog.”) and I haven’t really stopped talking since.  I’m sure my family often wishes that I wasn’t so verbose.  Usually though, they just want me to be quiet so they can have more time to talk.  Yes, we are that kind of family.

Which is one of the main reasons this week has been so HARD. 

Today I ordered a taxi to go to my brother and sister-in-law’s to do some laundry.  My wonderful sister-in-law told me exactly what to tell the taxi to get to their neighborhood,  Sincheon Sijang (Sincheon Market).  Well, the very kind and professional taxi driver took me to Chilseong Sijang (Chilseong Market).  Another lovely market, I’m sure, but not where I wanted to go with 4 kids and 43 lbs of laundry in a suitcase.  (Fortunately I realized the mistake before I got out of the taxi.  I did eventually get to my destination with all of my kids, all of my laundry, and most of my sanity.)

Here’s the thing.  I’m not content to live in an American Bubble.  Sure, most, if not all, of my close friends here will be American.  I’m totally okay with that. 

But I also want to chat with local people.  I want to understand jokes.  I long to ask their children’s names and ages.  I’m curious about local customs, foods, and manners.  I need to ask directions, order food, talk to a hotel receptionist.  And I just can’t.


Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying I’ll never be able to communicate well in Korean, but for now, it’s a lonely feeling.  And I can tell my kids feel the same way.  My eldest, Gigi, is a born talker just like her mama, and I know that she is struggling a bit on the playgrounds.  The kids are friendly and she does end up playing with them.  But she can’t quite connect the way she wants to.

In high school I took up Spanish and it came easily to me.  I lived abroad during college and really loved the feeling of communicating in a foreign language.  But at the beginning of my stint in Spain, I remember this same distinct feeling.  Of isolation and reliance on other people’s ability to understand a combination of English, Spanglish, sign language, charades, and mime.  And even then, I had a much better understanding of Spanish than I do of Korean now. 

Ha!  Something just occurred to me!  I have always wondered why so many of the non-English speaking parents (from my former school district) thanked me so much.  But in the past 4 days, I have probably thanked 100 Korean people.  (Gamsa hamnita) It’s one of the only phrases my kids and I know, so we throw it around a lot, and it always gets a smile.  I’m sure they know I am a one-trick pony, but Koreans are too nice to point it out. 

So, I finally plunked down the Won (Korean currency) to order the Rosetta Stone for Korean.  Now, I am a former language teacher, and really a snob when it comes to how a foreign language is studied.  I’ll have to let you know down the road how this works out.  But for the time being, I am feeling just a teensy bit better.

Gamsa hamnita for reading. Anyong gaseyo! (Me: crazily waving goodbye and bowing)


  1. Thanks for keeping this blog–I feel it helps us (those left behind) get a better understanding of what is happening with you. We already miss you all and hope to connect soon. Good luck with learning Korean!

  2. Thanks, Cathy! It was great to Skype with you today. Hugs and kisses to all the kids.