I stumbled upon the famous Talk To Me In Korean channel many years ago but just found this video today and genuinely laughed out loud. Three Korean teachers reviewed Korean-learning memes and this was the meme in question that struck me as a particular, lived experience:
A intruder, labeled as non-Korean, is looking for a Korean stranger. In order to find the person in hiding, the intruder calls out “hello?” in Korean and the Korean says, “You speak Korean really well!” and we assume, meets an untimely demise. It’s analogous to the “shave and a haircut, two bits” scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It simply can’t be helped.
If you’ve kept up with this blog, you know that it is almost a knee-jerk reaction for a Korean to compliment a non-native speaker on his/her language prowess, even upon hearing a single word. The bar is… very low. This exact exchange, sans the murdery aspect, has happened to me countless times.
“Wow, you speak Korean so well!”
There was even a time where I only said “yes” with very good pronunciation and the whole class of students gasped and exclaimed I could speak Korean.
I love having my ego stroked but I’m also a little disappointed that the expectation is so low. Imagine if all expats were shamed into learning just a bit more than “hello, I’d like one kimbap please.” Then I wouldn’t have to think about disowning them on a semi-regular basis.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s very sweet to hear and I love that Korea is cheering me on. (Even if the cheering ends when I’m competent enough to hold a conversation but not enough to set up banking on my own. Ain’t no teller cheering me on when I’m holding up the line trying to understand account forms on my own.)
I just sometimes wish the bar were a bit higher, but until then I WILL keep floating high on the (unearned) praise. Lord knows us language learners need it!