English is not my boyfriend’s first language. I met many Koreans while I was living in Seoul who I was able to comfortably have a conversation with in English. For the most part, the ones who had a good grasp of English had attended international high schools overseas. My boyfriend was not one of those Koreans. He was born and raised in Seoul, and like every other South Korean, was only exposed to the English language through their school curriculum. And we all know studying a language in high school hardly prepares you to hold a conversation in real life.
With my very limited Korean skills and his ‘so-so’ English, I was hesitant to start a relationship with him because I was worried about the language barriers. But after spending time with him for 4 days straight, I realised that our language differences weren’t as big of a problem as I and many others had made it out to be. His personality shone through in different ways. His gestures conveyed the meanings his words otherwise normally would have. I personally think it helped paint him in a better light because sometimes words can carry empty meanings.
Naturally, I am a very patient and understanding person, so while this kind of relationship can annoy some of my friends, I actually find endearing. It also leads to many laugh out loud moments, that both my boyfriend and I embrace, when we try to message each other over Facebook.
My boyfriend has a rather playful personality. So I tried to flirt with him a while ago and I told him I missed his cheeky face. At the time, Google/Naver translated the word ‘cheeky’ to mean ‘wagon’, ‘cocky’, ‘impudent’ in Korean. Obviously, none of these words correctly portrayed the meaning of cheekiness. There could’ve been so many different ways we could’ve reacted to the situation. He could’ve not clarified what I meant and been offended. I could’ve been frustrated and impatient with his lack of understanding. But, thankfully, we both know how to handle our language barrier with a good laugh.
It definitely took us a lot of trial and error to figure out what the best way was for us to communicate online. While I can now read the Korean characters, I don’t have the vocabulary to understand what I am reading. And my boyfriend can read and understand English better now but he does not find it easy to respond back in English. So it’s easier for both of us if he replies in Korean and I use Google/Naver translate. We’re both committed to learning each other’s languages, but it’ll take us some time, as he is still finishing his military conscription and I am juggling both uni and work.
But that is for another time and blog!