Posted on December 10, 2016
It’s only after I had my daughter, who is half-Irish and half-Korean, that I came to understand how our cultural heritage informs our personal identity. In my attempt to help my daughter understand her Korean background, I developed a stronger pride in my Korean heritage. Despite enjoying Korean food and many aspects of the culture, I have always felt excluded because of my weak communications skills in Korean. I also came to realize that until I could read and write in Korean, I would be missing out on Korean literature, which may never be translated into English.
I signed up for a beginner-level Korean language course offered through the Korean Education Centre here in Toronto. To my surprise, most of my classmates were not even Korean! When asked why they had signed up for the class, several shared that they had a deep love for Korean food, K-pop, and K-dramas. Some lived in North York, which has become another Koreatown, and wanted to be able to read store signs and restaurant menus in Korean and in English. My heart skipped to learn that one young lady had a two-hour commute in order to attend! Her commitment inspired me to study hard. We were also lucky to have a passionate teacher who engaged us with her enthusiasm.
Despite being Korean and having spent my first seven years in Korea, I find learning the language quite challenging. Korean is complicated by the use of honorifics that requires one to speak “up” or “down” to a person depending on that individual’s age and/or status. As well, sentences are constructed differently. In English, we use the “subject + verb + object” order, but in Korean it is “subject + object + verb”, so the sentence “I ate an orange” would be “I an orange ate.” Then there’s the complex use of particles that we don’t have in English.
And all this is in a beginner’s class!
My long term goal is one day to be able to write an essay or even a story in Korean. I’ve avoided learning Korean for over four decades, believing that I’d never need it. Now, I understand just how vital the language is for me to feel connected to my heritage.
Posted on April 3, 2014
Jae Kim is currently a student at the University of Toronto. In September of 2013, he founded the University of Toronto Korean English Literature Society (KELS). His goal is to encourage thoughtful reflection of Korean contemporary culture. He shared that while Korean pop music, film, and cuisine have gained tremendous popularity within North American society, books and other literary works by writers of Korean heritage continue to pass under the radar. You can find out more about KELS by visiting its website.
I just started reading Three Generations by Yom Sang-seop. It’s the first Korean book I’m reading that has been translated into English. The story, set in Japanese-occupied Korea during the 1930s, chronicles the highs and lows of the Jo family. It is considered one of the most influential works of fiction in modern Korean literature. You can read more about Yom Sang-seop’s book here.