Making mistakes is part of the learning process and we grow from it. Language mistakes are unavoidable when learning a new language, and it’s normal when misunderstandings happen. They are not something to be afraid of; however, they can be amusing and will only make your learning journey more interesting.
“Success does not consist in never making mistakes, but in never making the same one a second time.” — George Bernard Shaw
I would like to share a few of those awkward language moments due to language mistakes I encountered along the journey of my Korean learning.
1. 시집 [시집가다 = get married] vs. 새집 [a new house]
When I was moving out after 2 years living in my first apartment in Seoul, the landlord (the best in the world!) asked, “시집 갈 거에요?[Are you getting married?]” I happily said, “네, 다음주에 가요.[Yes, next week.]” He seemed excited and continuously congratulated me. I supposed moving was a big deal in Korea, perhaps something worth celebrating; so I didn’t think much. Weeks later, I happened to learn the term 시집 and I immediately realised that I misunderstood his question. I got 시집 and 새집 confused. We had a good laugh when I visited him and explained what was actually going on.
2. 가슴 [chest(body part)] vs. 사슴 [deer]
One of my closest friends in Seoul (a fellow language learner) went on holiday to Nara, Japan. When he shared his experience during our Korean class, he mentioned, “가슴 많이 봤어요. [I saw many chests.]” I was surprised by his bluntness and thought, “Jeez mate, let’s not talk about this in public.” Our teacher, too, was obviously stunned and tried to reassure what she heard. That awkward moment when you confused 가슴 with 사슴.
3. 덜 맵게 [make it less spicy] vs. 더 맵게 [make it spicier]
It was a language mistake that burnt my mouth! I went to my favourite 닭갈비 [dak-gal-bi] restaurant and I wanted my 닭갈비 less spicy. I was supposed to say, “좀 덜 맵게해주세요.[Please make it less spicy.]”; but I mispronounced the keyword and said, “좀 더 맵게해주세요.[Please make it spicier.]” So there, my night on fire.
4. 갈매기 [gulls] vs. 갈매기살 [skirt steak]
This happened when I visited Korea for the very first time. I learnt the term 갈매기 from the song ‘부산 갈매기[Seagulls of Busan]’. Whenever I went to a BBQ restaurant, I couldn’t help but thought it was utterly ridiculous that people consumed gulls. Seagulls! Thank goodness I decided to raise the question one day. It’s good to know that 갈매기 and 갈매기살 are two completely different things. Oops, my bad!
5. 약국 [Herbal soup? Pharmacy?]
When I first arrived in Korea, I saw 약국 [Pharmacy] everywhere. Knowing that 약 means medicine and one of the meanings of 국 is soup, and it’s common that oriental medicines or herbs are used in Korean dishes such as 삼계탕[sam-gye-tang — ginseng chicken soup]; I assumed those 약국 were just some “Korean herbal soup”. So, one day (my second day in Seoul), I told my friend that I would like to try 약국 for dinner. No, I didn’t get “a pharmacy” for dinner that night.
Learning is fun, and sometimes we learn things the hard way. The same goes for language learning. In my opinion, language mistakes will only help you learn faster and make your learning process fun!