Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Language and Respect!

As many of you may know(and if you don't know, why don't you read my blog??!!), we are trying to raise the Kimchi Kid in a bi-lingual environment. The reason we do this is mainly out of respect for my husband's culture and heritage but also since we are living and raising him in South Korea.
My husband left South Korea as a small child, around the age of 5. His parents whole-heartedly immersed him into the American lifestyle, culture and the English language. He very quickly(6 months he says!) learned to speak English and FORGOT all his Korean language abilities. As he grew older he realized that he was unable to comunicate with his grandmother and that saddened him. He attempted to re-learn Korean so that he was able to at least thank her and ask her how she was doing. Upon his return to South Korea he studied Korean in an academy and then joined the Korean military for his mandatory service. Adult Korean males must serve at least 2 years(it may be less now) in the military. My husband became fluent in speaking Korean during that time, and he STILL remembers how his grandmother cried after speaking to him on the phone, in Korean, for the first time! As a result he was determined that his children would NOT forget their heritage and their language. I agreed with him that it was important for our children to be aware of their cultural background and learn the language of their country of residence. The Kimchi Kid has been progressing well in both English and Korean, but since Korean is more prevalent he is stronger in speaking Korean than English.
I read and talked to several people who have raised bilingual children and we chose to follow the 1 parent-1 language approach. That means I try to speak only English while my husband tries to speak only Korean to our son. At times I do forget and speak in Korean to him, but I always try and say the English word as well.
Beyond just learning a language however, there is a question of respect. I was raised to always say please and thank-you especially to those older than me. Teachers, friends' parents, doctors, grandparents, relatives, etc. all of these people I was unfailingly polite to. So when I came to Korea I was shocked at how rude I found people could be! Once I had spent some time here, and read more about the culture and history of the country, I began to understand more. Korea was strongly influenced by Confucianism and still is today. This teaches the Korean people that elders should be respected, as well as teachers and scholars above all else and this is reflected in their language as well. Asking your age or job when meeting someone new is not considered rude, but it helps them determine what language to use with you and where to place you in their social hierarchy.
I quickly learned that strangers where not so much being rude to me, but more likely uncertain of my status in their life and instead choosing to ignore me. It was like I simply did not exist in their world until I was introduced. The older woman ramming me with her cart at the store, or pushing past me to grab something, would often change her attitude and apologise if I called her on it. Usually I would just ignore it as it was not worth it to me. Staff in stores and coffee shops where I became a regular who at first may not acknowledge me would start to respect me the more they saw me. Slowly I became "someone" in their view. This has led to me forming good relationships of mutual respect with many different people here, including teachers, doctors, students and their families. Our local store owner would often give the Kimchi Kid a free candy when we shopped for produce.
Since I was ever mindful that as a foreigner in South Korea, I paid special attention to my pleases and thank-yous in Korean. As part of the culture of respect, Koreans have formal and casual language, the formal of course being the most polite and suitable for elders, teachers or scholars. However, I frequently used the politest form of "thank-you" for anyone who served me or helped in stores or restaurants, as that was simply how I was raised. My husband was actually told by my favorite sandwich lady that she ALWAYS gave me extra toppings on my sandwich because I was the ONLY one who was always so polite with her! Not even younger Koreans would thank her like I did, they simply ignored her. She was so impressed that I spoke the most polite Korean to her, thanked her for my food and always said please and I was a FOREIGNER! This made a big impact on me, because it showed me that by simply respecting her and her language/culture, she would never forget me and treated me better than the average customer. A little respect can go a long way sometimes!
Once I made the decision to marry a Korean, I threw myself into language lessons. Despite the fact that my in-laws live in Texas and speak fluent English, I knew that I wanted to be able to communicate with them in their language. This was a sign of my respect for them, as they were my family now. I tried my best to learn the polite forms of please and thank you, as well as greetings and compliments for cooking for my MIL. They were very happy and touched that I made the effort and it helped them to understand that while I was not Korean, I respected them and their culture. The Kimchi Kid has been raised the same way and he already knows how to say "please" in English, bow his head in respect for greetings or thanks in Korea, and to use both hands as a polite sign when asking for a treat or toy. This is important to us and we hope to raise a bilingual child who is well-mannered and respectful in Korean and English.
I have often read postings in online forums from the ESL community and gotten angered by those who have no respect for the country or culture that they are currently residing in. I understand that you may have no intention of staying in Korea long-term and therefore have no need for the language, but is it really that hard to learn your please and thank-yous? I find it even more difficult to deal with people who marry into a different culture and live and raise children in that new country or culture. The very least you could do is learn to respect your in-laws in their language, especially if they do not know yours. Afterall if they moved to your home country, can you honestly tell me that you would NOT expect them to learn YOUR language especially if they plan to be there long term?
Respect is not given, it is earned. If you don't respect the people around you, why on earth would you expect them to respect YOU?

No comments:

Post a Comment