Do I Need to Speak Korean to Teach English?
Do you need to know a word of Korean to get a great job teaching English in Korea? No.
Do you need to speak the language to have a great time living in Korea? No.
Does studying Korean make for a more convenient and deeper experience in Korea? Absolutely!
Koreans are Obsessed with English
One thing that’s easy to see before you even get to Korea is that Koreans are obsessed with English. In it’s race toward becoming a global economic power, Korea has embraced English education with a fervor. Korean students study English as much as any other core subject, often more. Korean businesspeople, medical professionals, academics, housewives, bankers, plumbers–just about everyone–study English in their free time. Most business names are in English, most clothes feature English idioms, every Korean pop song has an English section… ok, you get the point. No matter where you are in Korea, odds are someone around you speaks English. Even when Lindsey and I were traveling through farm land near the southern tip, there were enough kindly, English-speaking rural folk to make sure we didn’t get lost. Even when you do speak Korean, many Koreans automatically answer foreigners in English. In fact, this can be really frustrating when you’re trying to practice your Korean!
Korea’s Infrastructure is Extremely English-friendly
Unlike most Asian nations, Korea’s bus and subway systems announce all stops in English. Ditto for roads, street signs, public maps, park facilities, storefronts, etc. Major pedestrian areas also have information kiosks with English-speaking staff. If you are worried about finding your way around in Korea without reading the language, don’t sweat it; Korea’s city planners have made the country as English-friendly as possible to accommodate tourists and foreign business.
Your Coworkers are English Teachers
Are you apprehensive about the idea that you might be the only native English speaker in your office? Don’t forget that you coworkers will be, after all, English teachers. Of course, this is not to say they will all speak like the Queen Mother herself, but odds are that within your group of 10-30 Korean co-teachers there will be at least a few who are highly fluent. In fact, many people who get jobs teaching English in Korea find their best friends among their Korean coworkers.
Why Not Learn Some Korean?
So, we’ve established that you don’t need to learn any Korean to get a great job, find your way around, or make friends during your stay in Korea. But it is a great idea to invest in learning some Korean before you arrive. Even learning a couple of friendly phrases on the plane ride over can get you off to a good start.