When I first moved to Korea, I thought Korean was Korean. No matter where in Korea I was, the Koreans would be speaking Korean and it would all sound the same. I have no idea why I thought that. After all, does everyone sound the same in America when they speak? Of course, English in one part of America is the same English in the rest of America, but people from New Jersey are not going to sound the same as people from Boston. And people from Boston are not going to sound the same as people from Dallas, Texas. And people from Dallas, Texas are not going to sound the same as people from Florida.
Long story short, people have accents. This is something that never even occurred to me before coming to Korea and after realizing it, I actually felt really…well, dumb. Mostly because this realization did not hit me until I was here in the country, moving into my new little town, and staring like a deer in headlights whenever the grocery lady or random person at the bus stop tried to speak to me in Korean. I couldn’t understand a single word, obviously, and I was deeply confused as to why the Korean I was hearing didn’t sound like all the Korean I had listened to on YouTube.
So along with the realization of accents, I began doing some research of the Korean accents and came across dialects. Korea has 9 different provinces and each province has their own dialect. Provinces near each other have similar dialects (such as North Jeolla and South Jeolla) but overall, each province has their own way of pronouncing things and even has words or phrases unique the the province.
Again, this seems like simple knowledge but for some reason, none of this occurred to me, so I was left panicking as to why I couldn’t make out a single word anyone was saying to me. I have since taken to the internet to search for things that can help me learn the dialect so that I can begin to understand what is being said around me. Unfortunately, I have come up empty handed as a dialect is not something you can learn from the internet or a textbook. One can only learn it by constantly being surrounded by it.
Dialect vs. Accent
In my experience here in Korea, the words dialect and accent are pretty much used interchangeably and I really think they shouldn’t be because they mean two different things. Dialect is a particular form of language spoken in a specific place. Accent is a distinctive mode of pronunciation (includes cadence, inflection, and tone). I had a bit of a difficult time explaining this to a student, but oh well.
One thing I did learn in my research is that many dialects are actually frowned upon and the standard dialect spoken is the Seoul dialect. that’s the one you will hear on the news, in movies, dramas, and it’s the one taught in language schools. In my research, the most frowned upon accents and dialects seem to be those of the southern most provinces: Jeollabuk, Jeollanam, Gyeongsangnam, and Jeju is regarded as a different language altogether.
Foreigners learning Korean are actually discouraged from speaking in other dialects. A foreigner speaking with a Gwangju or Busan accent and using those dialects would be equivalent to a foreigner coming to the States, learning English, and speaking with an accent as if they were raised in Mobile, Alabama or Dallas, Texas. It’s different. It’s weird. And it doesn’t really happen.
But at the same time, how can one learn to not speak with a certain accent if that is the accent and dialect they are surrounded with on a daily basis? I love accents. I think they are interesting and tell a little story about someone. It adds to what makes them who they are. And I think that picking up on accents and dialects as a foreign learner is only natural.
Take me for example; I live in a tiny rural town in the Jeollanam-do province. My internet connection sucks and my TV does not work because it fails to get a decent enough connection to actually do anything. I do not take official language classes because there are none near me. I am surrounded by people (mostly old people) that speak in a deep southern accent unique to this province. It’s the only Korean that I hear all day every day. If I ask for pronunciation help with something out of my Korean textbooks, it’s going to be told to me with the accent spoken in this province. So how would someone in my situation not learn this accent and dialect?
I’m not saying that foreigners absolutely shouldn’t speak in a non-Seoul accent, but that seems to be the consensus online. The official standard dialect of Korea is that of Seoul and is the one that is preferred. Well, I’m interested in hearing all the accents! Lol. Accents are cool and I wish there were more videos online comparing and contrasting the different accents as I haven’t seen very many. The most popular video on accents and dialects seems to be the one posted by YouTuber World of Dave where he compares accents from Gwangju, Busan, Jeju, and one other that I can’t remember (Daejeon maybe?). There is also another video by YouTuber Go Billy Korean.
Anyway. I don’t really know how to end this blog post so I guess I’ll just…end it lol.
Accents are cool and it’s going to be pretty interesting continuing to hear this specific dialect and accent spoken around me for the next 9 months.
How do you all feel about accents? Let me know 🙂