My Journey with English Communication as a Korean Developer

Since 2023, I began working with a company based in Germany, marking the first time I used English professionally. Until then, my use of English was limited to casual conversations with friends and strangers during my travels. With my new role, the frequency of using English increased, and I'd like to share my experiences and thoughts on this journey.

How Do I Assess My English Skills Now?

Honestly, my English is still a work in progress. One reason I feel this way is because I'm too accustomed to the Korean style of English education, which focused mainly on reading and writing, neglecting listening and speaking skills.

The Limit of Composing Thoughts in My Head

In certain situations, what I could easily express in Korean becomes a challenge in English. For instance, the simple phrase "Thank you" could be enriched in Korean to "You've worked hard. Working with Mr./Ms. OO always makes things smooth!" However, in English, I often can't think beyond "Thanks a lot."

Also, there's this phrase I want to say to a friend who's leaving to attend a class - "์ˆ˜์—… ์ž˜ ๋“ฃ๊ณ ์™€!" (Have a good class!). I haven't found a perfect English equivalent for this yet. Itโ€™s a way of expressing disappointment that we can no longer hang out, but also wishing them well. And while weโ€™re at it, how do you even express "์•„์‰ฌ์šด ๋งˆ์Œ" (a feeling of regret or disappointment) in English? It's frustrating sometimes. I've heard people say "Have fun!" when parting ways, but it doesn't fully capture what I want to express.

Diverse Accents and My Confused Ears ๐Ÿ˜ข

Growing up in a homogenous nation, I'm astounded by the diverse accents and pronunciations of English across different regions and individuals. Perhaps it's because I wasnโ€™t exposed to such diversity from a young age. The global stage I began to experience in my 20s still feels overwhelmingly vast.

I remember the word "Patrol" from playing StarCraft. In Korea, we pronounced it more like "ํŒจํŠธ๋กค" (Pat-To-Role), but when a U.S. military friend working near the border mentioned "Border Patrol," I was initially clueless. It was only when my girlfriend translated it to "์ˆœ์ฐฐ" that I realized he meant "Patrol." Languages truly can't be fully learned from textbooks alone. Having my long-held pronunciation challenged was frustrating, yet I envied friends who had gone abroad early or attended international schools.

And What If the Development Conversation is in English?

One of the unique aspects of being a Korean developer is how we blend English and Korean in our conversations, especially when discussing programming. Consider this example:

useUser์—์„œ ๋ฐ›์€ user์™€ DB์—์„œ ๋ฐ›์€ user ํ˜•ํƒœ๊ฐ€ ์„œ๋กœ ๋‹ค๋ฆ…๋‹ˆ๋‹ค.
= "The user from useUser and the user from the database are different in structure."

Even in this mixed-language sentence, the use of English terms like "useUser" and "user" is implicitly emphasized due to their contrast with Korean. This implicit emphasis becomes even more pronounced in verbal communication. When we speak in Korean and an English word pops up, it stands out as if it's highlighted or enclosed in quotation marks, even without any hand gesture (with two fingers) or explicit emphasis. This natural highlighting in bilingual conversations is a subtle yet effective way of emphasizing certain terms, especially technical ones.

What Efforts Am I Making Now?

Here are the key steps I'm currently taking to improve my English:

  1. Listening Practice through Podcasts:

    • I play podcasts when working or before sleeping, filling up silent times. This immerses me in English naturally.

    • Subscribing to various channels lets me experience a range of accents and dialects.

    • I listen to podcasts on topics of interest, which makes the learning process more engaging.

    • Downloading podcasts helps during long flights or offline times, saving me from boredom.

  2. Utilizing Translation Tools and AI, Especially ChatGPT:

    • While translation tools tend to be too literal, they're useful for quickly spotting errors in my written English.

    • ChatGPT has been like a perfect language tutor. It helps evaluate my sentences and suggests richer expressions for specific scenarios. It also informs me how common my phrases are among English speakers.

Through these efforts, I feel my English gradually improving. Learning a second language without cultural experience is challenging, but this journey is a significant opportunity for growth. I hope sharing my experience can encourage or help others in a similar situation.

Itโ€™s Never Too Late to Start!

The best approach is to face challenges head-on. I feel myself improving bit by bit through this process. After meetings or conversations, I consult ChatGPT with my queries, learning one step at a time. I'm immensely grateful to live in an era where AI technology is so advanced.

Understanding sentences constructed from words I learned for English tests is different from forming those sentences in my head. Yet, this daily learning process is a great challenge and an opportunity for growth. I hope my story can inspire or assist someone reading this. ๐Ÿ˜Š