Her name was Sandy. She was a bit chubby and had a good sense of humor. “What do you call people who are fluent in three languages?” asked Sandy, who was a teacher in an English language class. Her students, however, were silent. “Trilingual,” she said.
“How about the people fluent in two?” she asked, and the students said “Bilingual!” Then, Sandy asked her final question. “How about just one?” The classroom was silent, once again. She then said, “The answer is an American.” We all laughed.
It was a moment from my class during a fellowship in the United States a few years ago. At the time, Sandy said Americans should be embarrassed, but she showed no sign of embarrassment even though she only spoke English.
I am a narrow-minded person, and her attitude made me think: She was showing off the power of English because English-speakers did not need to learn another language. And I thought Americans would never understand the hard life of Koreans who had to learn English, Chinese and Japanese to be successful.
There should be more items powered by Hangul’s competitiveness in the future. That’s the path for Korea’s intellectual survival and the path for Hangul’s survival.
When my dream of such a world is realized, I really want to do one thing. I want to invite Americans, Europeans and Chinese people and teach them Hangul.
And I really want to make the joke, “What do you call people who only speak one language?” The answer, of course, is “Koreans.”
Um . . . with few exceptions, that's pretty much the case now.