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Speak Korean, the language of love

Foreigners in South Korea take language lessons for many reasons, among them to meet a mate.

In the ditty we learn that A-E has to be home at 10 p.m., and the protagonist never meets her family because “Daddy doesn’t like wheyguks." ("Wheyguk" is Korean for foreigner.)

That last lyric alludes to some Korean male’s resentment of romance between foreign men and Korean women. In the eyes of many Korean men, promiscuous foreigners, exploiting the appeal of their exotic looks and culture, seduce unsuspecting Korean women only to ditch the damsels later on.

Such animosity culminated in the creation of the “Anti-English Spectrum,” a 17,000-member organization dedicated to hunting down delinquent foreign-born English teachers. Following an onslaught of bad press the group has since changed its name to “Citizens for Right Education.”

But despite the suspicions of many Korean men, not all foreigners arrange language exchanges with intent to dally, said John Woods, a college English professor here.

Woods says he has a sincere desire to improve his Korean in the study sessions, with the attractiveness of the teachers simply a plus.

“I just typically want to learn Korean from Korean girls because they’re prettier," Woods said. "Not that I’m sexist, it’s just that I’m a guy.”

He suggested the relationships that develop out of language exchanges usually do so in mostly an organic way.

“There’s a time period, no matter what you’re doing, you have a short attention span for an hour or two and afterwards you develop an appetite and then you go out for dinner,” he said.
Woods says language exchanges have helped his Korean a lot because he takes them seriously, preparing questions and bringing materials to class.

However, others say the exchanges aren’t academically productive in the least. Kim and Lee say the meetings have done virtually nothing for their Korean. A complete dearth of linguistic ability on the one hand (typical of foreign students) matched with usual proficiency on the other (typical of Korean students) constitutes a dynamic not so conducive to learning, they say.

Patrick Brown, another English teacher in Seoul, said that none of his language exchanges have significantly improved his Korean and at one point he “got the distinct impression” a certain partner wanted to date.

“She spoke really good English. She’d lived in the States for a couple of years, she didn’t need to learn anything,” he said.

Indeed, guys aren’t the only ones with a game plan, says Amy Kim, an avid Korean traveler who preferred to go by her English first name because “especially the Korean guys really hate the ladies that want to just meet white guys.”

Amy got to know her boyfriend through a language exchange.

For her the rationale was simple:

“‘So you’re living in Korea and I’m very interested in learning English, so why don’t we study together?’”

A month later she and her former study-partner were dating.

“He’s cute and sexy, so how can I avoid a guy like that?” she said.

“Some of my friends just want to do the language exchange to meet a white guy or whatever foreigner,” she said. “Maybe they just try to have like a new experience… because they’re [foreigners] more liberal and look different.”

Lee agrees with that sentiment, emphasizing both parties aren’t “clueless.” “Neither side is dumb, they know what’s going on,” he said. “Why have a photo on [a language exchange website profile] if you’re just trying to meet up for a language exchange?”