So far in class, we've just been focusing on the alphabet. I had already learned the alphabet letters, but having the sounds pronounced over and over again by our teacher is very helpful. There are still some sounds that are very difficult to differentiate, though. For example, the consonants p, t, and k each have three corresponding Korean letters: a "plain" sound, an aspirated sound, and a tensed sound (glottalized, for you linguists out there). They all sound basically just the same to us. There are also two o's, one that sounds like o with the lips very round and one that sounds more like aw. Spelling is definitely going to be a challenge!
Overall, I'm finding learning Korean to be pretty difficult. I've never studied a language that uses a different alphabet, and I think it's making it unusually hard for me to remember vocabulary. The basics of verb conjugation are not too complicated, but I'm not very confident, and I know very few verbs, so making sentences is nearly impossible. I know how to ask for things, and I think I'm beginning to have a very basic grasp of restaurant vocabulary, but it's often easier to get by in English. Fortunately, we have lots more time to listen, read, and learn more words!
It's definitely true that you can get by here without learning the language, as many of the Americans here have done. But I think it's already clear that knowing the language will make things much easier. In many stores, I could request larger sizes or different colors if I knew how to ask. I could ask which dishes the waiter recommends at the restaurants. I could ask the pool attendants if there was a lost and found where my missing goggles ended up. I could tell irritating teenage boys in my lane at the pool to please stay out of my way. And if there's ever a problem or an emergency, knowing a few words could make things run much more smoothly. Overall, making an effort to communicate in the native language is a very good way to show people you are invested in their country and their culture, and not just biding your time until you leave (think of the controversy over Spanish in the U.S.!). So I will soldier on and keep working out my memory.