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My Bilingual Marriage (Humor)
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My Bilingual Marriage (Humor)
I have enough trouble with one language, when I married and had to learn another, it made for some "memorable" moments.
[1,043 words]
Steven L Howard
[September 2005]
Angel Of The Morning Calm (Short Stories) On his first overseas assignment he ignored the advice of seniors and almost lost it all for the beautiful and independent minded Korean woman who had befriended him. (Inspired by a true story) [13,863 words] [Romance]
Dad's Here To Play (Non-Fiction) Can we become so busy and self-absorbed that there is no time for the things that matter most? A tragedy answered the question. Please click the title to read the story. [2,049 words]
Every Breath You Take (Non-Fiction) A letter to my children: In two separate accidents, two families of our friends buried a child this last year. After this, I look at my own children with so much more appreciation and humility. [410 words] [Relationships]
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My Bilingual Marriage (Humor)
Steven L Howard

I stammered when I grew up, so naturally I would want to learn another language, right? Well, like it or not, when I fell in love with a Korean lady it became necessary to begin learning another language. She said she spoke English when we first met, but I was not so sure what she was speaking was English, so there was a lot for both people to learn if we were to develop a loving relationship.

The first hint of how difficult this would be came just a few days after we met. I said something � I don�t know now what it was. She looked intently into my face as I spoke. I waited for her answer.

�Mool-la� � she said.

�Mool-la�?� I asked. �What�s that mean?�

�I don�t know,� she answered.

I grew a little impatient at this. My forehead wrinkled and my voice gained some intensity as I said, �What do you mean you don�t know? It�s your language and you just used the word.�

After a short exchange, she was able to convince me: Mool-la� really means �I don�t know� or �I don�t understand.�


It wasn�t always me that had the difficulty. After we were married, all her family came over to our house, I discovered that my name was anything but simple for them. I was too stubborn at the time to take a Korean name to make it easier for them, so they all struggled to say �Steve.� It was so difficult because there is no �V� sound in Korean, and they cannot put together the �S� and �T� sounds in one syllable. The closest any of them could ever come was �Suteebuh�. This would have worked for me, but my wife�s oldest sister could never remember it � it was such an odd sounding name for her. As we played cards one night, she tried continuously to say my name. Each time, she said something different, and each time my wife corrected her. Finally, she called me �Shichibah� which sounded to me to be reasonably close�.everyone began rolling in the floor laughing � especially my mother in law. Finally, my wife regained her composure enough to explain to me: Shichibah is a type of women�s panties.

You guessed it�a name like that is too good to just forget. Her family called me �Shichibah� for the rest of my first tour in Korea.


I never dreamed how difficult my wife�s name would be for my friends when we came to the US. Her name was Romanized as �Hye Kyong� and is pronounced �he (short �e�) gyung (short u)�. I am not exaggerating when I tell you she got called everything from �Hang On� to �Egg Roll.� In the doctor�s office, she was always �Hi.� Fortunately, she remembered how difficult �Steve� was for her family and decided to begin using her childhood nickname �Mimi.� Nobody can mess that up.

Shortly thereafter, I learned from her lead and allowed her family to choose a Korean name for me.


My wife had some difficulty too. Can you imagine how often I was lost because she always confused the words �Chicken� and �Kitchen?� She did eventually get those straight � there are some pairs such as �Possible� and �Positive� where I still have to ask her to clarify. Imagine going to the doctor with the words �Diabetes� and �Diarrhea� confused � yep, we�ve done that too.


Then there was the time I came home from work, but needed to get ready for a formal event that evening. My wife was also busy, so she had very kindly ironed all my clothes and hung them up ahead of time to prepare me for my evening. She left me a note telling me she had �Ironed my shirt�� It was very sweet of her, but I thought she was mad at me � she misspelled shirt � she omitted the �r�.


As I learned another language, I discovered I could now stammer in two languages. Oh, the embarrassing mistakes I�ve made �

It�s important for me to try to speak Korean when in the company of friends who don�t speak English. I try very hard, but sometimes the wrong word pops up. The word for sex is a word a man would use with his wife, but you don�t want to make a mistake and substitute that word into a request when all your wife�s friends are in the house � believe me, I know.

I did finally manage to convince her it was a mistake. The word I was searching for didn�t even sound like that, but my mouth just made a detour � stammer stammer.


Ok, so those were mistakes a person makes before they get too comfortable with the language, right? Surely after speaking for a while a person wouldn�t make the same sort of mistakes, right? Sigh�

Just about a month ago, once again, all my wife�s friends were in the house, and they were talking and having a good time. I was trying to write something in my son�s school reading journal, but the eraser on my pencil wore out. I went to the kitchen and began searching through the drawer where we usually have pencils and erasers. Seeing me digging through the drawer, my wife sweetly asked, �Yobo, mu-ot chat-cho?� (Sweetheart, what are you looking for?)

I meant to answer �Ji-uh-gae lul pil-yo hae.� (I need an eraser). What actually came out was �Gi-ju-gi lul pil-yo hae.� The lady standing just to my right immediately reached into her bag, pulled out a diaper and handed it to me, then said in Korean �Here�s one, but I�m not going to put it on you.� (I�m beyond blushing when they all laugh now�I�m a pro at providing them unintended comic relief �)


And of course, our poor kids. What are they supposed to speak? One of them was dawdling at the table one day. Her mother said sternly "bab mogot" telling her to "Eat". "I'm bab mogot-ing, mom" was her reply.

I'm not sure, but I think that sound was ancient teachers of both languages turning over in their graves.


I wish I could say that was all, but it�s not. What�s more, I know there will be others in the future�ah well, that�s part of the joy of a bilingual marriage. Fortunately, we have a sense of humor.



"bravo, wonderful. Oh, how I understand you, Steven. Hugs" -- dri.
"Great anecdotes of how language can be so hard to learn. Coming from India, I know how hard it can be learn new languages; India has a national language and its 25-odd states all speak different languages!! And of course, we have learned to mix two languages just like "I'm bab mogot-ing, mom." Great funny story." -- Pratik, Melbourne, FL, USA.
"Enjoyed your story a lot. Thanks for writing it. My wife is South American, so, we've been through a lot of what you are talking about. Always speak to your kids each of you in your native language(but no pressure) and they will grow up completely bilingual. We did and it worked. " -- Barfield.
"My children are bilingual. I remember once how an English woman on hearing my six year old speaking two lanuages said that how clever he was. my pet, my African Grey is Bilingual! " -- Amy, Hayes, Middlesex, UK.


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© 2005 Steven L Howard
May 2005

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