One of the most effective, most basic methods of learning a language is mimicry. Babies are all about it, and it works pretty well for them. They pick up language faster than anyone else. (OK, they may have some other advantages, but whatevs.) Often if I’m in public with nothing to do, no one around, and some time to kill (such as on the bus, waiting to meet a friend, etc.), I’ll quietly repeat things I hear to practice Korean. I’ll parrot the radio, an overheard conversation, the bus stop announcer lady, whatever.
There’s a coffee shop that I stop in at nearly every morning on my walk to work. It’s a buck for an Americano. The coffee is crap, but it’s cheap, and Korea is generally lacking in quality coffee, so I don’t feel too cheated. I’ve gotten to know most of the women who work at the shop; they know me and my order. About a month ago, I noticed that they always say the same phrase every time that I leave. I’m not quite sure about the Korean, but it’s something like “taoseyo” (다오세요). They’d always say it right before I walked out the door, after they’d thanked me for my business. So I figured it was some form of a farewell. Perhaps, “See ya later,” or, “Have a good one.”
I decided to employ my stellar language learning technique, and wished them a “다오세요” back. I’m sure I butchered the pronunciation, but who cares!? For the next few weeks, I would always wish them a “다오세요” back before leaving the store. I was quite proud of myself for picking up a new phrase all by myself.
Then one evening Sara and I were having dinner with her coteachers. As we were talking something one of them said sounded familiar to this phrase. I realized to my delight that I had someone here who could probably understand my hackjob pronunciation enough to translate this mystery farewell phrase. I asked her what it meant. It took me repeating it a couple times, but she finally understood me.
“Ah!” she said. “다오세요. It means, ‘Come visit us again soon!'”
I promptly stopped using the phrase at the coffee shop.