CHL Student Buzz: Meet Benjamin Chesworth…

27th July 2021

Student, Bachelor of Asian Studies, Major in Korean language

When asked about one favourite word or expression in Korean, CHL’s Korean-language student Ben Chesworth had a hard time picking just one. What he has always found fascinating is that the Korean alphabet features consonant assimilation, meaning that some letters try to imitate the look and feel of how they are pronounced. For example, the letter for the ‘m’ sound (ㅁ) is said to look similar to a closed mouth! Having never learnt a language before, Ben wanted to learn a language that was not only unique and challenging, but also relevant to his degree and field of study. As the other half of his double degree focuses on politics, international relations, and security in the Korean Peninsula, the Korean language was a natural complement to his interests.

"My favorite sokdam (proverb) would be “개구리 올챙이 적 생각 못한다”, which literally translated means “a frog doesn’t remember the time they were a tadpole”. This is used when someone has recently come into a position of power or wealth, but they don’t remember their roots or humble beginnings. I like it because there’s not really an equivalent saying in English, but there are lots of circumstances where this proverb could be used!"

1. Tell us a bit about yourself—what you do currently and what you studied.

I’m currently going into my fifth year of undergraduate, and my fourth year of Korean language study. I’m undertaking a Korean language major as part of my Bachelor of Asian Studies.

2. What drew you to Korean?

Having never learnt a language before, I wanted to learn a language that was not only unique and challenging, but also relevant to my degree and field of study. As the other half of my double degree focuses on politics, international relations, security in the Korean Peninsula, Korean language was a natural complement to my interests. A big part of my interest on the Korean Peninsula is North Korea, and because information coming from the ‘hermit kingdom’ is so little, understanding even a few phrases or words helps me to understand a fresh perspective on political and cultural life in North Korea.

Though dialects can differ significantly from standard South Korean (pyojun-eo), making links and recognising the same language used in North Korea adds another dimension to my learning. Most people now associate South Korea with K-pop, K-dramas, as Korean culture and entertainment spreads, the Korean language is becoming more prevalent across the globe, and becoming more and more recognisable internationally. As a skill, Korean language is particularly attractive to develop, as it can lead to opportunities in Korea in their thriving business or entertainment spheres, or may present opportunities at home in the public sector. But most importantly, it now means I can communicate with my partner’s family, who are all Korean!

3. What were your top 3 favourite things about your language program?

Undoubtedly my favourite thing about my language course at the ANU was the opportunity to learn Korean in South Korea.

In 2019, I was fortunate enough to take advantage of the Learning Language Locally opportunity, which meant I was able to participate in a month-long, intensive Korean language course at one of South Korea’s leading universities. I was also supported financially by the Ethel Tory Language Scholarship, and the New Colombo Plan Mobility Program. This program boosted my language proficiency as we were able to converse daily with native speakers, which is vital in perfecting fluency and beats learning from a textbook any day of the week. This experience went beyond language, and provided first-hand cultural experiences and lifetime connections.

Another thing I love about language at ANU is the depth and continuity of language courses offered. When I first began to learn Korean in 2017, I didn’t even know how to say ‘hello’, and this year I’m about to undertake a course examining film and society. When you learn a language at ANU, you’re able to start from square one, and you need no prior language experience. For someone who had only studied high-school Latin, this was very comforting!

Lastly, the quality of teaching is a highlight of language learning at ANU. In Korean, complex components such as grammar and formality level are absolutely vital, but can be hard to understand at times without being presented in the right context. Having teachers that can explain these nuances and complexities in an easy to understand way is a highlight.

4. Can you name 3 reasons for people to study Korean?

Hallyu (the Korean Wave) is manifesting itself all over the globe more than ever, and everyone loves a good K-drama. When you learn Korean, a whole new world of entertainment is there to be explored. Not just television, but music, art, modern and traditional performing arts are flourishing. Even if it might take a while to fully understand a song or an episode, you can learn Korean through watching dramas or listening to music! Secondly, visiting South Korea, or even North Korea is something that you will definitely want to do in your lifetime.

Although English is becoming more prevalent in South Korea, a little Korean goes a long way. When you learn Korean before travelling, not only does it help when ordering food or finding your way around, it can help you understand a brand new culture.

Lastly, learning Korean brings many employment opportunities. Though there are many opportunities to live and work in Korea with good Korean language skills, many opportunities such as teaching, translation, interpreting exist here in Australia.

5. How does it help /has it helped you in your profession or in life?

I haven’t quite completed my Korean language journey yet, but as soon as I graduate, I intend to highlight my Korean language skills for employment in both the public and private sectors, and also potentially in South Korea.

6. Can you share one fascinating/fun fact about Korean/something you find particularly incredible about the language?

Korean has captivated me in many ways since I began my studies, but the most amazing thing for me is the writing system, hangeul. To my surprise, I found out in my first Korean class that hangeul was an alphabet-like writing system, rather than characters that represented a specific sound and meaning. This made the initial process of learning how to read Korean a breeze. What I found more fascinating is that the Korean alphabet features consonant assimilation, meaning that some letters try to imitate the look and feel of how they are pronounced. For example, the letter for the ‘m’ sound (ㅁ) is said to look similar to a closed mouth!

7. What are your future plans with respect to Korean or any other language?

As soon as I returned from my Learning Language Locally experience in 2019, I wanted to return to South Korea to study Korean, or even study Korean politics or security as a graduate in Seoul. However, looking into the near future, I’m also looking broaden my language base through the Diploma of Languages, and I’m considering undertaking Russian or Mandarin.

8. Anything else you’d like to share? An interesting anecdote about your study of the language perhaps?

Although I’m currently working in a retail job, my Korean language skills are already proving to be effective. Whilst at work, there have been many experiences where I’ve encountered customers who speak Korean. Whilst often shocked and surprised at first, these customers often appreciate my Korean skills, especially when English is a second language. Even a simple ‘안녕하세요!’ (Hello!) can bring a smile to the face, and create great conversation. And my favourite sokdam (proverb) would be “개구리 올챙이 적 생각 못한다”, which literally translated means “a frog doesn’t remember the time they were a tadpole”. This is used when someone has recently come into a position of power or wealth, but they don’t remember their roots or humble beginnings.

I like it because there’s not really an equivalent saying in English, but there are lots of circumstances where this proverb could be used!

Whether Korean is directly related to your area of study or it just interests you as a language, take the learning pathway that Ben has chosen and broaden your horizons. Enquire now!

For program administration and Academic advice please contact the CHL Education Support team on education.chl@anu.edu.au.

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