Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tips for Foreigners Living in Korea: Rules for Drinking on Business

Here are the basic rules.  There are many subtle rules as well, but this should get someone started.

1.  Soju is the drink of choice for almost everyone regardless of position in the company.  In Korea, during interviews of Korean employees, a Korean may be asked something that translates to "How many bottles of soju can you drink?"  Do not laugh.  It is the truth.

2.  If your senior's soju glass is empy, you must volunteer to refill it.  TWO HANDS must be used to pour a senior's drink.

3.  You need to wait to receive soju from a senior.  You must receive with TWO HANDS on the glass if you are a junior. 

4.  Junior employees customarily turn their heads to the side when drinking soju in front of superiors.  This is a motion of deference, i.e. "I am not supposed to be enjoying a drink in front of my superiors, but I am obliged...."

5. You need to always accept when a Korean offers to pour you a drink.  In the West, you can refuse.  In Korea, you should not.

6.  There can be sharing of cups, although this is less common in Korea than in China.  Remember that in Confucian beliefs, relationships and harmony are more important than actual words.

7.  The senior pays.  If you are junior, you should not fight or argue against a senior when he/she pays.  If you are the teacher, you should not pay, unless you are explicitly trying to teach Koreans about foreign customs.

8.  If there is a "second round,"  you probably have to go.  In Korea, especially in Seoul, there are many places to go after a first round of drinking at a restaurant or bar.  If your seniors go and you are an employee, it will help your career (see point #5) if you go.  While not going will not be explicitly used against you, it will not help.  Even going for a short while, and not engaging in any explicit activity is better than not going at all.

9.  There is zero, and I mean zero,  talking about the prior evening in the office.  ZERO.

This may seem strange, but humans are adaptable.

영어 Hint of the Day (비지너스) #3: Do Not Call It a "Problem", Call It an "Issue"

In Korean, the word 문제 of course translate to the word problem in English.  There is no doubt that this is the accurate translation, but there is a nuance that usually goes unexplained.  For business purposes, it is better to use the word "issue." 

For example,
(x)   I have a small problem with the suppliers.
(o)  I have a small issue with the suppliers.

Why is this the case?
The reason is that the word "issue" is far more neutral than the word "problem" in English.  When you use the word "problem," the implication is that something is wrong.  Well, there are many possibilities.  One of them is that YOU are the problem.  As a result, using the word problem may end up being something is actually your fault. 
The word "issue," however, is far more neutral.  When you say "I have a small issue with the suppliers," it may be that the supplier is wrong, or that the order is incorrectly entered, or there is a technology/logistics problem of some sort, and may be easily resolved.  Therefore, if you use the word "issue," and you resolve the issue, you can be seen as positive influence on your company or the situation.

By the way, the verbs to use with the word "issue" are:  resolve and solve.  I prefer resolve in professional settings, but solve is acceptable between people in informal settings.

Take Advantage of Reverse Discrimination During Interviews for an MBA

This is a very small, but potentially very important point.

When you are applying for an MBA to a US/European MBA program, a very important part of the application is the interview.  In Korea, what occurs is that a native Korean, an alumni, is usually assigned as the interviewer.  This should be avoided if possible.

Why is that? 

The reason:  Koreans are tougher on each other than foreigners, so if you are competent in English, then that will be a positive.  However, with a native Korean, it is more likely that the interview will occur in Korean, and the interview will be more difficult, and as a result, it is less likely that you will be recommended.  You should try to be interviewed by a native English, non-Korean interviewer.

So, if you are travelling to the US/Europe during the time of application, then you can contact the school, and try to arrange for an interview with a representative in the city to which you are travelling.  For example, if you visiting New York City for any reason, then it is very likely that there is an alumni representative already there who has been designated as a person to give interviews. 

It is actually a comment on Korean society, right?  Koreans do not want their own to attain the same level of education as they have, and as a result, put a HIGHER, more DIFFICULT level of excellence in mind when giving interviews.  As a result, if you interview in Korea, then it will actually be more difficult, not less.

It has been my experience that those students that I have advised receive better results this way.

This is just one small example of the MBA Application Consulting that I can provide to potential candidates. 
Here are the links to my advice, and services.

Please send me an email to and follow me at

Good Luck

영어 Hint of the Day (비지너스) #14: Achievement: 생각보다 더 어려운 단어가 이다. 왜? 이 불어그 읽으보세요.

The word achievement is often used incorrectly by native Korean speakers.  This is a sentence that was published in the Korea Herald on September 29, 2009:

(x)  “The order is the first achievement since we acquired the European unit of Superior Essex last year,” said LS Cable Chief Executive Officer Sohn Jong-ho in the statement.

The word “achievement” is troubling in this sentence.  It sounds like a very nice, important word.  I find that the use of this word is frequently accompanied by errors.  First, the “order” is NOT the “achievement.”  Receiving the order would be the achievement.   In my view, even this revision doesn’t make the sentence sound quite right.  Achievement would imply that something has been completed:  receiving an order from a very important customer is certainly commendable, but it does not mean that the job has been completed.  Perhaps, then, this could be used as an alternative:

(o)  “Receiving this order is an important first step as we integrate the European unit of  Superior Essex, which LS Cable acquired last year.”

The reason for this level of specificity?  Foreign investors are scanning the internet, as they look for investment opportunities.  Potential clients are looking at the internet to find additional information about vendors.  As a result, these small “sound bites” can be invaluable tools.  However, when these short statements contain errors, then often, it causes more harm than anything else.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

대한민국회사들이 외국선생을 선택하니: 좋은 생각? 아닙니다. 왜? 읽으보세요.

Here is an advertisement from today's
The recruiter is searching for a Business English teacher/coordinator.
At the bottom of this position, here is the list of "Qualifications."

1. English native speaker
2. Bachelor’s degree or higher
3. Teaching Certificate
4. Age 24~36
5. Must have more than 2 years of teaching business Eng. experience at corporation in Korea
6. F2, E2 visa holders who are in Korea now, and can attend in-person interview (F4 visa holders will not be accepted)
7. Female

If you are interested,
Please send your resume and a professional picture of you

This is quite incredible, actually, and it happens all the time at Korean companies.  First, you should read my earlier post called What "Business English" Hagwons in Korea Don't Want You to Know, which tells you that just because a person was born in a English native country does not necessarily make him/her a qualified teacher.  As everyone knows, Korean companies excessively rely on the idea that some type of certificate makes a person qualified.  It DOESN'T and this excessive reliance sacrifices ACTUAL quality.  Now, this does not apply only to Business English teachers, but that is a topic for another blog entry.  The best way to ensure that a teacher is qualified will be to look at the quality of the university that the teacher attended.  It tells a company that the teacher could at least study well enough for an entry exam.  If you use "niceness" as the criteria, then you will find that YOU ARE SMARTER THAN THE TEACHER.  That is the primary problem that I find with Business Education instructors that I have met in Korea. Especially at the executive level, the employees are far superior to the teachers.

That, however, is not the key point of this article.  Look at criteria #4, #6 and #7 above.  For those of that do not know, F4 is for non-Korean citizens that are of Korean descent (교포).  First of all, using #4, #6 and #7 as criteria would be ILLEGAL in most countries in the Western hemisphere, and the company would EASILY (and at great financial cost) lose in a court of law.  It is policies such as these that make Korea seem to be a highly discriminatory country.  Now, perhaps Korea believes this to be a positive:  I assure you that the remainder of the 1st world do not.  Certainly, implicit discrimination has and will always exist.  Explicit discrimination such as this is, generally speaking, banned by the rule of law. 

The key point of this article is that a teacher of Korean descent will have a greater probability of understanding of how Koreans have learned English and superior knowledge of what mistakes that Korean-native speakers most commonly make.  This is the unwritten 정, which really has no accurate, sufficient English translation.  That almost cannot exist with a foreign teacher that is not a gyopo.  That relationship between teacher and student will compel both the student and the teacher to try harder to satisfy each other.   That additional effort will almost always lead to better results.  Isn't that the goal of taking a company's time and money? 

I have heard a long list of excuses why the statements made above are wrong.  They are only that:  excuses.  If you enter into a debate with actual logic, then those "reasons" lead to superficial matters such as "I like pretty foreign girls," or "Foreigners are nicer," or "Girls are nicer."  None of the "reasons" leads to the only acceptable answer:  "We learn more English."  It is another example of how Korea, while stating that it does so, fails in what should be its most ambitious goal:  a society based on merit, rather than appearance and labels. 

Please comment, and if you believe that I am wrong, then I would appreciate you telling me why in the Comments section below.

영어 Hint of the Day #7: Imply vs. Infer

영어 Hint of the Day #7:  Imply vs. Infer

If used correctly, imply and infer are two very good words.  They are simple, elegant, and can correctly state how you think or can accurately describe some event, or people's reactions/thoughts.  Please try to use these very important words.  However, you need to avoid the error of using them as if they mean the same thing:  they are not the same at all.\

To imply can only be done by the messenger.   For example, “While speaking, she implied that she was the best.”  The meaning is that she did not directly say that she was the best, but the language she used was delivered so that the listener would understand that she believe that she was the best.

(x)  During her speech, Young-Ah inferred that she was a good learner.
(o)  My student implied that I was a great teacher.

To infer can only be done by the listener / reader.  For example, “I inferred that Mark was not smart.”  The meaning is that I believed that Mark was not smart as a result of something Mark may have done, or something Mark may have said.

(x)  During her speech, Young-Ah inferred that I was a great teacher.
(o)  When Young-Ah spoke, I inferred that she thought that I was a great teacher, and that she was in love with me.  However, when I tried to kiss her, I found out that I was wrong.  Ouch!

큰문제 있죠? 영어 가르치는 분 잘 못했어...

On Twitter today, I saw this:

오늘영어한문장 - How about going for a coffee? (커피마시러 가는게 어때요?)

Well, actually, this isn't quite right.  The problem is that if you learn this pattern, you will MAKE MISTAKES IN THE FUTURE.

(x)  "How about going for a coffee?"
(o)  "How about going for a cup of coffee?"
(o)  "How about going for some coffee?"

The problem is that coffee is a noun which is actually plural, not singular.  As a result, the article "a" is wrong.

Now, the issue is that the teacher in this case is not a native speaker of English, and posting on Twitter as if she is completely fluent.  This is not the case.  In Korea, as you probably know, there are many so called "experts" who are not actually experts
It is the right of students to ask for a teacher's qualifications to teach, and to choose teachers that can actually be considered as expert.

영어 Hint of the Day #2 (비지너스): How to say "I/We have done a good job"

영어 Hint of the Day #2 (비지너스):  How to say "I/We have done a good job"

Complimenting yourself isn’t easy
For Koreans, complimenting yourself is very unnatural.  However, in Western cultures, you will inevitably face situations where you will need to compliment yourself, your team, or your company.  To make matters more difficult, it is easy to make mistakes when using words to describe positive events or characteristics of yourself.  Here are some useful word combinations.  While not complete, these are some of the most common phrases used.  I don’t recommend that you try to mix the combinations.

Nouns and the verbs used in combination

challenges:  face challenges, meet challenges
obstacles:  overcome obstacles
goals:  reach goals, achieve goals (see below on the word achieve)
achievement:  Maybe it is just me, but achievement is a difficult word to use correctly, and you can easily find a substitute above.   However, if you insist, then the correct verb is …is/was.  For example:  Completing college was a great achievement.

Verbs and nouns that can be used
accomplish:  accomplish(ed) my/our mission.
complete:  completed a task, completed a project (for plural, completed tasks (no “a”), completed projects (no “a”)), completed a mission
achieve:  achieve goals, achieve objectives.  NOT: achieve mission, achieve tasks, achieve projects.  You see what I mean?  If you use the word “achieve” then it is too easy to make errors.

Additions are coming to this list, but here is a place to start.

영어 Hint of the Day #6: "I would like to say about the beautiful girl." Wrong. Here's why.

Korean native speakers frequently misuse the word "about."  Here are two very simple examples.

(x)  “I would like to tell about a story that is interesting to me.”
(x)  "I would like to say about something that happened yesterday."

The word “about” is more difficult than it appears.  My advice?  Avoid it if possible but you if you must use the world "about," then you need to be careful.  I would just try to make one correct form, and always use that one. 

My suggestion is always use (tell + you + about) + (모 모 모 ...)

Some examples of correct usage of the word "about" would be:

(o)  "I would like to tell you about something that is interesting to me. 
(o)  "I would like to tell you about a beautiful girl I saw yesterday." 
It is natural to try to speak correctly and perhaps believe that short sentences make it sound like you do not have command of the language.  That is not true.  It is better to speak without errors than it is to speak with long sentences.  In addition, you frequently will lose the attention of the person to whom you are speaking.

Simple 영어 Hint of the Day: Where is it AT? Why is this wrong?

Last month, I was the U.S., and here is what I heard from someone.

(x)  “Where is the game at?”
(o)  "Where is the game?"
(o)  "Where's the game?

Saying “Where is the game at” breaks a fundamental rule of grammar.  Sentences do not end with prepositions.
이렇게 말씀하면 촌놈차럼 있을 것 캍아습나다. 

In written English, this is absolutely an error.  In spoken English, this is still an error and unless you want to be noticed as a "person from the countryside,"  it shouldn't be said this way.  That said, even native speakers make this mistake.  If you make this error in written English on an essay exam, then it will be counted as an error.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

영어 Hint of the Day #1 (비지너스): : "Rise up?" Not usually.

Native Korean speakers like to use the word “rise” for some reason when speaking in English, and I don’t know why. I believe that the reason is because of the popularity of the phrase "오라 간다" or some variation of that, which is very frequently used. However, the word “rise” isn’t widely used in English.

Even more rare is the the phrase “rise up.” "Rise up" is really only used in one very specific instance. “Rise up” is usually a term for rebellion or demonstration. Another example of correct use of the phrase "rise up" is when describing something that has returned from death.

Here are a couple of sentences of correct use of "rise up."
(o) We will rise up against injustice.
(o) Our savior will rise up from the dead.
(x) Our company will rise up. (Reason: this has the implication that the company was bankrupt, and returned. If that is the case, then a correct sentence would be "Our company will rise up from the ashes.")

The word "rise," which is not used very often, can be used in the following ways.
(o) The sun rises from the east.
(o) The price of the stock will rise.

If you intend some other meaning, then find another verb.  Generally speaking, the word rise is not frequently used, except in very specific situations.

Depending upon the situation, the words improve, increase, overcome are acceptable.
(o)  Our company's situation will improve.
(o)  Our company's profits will not improve unless we make better products.
(o)  Our company can overcome all of its obstacles.

If you have questions, please send them to me at and follow me at

Good Luck!

Monday, September 27, 2010

영어 Hint of the Day: Don't pronounce the -이 or the -으

Konglish is everywhere, and it causes problems in correctly pronouncing words in English.
Here are some well-known "Konglish" words that you can find anywhere in cities throughout Korea.

마사지:  massage
오랜지:  orange
이미지:  image

케이스:  case
나이스:  nice

The reason that this occurs is because this is the way that it is learned in Japanese.  Since Japanese is easily learned by Koreans, it may seem easy to pronounce these English words using the Konglish spelling.  It is not correct.

The Hint of the Day is to NOT pronounce the 이 or the 으.  If you practice this, then your pronunciation will be more like a native English speaker.

대한민국에 영어 배우는 책 먾이 있지만 쓰레기두 많다. 조심 합시다.

Not all books are good.

There are so many books in Korean bookstores, like Bandi and Luni's and Kyobo Bookstore.  The number of books written to teach English is shocking.  Many of the books written for test-taking, like the GRE, are written by highly-educated authors.  I have looked through many of these, and the explanations/translations are quite good.  It is clear that a student can learn from these books, if you are trying to get into a graduate school, and need to have the vocabulary skills in order to perform well on the GRE.

HOWEVER, I must caution everyone against the manuals for TOEIC and especially those books that try to say they are going to teach the "American style."  In addition, the number of books on TOEIC and other similar exams are also not all good.

For example, I saw this on Twitter today by an author of a 영어 배우는 책 (name withheld), and here is what the tweet said.

쇼핑에 미치지 않았다는 표현!
I am not crazy shopper.(X)
I’m not crazy about shopping.저는 쇼핑에 미쳐 있는 사람은 아니에요.(O)

This has multiple errors.
The first example should be "I am not a crazy shopper," not "I am not crazy shopper."  It is a gramatically incorrect example.  If you look at my previous post, located, one of the most important pieces of advice I could give is to make sure that you correctly use the words a, an and the.  This author has given this example with incorrect English. 
The second example has nothing to do with a crazy shopper.  The correct translation would be something like 쇼핑 졸아하는 분 안입니다.  It has almost nothing to do with loving to shop.

This type of book is not a good idea.  I cannot possibly go and tell you which books are good, and which books are bad, because there are too many.  It is my suggestion, however, to be careful. 

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Business English 진짜 피료입니끼? 읽으보세요.

Don’t listen to my advice.  Listen to the facts.
First-time job seeker, career-changer, it doesn’t matter.  What isn’t said here is that current employers will be pressured to keep those employees with superior English skills.  The reason?  If companies don’t keep these employees, then their competitors will take them.  There are TOO MANY SMART PEOPLE IN KOREA WHEN COMPARED TO THE NUMBER OF GOOD JOBS HERE NOW, AND THIS WILL REMAIN IN EFFECT FOR THE FORSEEABLE FUTURE.  THE BEST, PERHAPS THE ONLY WAY TO GET AN EDGE?  ENGLISH.  SORRY, BUT THOSE ARE THE FACTS.

Unless you are a genius that can generate revenues at your oompany, single-handedly, Korean companies need to export additional goods and services abroad.  Its population cannot sustain a GDP that grows 5% a year,  cannot pay for the increased use of energy,  and simultaneously address its aging population problem.  The only way to accomplish that feat is to increase the scale of its companies’ revenues and profits.  The path to that end can only be travelled by having highly skilled workers that can communicate abroad.  The language used universally to communicate in business abroad?  English.  It is very simple, really.   From people to products, Korea doesn’t trail anyone, nor any nation.  It simply does not communicate in the same tongue as those who control the vast majority of the world’s money flow.  Again, very simple.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

영어 Hint of the Day: How to Improve Your Pronunciation of the Letter "R"

I think that the letter “R,” is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, single letter for Koreans to pronounce.  Like the letter “L,” it is quite closely related to the Hangul “ㄹ.”  Every translation of the English sound “R” is basically….wrong.  The reason this happens?  Pronunciation in Korean uses very even and flat intonation with equal weight given to each sound.  In addition, the accent, if any, is on the very first sound when speaking Korean.  That is NOT the case in English, and accents can be on any syllable.

My single best hint for Koreans when pronouncing the “R” sound?  Make the sound for a LONG time.
Instead of “world,” pronounce it as “worrrld.”
Instead of “word,” pronounce it as “worrrrd.”

It is, of course, impossible to list all of the words that have the “R” sound.  It is one of the most dominant sounds in the English language.  So try my pronunciation hints above to improve.
Onwarrrd, and upwarrrd….

눈치: 대한민국의 제일 큰문제기 이다 (Update 1)

As a Korean, one of the great aspects of society is the respect of elders.
As an American, one of the great barriers to economic and social progress is the concept of 는치.

In Korean of course, the most basic of these is the idea of 존대말 and 반말.  This is a major problem. 

To speak properly in English, you can just use what I would call the neutral polite form.  In this way, you are not deferring to age or position.  You are simply being proper.  For example, asking someone's age in English is not acceptable.  In a business situation, it may even be illegal.  You cannot choose or reject a person on the basis of their age.  If you ask someone's age during an interview, and then reject that person, then that person can actually sue the company, and WIN. 

What does that mean as a Korean?  The best solution is to simply speak simply, and politely, without being deferential.
These are phrases which can be used during an introduction, without regard to the age of the person you are meeting.

(o)  How are you?  My name is JH Park.  (And then extend your hand for a handshake).
(x)  May I know your name?  (This phrase is not used in English, although it is gramatically correct).

눈치 makes Korean society too submissive, even when the younger/junior person is actually correct.

There are a large number of reasons that this is problematic.

Example 1:  a doctor gives you a diagnosis, and the patient just accepts it without question.  This is almost certainly blatantly wrong.  A patient is, at the end of the day, is a customer.  You should be able to ask questions, and get a second opinion.  Unfortunately, patients just listen, say "앟겠습나다," and then accept whatever words the doctor says.  This does not mean that the doctor is always wrong, but in Korea, the doctor is never to be questioned.  Who suffers from this process?  You, the patient.

Example 2:  Korean students need to be able to ask questions during/after class.  From the elementary school days, students don't ask questions and just nod as if they always understand.  I am sure that you know this.  As you get older, and the schoolwork becomes a little more difficult, wouldn't it have been better if you could have interrupted for a few moments, and gotten some clarification?   This continues on for an entire lifetime.  During lectures or presentations in a corporate atmosphere, the same thing occurs.  No one asks questions even if the presentation creates questions, and many other listeners would have had the same question.  Who suffers from this process?  You, the student/listener who would have gotten greater understanding if you had the chance to ask a question, but due to 눈치, you do not ask.

This list will grow and grow, as more examples come to mind.  Please send me your own examples!
What do you think?  Please feel free to comment.
email me at, and follow me at
Be sure to look around the rest of the blog for other hints about communicating and learning English.

Have a great day.

What "Business English" Hagwons in Korea Don't Want You to Know (updated)

These are the facts.
a. The average Business English teacher is less educated than the average Korean student.
b. The average Business English teacher has a smaller vocabulary than Korean students. If you simply look at how Korean students study, then you will be able to understand: Korean students may be the best in the world at memorizing.
c. The average Business English teacher has NO practical business experience. These teachers do not have experience in speaking in a business environment, with bosses, peers, and potential clients in the audience.
d. The average Business English teacher does not have negotiation or presentation skills. It would be far better to take the lessons remotely via Skype from a qualified instructor than it would be to take a lesson from a person that has no experience.
e.  The situation is usually no better for students of intensive English "camps" that are run at outside locations.
f.   The books are largely a waste of money, except that they give students an idea that there is something being done, and more importantly, they are a resource for teachers that would not know what to teach, if there was no book available.  This is particularly problematic.  Without a textbook, a teacher should be able to present an outline of what he would like to teach.  In fact, this should be a requirement of all teachers of Business English.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.

These are all true, and, as a Korean, it is very sad for me to report. I have seen this with my own eyes after having the experience at multiple companies, and meeting the "Business English" teachers.

The teachers are from foreign countries, who have no idea about how many smart people there are in Korea. They have no idea how difficult it has been to obtain the jobs in Korean companies. These teachers have not had to survive the exceptionally competitive atmosphere to enter into the top Korean universities.

Now, this does not mean that those who are teaching advanced high school students at the top foreign high schools or top hagwons in Daechi-dong are not qualified. That is entirely different. Those teachers have gone to very compeititive schools in the United States or Canada. You cannot pretend to be able to tutor AP English to Korean students that aspire to enter Harvard. HOWEVER, Business English is very, very different.

If you want to know the correct way to learn Business English from our people who have Ivy League educations, and more than 15 years of actual business experience, then email me at:, and be sure to follow me at

I have contact with very qualified teachers that can counsel privately or in group settings.
If you would like me to give you some names of previous students of mine, then I would be happy to do that.

Good Luck.

영어 Hint of the Day: The word "chance" does not mean 기회

기회 may, or may not, be strictly translated into chance or opportunity.

(x)  It is a good chance to make money.
(o)  It is a good opportunity to make money.

In business situations, the word opportunity should be chosen in almost every instance.  Why?  The word chance, in English, has the implication of randomness or gambling.  The word chance is used in phrases like "It's a game of chance."  That makes the word chance seem similar to gambling or other game that relies on something other than skill.  Therefore, if you have "capitalized on the chance," it may be that you have relied on an event that resulted from luck.  It is far better to say "I capitalized on the opportunity,"  or "This is a great opportunity for our company."

영어 Hint of the Day #33: the word "more" should be used less.

영어 Hint of the Day #33:  Using the word "more" is not a good idea.

Using the word "more" incorrectly is very easy for Korean speakers.  Of course, the Korean word 더 is very popular and widely used everyday.  In English, you can make errors too easily when you use the word "more", and the best advice (rather than over-studying) is to avoid using it if you can.

(x)  She is more prettier.  (o)  She is more beautiful. 
(x)  She is more faster.  (o)  She is faster.  OR  (o) She is the fastest.
When you try to add the word more to another descriptive word, errors can be made as you see above.

The time that you can use the word "more" without making errors is when you use "more" by itself at the end of a sentence.
(o)  I love you more.  (o)  We ate a lot of food, and then we at some more.

The important thing is to avoid errors, and the Hint of the Day:  Don't use the word "more" frequently.

I will try to post a 영어 Hint of the Day often, so check back often, and if you have questions: is the email address, and follow me at

A complete list can be found on the page link on the left named "영어 Hint of the Day."
Good Luck!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Use Simple Logic When Thinking About MBA Admissions Counselors or Other Resources

You should first read the page entitled "Are You Korean (in Korea) and Applying for an MBA Degree in the US or Europe" which is on a different page on this blog.  On the right-hand column of this blog, it is one of the choices under the heading "Pages."  Once you are done with that, then please continue here.

A friend of mine came to ask about the possibility of applying to MBA programs.  He had graduated from Seoul National University, and he had worked at Samsung Electronics for 3 years.  He scored well OVER 750 on the GMAT.  In other words, he basically had the blue-chip application up to that point.  He asked for my help.  His target schools:  Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, Wharton.  No others, and no "easier" schools.  Uh-oh, I thought, here is the "ideal" candidate, but trying to get into the most selective schools in the U.S.

Here's what I told him.

Go around and try to interview the different MBA consultants, and make sure they pass the "smell" test.
For example, do the consultants have an MBA degree or do they have explicit, MBA admissions experience?  It would be almost impossible to understand what the bare minimum skills would be in order to gain entry, if you have no experience either in obtaining a degree or working on an admisssions committee.  Unfortunately, you can find many, many counselors that have little/no business experience, no MBA degree, or have never worked on an Admissions Committee.  Just ask yourself, "Does this sound right?"

So my friend with the credentials asked for my help, and my first piece of advice was to go around to the other counselors (just go around Gangnam station, there are many famous MBA admissions counselors there).  He went to the first place, and his opinion: 
1.  The counselers didn't have work expereince in business.  To be fair, this is the lowest of the necessary criteria.  For example, a person may have worked as an admissions officer in an MBA program.  Let's say that it is not a large negative.
2.  The counselor did not personally have an MBA degree.  Now, I have have a MAJOR PROBLEM with this.  If you have no MBA degree, and no experience as an admissions officer, how can you tell who has demonstrated skills and/or achievements worthy of admission?  Take this analogy:  if you wanted to enter into Art School or Music School, would you be comfortable if non-Artist or non-Musician evaluated your work?  No.  Very simple.

In short, if it doesn't "smell" right to you, then something is probably wrong.  In Englsih, the saying "smell" test is used when you are trying to eat a particular food.  If a food smells bad, are you more likely, or less likely, to eat it and like it?  Anyways, let's continue. 

My friend, who went to the best university in Korea (sorry Yonsei, Koryo, KAIST), worked at the most well-known corporation in Korea, and received a GMAT score in the 98th percentile, was very, very qualified, and wanted to make sure that he received advice which would actually help him in creating a portfolio that he did not already have.  That is the key:  the counselor must add to the application, and inform applicants about how to enhance the application.  If the person is not qualifed to do so, and the applicant is very qualified, you do not need sophisticated knowledge.  It is a matter of simple logic. 

That is not the usual case.  However, the advice I am giving to you is the same, ESPECIALLY FOR NATIVE KOREAN APPLICANTS.  The concept of "expert" is too easily accepted in Korea, there is an excessive following of the service/hagwon that is most famous.  If a person calls himself/herself an "expert," you are entitiled to the right to ask potential counselors about their qualifications to provide the valuable service that you may need.  In an MBA program, you will be asked to challenge statements that may or may not be true on first glance.  You should begin now by asking yourself whether or not the counselors pass your "smell" test.

The same criteria mentioned above can be used for books.  You can, and should, probably buy a book (at least one), and it is easy using (link on the right-hand column).  At the very minimum, you should make sure that the authors have the credentials to be able to give advice.  I have looked through many books (and have recommended a couple on the right-hand column).  However, I have also seen others written by authors with zero business experience, and believe that a few YouTube videos will get you to buy their book.  While I cannot explicitly say that such authors/counselors are not qualified, this type of counselor/author does not pass my smell test.  You can decide for yourself.

All the best,  and feel free to send me an email if you have any questions, is my email address, and follow me on Twitter

Good Luck.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blame it on Confucious: Why the West and the Far East Miscommunicate

Westerners do not, fundamentally, live according to Confucious' beliefs.  They do not believe that Harmony should be preserved at almost all costs.  In contrast, people from the Far East value the preservation of Harmony, which may require indirect speaking to others, even if there is disagreement.  The result?  Speaking indirectly is seen by those with a Confucian background as a skill of a person who knows how to preserve Harmony. 

To a Westerner, this speaking indirectly is seen as lying
It really is simple as that:  what Easterners see as a skill, Westerners see as lying.  That is a pretty large difference, I'd say.

You can read academic papers written about this (people have gotten their PhDs writing dissertations about this), but if you understand this one simple concept, then you can understand how/why there are misunderstanding between people from the Far East and the West.  When a person from Korea or China or Japan speaks with an indirect style, he/she is trying to preserve Harmony.  However, Westerners are more likely to understand that the speaker is unwilling to address the situation, and is "talking in circles." 

So, right from the beginning, you can see the obvious conflict.  This is the fundamental hurdle that must be crossed in order for the East and West to understand each other.

Future posts will offer some particular language that can be used that both can understand each other....

Interesting article on MBA admissions

Here's the link from Fortune:

The issue with this article for foreign students is that it there are additional questions and this consultant state those things here.
For this, you cannot use a MBA admissions consultant who focuses on American students.  You need a different set of advice which includes an understanding of how Western cultures communicate, and how it differs from those who are from the Far East. It is fundamentally different, and it is critical that applicants understand this, in every part of the application.

If you want an MBA admissions book, I have named 2 on the far right column of this blog.
If you need personalized service, then there is a page on this blog where I detail my (far more affordable) services.

Good luck.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gangnam Real Estate: Time to Buy? Just Maybe....

Cheong Da Wae is worried about Korean Real Estate Prices
It is true.  The Blue House isn't thrilled about the BOK's raising of interest rates, because Cheong Da Wae knows that the single most important factor on real estate prices is the interest rate charged on mortgages.  There is no doubt that real estate prices have flattened, if not declined, especially in Gangnam.  Even the prices of Eunma in Daechi-dong, a bellweather of sorts, have dipped slightly, desptie the widely anticipated reconstruction of the the sprawling apartment complex. 

There are many complex dynamics in play
It is indisputable that interest rates affect real estate prices.  In addition, there are also a few other factors to consider.  The subsidies offered at the new developments outside of Seoul (신도시) have made Seoul real estate seem very expensive.  Given the dependence of the home-buying generation on their parents, Seoul real-estate, especially in the five speculative areas, seems out of reach, and out of reason.
In addition, the bottom line is that the average age of the population is rising, and rapidly.  It is a well-know, commonly-held belief that Korea mirrors Japan's economy, except that Korea is 10 years behind.  Well, if that is the case, the Korea is in for a world of hurt (Englsih phrase that you should learn if you do not know it already).  With little/no faith in the National Pension Service, the elderly want to save, and the home-buying generation knows it.  The result?  Less demand. 
Of course there are countervailing factors.  One is the lust for education.  Have you ever been to Eunma?  You must be kidding.  It is decrepit and needs immediate reconstruction.  There is no hot water oince a month.  The parking is absolutely untenable.  Why then are prices even where they are?  One word says it all:  HAGWON.  One hagwon owner (참부자) called Daechi-dong the "Silicon Valley" of the educational system in Korea.  Math hagwons have students coming from (강북) north of the river which must take 30-40 minutes by car.  Debating whether or not this is pure insanity will be the topic of another blog entry.  Nevertheless, the fact is that Gangnam is host to the nation's most famous hagwons, and fame for Koreans is everything.
Over the long run, demographics will create a drag on the market.  Korea's population is like Japan's 20 years ago.  Slowing birth rate has led to a increase in the average age of Korea's population.  The elderly are less likely to live in the most congested areas.

The level of the KOSPI and the JPY/KRW exchange rate are overlooked and important
Korea is changing, and rapidly.  So too, are the people. 
It is undeniable, and regrettable in some respects, that the Chaebols have regainted their control, and increased their importance.  The over-borrowing, over-dependence by Korean banks on a select few Chaebols has dramatically declined, which is good.  That has been the result of increased regulations.  In turn, those regulations have increased the transparency of Korean Chaebols (relatively speaking).  That has resulted in far greater shareholder rights compared to the 1908s.  Why does this matter?   It matters because shareholders have greater confidence in the numbers that the Chaebols are reporting, and are less fearful of dilution that has so frequently occured in the past.  So, it is a fact that increased shareholder rights has given investors increased confidence in other asset classes, when compared to real estate.  This is actually a good sign about corporate governance in Korea, and has been long overdue.  As Koreans become more sophisticated investors, and as corporate governance improves, those newly-educated investors will reallocate resources away from the real estate market (their apartments) and into stocks, bonds, and other investments.  This can change rapidly because information travels at lightspeed in Korea, and trends turn into fads.  Those fads can be strong enough to influence behavior drastically.  Therefore, this dynamic must be closely watched in the months and years ahead.

The JPY/KRW exchange rate has hurt Korean real estate prices
How is this possible?  You may ask this question and with good reason.  Well, a not-well-known fact about Korea is that the rich can behave like small Korean companies just before the Financial Crisis of 2007.  In what way?  Well, Koreans can borrow with the repayment plans being Yen-based.  Huh?  Because the Yen interest rates are low compared to Korea, rich Koreans (like the ones that buy expensive Gangnam real estate) have been able to borrow at the low Japanese Yen-based rates, and pay back according the to the value of the Yen.  While on the surface that sounds like it was a good idea, the problem is that the Yen has appreciated by over 30% compared to the Korean Won over the past 2 years.  That means that the borrowers (the Korean rich) has to pay back 30% more.  These types of loans (which are made to finance offices, or plastic surgery laser equipment) are usually 2-3 years long.  Guess what?  Many are coming due now, and over the next year, and the borrowers must be under great duress, because unless business has improved by an amount greater than the Yen's appreciation, the borrowers may have a very difficult time in repaying these loans.  One possible way to repay the loans?  Sell real estate, or take additional loans against the value of their apartments. The result of either, or both, of these is clear:  lower demand for Gangnam real estate.  Prices follow the lower demand,  i.e. prices are under pressure.

Given the JPY/KRW appreciation almost cannot last, now may actually be the time to buy
The oldest saying in buying anything of value is to "buy low, sell high."  given the fact that most of the economic activity of Korea is in Seoul, and within Seoul, that means Gangnam, when added to the JPY/KRW appreciation which has pressured borrowers that would otherwise be investors or purchasers of Gangnam real estate, it may be a chance to now "buy low." 
This is not without risks.  There is speculation that the reason for the JPY appreciation is the Chinese who have been huge buyers of JGBs (Japanese Government Bonds).  In order to buy, Chinese Yuan is sold, and JPY are bought, and then used to purche the JGBs.  The current maritime dispute has made the Chinese angry, some suggest that they are trying to squeeze the Japanese further, and make the Japanese strife worse.  In other words, it may be early to buy Korean real estate on this basis at the current time.  However, the fact is that once the problem corrects itself, it will most likely not be gradual, but a quick re-alignment may well occur.  If that occurs, then the opportunity will vanish.  So, for those that have the means, then ironically, this may be a golden opportunity.

Betting Against the Government is a Dangerous Gambit
The Korean government, whether that is local or national, have the same goal: rising real estate prices.  It is obvious why. Higher real estate valuations means that higher property taxes can be levied.  In addition, the wealth effect of increasing value of homes leads to much better consumer spending.  That consumer spending is of particular concern to countries like export-dominated Korea.  It needs to weaken the reliance on exports, relatively speaking.  That process would all come to stunning, painful halt, if there is a real estate market crash.  If you look at the U.S. experience, the rapid decline in housing has led to dramatically painful economic consequences, including unemployment of greater than 9.5%.  Other, more appropriate statistics actually point out a worse picture than that.  While Korea's official unemployment rate is very low compared to the U.S., it could be argued that underemployment (people working at jobs for which they are vastly overqualified), when added to unemployment, in Korea is actually worse than that of the U.S.  No official statistics really point this out in Korea, but anecdotal evidence and the size of the black market economy is the obvious evidence.
The bottom line:  Korea can't afford a real estate market crash, and the government will do almost anything in order to prevent one.   Given that fact, and the fact that prices are this depressed given the otherwise relatively-healthy economy, which has resulted largely from the appreciation of the JPY, that when this reverses, then money will flow out of equites, out of the JPY due to Japan's efforts (coordinated or not), and that money will go...back into real estate.  That is an entirely feasible outcome over the medium term.  In the longer term (5+) years, the demographics, and the re-allocation of overall assets by people with savings in Korea, will most likely dominate.  But before then, it will be difficult for the government to reverse course from its real estate market support activities.

Good luck.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Korea's Reason for Feasting This Year: The Yen's Strength

Chuseok is here and Korea is Feasting...because of the Japanese Yen
Well, it is Chuseok (추석) season, which begins tomorrow, September 21st, and lasts for 3 days.  This year, Korea's economy has to be especially thankful for one thing:  the Japanese Yen's incredible strength.  There is little doubt that Korea has feasted on the decline of Japan's influence on the world. 

Two years ago, the JPY/KRW exchange rate:  10
Now:  13.40

To those of you that don't know, it means the following: a Japanese product is now 34% more expensive, or less profitable than the same product made in Korea.  Well, what types of products might those be?  Try automobiles, ships, steel, and electronics.  Guess what Hyundai Motor, Hyundai Heavy, POSCO, and Samsung Electronics sell?  Who are their main competitors on a global basis?  Japanese in every case.  So, there is no doubt about why Japanese companies are bitterly complaining to the Bank of Japan.  For the moment, it has been effective:  the JPY/KRW exchange rate was over 14.25 just a week ago.

What does this mean for Korea going forward?
It is rare for the world to compliment both the corporate sector and the government, but this may in fact be true in Korea's case.  The government has been slow to reduce fiscal stimulus measures, and the Bank of Korea has responded to inflationary pressures by slowing increasing interest rates.  So while the demand for imports into the U.S. and China has waned, the JPY/KRW rate has kept Korean-made products very competitive, and now, as we all know, Korean-made products are, as a whole, on par if not superior to their Japanese-made counterparts. 

Derivatives the ugly word are most likely a partial solution.
Derivatives in Korea have left particularly ugly scars.  During the Asian currency crisis, Korean securities firms were heavily invested in speculative, leveraged investments linked to the Thai Baht.  During the Financial Crisis of 2007, Korean companies were found to have owned KIKO (Knock-In, Knock-Out) derivatives on the Japanese Yen. 
In today's case, it is the writer's view that Korean corporations need to get hedged, at least in part.  There is no way to tell, given the relatively weak global economic recovery, whether or not demand for Korean-made products will continue, and more importantly, how much of this demand is due simply due to the appreciation of the Yen.  Korean companies need some protection in case the Yen declines, and Korean-made products become relatively expensive and do not sell.
Notably, the carry trade would suggest that the Yen may in fact decline at the time that there is more optimism in financial markets as a whole.  That is what has confounded many experts in the market.  Equity markets globally are not far from their highs, and yet the Japanese Yen is near its greatest levels in 15 years. 
What does this means?  Either Korean-made products will continue to grow, and the Yen may or may not appreciate.  Or Korean-made products' sales will decline, as a result of either a global economic slowdown, or a depreciating Yen.  The worst case would be if the Yen depreciates, and Korean-made products' sales decline by more than would be anticipated due to a global economic slowdown.  It is this case that needs to be hedged in part.  

The days of Korean products needing to be cheaper in the global marketplace no longer exists.  In every major industry, Korea's products are competitive with other nations', at nearly every level.  As a result, Korea's companies shouldn't take extra risk by hoping that the JPY/KRW continues to be at such high levels.  Korean companies need to buy some puts on the JPY/KRW (that appreciate when the JPY/KRW level declines).  They should buy a partial hedge, which will cost money, but will provide protection against unfavorable moves.

No one knows exactly what will happen, but one thing is for certain:  the global economy is, and will contiune to have strange relationships due to the aftermath of the Financial Crisis.  Korean companies should take advantage of the sharp increase in JPY/KRW, with the knowledge that it, over the multiple-year horizon, will most likely not last.

Think that learning English is harder than learning Korean? You are wrong. Think again.

It isn’t even close:  Korean is MUCH more difficult to learn than English.  It is a mere mental barrier.  Do you want some proof?  Here are just a few simple examples.
1.  The spelling of words in English doesn’t change.  In Korean, even the word “NO” has been changed(!!!) from 아니오, to 아뇨.  That is just the beginning.  갔습니다  or 갔읍닏다?  How can multiple spellings of the SAME word be correct?
2.  The number of ways that something is expressed in Korean is far greater than in English.  For example, “That is a beautiful girl” is only commonly said in a few ways in English, such as “She’s cute,” or “She’s hot,” or “She’s sexy.”  In Korean, how many ways are there to say the same thing, and that you actually use?  10?  At least?  In other words, the number of ways that something is expressed in English is limited, practically speaking.  Sorry, but those word lists used at hagwons are necessary for test-taking, but most of the words aren’t used in normal communication.  The number of words that are ACTUALLY USED during a typical day when speaking English is far, far less than the number of words used when communicating in Korean.  Not even close.
3.  Hanja.  On this, there cannot possibly be any debate.  Even if you have memorized every Hanja character used in Korean, there are the combinations of characters that cannot, for all intents and purposes, be learned (사장성어).    Many are easy to learn and translate (일석이조).  Some are almost impossible (새옹지마).   How exactly, would you go about translating 새옹지마 in a way that has anything to do with those four characters in 50 words or less?
4.  New phrases become common in everyday Korean, but the same is not true in English.  For example, 치마 바람 is a phrase used to describe Korean women, who are busily doing everything they can for their children.  However, the literal translation has almost nothing to do this notion, and a lengthy explanation is necessary for someone to understand the meaning.  The fact is that many, many people in Korea understand the term, and would even use the term.  However, new phrases like this example are rare in English.
The key point:  you have already know a language harder than English.  So, there is no reason to be afraid.

Brilliant, Crazy, Frustrating, Vibrant, Creative all in one: Korea and Koreans

Korea is all of these things.  And as a Korean-American, I can also say that this describes Koreans as well.  This blog is created with a few things in mind.
First, it is a guide for foreigners who would like to understand Korea, from a Korean's point of view.  Now, many of the opinions on this blog won't be exactly as a native Korean, but these opinions will say a great deal about the native Korean's mindset.  Within the foreigners group, I will also try to help and describe life as an English teacher in Korea (of which there are many), and as an established professional.
Second, it is a guide for Koreans that want to educate their children being raised in Korea, and aspire to educate their children  (유학생) abroad.  Since most students in Korea can read in English, this blog will primarily be in English, although there will be Korean words when there is no better translation.
Third, this blog has advice for those that want to apply for MBA programs abroad.  Being educated in the U.S., and having an MBA degree from a top US program, I have also aided studenKoreats who have been successful in gaining entry into top MBA programs abroad.

If there are requests, or questions, let's share them here for everyone to see!