역시 is a word that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to work out its exact meaning. Before I moved to Korea I remember asking some of my Korean friends what it means and they had a very difficult time giving a particular definition for it.
And now that I live here, and I listen to the language being spoken everyday, I understand the context of when it can be used. However a definition still eludes me.
These kind of words, ones that don’t really translate, are a big reason why I think languages are so interesting. By learning a second language you’re effectively unlocking new, previously impossible, ways to express things that your native language doesn’t allow for.
So I thought I’d start a little series for these kind of words as I encounter them in real life situations. Because I know many people studying Korean do so from overseas, like I did, and might not have as much access to the context of these words.
I am in NO WAY an expert on this and my Korean is objectively NOT GOOD. But I do care about it a lot and therefore I am careful to notice the way my students and co-workers speak to each other.
If there are any native Korean speakers reading this and you think something sounds funny, PLEASE let me know in the comments! These are just my observations.
First in this series is the word 역시. Pronounced “yeok-shi.”
If you look up the definition of this word it will tell you things like, “of course,” “as expected,” “naturally,” “also.”
Looking at all of those definitions together you might be able to get a feel for when you would use this word, but separately each one is kind of wrong. The way that we use, “also” in English would not always be appropriate to use 역시. And vise-versa.
So I thought I would give you some examples.
#1. The first one happened on Friday afternoon. Friday was my school’s sports day. If you’ve read much of my blog before you might have heard me say a thing or two about my school’s third graders. They’re… tricky. To put it nicely. I have, over time and through a massive change in perspective, grown to love them fiercely. But let’s just say that studying is not something they generally enjoy or seem to do much of.
Anyway one of our grade three boys classes is known for having the highest collection of overwhelming personalities of any class in the whole school. I’ve walked into that class room to see students sleeping on top of the lockers, hanging out the windows shouting at the elementary school next door, and once walked in to all the desks in the circle and they were playing some game show among themselves.
They’re the kind of students that you have to try really hard not to laugh when they’re disrupting class because they’re actually really funny.
Anyway, this particular class absolutely owned sports day. In the beginning everyone does a kind of parade for each class to show off their costumes and most of them just strolled casually past the teachers. Some classes made signs. But this class got into a military like formation and marched through the parade to the beat of one student shouting at them from the front.
When it was time for the championship soccer game (something the entire school has been invested in for weeks now) two of the students from this class were the announcers and, despite the fact that it was in rapid fire Korean, even I was laughing.
During the 100 meter sprint they somehow got the entire section of grade one girls fawning over them. They’d run by and kick the air and all the little girls would scream. They’d shout, “what class?!” and the girls would cheer, “class 1!” It was a riot, even though I was painfully aware of how much their egos really didn’t need that kind of encouragement.
When it was time for the relay race, instead of having the athletic students run for their class, they choose the not-so-athletic ones and had them dressed up in these ridiculous costumes. One student ran the whole thing with an inflatable flamingo wrapped around his waist.
And before passing the baton they would stop, do a full all the way to the ground bow to each other and then continue on. They finished several minutes after the other classes but the whole school was laughing. When their last student was about to cross the finish line the entire class rushed out from the bleachers to cross together and simultaneously attack their homeroom teacher.
If you forgot what we were talking about don’t worry, this all has a purpose. I say all of that to explain the full weight behind my co-teachers words when we got back to the office and she looked at this particular classes’ homeroom teacher and after a few moments of silence simply said, “역시 일반.”
Basically like, “Class 1. I should have known.” Or, “I could have guessed.” Or, “Class 1, of course.”
They’re such funny, crazy kids that we knew of course that they would pull something like today.
#2. My second example has a much shorter explanation.
So I don’t usually bring my phone to class with me, but recently I was doing a lesson that fit with the school’s theme for this year and so my co-teacher wanted me to take some pictures. So for one of my grade one girls classes I had my phone out and I was taking some pictures while they worked on the activity.
At one point one of the girls noticed the phone and said, “와 역시 아이폰.”
That’s basically, “Wow. I phone, I should have guessed.” Or something like that.
I don’t know why they’re always curious about what kind of phone I have. But whenever they see it they almost always ask, “Iphone??”
When I say yes it seems to confirm some suspicion they had about me owning an Iphone. I can’t say exactly why but it happens a lot.
#3. The last example happened this morning.
I’m currently doing speaking tests with my grade three kids and when I came back into the classroom my co-teacher asked if she could see the scores from today. Despite most of them having questions marks next to their names, grading speaking is hard, there was only one student who I already had given a 100%.
She looked at the paper and said, “역시 민수.” (not his real name.)
Because of course he would get a 100%. He’s the type to pretend to not be interested in anything at school but is secretly really paying attention and wants to learn. He doesn’t participate much in class, but he is speaking is really good when he wants it to be.
I know these aren’t cut and dry rules for how to use this word and it can also have other meanings apart from this “of course,” “as expected” feeling but this is how I usually notice it.
I hope this was interesting or helpful for some of you! Thanks for reading!