Monday, November 29, 2010

Who's learning from who here?

One of the questions I receive the most from family, friends, and curious internet acquaintances (thanks for bonding me to the internet for life, Facebook) is how well my Korean is coming. The short answer is this: it's coming well. I am beginning to build confidence in my speaking skills, although admittedly I was shocked at how shy my usually-talkative mouth was to use Korean. Now that I'm putting myself out there, it's coming along alright. My main audience during an average day are:

1. taxi drivers.
2. random students on the street by my apartment.
3. the family of the noodle/kim bap house I love so much.
4. street vendors.

Every time I have a success with Korean locals, I walk away with a poker face of cool confidence, which bursts into the dorkiest grin imaginable as soon as I'm out of sight. Some of the highlights include:

1. the first time I directed a cabbie to my apartment.
2. the second time I directed a cabbie to my apartment (yeah, it was a pretty big deal).
3. the time I bartered with a shoe salesman for a sweet deal on some black boots in Busan.
4. the way the teachers and students at my school light up when I try to write their names in Hangul (imagine a poor foreigner sinking into her chair, scrawling on a piece of paper as several Koreans huddle around her yelling, "gim hae eun... eun! euuuuuuun!").
5. actually communicating with the 2-to-4-year-olds I cared for this weekend at children's house in Ulsan (this is going to be a different post entirely so keep an eye out).

So I'd place my language level at 3 years of age. That and taxi driver, which are about equivalent.

Much of this learning has been completed on my own time, but it hasn't been by myself. Aside from my co-teachers and foreign network, the biggest asset to my learning have been the kids I work with. They love taking time from their day to show me new words, test my knowledge of Hangul, or provide me with opportunities to listen to simple sentences being whined over and over... and over.

The best thing about learning from kids is that they never judge you for being wrong. They may laugh, but they never make you feel inferior for asking. They really have been some of my biggest supporters when it comes to learning, and certainly the biggest inspiration. So a big thank you to my students, and all the Korean children who lend a helping hand to tongue-tied foreigners like me.

On the other side of the spectrum is the image of an 'English speaker' I have to present to my students. As a foreign English teacher trying to learn Korean, it is sometimes difficult not to use a little here and there in the classroom just to make things run smoother. On a normal day at my school, this isn't much of an issue because the Korean teachers are already using their native language for much of the class. However, the reason English-speakers were hired to come here is to somehow be a tool for English immersion. I often laugh at this since I have about 1,000 students at my school and somehow must immerse them all in my language.

However, I do work an after-school program with limited numbers of students, so in those classes it is crucial that we have an 'English only' policy, for both me and the students. My classes are well-informed that if they speak Korean, they have to write lines. Although this is not my preferred method for a reward/punishment system, it is definitely effective in Korea. The only problem is that by the 5 o'clock hour (when after-school lessons begin), students do not want to keep to school rules, and they definitely don't want to be kept from speaking Korean.

So, what happens when you have an English teacher in a room of students who want to speak Korean?

 I think we're going to have a lesson on punctuation
sometime in the near future.

Yep. Punctuation.

This student's handwriting got suspiciously larger to cover more space.
Nice tactic.

I particularly like this kid's take on the punishment. Not only did he write 100 times in the smallest handwriting "I will speak English", but he wrote in blaring yellow marker... and still managed to save enough space to scrawl "THE END" at the bottom.

The age hierarchy in Korea would never allow me to say this aloud, but I think I learn just as much-- if not more-- from my students on a daily basis (and that's no knock to my teaching abilities!). Let's just chalk it up to say that what I learned in college still holds true: we all learn from one another.
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1 comment:

  1. You disciplining (can't spell that apparently) No....:)