Week 7, Thursday

The school day was a little disappointing and frustrating after grade three.

It was a full day with third grade (the new sub has amazing classroom management and I feel the difference acutely when I teach with S in fourth grade).

In 3-4 I taught some bow-wearing girls “bow” awhile back and quiz them every class. They’re going to remember something besides Hello if I have anything to do with it! Today they taught me 리본 (ree-bone) which is the Hangeulized word for ribbon. But because it’s Konglish, and Konglish is known for misattributing definitions, this actually means “bow”. One smart girl said “ah. Konglish*?” I drew a picture of ribbon versus bow so they at least know for the future.

After lunch S and I hosted the bimonthly English club. Early in the year they decided they just wanted to watch movies so today we finished up Jumanji and answered questions.

But one student close to the desk as I opened Netflix said “teacher you have dark [circles]”

Yes, because you all have been taking English for two years now and can’t answer in a complete sentence. Your female classmates also talked throughout most of the movie and were not reprimanded for lack of attention which in turn encourages the perspective that English isn’t important.

Last week I saw a woman carrying a bag inscribed with “She’s Closet” and I felt physical pain. Nothing says “your language is just a means to pass the college entrance exam and after I don’t care at all and will put horrifically wrong trendy English phrases on my person because it might as well be nothing more than a decoration”.

I know it’s not meant maliciously but on top of it all I hoped that a country requiring ten years of English education could use basic possessive adjectives. I don’t think people here are stupid or uneducated by any means; it’s amazing that all public schools find a way to teach a second language (and provide me with a job, thank you).

I just feel a little sad that for many students who can’t afford tutoring, there is a large gap between education duration and language ability. I need to reframe my mindset so that instead I purchase all these terrible English items for a special collection.

I recognize that I’m sensitive to it and that I shouldn’t be— my students are just a product of their environment. Every year teachers are reassigned to new positions; the science teacher may become an English teacher and a homeroom teacher may become a science teacher.

There is no dedicated English teacher which is why many teachers desperately hope they’re not assigned to teach English as they themselves are not comfortable with the language. That fear and lack of speaking carries over to the English classroom where students are taught English grammar in Korean and any English speaking is rewarded, instead of expanded.

I have never been in a language class where I was allowed to answer in a single word— but my students have gotten away with that in third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade and unlearning that habit is difficult without constant exposure. And it’s certainly never something I allowed my online Chinese students to do.

Again I wish I could teach them all but I have to settle for what little I can do now. The new sub, even though her English pronunciation and grammar is not always correct, always has students repeating full sentence and gives directions in English. And she did say that speaking is more encouraged than the rote grammar memorization that she saw in the late 80s before she moved to America.

In spite of it all, there was a wonderful little bright spot at the end of the day. Two of my boys were outside the classroom next door with their neighborhood ddeokbokki. I assume they bought their snack before coming back at 4 for additional after school classes. I asked what they were eating; they didn’t understand my question (sigh) but I knew what it was anyway. One boy speared a rice cake on a toothpick and hand fed it to me. He was very sweet. I was reminded that even if I can’t get them to speak often we at least have a comfortable relationship like this. And I get free food.

*90% of loan words in Korean come from English. But there’s also a special category called Konglish where English words have been adopted but their meaning is completely different in Korea. You can imagine that this leads to a lot of confusion for English speakers (me) between what is a loan word and what is Konglish.

For example:
Computer/loan word/meaning: computer
Over eat/Konglish/meaning: vomit
Reporter/loan word/meaning: reporter
Fighting/Konglish/meaning: good luck, you can do it
Stand/Konglish/meaning: lamp
Tissue/loan word/meaning: tissue
One piece/Konglish/meaning: dress
Hot dog/Konglish/meaning: corn dog
Service/Konglish/meaning: free
Sharp/Konglish/meaning: mechanical pencil
Vitamin/loan word/meaning: vitamin

There’s additional confusion because native Koreans also think that the Konglish definition is the real English definition. S didn’t know that one piece does NOT mean dress in English.

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