A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A man in a coonskin cap in a pigpen wants 11,000 won bills, but you only got 10

Sometimes it's hard to adjust to being a new teacher.

Coming from a country where most people understand most things you say most of the time, starts one off on an awkward foot in one where no one ever understands you ever. Here in the land of 'winkin', blinkin', smile and nod' I try my best to speak as slowly and simply as possible. Especially at school, even in my best class, I can't help but feel I'm failing to connect.

Case in point: this morning in my early afternoon class of three 8-year-olds, we were looking at a page in their textbook that showed vocabulary words related to the butcher shop of a supermarket. Words like: pork chop, ground beef, can, package, lamb roast etc. After I spent 20 or so minutes going over the words and reinforcing their meanings by using the illustration, I wanted the kids to use the words they had just learned in conversation. When English is your native tongue, it's so easy to forget how strange and difficult it really is to understand. I asked one student what I thought was a simple question:

"Joey, what's your favorite kind of meat?"

After a long, tense look at the vocabulary list, Joey looked up at me with knitted brow and said uncertainly:

"Package?"

I hope I won't have to declare aquired virtues at customs on my return flight. I can only imagine the import duty on the patience I'm going to be bringing home.

Otherwise teaching is alright. I won't go into huge detail tonight. Suffice to say, that since there is no 'z' in the Korean lanuage, and students pronounce the 'z' sound as 'je,' it's difficult to illicit conversation about the zoo, much less the zoo keeper.

I got a free cinnamon pastry today, just for being Canadian. I've become a regular customer at the "Paris Baguette" bakery in my neighbourhood, and today the owner was very pleased to learn about my origins.

"Ahhhh! Canada! Very good country. Very peaceful country. Very kind to me."

Although it remained unclear what kindness my country had offered this middle-aged Korean baker, I nonetheless accepted his sweet gift on behalf of the nation. It's the least I could do... really.

2 comments:

paul Kellogg said...

Maybe Joey is a vegetarian. Serious, teaching in one's own tongue must be trying the patience of saints; so it's undoubtedly a bit of a double-whammy in an entirely different language. Perhaps the reward of teaching is less in the successful immediate feedback, but more in observing miniscule progress of fertile minds TRYING to absorb. I'd wager that a few Canadian teachers teaching a roomful of disinterested souls, would trade places with you in a nano-second.

paul Kellogg said...

Maybe Joey is a vegetarian.
Seriously, teaching in one's own tongue must be trying the patience of saints; so it's undoubtedly a bit of a double-whammy (for you) in an entirely different language. Perhaps the reward of teaching is less in the successful immediate feedback, but more in observing the miniscule progress of fertile minds TRYING to absorb. I'd wager that a few North American teachers with a roomful of disinterested souls, would trade places with you in a nano-second.
And also for that great second gift of yours: writing.