Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A,B, C...It's as easy as, ee, sam

When I was a kid, I wasn't always very good in church and instead of paying attention during the homily I would sometimes read the missalette (or rather try to). I remember being stumped by a particular word. I couldn't figure out what it was and because I was too young I didn't realise what part of the missalette related to what part of the mass. One day, I had this sense of absolute triumph! I actually realised that the word in written form was the word I kept hearing after the Our Father when the priest says "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." The thing is, when I realised I recognised the "anxiety", I also simultaneously realised I'd figured it out a while back but I just hadn't actually noticed. One day my ears and eyes just clicked and I didn't even realise it. 

Since coming to Korea, I've had several lightbulb moments but also several instances when I didn't realise I'd figured something out until sometime later. The first time I consciously realised that I could read and understand (some) Korean was the day I was sitting in the realtor's office and while he was busy on the phone I started sounding out the letters on his calendar to pronounce "Nong Hyup Jochiwon" - NongHyup is the equivalent of BOI at home and Jochiwon is the town I live in. The clarity, the pride and the triumph I felt was amazing, especially since I'd only been learning Korean a couple of weeks at that stage. I now know a few verbs and can make simple sentences. When I listen to Koreans speak I can recognise the subject and object markers – I may not understand the gist of the conversation but generally I recognise one or two words. Like the kids, I’m teaching I need to listen to native speakers, not just so that I can recognise a word here or there but so I can listen to the rhythm of their speech patterns and their pronunciation. Once that word registers with you, you never forget it. Case in point, when I was studying for my SAT and ACT, my mom got us a vocabulary book to improve our English. One of the first words in the book was “Ameliorate” which means to improve, enrich, make better. It was such a cool word and I used it every chance I got. I would imagine there are quite a number of essays that I submitted in college where I used this word. The Korean word for me is “Yak gook” which means pharmacy. There are several of these in every town in Korea so it’s important to know what it means but also typically, if there is a pharmacy, there is usually a clinic close by. Very handy!

As a teacher, you have to be open to learning. Why? Well, because if you are open to learning that transmits to your students. You need enthusiasm, joy, and most importantly an interest in your subject. There is no point in teaching something you don’t like – if you aren’t enjoying the subject chances are your students won’t either. So far I’ve enjoyed most of the classes that I have taught and the subjects I have chosen whether it was Halloween or the alphabet. However, there are days or classes that are a chore.

My 6th Grade class is a tough class to teach. Out of the nine students around half don’t really want to learn so they chat and distract the other students. Every subject I picked, they mostly ignored me. So I started to do lessons on “what do you do in the evening and on the weekend” to see what they were interested in. Even that didn’t work. In fact, one student told me that “On Saturday I air drink.” – a witty, funny answer when you realize that he means breathes! Unfortunately, hilarity aside, an annoying answer considering I know he plays guitar and football those days.  Eventually, frustrated I chatted about this with a friend who told me that she just plays games with her 6th graders and practices vocabulary that they already know. Voila! One Jenga game later and they were describing the facial features of Rapunzel, Pororo and Shrek. Success!!! Sometimes, you need to learn to let go and breathe. I’m not good this. I never was but being a teacher is making me realize that I need to learn how to do this. If I get frustrated the 6th graders who are distracting everyone else wins. However, if I trick them into practicing English by playing a game with them, I win and so do they… and it’s waaaaaay more fun!

So you might think I’m mad to have not figured out that I would be better off teaching these kids some games and have the losing team/player practice the key vocabulary a bit sooner than I did. You might think I’m mad to learn a new language especially in a country where you CAN get by with no more than an Annyeong Haseyo (Hello) Kamsamnida (Thank you) but I’m glad that I have challenged myself to learn a new language. Considering my past track record with learning languages (Italian, German anyone?) it may not be my smartest move…but I have a distinct advantage this time round: I’m living in Korea. I’m also glad that it took me a while to figure out what seems to work best with my 6th graders because by doing so I exposed them to new language and ideas. Further, I was able to figure-out their level of English and what some of their interests are which can help direct my games going forward.

So here’s to learning something new everyday…whether it’s big or small, whether it’s 1, 2, 3 (il, ee, sam) in Korean or learning a cool new word in English. My goal for the remainder of 2012 is to learn something new every day. 

PS The title of this post was inspired by Jackson 5's "ABC".

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