Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Miscommunication

So, it has been a bit since I have blogged. To provide just a little update...I am still in Korea. Everything is still going well with the exception of some stupid drama things at work which are just plan stupid and not worth mentioning. My Korean has now surpassed my ability in Swahili, but still lags behind my ability in Spanish and ASL. For example, I can now quite easily say, "I am a stupid American", in flawless Korean.

Which comes in quite handy, because Koreans have of late been protesting the shipment of American cows which are "too old". Apparently, the President of Korea agreed to the shipment of cows that were 30 months-of-age and older. These are believed to be more dangerous because they are "more likely" to have Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, otherwise known as Mad Cow (or as my Korean friends say, "Crazy Cow"). There have been some pretty large protests in Seoul over the issue. The animosity has been directed toward the Korean President and the American government to some degree. I am not really coming down on one side or the other on the issue because on the one hand...yes, the free trade agreement was pretty badly drawn up for the Koreans. On the other hand, a quick search of Wikipedia shows that about 470,000 cows with Mad Cow entered the British food system before "safety precautions" were put in place by the British government. And, how many people developed the human variation of the disease? 163 people. Now, that is awful for them, but 163 out of how many people can eat from 470,000 cows (I don't know, but a cow is a large animal). I think I'll keep eating beef because dang it is good stuff.

However, me being the caring culturally sensitive person that I am...I offered to two of my Koreans friends, while in Seoul, that we should go down to the protest and I would take a good old American flag into the crowd and then burn it as a sign of solidarity. My real reason, of course, would be to just get my picture on CNN and have friends and family laugh. Or, better yet, make Bill O'Reilly get all hot and bothered. That would be a dream come true...

Anyways, none of that was why I decided to sit down and write today. In this afternoon's class, I was teaching a lesson on weather and associated clothing. It is actually an on-going lesson...and today's part was on cold weather (basically, "how's the weather?", "it's snowing."). Well, what do you wear in winter? A coat, boots, sweater, and MITTENS... Holy Toledo, Batman!!! You should keep in mind that these are little kids. Maybe, 6 or 7 in American ages. For the first twenty minutes of the lesson, every time I would say the word, "mittens"...the kids would start cracking up laughing. I like this particular class, so I wasn't worried that they were being bad. I knew I was just saying something funny. Eventually, I did get out of them in their very broken English that a word that sounded like mittens was found in Korean as well. After class, I asked one of my Korean co-teachers what Mittens meant in Korean. It wasn't really "mittens", it was more like "michen" (or something like it, it is hard to Anglo-size it). It did sound similar, but it basically means crazy with a bad connotation. Wonderful joys of language teaching. So, for 40 minutes I was in essence cussing out a classroom full of 6 or 7 year olds. Good job teacher.

Now, miscommunications happen all the time, but normally I only accidentally say cuss words a couple times a month. However, tonight in my very next class...I was teaching a small group of 13/14 year olds. One of the kids called me a Yankee. And, heck no are you going to call a Southern boy a "Yankee". So, I attempted to launch into an explanation of what a Yankee is. Of course, that leads into trying to explain the term "Civil War", which in and of itself is no big deal (they already know the word, war). However, the task is a bit more difficult when your students laugh each time you say the word "civil". Apparently, in Korean, "Sibal" (or something close to that) is the equivalent of the F-word in English. Just a side note, there is no "v" sound in Korean.

So, I cussed out two classes of students today. It was a fun day in the world of EFL.