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.



James said...

America had a f*ck war too, it was called the 60s.

Hey, I have three months off at the end of the year. convince me to visit you, it's either asia or Israel or Europe.

Matt W said...

Well, let's see. Yes, the 60's had a messed up war. But, then the U.S. has not had a legitimately necessary or constitutional war since the War of 1812 which was way back in the year...well, I can't really remember (I'm being facetious about the memory of the date). Just for those not paying attention that is nearly, 200 years ago...

I'll e-mail you a reason to come to Korea. Other than the e-mailed reason, Korea has some interesting stuff to offer. The Korean war and the Korean prisoner museums are really interesting from what I understand. I still haven't been. The food is freaking awesome. And, blah, blah, blah...just look at my e-mail :)


Anonymous said...

I am happy to now have a few additional cus words in my vocabulary. I shall try them on the next Korean I meet.

Forget about the Civil War, that is Yankee talk. Tell them about the War of Northern Aggression. They might understand that better since there is a N&S Korea over there. Here there is Damn Yankees and Real Americans.
Rungu the Mzee

James said...

Still haven't inputted your address into my laptop, so here's the skinny (more details to come).

Ticket purchased, fly into Inchion Sept 17th at 7:55pm


Anonymous said...

You know, the mental image of you unknowingly cussing out a group of students is quite an amusing mental image! Somehow, that seems so in character for you...

So, do they already know all the english cuss words? Or is that in your curriculum too?

So, how long are you there for? I'm just waiting to hear that you've met some Korean girl and are getting married. I would imagine that over THERE you're pretty hot stuff!!!


Matt W said...

Somehow I think "War of Northern Aggression" would be more complicated than "Civil War". Even though the former is more precise.
While Civil War more appropriately applies to the Korean War because both sides were fighting for control of the same geographic area.
I agree with your main point, but pull rank on deciding the efficacy of using such language with English language learners.

Now what would make you think that it is "in character" for me to cuss out people? Hmm...do I seem cantankerous to you?

Oh, wait...yeah, I know I am.

The older kids for sure know pretty much all the most common English cuss words. They hear them on T.V. So, no, I do not need to put them in the curriculum. Although, that would be a fun lesson, if I could :)

I'm here for another 9 months at this school. Although, I am flirting with the idea of staying in Korea some more. It is a nice place. And, I need to practice my Korean some more.

The subject of getting married to a Korean girl has been batted around by my family. And, they doubt I will even let anyone know before hand. Which, I agree, would be right up my alley. Somehow I don't think the misses would let that happen.

"I would imagine that over THERE you're pretty hot stuff!!!" Yeah, you have always been pretty good about mixing in a dig with a compliment. Hmm...well, yes, I'm the exotic one over here...I just hope that's good. *shrug*