Wait…. you don’t speak English?

I’m going to tell you about one of the biggest differences between Korea and Canada (or any English speaking country for that matter). This difference became apparent to me shortly after arriving here back in February. By the way, it’s now June 20th, exactly 4 months and 3 days since I arrived.

Where was I? Right – the biggest difference between Korea and Canada. This is what I realized: They don’t speak English here. Like..at all. I know! Weird right?! I guess this isn’t all that shocking; in fact you probably think I’m a little slow on the uptake for not realizing this before I arrived. What I really meant was more about how the not speaking English thing would still manage to surprise me, even after living here for 4 months. I still get moments where I’m like; Oh wait.. you don’t speak any English, do you? I’m gonna try to go somewhere with this line of thought, but I’m gonna get there in a round about way, so try and bear with me?

I have no experience teaching. I’ve never taught anyone a thing in my whole life (well I guess I’ve taught n00bs how it feels to lose in video games and I’ve taught almost every girl I’ve ever met what its like to not date me….. could those two things be connected?). Yet I’ve been hired by the Korean government to live here for a year and act as essentially an assistant to the English teachers. When it boils down to it my job is not really to teach the English, just to get the students to speak it, to practice it with an English speaker. And so they can see what English speakers are like and meet people from other cultures (God, I’m sure I’m just a GREAT representative of English culture…). The problem is that the English teachers here are not exactly measured by a universal standard when it comes to their own English speaking ability. Note that I did not come right out and say they can’t speak English very well, but thats what I’m hinting at. Actually thats not fair at all – many Korean English teachers speak very good English, there are just a couple of bad apples.

The reason I am going on and on about English is because I just gave a 10 minute speech to the entire school (in English, of course, though I did try to learn Korean overnight) and I’m positive that maybe 70% – conservatively – of the people in the school had no idea what I was talking about. I was feeling good going in – I carefully prepared a speech, even managing to avoid those tricky English language traits such as multi-syllable words and tenses other than the present. That’s right, my entire speech was done in the present tense (even though I spent half of it talking about my life back when I lived in Canada) and using very simple words with low syllable counts – and those of you who know me know that is not my style at all. But despite my preparation, when I get out of the speech booth and start walking back to my class my co-teacher says, “Good job, but I don’t think lower level students would understand.” *Face Palm* Uggh… I keep forgetting how low the level of English speaking really is. I mean, I could have spent 10 minutes pointing at things that are red and saying ‘red’ and they would not have understood me.

Part of the reason why I forget the English level is so low is because my classes seem to be going so well. As a matter of fact, they are going well. The problem is that the classes follow a textbook, so the kids are storming through the English necessary for their tests, but can’t really speak it outside a classroom. For example, If I said ‘Hey Min Ji, could I have some water please?’ The cute little guy could grab the nearest water bottle and hook me up. But if I said ‘Could you hand me that water bottle?’ I’d get a stare so blank a guard at a POW camp would get the chills. Guess which sentence is taught in the textbook?

This is why my speech today fell flat, try as I might, it just isn’t possible to give a ten minute speech using entirely sentences and vocabulary from the textbook (or maybe I’m just not imaginative enough). Anyway, I am writing this in a free period at school, so I need to keep this short today. On Wednesday I am judging an English speaking contest, and I have an absolutely hilarious interview I did with some student that I want to share with you, so look for another entry mid week.

Thats all for now, have a good Father’s Day BNBers!



About bnbnower

A recent graduate of Carleton University, set adrift into the real world with no tangible goals or properly defined aspirations, I decided to set off for South Korea where I am teaching English as a second language. In my spare time I read, rock-climb, play frisbee and watch movies and television.
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2 Responses to Wait…. you don’t speak English?

  1. mom says:

    2 comments…first, am betting that you now feel what lots of teachers everywhere feel like after putting a lot of prep into a lesson…even if they are teaching it in England, in English! Lots of trout looks…
    Second whats with your co-teacher……Nothing like not waiting till you are off stage before offerring some collegial feedback!..

  2. Tyler says:

    Haha reading this reminds me of myself as a kid trying to learn French – I would have absolutely none of it.

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