Saturday, March 27, 2010


I thought I'd take a second and talk about the place I work at (YBM ECC) because it's really quite amazing.  I know in the graduation post I was taken in by the spectacle of the occasion, but the school I work at is really a nice place and they are totally succeeding at teaching children how to speak English despite not having reinforcement from the outside world.  I used to wonder why it was Koreans expended so much energy and money to bring English speaking foreigners to their country to learn a language they have sufficient resources to teach.  They have books, CD's, television, media, and all the grammar you could shake a stick at, so why do they need us?  I got my answer yesterday.
Yesterday was cooking class day where the kids got to make a dish and learn about English words related to cooking.  Christine, one of the supervisors at the school, was leading the class and I was the helper.  At the beginning, I explained what each ingredient was, for instance, "These are eggs" or "These are carrots", teaching the children all the words for the ingredients and also to teach them words like "cut", "stir", "fry" so that they could connect the word to something in real life.  One of my students, his English name is Tony, is 4 years old and he is adorable and quite smart.  His neighbor is a family of foreigners and he plays with their kid and learns English while doing so.  In fact, his Korean neighbors saw him doing that and enrolled their children at ECC.  Tony was chopping some vegetables (with a plastic knife of course), and then pointed at a stick of butter and said "Teacher what is this?".  First off, I love the fact that Tony makes very few grammatical mistakes, even less as of late, and doesn't say "Teacher this is what?" like the other Korean children do.  I turned to Tony and said "This is butter."  He repeated the word, thought for a moment, and looked up at me and said.

"Teacher I don't know Korean this.  I don't know this."

I was flabbergasted.  Butter?  You don't know butter? It's butter.  To Westerners it's like air.  How do you live without butter?  Even in Korean it's the same word because it's a loan word, although they pronounce it like "Buttaw".  Tony just had never really gotten an up close look at butter at home, possibly because his mom uses sesame seed oil or soybean oil to cook with rather than butter.  I then began to re-evaluate my experience teaching thus far and realized, without me the children would miss out on a lot of things.  They have only limited experience when they just stay in the confines of their country.  I can explain things the Korean teachers simply don't know.  I can look at something and tell you what it is, pronounce things correctly all the time, give the correct spelling, but also, and more importantly, the kids have a chance to interact with me and learn how I'm different than what they're used to.

For example, yesterday I got haircut, and when I get a haircut the kids go wild.  There is a word in Korean, "Bakbagee", which means like short haired or bald, I can't figure out which.  When I get my hair cut I'm "Bakbagee teacher" because my hair is ultra short and they're not used to it.  They also run up to me and rub my head so they can feel it.  I get a similar reaction when I grow my hair long.  One kid in my evening class, he's almost middle school age, looked straight at my afro and was like 

"Teacher, I know you're human because you're talking to me, but..." 
"But what George?" 

I'm not just talking about the culture shock.  It's also important for the kids to learn that other people in the world don't speak Korean.  It's actually the first step to language learning, to not just know it on a logical level, but to really get it into the instinctive part of your brain that your language is just meaningless sound to most other people in the world.  For instance, my homeroom class, the kids I see the most often, were complete English beginners when they first started in January.  They didn't even know the words "Yes" and "No".  Two of my students are fraternal twins, their English names are Rachel and Allison, and on their first day of class they thought I was an idiot because they'd say things in Korean and I had no idea what they said (well, even if I did I didn't let them know). They got frustrated in class, but about a week later, I heard them talking and Rachel was saying her mother had told her that I only speak English and Korean just doesn't work.  Children will believe what their parents say wholeheartedly, so from that day on, they never talked to me in Korean again unless they were really excited.  Whenever they talked to me, it'd be in whatever English they knew, even if it was just listing off all the animals or colors they knew.  "Jon Teacher, Apple tree.  Jon Teacher, Bear."  Once I started paying attention and examining the children more closely, every child who I thought wasn't learning was able to start making progress once they made this connection.

The field trips are even educational but fun.  We recently went to a place called "Can Village" where the kids learn about recycling.  They go through a hands on museum, see pieces of art made out of recycled material, and learn all about keeping the environment safe.

As you can see they're enthralled.
The museum was really great in that it made recycling fun for the kids.  They got to see a couple movies, take some pictures, play some recycling games, and they even got to practice how to sort out their garbage and put it in the right container.  

Recycling is fun kids!
All in all my experiences at the school, while tiring sometimes, have been great.  A lot of times I just feel that some kids are too young to be stuck in a classroom for hours and some of them just don't have the temperament.  But I think they figure a way to cope and make it through the day, largely by acting like crazed animals when it's my turn to teach because I can't yell at them in Korean, although one day I did which surprised the crap out of them.  That was a good day.