Archive for the ‘conversation practice’ Category

수능 날 갑자기 오고 있고, 슬프다…

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Today’s been full of surprises.

Normally I have first period free on Mondays free, but because of the 수능 (Suneung – the college scholastic aptitude test), we dedicated sixth period entirely to cleaning, and moved our sixth period classes up to first period, which is when students normally have individual study time. I found this out ten minutes before first period, but luckily I had had everything planned, so the only thing that I lost first period was my coffee drinking time.

It’s currently sixth period, and I’ve seen all sorts of strange things. The teachers are having the students clean with a fine-tooth comb. That’s not just an expression – I wouldn’t be surprised if I did see students combing the hedges. Earlier when walking through the second grade hallway I saw half of class 2.5 scrubbing the floor with tiny sponges. They had the sponges pressed under their indoor sandals, and were scrubbing the floor as hard as they could, creating giant soap suds. From where I’m sitting, I can see a student using a broom to clean the cobwebs out of the corners of the ceiling, something that doesn’t normally happen. Another student is taking a bucket of water and sloshing it down the steps of the side entrance to the main building. Students are scrubbing each individual step, then using a broom and dustpan to scoop up the residual water and place it in a second bucket. I wonder if they ever switched the buckets, and if so how long it took anyone to notice.

My first period coffee drinking time isn’t the only thing the 수능 has caused me to lose, I found out today that my lunchtime conversation partners, the three second grade girls I meet and exchange pronunciation tips and expressions with on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, will lose what little precious free time they have left, and starting on Wednesday will have English listening practice during their lunch periods. It doesn’t seem to matter that they have been doing that for the last two semesters, listening to a taped English voice and practicing listening questions is more important. I don’t mean that with any malice, it’s just the truth – when you’re a third grader, most if not all of your extracurricular activities, no matter how beneficial, disappear and you focus on test taking strategies.

I didn’t realize that this would be our last time together, though I anticipated that it would be sometime soon. I got to the abandoned room (labeled as the “special teacher preparation room” – as it’s the same room where I have my teacher’s workshop, and where I met students for YDAC preparation  I think I’m the teacher that’s used this room the most) where I normally meet the students a little early and edited a paper while I waited. I heard the telltale shuffle that precedes my students’ arrival, their haste to get to the classroom just barely outweighed by their concern for safety as they run in ill-fitting sandals and thus quickly move their feet vertically across the floor while barely moving their feet horizontally, and chuckled to myself. A few seconds later they burst in, looked at me, and screwed up their faces in exaggerated anguish.

Hi girls, it’s okay that you’re late, but I have some sad news – I can’t meet you on Friday.

TEACHER SO SAD. Today is our last day.

Wait, why? Today is our last day? I can’t see you on Friday but I can see you on Wednesday.

No no because we are soon 3rd grade, we have listening practice every lunch. So. Today is the last day.

…Oh. Now I’m sad too.

Teacher we want to thank you, because before we talk to you we are very shy students.

Haha no you are not.

Hmm maybe with other teachers no, but with foreign teachers we are shy. It is difficult to speak English. However, you help teach us funny expressions, and you gave us confidence. Now, we are not shy to talk to foreigners, and that is a wonderful thing. We prepared for you a present.

They then gave me the present – a headband, because they notice that I wear headbands a lot (pretty much everyday), and they thought this headband would match my personality and fashion sense well. They also presented me with three letters, one from each girl.

When you read our notes, try not to cry.

I’ll try not to. You must promise to talk to me every time you see me, and email me!

Got it.

That not crying thing? I’m barely keeping it together.

Em in Asia! 2012-04-24 02:59:39

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

One last post for today, to balance out the negative one earlier.

Today I met with my lunchtime conversation girls. They had chosen “Democratic Uprisings” as the topic of conversation, which is pretty hefty for a fifteen minute lunchtime conversation. I asked for clarification, as Korea’s fight for democracy has been a very very long one, and they’ve had various uprisings.

“Do you mean when Korea fought for independence against Japan, or the demonstrations against the military dictatorship in the 1980s?”
“uh, 1945 지금까지… I think we are always in the middle of a democratic uprising.”

We then talked about how they dislike president Lee Myeong Bak because he doesn’t listen to the voice of the people and keeps pushing the Four Rivers project, and how Serena’s village is on the banks of one of those rivers and the bank is slowly eroding.

In case I haven’t said it before, let me say it now – these aren’t my highest level students. In fact, they’re right about average in terms of vocabulary and grammar. However, they choose a topic, look up vocabulary ahead of time, and really put forth a lot of effort. It’s quite incredible, really, and talking to them always inspires me as a teacher and as a foreign language learner.

Today MW (the girl who sweeps under my desk and who I exchange letters with) after cleaning came up to tell me that at the end of the month she was being reassigned. Students rotate cleaning duties each month so that no one gets stuck doing the same activity for too long, so I should have been anticipating it, but I didn’t realize it and I’m sad to see her go. She told me that most likely she’d be cleaning the science classroom, and that she was sad to change. She said that talking to me was one of the best parts of her day, and because of our conversations and our letter exchange she now had TWO favorite subjects instead of previously just math – math and English. She also assured me that she’d keep writing letters.

Names

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

My boys, my boys.

Imagine, if you will, that every time I say “my boys” in this blog I do it with a slight shake of my head and a smirk, and you’ll get a good idea of our relationship.

This week I’m working with the second graders on numbers. Two second grade boys classes have discovered that the word “Million” is similar to “Emily” (… it really isn’t). The Million Photos of Sky jokes are going to start rolling in any day now. Today I also taught some second grade boys how to say “well played” after they kept yelling “GOOD PLAYING! WAHOO! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” at each other after every single math race game.

Today I also saw one of my favorite students run down the hall arms frantically revolving like a windmill. “HI EMILY TEACHER!” he said, then quickly grabbed his mouth. “I have to be quiet because my best friend is… how do you say… violent?” At that moment, his friend BURST out from the neighboring homeroom and proceeded to BEAT HIM OVER THE HEAD WITH A PLASTIC BROOM.

What is my life.

Today I met my girls for after-lunch conversation club. Imagine that when I say “my girls” I make a little heart with my hands and beam. These girls have asked me to help them choose English names, and have told me that they’d pick out Korean names for me. I tried to pick out names for them that either had similar meanings, or sounded like the first letter/syllable  of their Korean names (The students names are 승리: seungri, which means victory, and 조경: jo kyeong, which means… well, something about authority towards elders, it was a bit difficult for her to explain). I offered a number of choices, and they chose Serena and Jamie. They then presented me with my name, 인애. 인애 is not a very common name, and it was a bit difficult for them to explain. There are many different Chinese characters that become 인 when brought into Korean, but the one they chose here means 참다: to bear or tolerate, and 애 means love.

As a general rule, I don’t like the idea of giving students English names. Obviously this is different, as it’s on a one-on-one basis with students I regularly see during lunch time, but I’ve done it before as a class-wide exercise – during my first semester at Sapgyo I had students pick names from a sheet of paper and write them on their name tag. With the exception of a few students who DESPERATELY wanted to be named something other than what was on the sheet (I had a few Lady Gagas and an entire class filled with Brazillian soccer players), no one chose anything too extreme. However, not only did that prevent me from learning their real names, but also other teachers had no idea who I was talking about, when I would mention Messi from class 1.1.

Names are important, and names are powerful. During the Japanese occupation period not only did Koreans have to learn Japanese at the expense their native tongue, but they had to give up their names and adopt Japanese ones. While my class is obviously nothing like the Japanese occupation, I can’t help but cringe when I think of stepping in as a foreigner and asking my students to chose fake names from my language. Because that’s what they are – fake names that they use once a week during English class. There’s no real connection to the names, and even if they know the name’s meaning, it’s still just an assumed, temporary identity.

But on a much more positive note…

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Yesterday my classes weren’t all that great, but a lot of great stuff happened outside of class. Here’s all that good stuff, in random order.

I met with the two girls who wanted to have lunchtime conversation practice, and it went much better than anticipated. I’m always a bit wary of small group conversations because many times students are pressured into doing it by their parents or other teachers and don’t actually want to be there, and thus aren’t motivated to speak, so you end up asking a lot of leading questions to fill the awkward silence which gets really tiresome. These girls came prepared with not only a topic that they had obviously thought about (Korean versus American schools) but also lemonade and so we chatted for twenty minutes about their and my high school experiences while sipping our beverages. I had so much fun talking to them that I was surprised when the bell rang. Later in the day they came and gave me a tomato, because one of the girls’ father is a tomato farmer in Damyang.

As I was leaving school I ran into multiple groups of three or four first grade boys who were carrying large paintings across school grounds and across the street. Immediately upon seeing me they start screaming “PODOSKYYYYYY PODOSKYYYY HELP ME THIS IS HEAVY” to which I of course reply “Sorry. Going home. Have fun. You are strong.” If the second grade boys like to call me “Emily Photo-ski” then I think my new nickname given to me from the first grade boys is “Podoski,” because they think that my name sounds like Podolski, who is a famous soccer player.

Boys are weird.

After school I went to a coffee shop called Te Amo and worked on Korean for about two hours. I’ve grown kind of disillusioned with textbooks because all textbooks have such varied curricula that I end up learning grammar forms that are considered beginner/intermediate by one book’s standard, but not learning grammar forms  that are considered super basic by another book but hasn’t been introduced in my book yet. Also I’m so sick of hearing about Linda Taylor, and Michael, and Natasha, and Tien, and all the stupid characters that they insist on introducing to you in the books. “Natasha is married to a Korean man and likes to cook Kimchijjigae-” GUESS WHAT EWHA KOREAN LANGUAGE PROGRAM –  NATASHA IS NOT REAL AND NO ONE CARES ABOUT HER COOKING PREFERENCES.

/rant

So instead I borrowed a book from Changpyeong’s library called 국경 없는 마을 (The village without borders) which is a book written in 1st person narrative from the perspective of South East Asian workers and their children who live in Korea. Not only is it much more interesting than a textbook, but I’m introduced to a lot of new vocabulary and grammar and I can actually see how it’s used in a real sentence, rather than in a “dumbed-down-for-foreigners-learning-Korean” sentence. This isn’t to say that all textbooks are bad, or that simplifying sentences for second-language learners is a bad way to go, it’s just that I feel that I’ve hit a rut with my Korean reading and writing skills so it might be time to try a different approach. This book is especially interesting because as I live in a rural area, there are quite a few immigrants in my town, and in Damyang-eup (about thirty minutes away) there’s an immigrant center just like the one I’m reading about. It’s doubly interesting when you consider that this book is written in Korean and there’s no English translation, so by translating this myself, I get to access a resource that would have been completely inaccessible to me a year and a half ago.

I’ve also been writing in my Korean diary, and today I’m going to meet my language partner and she’ll hopefully check it. It’s always so humbling trying to write down your thoughts in another language. My most recent entry goes something like this:

“Usually I write with a pencil because I write many wrong things but today while going to Gwangju I forgot all of my pens at school so I must write with a red pen. I do not like writing with a red pen. When I write with a red pen, I feel like a bad student. Also now while I am studying at a coffee shop my cell phone battery ran out so I cannot use the dictionary. It is very difficult. In Korea if you write a person’s name in red it is bad, right? In America, any color is okay however I still don’t like red pens.”

I feel like I’m back in elementary school. Ah well, as long as you work a little everyday, right?

However I’ve saved the best for last – so to preface this story, I should explain that in Korean schools there are no janitors. All of the students are assigned a location and a job (for example, second grade building staircase – sweeper) and they have to clean that area during a designated cleaning time, which at our school is for twenty minutes after 6th period everyday. I don’t like to leave school until after cleaning time, so I’m normally awkwardly sitting at my desk alone (all the other teachers are supervising cleaning crews) when the teachers’ office cleaning crew comes by to sweep and mop under my desk. The current mopper is scared of me, perhaps, because she refuses to talk to me, but the sweeper is an adorably sprightly second grade girl who everyday skips over to my desk (she literally skips) and asks if I can move so she can sweep under it.

This girl, MW, asked for my email address last week so that she could practice her English, but then the next day told me that she’d have to wait until the weekend to email me because she lives in the school dormitory. I told her that if she wanted she could do that, or she could hand-write me notes and I would correct them and write them back. The next day she gave me TWO pieces of paper – the original note (with drawings and multiple colors) and a photocopied one that I could edit and give back to her. The entire note was just charming, but this one section just put it over the top:

“I like to talk with others, but this school makes me study hard.  so I have to study every time.
In meanwhile, I had a dream. It is math teacher in middle school :) . Although math is often hard it makes me happy.
Do you want to know reason?
Umm, math’s range is very wide. So I’m happy when I learn new things.
also, I like teaching my friends. So, I have a hope. I grow up like you, because teacher’s class is very fun! (thanks teacher)”

Thank you MW. I hope you don’t think my similes and metaphors lesson this week is too boring.