Thursday, January 07, 2010

Still at it, after mathematics

Teaching 9-year-olds to write a speech in a foreign language in the seventh-hour of school isn't easy. Somewhere around the 5-hour mark of relentlessly rushing through grammar, conversation and reading classes, you can almost see the life and energy literally being sucked out of them. They're slower to glance at their lanyards to remember their English names, slower to raise their hands and identify the complex predicate of a sentence, and even slower to move overall, like players in NHL '98 who were denied a line change.

For a project that showcases English speaking ability to parents, it was suggested that I teach the kids to sing Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head, but I narrowly averted this and managed to get the score settled to a short speech introducing a country. Africa was the country one student chose, ignoring my insistence that it's not a country. Other rejects were Alaska, London, Hoju (Korean for Australia, which had already been chosen) and North Korea. I refused to let anyone talk about South Korea, and the kids grumbled that North Korea was "the same country", so that unhappy boy withdrew his choice.

Eventually we settled on virtually every country that a typical Korean child hears about. There were the two East Asian giants in China and Japan, the two places people like to go to study English in Australia and New Zealand, the two places where their aunts live in Canada and America, the two places where farmers send away for foreign brides in Thailand and Vietnam, and two stylish European countries in France and Italy. The obligatory oddball was Kazakhstan, but that, along with Uzbekistan, is fairly well-known because of Koreans that migrated to pre-Soviet Russia and the subsequent relations that remain between these countries.

What was interesting was how kids describe a country if asked to give a chance. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of a country is where it is located, followed by how wealthy it is. For this class, race came first, followed by food and dress. None had any idea how wealthy any country was. They considered themselves to live in a middle-income country, with places like Thailand and China ahead of them, but Canada and Japan "poor".

In reality, Korea's per capita income adjusted for purchasing power is about $28,000 (presumably US dollars). Roughly a third of the countries in the world are classified as rich by the World Bank, meaning that their per capita income is more than $10,000. To get into this club, you just need to be richer than Iran. China and Thailand are grouped together at around $6,000. Japan and Canada are ahead of Korea at around $35,000. Luxembourg, Norway and Kuwait top the list thanks to oil money. Macau comes in fourth thanks to all the smelly people from Guangzhou who leave their money at its casinos.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I used to sing that song when I was a kid. :)