Wednesday, March 17, 2010

But who will teach the teachers?

Today I had the pleasure of introducing myself to 36 grade 1 students with varying levels of English. The homeroom teacher introduced herself and, after the seemingly requisite apology for not speaking English very well, stuck around to watch the class from the back. I gave out 40 slips of paper for a true and false quiz.

When I passed by her, I saw that she had found herself a comfortable spot with the paper and one of those electronic dictionaries that many people here like to carry around. If you've ever wondered, for example, about the Chinese characters that form the etymology for the word recycling in Korean, you might want to get one of these things.

On the back of the slip was a reading passage used by grade 5 or 6 students. She was taking the liberty of reading it and translating it into Korean with the aid of the dictionary, taking special note of any unfamiliar words. She gave me an English name but apparently she doesn't use it very often because when I called to her from the front of the room to help explain something, it didn't even register on her radar.

Another homeroom teacher, a soft-spoken man who plays an acoustic guitar in class, sometimes sticks around to watch me teach. In between doing his own work, he'll pop up his head when I write an unfamiliar word on the board. My favourite moment was when he interrupted a lesson just to ask me what the word sibling meant.

Whether it's for perceived personal gain or the lingering Confucian tradition, Koreans love to learn well into adulthood. When I visited an elderly man in the hospital after I saw him getting hit by a truck, I saw that he spent his spare time making and memorizing a list of English words with Greek roots. When I can be bothered, sometimes I'll watch public television station that functions as a free tutoring service for the non-wealthy, and catch a show where middle-aged people learn to speak Chinese.

Not only do I love the obsessive learning, but I also love learning from ad hoc sources, so translating scrap paper is right up my alley. A great deal of the Korean I learned comes from reading signs: don't park here, we will deliver even one chicken, beware of mountain fires, walk on the right. Other bits and pieces come from reading notices sent home to parents, food packages and the grand slogans on tiny storefronts.

1 comment:

Seadog said...

I think you were visiting FutureAdeel in the hospital...