Category Archives: teaching

“Faking It”

A few days ago I gave my first performance at “A Guide To Visitors: Storytelling in Seattle.” While I’m pretty comfortable writing stories, I had never before stood up on stage and performed one in front of an audience. To top it off, I couldn’t use my notes. Nerve-wracking, no doubt, but I think I made it through my set relatively error-free, and I got a good reaction from the crowd. Definitely a lot of fun and I hope to share more stories in the future. Below is a written version of the story I told, based off the theme of the night: “Faking It.” Check it out below.  

There is an old proverb that says, “A turtle only travels when it sticks out his neck.” I know this because it was written on a card given to me by my sister, right before I left the country for 15 months.

It was a couple years ago. I had just graduated from college and I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  All I knew was I that wanted to see what else was out there. I wanted to experience something new. So after giving it a little thought, I did what any rational person would do: I packed my bags, said goodbye to my friends and family, and flew to the opposite side of the world: South Korea.

 I had signed a year-long contract to teach English at private language academy in a small farming town called Seosan, an hour and a half southwest of Seoul. I’d be teaching kids and adults. It was just what I wanted. A change.  A challenge. It was going to be great. I couldn’t wait! There were, however, a few minor details that I may have overlooked in my rush to find a way out Seattle, namely, that with the exception of Canada, I had never traveled outside of the country…And I had never traveled anywhere alone before…And I had no teaching experience… And I didn’t know a word of Korean… And I knew absolutely no one who lived or had lived in Korea. I could barely use chopsticks. I was woefully underprepared, but I had made up my mind and my plane ticket was non-refundable. I was going.

 (The Rest of the Story After The Jump)

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English Textbook Fail

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Spotted this in one of my student’s textbooks. Probably not the best choice of wording here.

Semantic Satiation

Was killing time online yesterday when I came across an interesting article on Reddit about the phenomenon that occurs when you repeat a word over and over until it eventually loses all meaning. Turns out this actually has a special name: Semantic Satiation.

semantic satiation – where rapid seeing/saying repetition of a word, like canoe-canoe-canoe… produces a loss of meaningfulness, but repetition of a nonsense overt response having the same shape, nuka-nuka-nuka…does not.

As an English language teacher I run into this occurrence all the time. One minute you’re slowly helping a group of 1st graders navigate a word like “butterfly” and then, after about 100 corrections, it is suddenly just a sound; a noise arbitrarily assigned to a meaning. While this experience doesn’t really impact me in any way besides being kind of weird, it does help me better understand the plight of my students by putting me in their position, if only for a fleeting second or two. Where the word ends for me, it is really just beginning for them, as little more than a strange sound –  a shapeless tone that might as well mean nothing at all. As my understanding of the word melts away, for my students, it slowly solidifies. In the end, semantic satiation stands as further proof that language is not a rigid thing at all, but rather a fluid entity that can shift forms, like ice into water into vapor.

Related Viewing: “Words” (Live) – Doves


“Way Back Into Love” (Charlotte’s Version)

Meet Charlotte. She’s 7 and she’s hands down one of my favorite students at the English academy I teach at here in Seosan, S. Korea. About two months ago she walked into class randomly singing this song and has not stopped since. It’s called “Way Back into Love,” and it originally appeared on the soundtrack to  Music and Lyrics. Sure the lyrics are a bit out of Charlotte’s league right now, but like any great performer, she just keeps plowing away whether she hits the notes or not. I’m sure in a few years she’ll have it down pat.

Sadly, today was Charlotte’s last day at the academy. In just three short days Charlotte and her mother Jini, who just so happens to be the director at my school, will be moving to the Czech Republic, or as it’s called in Korean, “Checko.” Once there, she will reunite with her father, who for the last year or so has been managing a major automotive manufacturing plant there. Jini bought her a cake today and Charlotte and her classmates devoured it, seemingly oblivious to the gigantic change that she is about to undertake. I guess that’s the beauty of being a seven year-old: why worry about the future, especially when’ there’s a cake on the table, right now.

While Charlotte and her mother seem relatively low key about the situation, it’s a bit bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I’m losing a big part of what I consider my “Korean Family.” Jini, Charlotte’s mother, basically took care of me for the first month or so while I figured out how to navigate everyday life. She took me to the doctor, got me a cell phone, showed me how to use my bank card and turn on my hot water. If I needed a hair cut, she took me down to the shop and told the barber how to cut it, the same way my mom did when I was a wee little kid. It was an odd position to be in. Here you are, 23 years old and yet you are totally reliant on a single person for almost everything you do, from eating to grooming. At times I couldn’t help but feel like I was being a burden, but Jini didn’t seem to mind. If I was an inconvience, Jini never showed it. She never once complained or made me wait. In fact she would often rearrange her schedule just to help me out. Eventually I learned how to manage everyday life without her help, but as far as I’m concerned, for the last nine months, Jini has been my Korean mother.

Then there’s Charlotte, who would easily fit into the roll of “little sister.” A endless ball of energy, Charlotte was always bouncing around the halls or the teacher’s room, asking questions or playing little games to keep her occupied. Mostly though, she was just singing. Or humming. Or some mixture of the two. Often times if she would have difficulty with a particular phrase or reading passage, all you had to do was turn it into some sort of chant or melody and she would jump right on it. I guess you could say she was an auditory learner.

So yes, it is not without a bit of sadness that I will watch them go, yet I know exactly how rewarding it will be for them to move to and experience a new country and culture. Once you get over the initial shock of the situation, all that’s left to do is take it in and enjoy it. Jini has always wanted to travel and Charlotte will attend an all English international school, so both will no doubt benefit greatly from the experience.

Even after all these months, I can still vividly recall the moment the three of us met. It was around 6 pm in the Seoul airport. I had just stepped off a 13 hour flight, collected my luggage, and stumbled out into a concourse feeling dazed and overwhelmed. It didn’t take long to spot them. They were standing behind a rope-barrier, backlit by the sun which hung low and filtered in through a wall of windows. Charlotte and Jini were there, along with Jini’s husband, who had made the trip just to come greet me at the airport. They were dressed up in nice outfits, smiling and waving, greeting me like a long lost friend rather than a new employee. Charlotte was holding a brightly colored sign with my name on it. My last name had three “M’s” in it. I gave her two chocolate bars. Her father gave me the keys to my new apartment. He smoked a cigarette, loaded my bags into the trunk of their white SUV, and with that we were on our way.

As a going away present I bought them a series of English books that hopefully they can share together, and maybe Charlotte can learn a little something from them along the way. In the end it’s a small gesture, especially when you consider that they have already taught me so much.

Legalese

Yesterday’s topic of discussion with my sixth graders revolved around occupations. After going over a few definitions and examples, we got to the part where I asked them what their parents did for a living. Almost all the kids said their fathers were “company men” (whatever that means) and their mothers were housewives. That seems to be the bland standard out here in Seosan. Eventually, a student named Alvin asked me what my parents did for work. I told him my mother is a first grade teacher and my father is a lawyer. Upon hearing this statement Alvin’s face lit up and his eyes grew wide with excitement. “Teecha! Teecha!” he piped loudly through his heavy accent. “When I grow up I want to be a liar too.”

I thought for a moment about correcting him, but then I let it pass. Alvin’s innocent mistake was my guilty pleasure.

Type Face Typo

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Wiz Emglish: You Never Get A Second Chance to Make a First Impression

My school recently purchased a shiny new Starex van to cart kids to and from their lessons. It’s fast. It’s quiet. And best yet it seats twelve comfortably. There’s just one problem: the paint job. In the director’s choice to go with the hip squiggly scribble typeface, she overlooked the fact that the “N” in “English” morphed into an unsightly “M” character. As if our hogwan’s name isn’t bad enough in the first place. Wiz English? Really? It sounds as if we simultaneously teach English and treat Irritable Bladder Syndrome or something. Now things are even worse. Walking up to the building today I could only hang my head in shame upon seeing our mangled new logo. Here we are trying to teach people English and we can’t even spell it right on our damn van. I gingerly broached the subject at a staff meeting today but I got the impression that the directors could really care less about the misspelling. All the kids thought the doodled new logo was totally rad, and most of the parents who pay their tuitions can’t read English anyway, so it’s a wash. Oh well. Proper spelling be damned. We’re still the best Emglish teachers in town!

Related Listening: “Misread” – Kings of Convenience

Making Smashing Pumpkins

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Do not adjust your monitors. Your eyes are not decieving you. That right there is a downright badass pumpkin carving job whipped up by my fellow co-teacher, Howin. What started out as a single jack-o-lantern quickly turned into an all out carving bonanza. The kids couldn’t get enough of them. I have probably carved about 15 pumpkins this week. Besides the the fact that my hands have taken on a sickly orange tint and I smell like squatch all the time, it’s been a pretty rewarding way to pass the time. The kids really get a kick out of seeing the finished product flicker in the dark hallways, and I really get a kick out of making them dig out pumpkin innards against their will – so I guess it’s a win win. Now if anyone knows how to get pumpkin stains out of dress shirts, please let me know.