When learning some Korean vocabulary today, the word for “food” wouldn’t stay in my head.
Obviously this is quite an important word for me. But no amount of chanting or writing it out over and over again would stop it from slipping out of my mind. Frustrated, I wrote “food” on a bit of neon pink post-it, printed the Korean characters next to it, and stuck it to an apple on my desk. That’s how I learned a great many French words, you know! (By writing labels in French, obviously, not in Korean.)
Korean is a hard language. My reading and writing skills are coming along quite well. I’m good at grammar and rules and sentence structure, and I’m swotting away by myself at it, painstakingly working out which ending each word in the sentence should have, and trying to drum the vocabulary into my head. What I am not so good at, however, is conversation. I can barely string a spoken sentence together, and even when I do, no one understands me. Very often, when they work out what I mean, laugh, and correct my pronunciation, I can’t for the life of me hear the difference. This is very upsetting to someone who has always prided herself on having an ear for languages. But that’s what I said!! I feel like wailing, instead choosing to force a smile and ask them to say it more slowly. There’s not a lot of point in me being able to write “I like dak galbi. My parents love music. I drink coffee with my friends.” in Korean if I can’t understand someone saying something using those very words, or if I can’t be understood when I say them!
The roles have been reversed. I used to be amused when the Korean English teachers stopped me to ask a random question like “How much onions, or how many onions?”, and now I frequently stick my head into the office or stop a colleague in the corridor to say something in Korean and have it corrected. When in doubt, I turn to my elementary students, who will patiently correct my pronunciation even if it takes me ten tries to get one word.
They get so excited when I finally say it correctly, I often feel like I’ve achieved something far more noteworthy. You just don’t get that kind of encouragement from adults. And so when I came back into my classroom later today to find that my one pink post-it had somehow multiplied and taken over the room, I felt as grateful as I did amused. I saw them peeping round the door as I surveyed the scene: bits of post-it everywhere, telling me the Korean (and English, I’m pleased to note) for everything from my desk to the board to the walls and windows. Hayley Teacha, do you like it? they asked anxiously.
How could anyone not?! :)