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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Language Barrier

The most popular question I got when I told people that I decided to move to South Korea to teach English was, "Do you know Korean?" I would then explain that I don't need to know Korean, only be able to teach English. That is true. I do get around quite well not knowing Korean. There are times, however, when messages get lost in translation. These are a few humorous examples...

#1: Whose baby? - My co-worker Jenn has had a particular student in her class for a while. One day the former supervisor teacher from my school came in with the little girl and another little girl. Quick background info: The woman is the sister of our director. She was... I guess let go... just before I came because of some chick fight with my supervisor at school... So she comes in with these two kids. Jenn mentioned that she wasn't aware that she had kids. Or was married. (In Korea it's very shameful to have a child out of wedlock). So she asks Elly, my supervisor if Ruby is the girl's mom. Elly replied yes. Hmm. So Ruby gave birth to the little girl? Yes. The little girl lives with Ruby? No. Hmm... But at the end of the conversation it was understood that Ruby is, in fact, a mother to both little girls.

Today the girl's parents came in. Her other parents... After today's conversation it's now understood that the girl has two sets of parents?

#2: Bank Business - I'm at the bank with my supervisor opening an account. I went to this specific bank because it's easy to transfer money home online. So the bank lady is talking to Elly in Korean. (I made up dialogue in my head) and Elly would talk back, etc. My interpretation of facial expressions flagged a conflict. Whatever the bank lady told Elly didn't sit well... So I continue watching back and forth like a tennis match. Hmmm.

Elly eventually translated for me. She explained what she understood. Luckily there was a brochure in English. (Not the same...)

So as an American, I have a given name, a middle name and a family name - in that order. It's the same order on my alien card and passport and the way I write it. Well somehow at the bank today my middle name ended up first, and first name second. I pointed this out to my supervisor who translated and confirmed that it's correct on the bank account. I was assured that it was alright. Hmm... Koreans. Incredibly laid back and inefficient. In all situations.

#3: Have you seen the pizza menu? - We're getting ready to take a vocab quiz and I always say "Numero uno" instead of number one. And every day, my students are confused. So I explain "Numero uno" is "Number one" in Spanish... So today after I explain it again one of my kids gets really excited. Like you KNOW  light bulb just went off in his head. I figured he remembered it from a song or a movie or something. Then he shouts (in perfect English) "HAVE YOU SEEN THE PIZZA MENU?" The random comment would be funny coming from a  kid who speaks fluent English but it's slightly more hilarious coming from a kid who only puts together sentences that make sense 40% of the time.

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