In another world, English is much easier

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In another world, English is much easier

There was once a girl who liked English very much. Like many girls, she was talkative and curious about languages. Knowing that English could be a portal to other cultures, she studied hard.
One day, she could not answer a question in class posed by her English teacher. The teacher scoffed at her and scolded her. From that time forward, she hated English. It caused shame and pressure.
This is my story. At the time, English was little more than a subject required to enter a good university. Then came an experience that changed my attitude forever: I had the chance to study English at the Yongsan U.S. Army base.
There was no pressure to learn there, it just happened by osmosis. With an American teacher, I learned English naturally by talking, playing, even cooking with her and her kids.
Nobody asked me to memorize words, structure, and grammar; all I’d do is chat about everyday stuff with the American soldiers and families.
One memory that never leaves me is when I struggled to explain the difference between Western and Korean age. In those days, I didn’t even know the word “Western.”
In spite of my obvious handicap, I struggled to explain the different age system with my limited vocabulary and trusty Korean-English dictionary. Finally, I managed to make my teacher understand.
My weekly sessions on the base were like miniature trips to the West. We celebrated all of the major holidays, making Easter eggs on Easter, and visiting a haunted house for Halloween ― with real people, not wax models like I was used to.
Sometimes, we went to the theater on base. Even if I didn’t understand all of the dialogue, watching movies like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” still taught me a few new phrases. Sometimes, we baked cookies in an oven, something I’d rarely seen up to then.
For a Korean girl who’d never been out of the country before, this exposure to ordinary Western life had a strong impression. I was having such a good time, I forgot I was learning.
Alas, before long I had to return to reality and devote myself to rote studying necessary to succeed on the college entrance exam. Like most Korean students, I would immerse myself in vocabulary lists, grammar rules and practice translating short paragraphs for the all-important test. Yes, English became boring again.


by Choi Ji-seon
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