[LEARNING CURVE]Teaching sometimes harder than learning

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[LEARNING CURVE]Teaching sometimes harder than learning

Everybody knows that learning a foreign language is difficult. But what everybody doesn’t know is just how difficult teaching one can be, especially when your student is a sixth-grader.
As a person who is against extracurricular lessons at an early age, I regret to say that I am teaching English to an elementary school student. In the neighborhood I’m living in, mothers are big fans of private tutoring. They are ambitious, wanting to prepare their children for everything in every field ― Chinese, English, history, science, flute, violin, basketball and piano. I have even heard of students taking private lessons for harmonica and jump rope and an academy that takes children on field trips outside of Seoul just for the “experience,” whatever that means.
Teaching this sixth-grader gives me quite a few laughs. My student pronounces the silent “l” in the words “walk,” “talk,” and “half.” These errors in pronunciation mean that when I gave her a vocabulary test, she couldn’t differentiate between “walk” and “work,” because there is only one Korean letter for the “r” and “l” sounds in English.
She asked me ― actually shot back at me ― “Well, how am I supposed to tell them apart? They sound the same!” At moments like this, I know it is not a wise thing for the teacher to laugh at what the student has said; it would probably sound condescending. But as a person who can tell the two words apart, it was hard to hold back the hideous laughter waiting to come out of my mouth.
I tried hard not to burst out laughing. I twisted and turned, and tried to remember how I felt when I was learning a foreign language. But that didn’t work.
My last resort? I coughed. I coughed really loud like I was choking on the cookie I was eating.
I usually test her with questions she has already seen in our grammar text, which often only results in her trying to memorize the book. There are fill-in-the-blank questions that I particularly like asking. One of the sentences read, “It is very nice ____ you to buy her a present.” The other was “It is important ______ you to do your homework.”
I expected her to choose between “of” or “for” to insert in the blanks. I guess she assumed the test was on infinitives because with a big smile on her face, she confidently wrote “to” for each answer. The temptation to laugh tormented me for a short while. But I soon came back to my teacher-like appearance and drew two red marks on her test paper. Harsh it may have been, but also necessary.
Friends often tell me to teach older people so that I can get more money. I choose not to do so for my love of kids. Sometimes I regret my decision. Moments like these, however, make me realize I made the right choice.


by Lee Jung-bi
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