[LEARNING CURVE]The funny and distressing sides of English

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[LEARNING CURVE]The funny and distressing sides of English

I am a 23-year-old English instructor working for one of the scores of hagwon in the Ssangmoon area of northeastern Seoul. Like other places in Seoul, there are lots of institutions with their own mottos, such as “Come to feel like studying in America!” and “You can speak in English, too!” Maybe they really have different teaching methods, but based on my years of teaching experience, the students’ English doesn’t improve as easily as the hagwon promise.
English students are still learners and they always bring unintentional amusement and laughter to class. Here, I would like to tell you of some of the funny and embarrassing episodes I have had with my students of vastly different ages.
I was in class with junior high school students going over some reading material. One boy started to mumble to himself and laughed quietly. I asked him why and he replied that he didn’t realize that ‘sundae’ (a Korean sausage) was an English word.
The material I had given out was published in the United States and I wondered why there should be a word like ‘soondae.’ I quickly went through the article and tried to find it, but to no avail. So, I asked him to show me. He pointed to the phrase “soon they had fun with their friends.” Biting my lip so as not to laugh, I asked him how he could possibly think that food could have fun with “their friends.”
Kids are cute like this, but the story changes in adult classes. Once, when I was working as a conversation teacher at a big name company, I experienced a moment so embarrassing that I could not continue the class.
It was the first day of the class and, as I expected, the atmosphere was gloomy. So, I started off with some easy questions to make people feel comfortable and at ease.
This is the famous ice-breaking thing that is absolutely necessary on the first day. Well, my icebreakers usually worked. However, this time they were making a bad situation worse. Nobody was even looking at my smile.
I thought a while and decided to ask a question to a woman who looked kind enough to give me an answer. (I didn’t want to ask men who appeared to be giving me threatening glances.)
“What’s your hobby? What do you do in your free time?”
“Hmm.. I like listening to music. So I collect CDs and tapes.”
“Wow, that’s nice! How many do you have?”
“ I have three husbands at home.”
What the lady had meant to say was “hundred,” but the word “husband” found its way out instead. It might have been better if others had laughed at her answer. However, there was only silence and the woman and I blushed without saying any more. The poor lady looked so embarrassed that I felt sorry for her.
Funny and sometimes embarrassing episodes happen from time to time in many English classes with non-native learners. Still, what I found by teaching is that Koreans are amazing people with great enthusiasm.
There is a saying, “practice makes perfect.” I have the firm conviction that with steadiness, confidence and belief in themselves they will accomplish their objectives.


by Kim Min-jung
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