Saturday, August 9, 2014

Teaching English

There is a small convenience store at our local mall that we frequent quite regularly. It's run by a Korean family that up until recently we only shared a passing acquaintance with.  That all changed one day when the husband mentioned to Hilary that he was trying to improve his English, but found it hard because, while he can read English, some of the words are not easily found in an English-Korean dictionary, and he's never sure on how to pronounce things.

Hilary came home and hatched a plan to help him out.  We love listening to audio books, so she figured, what better way to help learn English then to listen to an unabridged audio book while following along with the hard copy.   We even had a little iPod shuffle that didn't sell at our last yard sale that we could download a copy of one of our books onto.

The only problem was that the best book choice that we had in both unabridged audio and hard copy was Twilight.  We also have all the Harry Potter's, but if someone was going to use this to learn English, we figured they didn't need made up words like Quidditch, Daigon Alley or Avada Kedavra.  So Twilight it was.

While not exactly the best subject to keep a 50 year old Korean man interested, he has persevered with it and almost seems to be enjoying it.   Every few days either Hilary or I will go in and sit behind the counter with him and help him out with any words or phrases that have stumped both him and his translator apps.   He bought his own copy of the book because he didn't want to mark up ours and he underlines anything he doesn't understand and makes notes in Korean in the margins once he has the definition or explanation of a word.

Having read Twilight several times myself, I would have characterized it as having fairly simple and easy language to understand.  I realize now that I thought that because I'm a native English speaker/reader.  To someone who is new to the language, there are a lot of colloquial sayings and downright slang that can easily trip you up.  I'm sure we are very comical looking when we are trying to pantomime the description of a word while crammed into the tight space behind the cash register.

Some recent things that we've struggled to explain:

  • If someone can drive UP to Forks or DOWN to California, why can you only show UP for work but not show DOWN?
  • What is the difference between "every day I....." and "every single day I......"?
  • Ditching school has nothing to do with actual ditches. And why is ditching healthy?
  • Explaining "hand-eye coordination" nearly had us knocking over displays of gum.
  • Trying to  explain "kicked up a tantrum" without using the word fuss, because how do you explain what a FUSS is?
  • What exactly is an understatement?
  • Trying to explain to someone who has no cultural reference to Spiderman, what a radioactive spider has to do with anything.

This teaching relationship also works both ways.  Both the husband and wife will quiz me on the Korean terms and numbers that I need to learn for Tae Kwon Do.

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