Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another Language Teaching Story

Another funny thing that I came across while teaching highlights the limitations of translating by dictionary when you have a limited familiarity with the language you're learning. One of the sentences my grammar book used to illustrate the present continuous tense was "The sun is shining." Simple, right? But when my student brought her completed exercises to her next lesson, she asked me about that example, clearly baffled. I was scrambling to figure out how to explain what it means to shine, thinking about shoes and pennies and water in sunlight, when my student pointed at her lower leg and said "Shine?" Then I understood: knowing that she would find only verb roots in the dictionary, she cleverly looked up shining minus the -ing and got....shin. Well, no wonder it didn't make sense to her to say that the sun is bottom-half-of-your-leg-ing! So we had a talk about how spelling changes when you add -ing to verbs, and the problem was solved, and I bet this student will always remember both shine and shin now.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What Happened this Week?

This week I:
  • took another hike with Keegan.
  • failed to find the trail until reaching the top of the mountain.
  • was directed onto the trail by picnicking Koreans wielding scissors. (They were grilling bulgogi, and scissors are often used to cut the thinly sliced beef.)
  • had my picture taken by a Korean hiker, whose overall attitude was that of a man snapping a picture of a rare species at the zoo.
  • nearly had a heart attack riding my bike on the scary, windy, hilly roads north of our apartment.
  • had my first two lessons with a new student whose knowledge of English grammar is encyclopedic but whose basic speaking and listening skills are way behind.
  • went to a lunch that featured lively conversation in English and Spanish and a lovely coconut flan.
  • left my lights on, ran my battery down, and learned just how easy it is to push my car around the parking lot for a jump.
  • had my first knitting lesson, during which is was discovered that my independent attempts at knitting involved the wrong needles, inappropriate yarn, and a knotty, unrecognizable mess that could not be called knitting.
  • learned to knit the right way!
  • bought and then painted a hard-shelled Korean pumpkin for Halloween with Glenda and Keegan.
  • was chagrined to see what Keegan chose to paint on his Halloween pumpkin (see below).
  • watched hours of kitten antics.
  • disciplined kittens for their antics involving plants, curtains and my exposed flesh.
  • rearranged furniture, painted a picture frame, picked out photos to have printed and framed, baked granola, and bought new plants for the apartment.
  • enjoyed another whirlwind week on Geoje Island.

Painted pumpkins, L to R: Ellen's, Glenda's, and Keegan's.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Meaning of Children

I had an interesting exchange with one of my students this week. We were reading a story about a woman who had quadruplets, and one of the exercises after the story asked my student to write how many children were in her family and then how many boys and how many girls. She wrote that she had no children in her family, but then she wrote that she had two boys, which I know is true because we've talked about her sons before. I asked her how she could say that she had two boys but no children. She said "No. They are not children. They are 19 and 25." I was surprised - I've never really thought about the fact that child can mean both "young person" and "offspring." So we talked about how children can grow to be tweens and teenagers and young adults, but they are always your children. My student looked at me like I was crazy when I told her that it's possible to talk about "adult children." But in the end, we both learned something. That's what makes language teaching so much fun.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Parking Madness

Parking in Korea can be quite an event. First of all, there's parking on the street. Finding a free parking spot in town can be interesting. Cars park along both sides of narrow streets full of shops. This makes is difficult to drive down said streets, which often have about one lane's worth of space available for actual driving. It's often necessary to pull off to the side of the road to let someone else pass. As you drive around looking for a spot, you have to be aware of the lines on the side of the road (you can park on white lines, but not yellow, although this rule is often ignored). Many times, a potential spot appears, but as you approach, you see that it's taken by a scooter. Or businesses will sometimes put plastic gas cans out in front of their shops to make sure that people don't park directly in front of the doors. Since there's no sidewalk, it is possible to park literally right in front of a shop door, and of course shopkeepers don't like that. So even if there aren't gas cans out, you have to be conscious of this and avoid being yelled at by proprietors. Finally, a tiny spot turns up, and then you have the challenge of squeezing into it. This situation is one of the major reasons that I love my tiny Matiz.

We are fortunate that we can park easily at our apartment building. Buildings that were constructed in the past often have fewer spots than the residents have cars. In this case, there are some unspoken parking rules that help everyone have a place to park. First of all, it's common to have your cell phone number posted in the dashboard of your car. This can be written on a card, etched into a fancy plastic doo-hickey, or cross-stitched in a cutesy design. This way, if you're forced to park somewhere that blocks another person in, that person can call you and ask you to move. Another solution, which we encountered in an apartment building parking garage in Jinju, is to leave your car in neutral with the parking brake off. This way, you can double park, and the person you're blocking can just push your car out of the way when necessary. Watching our host in Jinju push cars around so that we could go out for an evening spin just struck me as so odd! But it's an effective solution. And another good reason to have a car that's, like mine, barely bigger than a golf cart.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Weeks in Review: Trailblazing, Traveling, and Talking

Lots has happened in the past few weeks - we've gone biking and hiking and visited Jinju again. I've met Brazilians and Ukrainians and acquired another student. Here are some of the details:

Two weekends ago we had quite a hiking adventure! We decided that we were going to hike a mountain overlooking the Samsung shipyard where Keegan works. We saw a sign for the mountain, so we parked by a small village and started walking. We went through some rice paddies and when the concrete path along the fields came to an end, we saw a small track leading into the woods up the side of the mountain. We forged ahead. The trail got rougher and rougher, and we brushed aside more and more spiders, and finally we realized that we were not on a trail at all but were instead hacking our way up the side of the mountain in rugged explorer fashion. My calves and ankles were screaming as we plodded up the steep mountainside through brambles and sandy soil that crumbled away under our feet. Finally, I heard a call from Keegan up ahead, and he said that he had found the trail! After less than ten minutes of walking on the real path, we were at the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the weather was not so nice - drizzly and hazy, so our views were a bit disappointing, but we were proud of our rugged adventurousness!

On the way back down, we took the real path, curious to see exactly where we had strayed. Well, it turned out it was at the very, very beginning. On the concrete paths that led through the rice paddies, we should have taken a sharp right at one point. But there was no marker at all, only a signpost where the trail started, which was not in sight from turn that we missed. Well, now we know.

Last weekend we went back to Jinju for the annual lantern festival - maybe you've already seen the pictures on Flickr. The festival had everything you could hope for in a fall festival - food, games, crowds, and a very impressive display of lights and fireworks. All of this had a distinctly Korean flair, especially the food, which was fascinating. The first thing we noticed was small mobile food carts parked along the side of the road selling seafood and ricecakes. My favorites were trucks whose entire back ends were covered in stacks of enormous crabs. There were also the perennial favorites bbang tigi, which are rice cakes made in a funny machine. The machine pours about a quarter cup of rice into a small cylinder and then covers the cylinder, which I suppose is very hot and at a high pressure. When the pressure gets too high, the cylinder pops open and shoots a rice cake out with a satisfying "bbang!" There were also several stands selling a very hard kind of slightly sweet peanut brittle, which the proprietors cut up with scissors that looked like they had cleavers for blades. Also for sale were dried squid and silkworm larvae, which smell terrible and look like something the contestants on Fear Factor used to eat.

The main attraction of the festival was, of course, the lighted lanterns floating on the river and displayed along the shore, and they were amazing. We saw fire-breathing peacocks and a fire-breathing dragon, an enormous pogoda at least two stories tall, bulls and matadors, and countless others. On the shore, there were tunnels hung with all kinds of lanterns made by festival attendees, and there were walls of red lanterns, too. There were booths where you could make wire lanterns (unfortunately, you had to have a reservation), and there was also the opportunity to buy a small lantern that you could attach a wish to. These lanterns had a candle inside, and after you wrote your wish on the lantern, you could float it down the river. There were also floating footbridges that you could cross to get a better view of the lanterns on the river. It was all just overwhelming, and I'm so glad we went.

This week has been full of social events. On Wednesday, I went to Quizno's, favorite hangout of the Okpo foreigner population, for a meeting of the Brazilian Ladies of Geoje Island. One of my students was eager to introduce me to her friends, and I was eager to go. The Brazilian women are a talkative, friendly, noisy bunch, and I enjoyed spending time with them. Many of them speak very good English, but of course now I am intrigued by Portuguese and want to start learning. If I am going to start spending time with a group of Brazilians, I'd probably be able to pick up the language more quickly than I'm picking up Korean! It helps that there are a lot of similarities with French and Spanish as well.

On Friday, Glenda and I invited our EFL students over to my apartment for tea and snacks. We had a Brazilian contingent and a Ukrainian contingent, but everyone seemed to do very well speaking and listening in English. It was a fun, interesting gathering full of fun, interesting, intelligent people and lots of chances to talk about and observe linguistic quirks, so I was really in my element. There may not be any money in adult ESL, but it sure is a wonderful way to meet the best kind of people.

Here are a few pictures from the get-together:

Our tea group. My student Rita, who is doing fantastically, is on the left. Next to her is Andrea, also from Brazil; Elena, my new student from Ukraine starting Monday; Alla, our neighbor and Glenda's student from Ukraine, and Glenda.

Pepper discovers the tea cozy is just as its name suggests.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Korean Language Learning Update

Keegan and I continue to make slow progress in learning Korean.  Our beginners' class will finish at the end of November, and then we'll take a test to move up to the intermediate level.  I'm guessing that those classes will start after Christmas.  Recently we've learned how to introduce ourselves and to tell people where we're from and what our job is.  Now we're working on asking where someone is going or asking where something is.  Apparently asking Eodi gayo? (Where are you going?) is a very common question in Korea, like part of a greeting.  Our teacher explained that many foreigners find this odd and a little nosy.  But she told us "Don't worry, Korean people do not want to follow you.  They are just being polite and making conversation."

We've also learned how to say good-bye, which is more complicated than you'd think because Korean makes an interesting distinction.  If you are leaving somewhere, and the person you're saying good-bye to is staying, then you say good-bye one way:  annyeonghi keseyo (literally, please stay well).  If both you and the person you're talking to are leaving, then you say annyeonghi kaseyo (literally, please go well).  This kind of thing is what I love about studying foreign languages - choosing the right words forces you to look at common situations with an eye for distinctions you don't usually think about.

Our Rosetta Stone Korean disk finally made it to Korea, and we're back in business learning on the computer.  I am fascinated by the process of learning with this program because it relies completely on implicit language learning with no explicit explanations of grammar rules or pronunciation.  Each lesson consists of a series of pictures with descriptions in Korean, either spoken, written, or both.   Your task as the learner is to figure out how the words paired with the picture work.  You have to pay attention to the differences and similarities among the pictures and make hypotheses about how those match up with the differences and similarities among the words.  In this way, the exercises are similar to what babies do when they are learning their native language, except that the baby's environment is usually much less controlled than this program and full of many more examples of language use.  Figuring all this out is fun, like a puzzle, so I'm definitely motivated to sit down and spend some time using the program.  Some of the rules and associations I figure out using Rosetta Stone are more likely to stick with me because I am proud and excited about figuring them out myself.

However, I think that it would be very difficult to rely entirely on Rosetta Stone to learn the language.  First of all, my deciphering of the parts of the sentences is made much, much easier by the fact that I learned the Korean alphabet and some basic Korean grammar through more traditional methods.  Second, I have a hard time remembering the full words and phrases from the program.  I tend to use the beginnings of words and phrases to distinguish between sentences and match them to the appropriate picture, and without making an effort to remember the full word or phrase, it doesn't stick with me.  Also, because my understanding of how the pictures and sentences match up is based on hypotheses about how the language works, I am wary of using those hypotheses to create new sentences because I'm not entirely sure about what I'm saying.   So far, my opinion is that Rosetta Stone is an interesting and challenging way to learning a language, but it is good to pair it with some more traditional language learning techniques, such as memorizing vocabulary and reading about grammar rules.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fashion in Korea

Keegan and I spent a good amount of time yesterday afternoon wandering around in a department store, and I have a few oddities to share, mostly regarding clothing styles, which are pretty different from what we're used to. One style that we've noticed on the racks and on the streets for women is very baggy, long shirts and leggings. In fact, Glenda and I have a joke when we go shopping: is it a shirt or a dress? I think some native shoppers are confused too, though this is largely based on my observation of one woman I saw this afternoon in town. She guessed dress, but I think she should have gone with shirt. Otherwise, shirts with English sayings on them are pretty popular, even though they sometimes don't make a lot of sense or are just odd sounding. One of my personal favorites is a baggy, off-the-shoulder number proclaiming simply "FAB!".

Men's fashion can be quite debonair. Men's suits often include metallic fibers and shirts and ties sport little details like small sparkly, multicolored stones or shiny stitching. Colors like pastel pink, fuschia, and all kinds of other shades that men at home generally eschew are not out of bounds for Korean men. I think this is kind of refreshing, although it still takes some getting used to to see vests, ties, and dress shirts in shades I normally think of as feminine.

Another fashion trend that we foreigners inevitably find noteworthy is dressing like your brother/sister/daughter/son/girlfriend/boyfriend. It's not terribly unusual to see couples sporting matching outfits, and shops often sell T-shirts or bathing suits in complementary men's and women's styles. I think I mentioned soon after our arrival here that matching sets of underwear are also popular.

So, as you can see, there are a lot of differences in fashions between here and the U.S. I try very hard not to think about what my Korean neighbors think of my fashion choices. I hope that they are more mystified by my taste than horrified by unwitting indiscretions, but you never can tell. As our little village is populated mostly by elderly farmers, I'm sure that my summertime running outfits have caused at least some consternation.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Week in Review: Socializing and Swimming

This week saw several more social outings than usual. First of all, on Tuesday after language class, several of us went to dinner at a Thai restaurant. I was a little disappointed that there weren't more tofu options, but we did try an absolutely fantastic soup (the name of which I have already forgotten) that had a tremendous flavor - somehow both piercingly lemony and reassuringly creamy at the same time. There was also a mixed vegetable dish that was really tasty with a brown sauce that, to my wholly American tastes, seemed more like Chinese than Thai.

At the table were two Thais, Pong and Amorn; three Americans, me, Keegan, and Kristin (another surveyor); a Pole, Slavek; and a Russian, Boris. I love international gatherings like this, especially when I have a chance to show off my Polish (I'm actually still quite good at saying "I speak a little Polish, but I've forgotten a lot. I lived in Debica seven years ago."). We waited for a long time for our food, and during that time Amorn was cheerfully loud and overbearing, Boris and Slavek got into a heated argument about the economics of homebuilding in Russia and the U.S., Kristin, Keegan and I compared stories about previous Thai meals, and Pong watched us all in observant silence.

On Wednesday, many of us were reunited at a Korean restaurant so that we could send off Mr. Moon, a Korean surveyor who is moving to Busan to work as an engineer. Again, vegetarian offerings were sparing, so I had an odd dinner of cabbage soup, cold tofu with scallions and soy sauce, and cabbage salad with raspberry dressing. I really enjoyed meeting and talking to Mr. Moon, who was kind, interesting, and spoke very good English. The evening ended fairly early when all the foreigners began groaning more and more about their knees, backs, legs, etc. Only Mr. Moon could keep his place on the floor gracefully.

Friday was a holiday here (National Foundation Day) so Keegan had the day off. It was a beautiful day, so we went to the beach with John, Glenda, and John's mom and stepfather, who were here visiting from the states. We spent a lot of time peering at tiny sea life in rocky tidal pools (shrimp, slugs, snails, crabs, and tiny fish were abundant). Keegan had his mask and fins, and I tried on an extra mask and swam around to look for more underwater life. I didn't see a whole lot, but there was one bright yellow and gray fish and many sand colored bottom dwellers that were pretty hard to spot unless they moved. We also saw a sign that had been washed off the beach. I told Keegan that it made a good Korean test: if you can read the whole sign in Korean before running out of breath, you finally know the alphabet well enough! I really enjoyed swimming around, until we started getting stung by jellyfish. We didn't actually SEE any jellyfish, but Keegan said there were some huge ones further out and that possibly bits of stinging tentacle had floated in towards the shore and were nailing us all over. So we decided to cut short our swim. All in all, it was an enjoyable day, and the beach was much less crowded than earlier in the summer.

In the evening, Glenda, John and parents came over for pizza and a rousing game of Phase 10, which Keegan won. I really enjoyed having the apartment full of people. We welcome visitors here anytime! The plane ride is only about 20 hours.