When it comes down to basic communication, my students manage to get around their lack of English surprisingly well. Their halting speech is peppered with idiosyncrasies and unique turns of phrase that make me forgive them their terrible grammar and vocabulary because they struggle so poetically to express themselves.
Living here myself with only the most basic knowledge of Korean, I’ve found that when you lack language, you scramble for other tools to express yourself. Communication becomes innovative and simplified, a game of words, ideas and diagrams.
In the classroom, I’ve had lessons that have degenerated into Pictionary and charades as we try to share ideas and experiences that no-one has the language for. Dictionaries make it even more obtuse. But the students have surprising success rates by themselves, even with such crap vocab. One guy calls a skirt “triangle pants.” Another describes his best friend as his “very intimate friend” which made me howl until he got offended and I had to explain, which made him even more offended.
A waterfall: “Water – down.” Barbecue: “fire machine.” An explorer: “Ship go, Korea and New Zealand and USA.” A city: “Many human live.”
From a boy in love with his new MP3 player:
Mpthree is preservation many sing. I listen study mpthree. mp3 listen is not sleepy. mpthree thank.
My long-suffering twelve year old student tells, with a wistful face, why she wishes she were younger:
Mother and father, my sister “You cute!” Mother and father, me “You not cute! Study!”
And a boy on seasons:
I like summer, because it is go swimming and ice-cream eating. I don’t like winter because winter is cold and angry. Winter’s floor is slidey. Winter discovers me snow, and I like snow, and I like winter.
I really couldn’t have said it better myself.
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