I am friends with the school nurse who, in school world, lives opposite my classroom. I call on her some afternoons to drink ‘caw-pee’. She is warm and, unlike many Korean people, unabashed by her minimal English language ability. I in turn feel free to bumble my way through any Korean phrases I am repeatedly taught. We laugh throughout our communication attempts, and in that way understand each other.

My landlady called round last week, to tell me many things about the compost bin situation. I understood ‘leave the bucket outside the gate’ due to explicit pointing and something about ‘five days’ due to the intrinsic usefulness of fingers.  Said compost bin has therefore been sitting outside the gate for three days in a row and is still full. Yet she talked at me nonetheless, and again I appreciated it. These persistent attempts at communication, continued despite my incomprehension, are comforting somehow. Perhaps they speak of the security of infancy and the loving repetition that gave me my first words.

The students in the final year are about to graduate.  Although I have never taught them, a few days ago I was ushered to a photographer who took my photo for their leaving book. Afterwards my co-teacher Sunny and I were told to write our full names down on a piece of paper. In English? I asked, and Sunny told me yes. The photographer laughed scornfully and said to his assistant something like ‘As if she could write it in Korean.’ My feelings were hurt because I can write in Hangul, my name at least. After leaving I wished I had told him so.

This incident stood out because mostly people are encouraging. Sometimes my miniscule language gestures are met with claps and Ooooing. I hope my open practice of random Korean words encourages the students to feel less shy about practicing their English in class, in an ‘I can’t sound more stoopid than her’ kind of way. And I realise more than ever that, for me, the key learning a language is to do just that – sound stupid, say the wrong the thing and hopefully make someone laugh.

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