Last Saturday I finally decided that I’d had enough smiling and nodding, and decided to sign up to a beginner’s Korean class in Gwangju.
Having not been on the other side of the teacher’s desk for quite some time, I was a little nervous about what to expect. But I needn’t have been. The teacher was great, I met a few new people, and I pretty much sailed through everything fairly easily.
The first lesson was all about the hangul characters (these: 안녕하세요) and, as I already know how to read them, I didn’t learn any new Korean per se.
I did, however, learn some other interesting things:
1) I’m blind
I already kind of knew this anyway because I’ve been short-sighted since I was 14 but, as someone who doesn’t wear contacts and very rarely bothers to put her glasses on, I didn’t realise just how bad my eyesight had gotten until I sat in the front row and saw nothing but blurs all over the board.
I really need to get over my ‘I don’t wear my glasses’ thing and just stick them to my face.
2) I miss a classroom setting
I might not have learned as much as some of the other students in my class but I really did enjoy the feeling of being back in a classroom and actually getting ready to learn. When my teacher called for a 10 minute break, I was eager to continue and when the class finally came to an end, I was sad. Who knew I was such a nerd? (All of you did.)
3) My writing sucks
Considering I’ve been calling myself a writer for the last 7-8 years and have never had a problem with the written word (in English), you’d think this would also be my strength in every language.
When it came to learning Spanish, my ability to read it, listen and understand, and speak it was okay. I had problems with my grammar that could have been worked out with proper lessons. And my writing? Non-existent.
I didn’t have a clue how to spell or write anything.
And I have a feeling Korean’s going to be the same. I have no problem reading hangul and sounding it out enough to speak it now. But actually writing it? Eesh. I’ll hold my hand up and predict I’m going to be bottom of the class for that one.
4) No-one knows where Wales is
This conversation happened:
Teacher: Let’s have an example. Ceri, where are you from?
Teacher: Ah, but that’s in London, isn’t it?
Me: I’m sorry?
Teacher: Just the country name, please.
Me: That IS the country name.
I’m actually kind of used to this by now.
5) People can’t just stop
Yes, I know, I really do, I honestly really really do know that my accent is butchered.
Let me tell you a little thing about being a Welsh ESL teacher: It doesn’t work.
If you’re an American with a strong East coast or Southern accent, you better neutralise that shit. And the same goes for any Brit with a strong Scottish, Irish, Welsh or Northern English (think Scouser/Geordie/Manc) accent.
Most schools are all over American English. It’s what their students know (thanks to American cinema) and it’s what they’re more likely to recognise coming out of your mouth. And they’ll happily hire a Brit that has a nice clear (London/RP/whatever) accent so that students can hear and understand what you’re saying. As a result, you do have to chill out on the way you say “by yur” or any other colloquialisms that’re ingrained into your brain – especially when you’re teaching low levels.
You find yourself neutralising certain words and even adding sharp little syllables (like overpronouncing the “r” in “door”) the way Americans say it to make things easier in class.
This happens a lot to avoid wasting 10 minutes on every single word in a sentence that students are struggling to understand and, after a while, you just do it automatically. Your accent changes and hanging out with other expats doesn’t help it either.
I’m well aware of this. I mean, I am a language teacher. And every other white person I meet here just loves to point out how “non British/German/Australian/American/crazy” my accent sounds.
I’ve been living away from where I grew up for nearly 10 years now. I know it’s different.
6) English guys have the weirdest Welsh girl fetishes
We can blame Gavin and Stacey for this.
(For those of you who never saw that series, it’s essentially about an English man (Gavin) who falls in love with a Welsh girl (Stacey).)
About 90% of the English men I meet outside of the UK who find out I’m from Wales always feels the need to reference this show. None of them realise that the show is a ridiculous exaggeration of what people from Wales and Essex are like even though they can’t help telling me how much they “love Stacey and her accent soooo much” because “the Welsh accent is just so gorgeous, it’s one of [their] favourites”.
I never sounded like Stacey (Does anyone?) and, like England, accents sound different in Wales depending on where you are in the country.
The projected Welsh girl fetish that’s closely followed by a look of disappointment when I lay my butchered accent on the table for these English guys is just gross.
No, I can’t be your sweet, ditzy Wesh girl who hates everything outside of her coastal town.
I’m probably more like Doris.
And that is why I’m single.