I completely love your blog. I'm prepairing to teach in Korea next year. I'm currently working with some college ESL students from China. Can you give me some tips on how encourage them to open up and not slip into Mandarin with each other? Thanks.

The answer to that really depends on a few different factors, I think. Especially what level they are at. If their English isn't terribly high, the best way to get them to open up in a classroom environment is to make sure that they have all of the tools that they need to say what they want to say in English. That's the number one problem I've seen when a teacher is complaining that the students won't stop talking in ____________, is that the students haven't been given the proper vocabulary to be able to say whatever it is in English. People who haven't ever spoken a second language to a native speaker won't necessarily understand that very well, but when you don't have the words, you simply don't have the words.

That doesn't mean that you have to hand out worksheets every class with lists of vocabulary, though. You can give them the language they need most effectively through how you phrase your questions. For example, when you ask, "What did you do this weekend?" and they get that panicked look in their eyes, don't just stop there. Ask, "Did you do something at home or did you go out?" It's not difficult for them to take that question and quickly turn it around in their minds, with the vocabulary you just handed them: "I went out this weekend." Or, did you meet your friends or your boyfriend? Did you eat something nice? Did you try something new?

Second langauge speakers are concentrating on enough as it is just making sentences, so leading the conversation very directly is a lot more helpful for them. They may be the best conversationalists ever in their native language, but they need a little help in English. After a while, they'll get confident enough to start talking without being led.

As far as getting them to stop sepaking in Mandarin, the best way to go about that is to give them time limits. If their level is high enough, then they should make a promise not to speak any Mandarin during your class time at all. If they are still struggling a bit and need to help each other out, then do maybe the last half of the class in English only -- for everybody. My students have a really difficult time speaking in English at all, but when I give them just the last fifteen minutes of class to not say one word of Korean, they really do their best to stick to it. Because, I always emphasize, it's only fifteen minutes. And you can do anything for fifteen minutes. If I tried to tell them to only speak in English for the entire class? I wouldn't even get five minutes out of them.

Instead of telling them they need to only speak English to each other at home (which is never going to happen, and therefore is setting a goal for them that they already know they'll fail), challenge them to speak only English at home for one hour every night. Then, after a week, move it up to two hours. So on and so forth.

This brings back a lot of good memories of my old job in New York. And makes me think a lot about the things I need to be working on now, as a foreigner, for myself. Thanks for the question.

Ask me anything

The return of HT.

I know you've all missed her. She's still here. She just asked me to explain the phrase "butt buddy". I just want... whoever you are, you fuckwit, who is teaching your students this phrase so that it then gets passed on to me to explain to Head Teacher... you better fucking never show your face in my presence. I will punch you in the neck, first for being an inappropriate tool bag when you're supposed to be teaching, and secondly for putting me in that situation to begin with.


The students have become the teachers.

Over in the other blog (I know.... I'm sorry, Blogspot readers... I've defected a bit) I've been complaining a lot lately about my Korean and about how the new books I bought last week have proven to me that I need to start changing some things in my habits if I ever expect to reach a conversational level. Namely, actually speaking. Today I went through an entire fourteen page lesson, including a page of listening, two short readings and a writing assignment, in the span of forty minutes. I looked up about four vocabulary words in the dictionary. Yet, when I go to speak the sentences out loud, I still have to give it about three shots before it comes out right. These are the results of self-study. The one advantage I have is that my listening also has improved along side my reading and writing, because I am surrounded by the language every day. But it's done absolutely zilch for my communication.

The problem is, when you're studying in a coffee shop (as I do, as there are too many things to distract me at home), you can't speak the dialogues out loud. Because you're already freaking Koreans out enough by hanging out in a coffee shop by yourself for hours every day. You really don't need to start talking to yourself out loud as well.

Of course, Busan is around to pick up the slack, and he enjoys it, because even though he has to stick to certain grammar patterns, it's one of the rare times he can have a higher level of conversation with me in Korean. But it's tiring, and we don't have much time together as things are, already. I don't have a boyfriend to learn the language, and it's not his job to teach me -- I don't want to spend much of the time we are together 'studying'.

Now, I don't study at work. Because that's not what I'm there to do, and also because it's a very distracting environment. Our office is a small one on the top floor, where only three teachers reside, so the students feel free to wheel in and out between classes and during lunch time to make small talk, tell me jokes, ask me questions, just hang out, etc. What I do do at work, in between classes or in downtime, is pull out my book and enter any vocabulary words I didn't recognize in my lesson from the day before into the flashcard app on my phone. So today, when I came back from lunch, the usual crowd was gathered around my desk staring intently at my Korean book.

They were over the moon when I lifted it off the desk, opened it and placed it in their hands. They saw my conjugation practice, my written paragraphs, and my answers to the questions. My wonky handwriting. My grammar and spelling mistakes. But more than that, they experienced me in their native language. Oddly enough, the vast majority of the students who hang around my office after lunch are B ban students who don't speak or understand much English. They speak to me in Korean, with a peppering of English words here or there, and then patiently puzzle out my answers in English amongst themselves until I nod confirmation that they've hit upon the correct translation.

As a general rule, I do not speak Korean to the students at school. A few choice words here or there never hurt, especially with the first graders who I am still training to realize I'm a proper teacher. A well timed "앞에 봐!" can make a shiver run through the classroom. But, for the most part, it is part of my job to require the students to speak and understand English. Especially during class time. However, when they come by of their own volition during lunchtime, I make some exceptions.

So. They got their hands on the book and decided it was time to test me. They started with the questions that were already there. Then, they started to shift off subject a bit, and use the same grammar patterns in the book to ask me questions they really wanted to know the answers to. It's safe to say they were mimicking my own techniques with them a bit. They were doing a great job. And thrilled to bits that they were communicating freely with me for the first time. At one point, I answered in English and got scolded.

One by one, they dashed out into the hallway to pull other friends inside. By the time the bell was ringing to signal the end of the lunch period, there were about thirty students gathered around my desk, shouting out variations of the grammar pattern. Public Speaking in Korean 101.

Head Teacher came into the office around that time and stopped dead in her tracks: "What is going on? What are all of you doing in here?"

I motioned toward the Korean text book the ring leader was clutching in his hands. "I'm giving a speech...."

The bell rang for class and she began shooing the students out into the hall. The four original students smiled as they dodged her swats at the door: "We'll come back again tomorrow to study, Teacher! Chapter three! Be ready!"

Well, I guess that's that problem solved, then.


I really don't know the kid's name.

Which is weird. I know every other fucking thing about him, including how many girlfriends he has (four -- I've met three). Oh. Sorry. I mean girl friends. Girl space friends. He's not a cheater. He's just a malicious little tease. Every time I see him with a new one, I tell her to stay the hell away from him. They all just smile at me with that, "Oh the teachers don't like him! He's so bad and mysterious and handsome!" gaga fucking stupidity they haven't beat themselves on the head with long enough to have escaped yet.

He's a third grader. I've taught his cute little ass since the time before his face changed over into heartbreaking territory. But the kid never has his own shirt on. Serious. Every time I see him, he's wearing someone else's shirt. And somehow I've never been able to latch onto his name as a result. It's part of how he stays out of trouble. Ingenious, really. Because if he just took his name tag off of his own shirt, he'd get walloped for it. But now, the teachers just grab him by his collar whenever he's doing whatever thing it is he's not supposed to be doing, make note and report the wrong fucking student to the head teacher.

He has got me wrapped around his little finger. I can fucking admit it. Those ones, they learn how to charm women early. And just about everyone else, who isn't jealous of them in some way.

Yesterday, he came flying down the hallway toward me, and bumped my shoulder as he went past. Everyone gasped. You don't run into a teacher. I turned around and started after him wielding my plastic broom handle. It really hurt, if I'm being honest. I swung it back and forth, strategically, over his head as he maneuvered several deep bows around it. As he did so, a cell phone slid out of his pocket and clattered on the stone tile floor. They're not supposed to have their phones, obviously.

He weighed his options. He was wearing Inho's shirt. He dropped to his knees and scuttled after the phone, moving like a fucking ninja toward the back doors that let out onto the handball court. But he wasn't quick enough and I caught him by the wrist.

"Just one time. Please. Teacher. Please. Just one time close your eyes. Please don't see this. Please just one time close your eyes." He said it in Korean because he doesn't speak any English, but has seen me outside of school often enough to know that I would understand.

By this time, a bit of a crowd had started to gather. "Is it yours?"

"No. It's a friend's."

"You'll go straight upstairs and give it back to your friend?"


"Give it to your friend. Now. Yes?"

"Ah. Yes. I promise."


I let go of his wrist and turned to walk away. His friends had seen him begging, but I would like to think he honestly meant it as a 'thank you' rather than a 'fuck you' -- the trouble is, sometimes you just don't know. "Teacher body sexy!" The most English I've ever heard him string together at once.

I turned on my heels. ".... Excuse me?"

I caught his wrist again just in time and hauled him down toward the elevators. Which happen to be in the same direction as the haksaengbu. When we passed the last set of stairs, he started to panic and gently tried to pull his wrist away. "Teacher please... no.... please no 이봉운샘.... please..." 이봉운샘 would fucking murder him for using that word to a teacher. But I just took him up to the fourth floor instead. Told the third grade head teacher he had a present for her, and left him there to explain for himself.

If there is one word I wish had never crossed over to the Korean language. I swear to fuck. Disappointing, Whatever Your Name Is.


Grandmother Teacher.

Grandmother Teacher, as I mentioned before, is not a bad woman. She's kind of a pain in the ass to teach with (or rather, it's a pain in the ass to teach her classes), but she doesn't actually speak English, so she doesn't bother me too much. I always correct the students when they call her Grandmother Teacher to me, because there's too much animosity in the nickname most times.

She's been at the school since I started there, three years ago. We've sat next to, or close to each other, at countless hwaeshik and lunch periods. Yesterday, I happened to follow her right into the cafeteria, and ended up sitting at a table alone with her and her other grandmother teacher friend. I heard her say it in Korean and thought, no.... I must have misunderstood. But just to clarify, she leaned over and said it in English, just to be sure: "You use chopsticks very well." Then, she looked back to her friend and repeated it once more in Korean, as way of explaining what she had just told me. In case the other grandmother teacher missed that, somehow.

Grandmother Teacher. That's it, really. I'm not going to pretend I don't know who the students are talking about anymore, when they use your moniker. You are officially on your own. Three years, and you've just gotten around to changing your mind about that. You've earned it, Grandmother Teacher.


The 태근 Express.

.... runs around like a wild man during the break time. Shouts everyone into their seats: "SHIT DOWN AND SHUTTA MOUSE EBERYBODY RIGHT NOWUH!" Right before disappearing across the hall to the bathroom after the bell has gone, himself. I chase him down the hall and drag him back in. He answers every standard lesson-opening question with a resounding, "네~~!" (incorrect: this is English class). And then promptly puts his head down on his desk.

He's not sleeping. He's just resting. Like a puppy, after it gallops through the house, wearing itself out. His eyes are still following me back and forth across the front of the room.

B Ban and we're working on "If I ____, I would ____." After every 'listen and repeat', I ask a couple of students to answer the example on the spot, to check and reconfirm everyone's comprehension. I've got one kid staring back at me, trying his best to work out the right word for "buy", in response to the question, "If you had 100,000 won, what would you do?" His eyes roll back and he's almost got it, when suddenly Taegeun pops his head up like a prairie dog: "I WOULD BUY SOME NICE CLOTHES!" Everyone's heads swing around in his direction. No one was expecting that, least of all from Taegeun. He shoots us all a look and says, "What?" and then pulls the biggest, cheesiest grin I've seen all week.

"Taegeunah.... you're like a roller coaster. Do you know what that means?"

Taegeun nods: "I know, Teacher."



.... with that really strong, throaty "k" sound for emphasis, was what was running through my head all day, as I prepared to face my six class. I knew there was going to be trouble, when I walked into the classroom for the first time to see them rolling around on the floor and galloping across the tops of the desks, while the teacher they love to call "Grandmother Teacher" sat impassively at the desk, enduring. She looked up at me as I came through the door and said the thing that always seals the deal on it being a rough semester with one of her classes: "This class many naughty boys!"

She's a nice woman. But there is no way in God's great hot hell she should be put in charge of any amount of teenage boys for any amount of time. Some of the better ones will defer to her out of respect for the elderly alone, or pity, or some combination thereof. But most can smell the easy target on her, and take it as far as they can allow their little half-formed hearts to do so, without feeling too ill at ease.

The first class was fine. The first class is always fine. Mesmerized by my weirdo foreign face and the fact that someone is actually speaking native English, they don't pull shit the first time around. Most students, in fact, will cut the crap for the first month at least. But last week (week two), we attempted to play a game for the first time. I cut it off five minutes before the bell to give a lecture about how fucking simple it is for me to not create games and fun speaking activities that allow them to get up out of their seats and talk to their friends for the majority of the period, but to print out worksheets that would keep them working quietly to themselves instead. I gave the same lecture I always do the first time a class starts in -- we can have fun and study, or we can be bored and study, but one way or another, we are going to study. Which direction it goes in depends entirely upon you.

I'm not an overly strict teacher, when there is no call for it -- it doesn't usually suit my purposes, because I need the students to feel comfortable enough to engage, and I have to allow room for the lesson to go off course, so long as we are communicating in English. But this class made it clear last time that we're going to have to establish some fundamental truths before we can get to that. Namely, that I am not a character to be fucked with, especially during the last class of a long day.

So, this lesson was all about keeping my fist closed tightly about their metaphorical little throats. Both feet on the floor directly under your desk, sit up straight, and do not make a single peep unless it is in English and unless you are answering one of my questions.

And this is one of the roughest lessons for them to have done it as well, because it's essentially thirty minutes of me lecturing and them having to answer questions, without going off the rails and starting little side conversations in Korean, and only fifteen minutes of actual individual activity. I warned them about that up front. I told them, it's going to be difficult, because we are going to talk about some interesting, funny things. And you are going to want to make a joke to your friend beside you in Korean about it, but you can't do that today. You need to answer my question in English and then close your mouths again, got it?

From their soldier-like postures, they firmly nodded. And you know what? They fucking pulled it off. And I told them as much, when we finished the class. They earned the praise today. Which was a much nicer way to end the class than how we finished last week. They knew they'd done well, too.

I'm not enough of a novice to expect it just to be smooth sailing from here on out. They've got four more lessons alone with the Grandmother Teacher before I get to them again. It's probably going to be a lot like this all semester. But we got there pretty quickly today, so there's hope.

Fucking exhausting, though, eh.

In other news, the second graders are learning, "If I _______________, I would ___________," right now. That pre-activity lecture has gone in a complete other direction that basically goes like this: I know you. I know you are teenage boys and I know you have 변태 answers. But please. Please. I am your teacher. I do not need to hear your 변태 answers. Tell your 변태 answers to your friends, and write down a normal answer for me. I do not, for example, need to hear that if you only had one day left to live, you would "buy a woman". First of all, you do not have enough money to buy a woman. Secondly, I do not believe (or want to believe) that you would know what to do with one if you did. But mostly, I just don't need to think about that. So please.

Little monsters.


The coercion of love.

Yesterday I went with my first and second graders to watch our school's handball team absolutely destroy another in a tournament. It was my first time to see a handball match, and I'm happy to report that it is not a boring sport at all. The real joy of the day for me was watching the girl teams play.

Busan's always on my ass to change schools a. so that I can get out of Incheon, b. so that I can get away from my hoodrat students and c. so that I can experience a "variety" of Korean students. Well. I've definitely got the variety covered, although possibly not in the way he means. And my hoodrat students are fucking brilliant. Our school may have a bad reputation when it comes to the boys' choices of extracurricular activity (fighting, drinking, kissing girls, stealing things) but they are actually remarkably respectful to the teachers. One of ours who just moved over from a much "better" school in Bucheon said she was shocked to see how the students knock on office doors before entering and maintain a respectful distance from teachers. I mean, they even bow to the foreign teacher on the street -- that really says something.

Anyway, I sent him a message while watching the girls' match yesterday saying I'd gotten the sudden urge to move to a girls' school. That shit was insane and those girls were not joking. They definitely went harder than the boys did, resulting in a ridiculous number of yellow and red cards and a few scuffles that went on well beyond the point when the whistle was blown.

Our boys, as I said, kicked ass. The last half of the game was pretty boring because it was so obvious who was going to win. What wasn't boring was watching the PE teachers skulk about threatening to beat the students if they didn't cheer right. Obviously, they were joking. But these were our first graders, and they're still not really sure where the line is. As a result, the cheering kind of followed the PE teachers as they walked along the front, like a wave of coerced enthusiasm. The Handsome PE Teacher, who sat near me for a time, would suddenly lean over our section from above with that business look on his face and shout, "야! 안해?? 안해??" The boys would then look nervously back over their shoulders, raising their arms in the air to clap and shout along with the chants, all the while with a slight look of fear on their faces. The PE teacher would then giggle to himself and lean, satisfied, back in his seat.

One of my old co-teachers had a major run-in with one of the more serious PE teachers during her first months at our school. She pointed out something about some work he had delegated, and after that, he always stomped past her in the hallways ignoring her greetings. I told her not to take it personally, that from what I knew of his personality, he was probably just assuming that she had a problem with him and responding accordingly. Eventually, they sorted it out as a result of both sitting at the same table as me at 회식. He always gets extremely jovial when he drinks and then suddenly wants to speak English. It was during this time that she recounted what I had told her of him, and he, red-faced, sadly nodded and said, "그래 맞아요~~." But she's always still held a bit of a grudge toward him, though you'd never know it.

He's one of the main coaches of the handball team, and was standing down next to the seats on the court. She took one look at him, leaned over toward me and whispered, "Now he finally looks like a coach, when you put him on a court, instead of a gangster like when he walks around the school. Now I can see it. I'll watch him to see if he is a coach or a gangster." Haha.

During the game, I heard some giggling coming from off to the side, and that phrase again: foreign worker. Now. I have not heard this fucking thing throughout my entire working career here except for one time, which I wrote about previously, in my after school class. I turned my head to see what was going on, and sure enough, there was Seokhyeon. I don't like this fucking kid, okay? And I don't think much of anyone else does either. He picks. Constantly. He's a little dorkface who has decided it's his mission in life to pick on other students for no apparent reason just so he isn't the main target. During my classes with him, he constantly called out Mingi (the only other student in the class weaker than him) for anything negative he could. Talking about animals? Mingi is an elephant. Mingi is a monkey. Mingi is a pig. Talking about the word "kill"? Mingi is die! Talking about something completely irrelevant? Just Minigi hahahahaha! The kid's a dick, and now that I have his regular class with him, he's already started up with the other weak kid in that class.

Now, Seokhyeon wasn't involved in the original foreign worker incident, which was largely a misunderstanding on the students' part, because they didn't realize that word might even apply to me. But he was there for it, to see my reaction. Now, he had leaned over to the students around him and whispered to them about how the foreign teacher was a foreign worker.

I heard the word before I saw Seokhyeon and asked the kid to repeat it. He immediately turned around and pointed a finger at Seokhyeon.

"Seokhyeon. Do you have something to say?"

Seokhyeon immediately tried to claim that it was the kid next to him who had started it. The kid started to panic, not even having taken part in the conversation at all, but I told him not to worry about it. It's obvious where it came from. I asked Seokhyeon to repeat it a few more times, but of course he wouldn't. So I turned to the other students who had been giggling. They were now insisting that, of course, I was not a foreign worker.

"I am actually a foreign worker. You're right. But why is that funny? What's funny about foreign worker? Huh? Why is that funny? Huh? Tell me. Why is foreign worker funny?"

Finally, the smart kid on the end got it: "It's not funny, Teacher. Foreign worker not funny."

"That's right. It's not funny." I leaned back in my seat.

There is some dickish behavior amongst the first graders of this kind, and I'm not sure if I just didn't notice it as much before, because I wasn't able to overhear and understand as much in Korean, or if I've just forgotten about it since the older students have gotten used to me and gotten over the fact that I'm foreign, or if it's just gotten worse with the new students. But, at any rate, it's clear that some of them don't really respect me, based on my foreignness alone. Which is too bad. They're just going to have to learn.