4.05.2012

Random catch-all post, and a bit about the trials of textbooks.

A general kind of update, I guess.

I have spent the evening making a yogurt topping for baked potatoes with the parsley and chives I've been growing, as well as basil pesto (since my basil plants have been getting out of control since the weather turned a bit) for dinner tomorrow night to repay Busan for reformatting my hard drive.... which I don't really need to do, since he's the one who really wants to do it. Using my computer drives him up a wall, and he muttered something about not being able to watch basketball while he's at my house. At any rate, I like to cook, and I'm excited that the plants are getting to the point where I can actually make use of them.

I've got a new little kitten entering the teenager phase, running around and making havoc of absolutely everything. The mood swings are incredible, but most of the time she just follows me around and needs to always be touching me, like a dog. Which is difficult to handle at times. She also ate my phone charger, and constantly knocks over plants and drags dust bunnies out from places I don't even know about. Her absolute favorite activity is making an obstacle course out of my hanging clothes, starting from one end and winding her way down through all of the hangers, knocking 65% of the clothes down every single time she does it. She also fell in the toilet last week. Her name is Vera.

I also had my first meeting with the "English club" today. God bless this whole situation. They're older, and they've got their mind set about the way things should be, and my attitude has been pretty dumps, since I basically got strong-armed into this in the first place. They decided they would choose the time and the book, and have been doing things my pride finds testing all week, like reminding me to review the book before I teach them, and constantly reminding me about the class. Once I got a copy of the book, I basically gave up for a minute. It's one of those terrible "practical English! super fun!" pieces of shit that does absolutely nothing for people on their low level. Before you know how to say, "I was born in Korea," you do not need to be learning about how to talk about pulling pranks.

Beyond that, the book taught absolutely zero grammar, had everything in Korean translation, and featured more than a few incorrectly used or worded expressions. Which I knew was going to be a problem, because it was going to be difficult to convince the teachers of that, given that the book is allegedly co-written by a native speaker. But let me explain something to you:

Even a native speaker comes out with bizarre English, when what they're faced with is translating Korean text into English, while also being shoehorned into using a certain number of expressions per very short dialogue or paragraph. It comes out weird. It comes out weird even when someone asks me how to say something in English by giving me the Korean, because translation is hard and awkward, and a lot of things just cannot translate equally.

Which is why it's better to work with a book that has no translation. So that you can get a natural feel for the language, without trying to equate it exactly with something in your native tongue. Because there rarely is an exact equation, and shit will always come out weird when you do that. Because of my situation here in Korea, which has meant a lot of natural exposure to Korean and learning from context, there are a lot of things, for example, that I understand exactly in Korean. But I couldn't put them into English for you very well. That, in my opinion, is the best way to learn. Once you're to the point where you are able.

Also, I'm pretty old school, and just completely bypassing grammar when you're at such a low level is a big problem for me. If you want to be able to speak, getting grammar patterns down is essential, because each grammar pattern you learn becomes a tool. One grammar pattern unlocks an entire level of speech. One expression...... suits one particular situation, which you may never have the chance to even address in English, if you don't know any grammar.

So I was feeling pretty antsy about the whole thing. I was foreseeing a situation where they wouldn't want to change the book, because they've been told this book is "practical English" (which to me is just a huge red flag, when it comes to language learning in general -- it generally means "short cuts which won't really get you anywhere, but are awfully tempting"), and then when I have to teach the book and can't bring myself to not point out that a lot of the English is being used incorrectly, a. it's going to be really difficult to explain why to people who don't understand much English to begin with and b. they're not going to want to accept that. Because, after all, a native speaker co-wrote the fucking book. So it must be right.

There are a lot of things I can just ignore and swallow and deal with gracefully. Being argued with about by my native language by people who don't really speak it is not one of them, especially when it's my job to know these things.

But luckily, it didn't come to that. I was able to convince them pretty quickly that the book was too difficult for them, and that the alternative I brought in would be much more effective in the end. I demonstrated how I would be able to teach each one, and they realized that, since the expression book has everything in translation, and very few writing or speaking exercises, there's really no point in me "teaching" it to them. But my book is chock full of both writing and speaking, with an emphasis on conversation and a focus on just one or two grammar patterns per chapter. Once I did a quick run through, they decided it might be better to go with mine.

And I didn't even have to get into the right/wrong English debate. Which was a relief.

In short, as with everything I initially buck against with my job, I will probably end up enjoying this class. Teaching adults is a different world entirely from teaching kids, and I do really miss it from time to time.

One more small, but curious thing: Today, as I was sitting at the coffee shop working on a chapter in my Korean book, a kid leaned over and said, "Are you studying Korean?" I thought it was pretty obvious that I was, but I guess it was as good an opening as any. He's 24 Korean age, and just returned from a year in the Philippines. He's about to graduate and go into the "international management" field, whatever that means. Naturally, he was pretty excited to find a foreigner in his local coffee shop. He suggested that we could help each other study, and I politely informed him that, actually, I already have a partner. He said, well then, I know this is a little impolite, but maybe we could be friends. I told him I would run that past my boyfriend. Not because I actually need to run anything past my boyfriend, but just to make him aware of the situation. Just in case.

The thing is, it confused me a little to hear him call it "impolite". Now, when I did run it past Busan later this evening, just to keep everything out on the table, Busan immediately bugged out. Partially, I'm sure, because some guy is chatting his girlfriend up in a coffee shop, but oddly, his response was that this guy saying he wanted to be my friend "at first glance" means that he's a rude person. Or, to be more precise, "He must be a jerk." Which is a word he's recently acquired from yours truly. You can imagine how.

I don't know. That one is new to me, but I thought it was strange that they both said saying you want to be friends the first time you meet someone is impolite. I asked Busan to explain, not because I was trying to push his buttons, but because there must be something behind this that I'm not aware of yet. He stopped answering my messages at that point, though. Haha. Guess I'll have to wait until tomorrow for clarification. If anyone has any insight, please feel free to share.

9 comments:

TLP said...

Interesting. I’ve always been content with just lurking and reading quietly (I love your reading your posts! thanks for writing :D). But…I’m a sucker for language acquisition and translation related topics, so I had to chime in.

I’ve always felt that once I developed a semi-decent grasp of the grammatical structure and syntax, the next step to fluency was developing what I’d call an “instinctive ear” for what looks or sounds right. I used to drive my friends crazy in Spanish class with my inability to explain why choice C was the correct answer beyond my weak response of “it just…sounds right?” Haha.

To be honest, the only way I’ve been able to develop an instinctive ear in Spanish or Korean was by plowing through an entire short story, article, or novel (without using a dictionary!) and just get into the flow of reading and absorbing the natural feel of the language. Translating is difficult to do well (impossible?), even when done thoughtfully. And I’m quite sure that whoever writes “Super fun! Practical English!” books doesn’t spend ages agonizing over the best way to translate a set of phrases.

Plus, using translated examples to learn a language limits the ability to pick up proper context, which is crucial once you get past the basics. Even something as simple as 안녕 can be hard to translate. Do you teach someone that 안녕 = Hi or Hello? When do you use which one? It gets a lot harder when you start diving into stuff like “Your dress is beautiful/cute!” versus “Your dog is beautiful/cute!” Clearly, there are cases when beautiful and cute are used fairly interchangeably. But clearly, there are cases where that is not appropriate. “Your dog is beautiful” is not technically incorrect and I’m sure it’s been used before at, say, a dog show, but it has a very specific meaning. If you watch enough TV or read enough books with casual dialogue though, it becomes easier (I think) to pick up on the social nuances of using individual words. But just from a translated phrase book? Not really.

Maybe the key is that once you move past translated phrases, you can focus on finding the right combination of words to express yourself, rather than driving yourself batty trying to mentally scroll through a list of stock phrases looking for the correct analog for what you’re trying to say (which is often not actually correct at all anyways).

TLP said...

Woops. After posting, I realized that was an embarrassingly long comment. I guess I got carried away – sorry!

P.S. I don’t know about the jerk issue, but I tried to imagine what my reaction would be to the situation. If I was sitting in a coffee shop in, say, Noho? My first reaction would be “Oh cool, I’m making new friends!” nbd.

If I was sitting in a coffee shop in K-town? My first reaction would be “Uh…who are you? Why are you talking to me? Do I know you? Do we have mutual friends?” And I’d probably just be polite but very distant.

That’s not really an explanation to your question, but maybe it gives you a little insight. I think it might be that people find it uncomfortable to meet someone new, unless you’re introduced to them by a mutual friend. But I could be wrong. I’m curious though! I hope more people chime in on this!

Katherine Koba said...

I find translation, when possible, incredibly helpful. Assuming a good translation it's efficient, it's clear, and it frees up your time to work on more difficult things.

Once you hit a certain level of language acquisition you shouldn't rely on it so much, sure, but for beginners I never really understood the translation hate.

Re: friends: to me, someone isn't a friend until I've known then for a few months and we're both demonstrably interested in each other's opinions, well-being, and spending time with each other. I would not call anyone I just met at a cafe a "friend" in the language I use in my head. Maybe as a social shorthand, since it sounds better than "this person I know," but for me it would be a dishonest use of the word.

I wouldn't use the word "impolite" in that situation, though. Maybe "inappropriate" (in "wrong word," non-sexual sense) or "awkward," but not "impolite." But...I'm not Korean.

HL said...

It sounds like you thought more about the pros and cons of translated EFL texts than I have, so all I'll say to that is, "I know, right?"

As for the "jerk" scenario, wow there could be roughly eighty-four different reasons for what that meant.

Just from the coffee shop boy's perspective, he may have called it "impolite" because he meant to say "forward" or "aggressive". Maybe the English speakers in the Philippines call it "impolite"? Because being forward or aggressive could be considered impolite in many circumstances. I don't know. Maybe he really just wanted an "English buddy" and the fact that you turned him down the first time led him to say "impolite" because he was implying, "Well, I'm going to disregard what you said and slightly reword my original question in hopes you'll say yes this time." He was re-branding himself before you eyes. I don't know.

And from Busan's perspective, oh gosh, who knows. Maybe there is a Korean guy code out there. Maybe that guy code is regionally/ socioeconomically/ generationally/ personal-dogmatically distinct. Maybe it's not. Maybe coffee shop guy is stuck in this Brave New Limbo of having experienced another culture and wanting to incorporate its best parts with another who may be familiar with the culture (Because if you're fluent in English, regardless of the type of English, there's still some cultural commonality because English itself is cultural. I'm speaking from my own perspective because when I speak in Korean, as you said in the post, I also think in Korean, which has all those nuances of Korean culture wrapped up in it. Same with English, or so I assume. My English-thoughts are not my Korean-thoughts.). Maybe Busan is thinking in the traditional Korean guy code. I don't know. I DON'T KNOW. Poor guys. Poor you. What a mindfuck to try to understand it all.

Or maybe I'm thinking too much into it and coffee shop guy was being a forward ass.

Thanks for the post! Sorry for the inconclusive comment.

I'm no Picasso said...

TLP -- No reason to apologize for long comments, whatsoever. I agree completely with what you've said. I recently had a friend who's just started studying in the last few months ask me about how 준비하다 is used. She was getting really frustrated with me, because she was giving me examples from her text like preparing to get a car, or preparing to get a girlfriend. And I was trying to explain that 준비하다 can be used basically for anything that's a process that you have started, but haven't finished. I was using the English examples "prepare", "get ready" and "planning to", but when she plugged those into the English in the same way, it was, of course, coming out weird. She was struggling with why you would say something like that in Korean, because in English is bizarre. And I was struggling to explain it. Because it just doesn't match up. And there's no way to really make it match up.

I'm no Picasso said...

Katherine -- I think the thing for me is that if you can't reasonably grasp a text without translation (with the exception of key vocab words and grammar patterns, which the text should introduce), then you're not really working at your level. If you're studying alone, obviously you might run into some issues. But when you have a teacher, there's no reason to use texts with translation. Your teacher should be able to explain everything to you, so long as you are working on a text that matches your level.

I just think that when translation is relied on too heavily, that's when you get these bizarre instances of really awkward English. When something is translated as one key phrase in yoru native language, you will inevitably try to use that phrase in the exact same way you would use its translation in your native language. But that almost never works. So I think it's better to just stick with trying to understand things in context. But everybody has their own preferences and learning styles. I just hate to teach with translation, because the students will often get stuck on clinging to the translation and how you wouldn't use it that way in their native language, rather than allowing you to *teach* them how to use it.

As for the coffee shop guy, he didn't actually say we *were* friends. He said he hoped he could be my friend. Which is probably a bit disingenuous, but not so much that I would call it impolite!

I'm no Picasso said...

HL -- The reason why it stuck out to me is because, although Busan did call him a jerk, he specified all on his own that asking someone to become friends the first time you see them is "totally impolite".

I think TLP is on to something with that theory about the cultural connotation. In the US, it's not so bizarre to meet people out in public, but in Korea, you general don't do things like that. Even if the intention was just friendship. But I tend to give a little more leeway than Busan may be used to, because I am a foreigner, and Koreans do often work over their reservations to approach me, because it's kind of a rare opportunity, especially out here where I live. So I try to get the benefit of the doubt.

At any rate, Busan really has very little room to talk. I met him in a club, and less than ten minutes later, he was asking for my phone number. So. If this coffee shop kid was a jerk, then what does that make him?

Katherine Koba said...

As for the coffee shop guy, he didn't actually say we *were* friends. He said he hoped he could be my friend. Which is probably a bit disingenuous, but not so much that I would call it impolite!

Oh, yeah, I did understand that (my comment did not indicate that kind of understanding though, I see the confusion). I guess what I meant to say was: "I think he meant, "Hey, I know we don't really know each other well but let's be friends, but I know the word 'friends' can be loaded so I'm going to preface my suggestion by admitting that I know it's 'impolite.'" "

If that makes any goddamn sense at all.

Also: re: language: there are still words that are so basic and so easy to translate that if it comes to someone trying to explain to me in the target language for 20 minutes, or me spending about thirty seconds with a dictionary, I'm going to have a clear preference. (And then follow up with someone to make sure it's a good translation, of course.) At least until my language has hit a certain level of usefulness.

I'm reminded very much of Quine and his indeterminacy of translation in all of this. Gavagai.

Adeel said...

What's the name of the book that you're using?