Is it true?

A 2nd year high school student was in one of my 1st year classes yesterday between periods, and he turned to me ans asked, “Is it true?  You REALLY can’t speak ANY Korean?”

“Yes.  It’s true,”  I replied.

Jane called us unicorns – people really can’t believe we exist sometimes.

This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.  Others dismiss this as laziness on my part.  They will tell you Korean is easy to learn.  Why, there are foreigners competing on t.v. all the time!  Yes.  There are:  young foreigners who do nothing but take Korean classes three hours a day  for two years straight…Me, I have to be on the ten year plan.


Between classes a second year boy who’d dropped out of my evening class because his father made him  (He didn’t do so well on a test I guess) and who is exceedingly smart, very good at English, and just an all around good guy, stopped by to settle an argument with his teacher over grammar.

Presented to me was the longest, most chewy, hard-to-follow, pedantic sentence I’d ever encountered.  And there was a word which it wasn’t clear if it was being used as an object or as part of an adverbial and I told him either way would work, depending on what your meaning was.  Okay.  So try to explain that to someone.  Okay.  So the instructor had told him it was an object and that it didn’t make sense the other way, but because the damned sentence was soooooo long and compounded, I couldn’t break it down for the kid.

It really pained me to have dropped a notch in his eyes, and I hope to run into him and explain:

I want to explain that a) we native speakers wouldn’t WRITE a sentence that complex and b) if it’s that hard to discern under a microscope, then we wouldn’t be concerned with it.  (The level of splitting hairs and near sadistic grammatical torture they put these kids through is almost abusive, in my opinion!)

I want to tell him that in all my years of college I never had to crunch grammar in so rigorous and taxing a manner.

I want to explain that the best Korean English teachers in my school may be good at breaking down examples like the preceding, but that when I am asked to edit exams and handouts, etc., I am always finding the teachers themselves don’t have a command of the most simple things like articles, prepositions, and pronouns.  I want to explain that the use of million dollar words while not having mastery over the basics only hurts them by using up valuable resources.

I want to explain that learning obscure vocabulary and untying the most mind-bending grammar imaginable doesn’t help them communicate with the world.  I want to explain that listening, comprehending, and being able to express oneself is more important.


I think Jane is disappointed I gave up on Korean.  Unlike her, though, I don’t have a family here that I need to NEED to communicate with.  I also don’t have a family here or anyone here that will bother to take a moment to mentor me.  I am also surrounded by people who a) are only concerned about improving their English or b) are freaked out by the prospect of talking with me in English.  And except for Y, nobody here is so excited about the western mind-set to want to get to know a westerner well enough to get any further understanding. (or they think they know it already)

Taking the subway and meeting for a lesson meant 1.5 hours travel each way.  That plus the actual lesson and eating dinner would eat up 5 to 6 hours of an evening.  So that was 3 nights a week, and then 2 nights a week, and then 1 night a week.  Working with TRACK and searching for my family meant there was no time for study, and it’s been a long time since I’ve studied and am very undisciplined and rusty.  Anyway, it was exhausting.

So it’s just pointless to expend that kind of energy unless there’s someone to communicate WITH.

I’m actually much happier now that I’ve set that aside.  I’ve got time on my hands, and can watch a movie now and then, which I learn much more from.


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