Tag Archives: language


When one spends everyday at school with students who still don’t know how to ask to use the bathroom or employ the past tense of ‘go’, it is sometimes easy to forget that these kids are actually pretty smart. Today I was reminded of their intelligence, though, when they tried to tell me a joke and I was the reh-tard who couldn’t understand because I only know nine words in Korean.

First, they were trying to get me to agree that I know what “stwaaaws” is. I insisted that I do not, in fact, have any clue in the freakin world what “stwaaaws”, and so they reenacted a great battle scene with swords and head chopping. I thought, okay “stwaaaws” is “swords”. They were happy I had identified their miming as weapon-wielding, but then indicated that “stwaaaws” is a movie.

…Sword in the Stone???


I don’t know what finally gave it away after four more minutes of their desperate attempts to inform me, but someone must have muttered “Skywalker” or “Han Solo” or something, so I eventually hollered, “STAR WARS!!! YES I KNOW STAR WARS! YES! I AM AMERICAN DAMN IT,” and everyone was excited and I was relieved that the game was over.

But it wasn’t. There was another battle reenactment, this time with lightsabers, obviously, and mad lightsaber sound effects.

Girl Student: Chawwohhhhngngng!

Boy Student: Teacher! Chwwwwooongngngg!

Girl Student: Teacher, what color rightsaber?

Me: Err…um…green? And…red? And…blue? Maybe?

Them: No teacher!

Me (more defensive confident): Um, yeah-huh guys.

Them: No! Rightsaber oranchee! HAHAHA!  Chwwoongngng Chwwoongng 주황!! 주황!! HAHAHA!

I stood there completely bewildered (what the hell is so hilarious?) while my coteacher laughed and asked, “Do you get it?” I scowled and waited for the explanation. (This conversation had been going on for like 9 minutes).

주황 is ‘orange’ in Korean. And it is also phonetically pronounced “choohwang”. Thus, “rightsabers are oranchee”.

Clever. Clever indeed.

Passion for Pashion

Korea is obsessed with fashion (known here as “pashion”). There’s an entire Style Channel devoted to America’s Next Top Model, Korea’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, Korean Project Runway. Like fashion itself, Korea is all about Western imitation. Which is why clothes with “English” words scrawled all over them are especially popular.

As a native English speaker walking around Korea or chillin’ in your classroom, you see a lot of this:

Courtesy of Amanda M.

Shirts with English (sometimes Konglish). The English is invariably mispelled, misused, and/or completely misunderstood. Sometimes the English is all correct, but the idea is totally bizarre (see above). Most of the time it’s really funny stuff. Occasionally it’s offensive, but the person wearing it doesn’t actually know what they’re wearing, so it’s still comical.

Lately I’ve been trying to keep a record of these crazyass shirts. It’s challenging though because you can’t very well take a picture. The whole ‘must save face’ thing would come into play if you suggested to a Korean that their English shirt was wronginteresting enough to document; they’d melt into a big mortified puddle. So instead I’ve tried to write a few down and recapture them for your viewing pleasure via Microsoft Paint. Continue reading

Fun with 공책

The Wanderlust Diary has a slight obsession with these crazy English notebooks (공책) in Korea. Last week we found one that may take the silly cake.

Before we delve into a good old fashioned WTF?! Analysis, we’d like to invite you to study this notebook cover and see if you can find 7-15 things that are wrong with it. (7-15 because there are at LEAST 7 but could be more depending on your definition of ‘wrong’).

How many did you find? Continue reading

Imma Set It Straight, This Watergate

My coteacher is undermining me. This is not Euna, the tiny, terrifying ball of badassery, but someone we will refer to as B. What you need to know about B: he had never taught a day in his life prior to mid-March, nor does he speak English. Likes: picking lint off his suit. Dislikes: Me.

I cannot figure out why we were paired together to teach young children English when we can’t even communicate with each other. (I reserve the right to punch the balls off the authority figures responsible.) In our first week of teaching together, I tried a few questions to get him to open up.

Me: So did you always want to be an English teacher?

B: No.

Me: Ha. Um.

B: <scowling at sidewalk> I have no skills. I am English teacher.

I then tried to decide if this comment was directed at me. He is Korean (thus, incapable of sarcasm or direct insults), so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. However, now that we’re over a month into the semester it is increasingly clear that B’s entire purpose is to undermine my every move and push me toward a psychological break. At first I chocked these incidents up to the language barrier, than to simple stupidity. But the trouble is too persistent…his attitude too sinister…he is here to destroy me.

Continue reading

Shitty Teacher

One of my 5th grade vocab words this week is “city”, which seems pretty benign right? Except that in the Korean language the sound “see/si” does not exist. When an “s” or “x” or soft “c” sound is followed by a short “i” or a long “e”  sound, they automatically throw an “h” in the middle. Seat is sheet. Mexico is Mek-shee-ko. Can you see where this is going?

<Begin today’s  Bingo game.>

Student #1: Towah.


Student #2: Pickauneek.


Student #3: Shitty.

Me: <pause> What?

Student #3: Shiiittttty.

Me: <pause longer> Wh-shi—ah! CITY.

Guys, it’s really hard not to laugh at this. Like really, really hard. And it’s even harder when you remember the South Park City Wok Guy. I should feel bad about this (I once heard that South Park can be slightly offensive??), but I’m an asshole so I don’t. Also, I shouldn’t laugh at my students, but I’m a shitty teacher so I do.

Update: Englishee

Remember this: Englishee? Erin’s awesome analysis of the comicality that is the Korean English Notebook?

B) Something must be smiling. Not a person. Photoshop as necessary

I’ve scared up a few more notebooks to add to the collection. Continue reading

Silent Treatment

fuck yeah!

Megan and I trotted up to Seoul this weekend with a group of friends to see a concert, and, pressed for time, we took the train there and back instead of the luxury bus we are accustomed to. (It is not really very luxurious.) Pumped for the show and prowling the train for beers, we 6 Americans had a tough time keeping it quiet and together. Even on the ride back to Gwangju we were restless and talkative. We are barbaric in our need to express emotion with our mouths.

You see, public transportation in Korea is a halcyon sanctuary, cathedral-quiet and peaceful, where everyone reads the newspaper and scowls at the philistines’ gaping maws. Maws are not for using. It is most difficult to treat  transit as one might treat a library, given that things like this happen on the trains, planes and buses of my homeland:


No surprise then that we were shushed by the train staff over a wild game of Hearts. And that we immediately took offense to said shushing, as it’s a  TRAIN and we weren’t even being THAT loud. So we got sarcastic instead of quiet. Because duh, we weren’t even being LOUD, Korea! GOD! Like you’re so perfect!

Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice that our British friend (who tagged along with us on the way home) did not receive the same treatment as the Americans. He was being very British nearby, listening to Karl Pilkington podcasts and chortling to himself; no shushing required. Also, not a single Korean was hushed, not even the wailing babies. (We took it upon ourselves to berate the babies, sarcastically.)

So the only conclusions I can draw are: A) we are as loud and horrible as the world thinks, or B) we are victims of racial profiling. Occam-ing suggests inclining toward the prior hypothesis. We Americans in question made noise with our faces and didn’t take kindly to polite suggestions to stop. Guilty of all charges in that Google search bar picture. Worse, we are the jackassiest jackasses about it, because when confronted about our volume, we respond with more and greater volume.  To our credit, we’re only trying to have a good time. But doing so in the vicinity of dour ajummas and businessmen is strictly verboten.