I think I have an inkling of what it’s like to be illiterate. My days are managed by making common sense connections (oh, that sign must say “stop” since there’s a city bus barrelling at me. Oooh, that one says “restaurant” – see the pictures of shrimp on the sign?!) But it’s an illiteracy having once been able to read, you see. It’s kind of like when the power goes off during a winter storm in Maine. I still walk room to room and flick on the lightswitch, with genuine surprise the light doesn’t come on. When you’re reading Korean, the lights don’t come on either, but I keep expecting them to.
So I’m thinking about my students and how difficult it must be for those who either A.) hardly understand English – for there are a few; from India, from China or B.) still translate the language in their heads, as in, it’s still not automatic to think/answer/write in English. Oh my. Their reading lists include classic American Literature (consider the colloquialisms of Huck Finn!), Shakespeare and Chekov, to name a few. I think I may have planned for more than I can accomplish. Or hey, maybe not. I’m in Korea, for crying out loud, I’ve accomplished more than I ever planned. Maybe these kids can, too.
Guy is picking up the language like a child. He’s already speaking to the cafeteria staff, albeit in broken sentences. He’ll say “thank you. breakfast,” in Korean, with a bow. The ladies delight at this giant smiling American. “Oh, yes, breakfast. Wow!” It’s been 7 days, it’s still a challenge for me – not only to pick up Korean, but to understand a Korean when he/she speaks English. The same lady, our cafeteria manager, actually, was trying to figure out if we were supposed to be there at all, and I swear she was saying “tomatowi?” I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Try again.” She repeated “tomatowi?” This went on with me getting flustered, her turning bright red, both of us smiling and trying really hard. Guy walks over “yes, dormitory! We live here.” Sigh.
This, by the way, has all happened here on campus or down the street at the mall. We haven’t had time to venture out into the ‘real’ Korea, but I saw an open market yesterday that I’m dying to get to. I saw peaches the size of cantalopes. Yum! Stay tuned.