There is an English teacher in my school (let’s call him Mr. Bae) who is a bit odd. The more comfortable he becomes around me, the weirder he gets. Despite the fact that I try to make it abundantly clear that he makes me uncomfortable and that I just don’t like him, he shows up in my office more and more each week.
Mr. Bae speaks very little English. In fact, his English level is much lower than most of his students – and he teaches the lowest level of students. Anything beyond “good morning” is a mighty struggle for him. This wouldn’t be an issue for me were it not for the fact that we coteach five classes together and he is too proud to let any of the other teachers translate for him when he talks to me. The result is an endless stream of awkward half-ass conversations during which he pauses for a long time between each word, usually saying things that make absolutely no sense. All the while, he gets way too close to my face and stares into my eyes – as if breaking eye contact might give me a chance to escape.
This morning, Mr. Bae showed up in my office. As usual, he pulled a chair up to my desk and moved entirely too close to me. He leaned in so close that I could feel his breath on the side of my face. “Wirriam……… you………. speak………. today……… testing………. grades………. two.” This means ‘William, don’t forget that you are giving my 2nd grade class a speaking test today.” I nodded and told him that I understood. He began to say it again, so I got louder “YES….I UNDERSTAND.” He began to tell me a third time, so I told him in Korean than I understand. That seemed to satisfy him.
After we finish talking, he usually sits and stares at me for a minute or two, as if there’s something else he wants to discuss. I’ve learned to totally ignore this. I always put my earphones in and pretend to listen to music until he leaves. But it didn’t work today. After a solid 60 seconds of awkward staring, he tapped me on the shoulder. “Wirriam……….. you………. me……….. are………… translate………… computering.” Uhhhh…what the hell?
I told him in Korean that I don’t understand. He tried again, but saying the same thing louder didn’t get the ball rolling. Finally, he grabbed my computer mouse and opened a web browser. He said “translate”. Ok, I think I understand now. He wants me to open Google Translate, so I did. Instead of asking me to move, he leans over me (placing his shoulder against my chest) and begins typing in Korean.
The translated phrases don’t make any sense. I realized quickly that he wasn’t trying to communicate with me. I finally understood what he was doing when he pulled the final exam for his class out of his bag. He was using Google Translate to determine the correct answer for “fill in the blank” exercises. The problem is that Google Translate is terrible for that type of thing. The answers included “exploratory learning exporlations” and “to learn about museum walking”. No wonder these kids can’t speak English!
I tried once to let him know that the phrases make absolutely no sense – especially when inserted into a sentence. He said, “oh yes very good!” So I gave up. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is anything I can do to help these kids.
Until next time.