I screwed up while teaching third grade today. The Korean teacher stepped out of the room for a few minutes and I ran out of activities in the book, so I improvised. Since we were talking about birthdays, I decided to introduce some new vocab.
My mistake will probably jump out at native Korean speakers, but I completely missed it.
I find that the students enjoy teaching me Korean. Instead of just looking up the words I don’t know, I ask them to help me figure out the correct translation. For some reason, this energizes most classes. I think that it also gives them confidence to watch me struggle with Korean the way they do with English.
Today, I didn’t know the Korean word for candle. I found a picture of a birthday cake in the book, pointed to the candles, and they all began to say: “chot-bul” (촛불). To my ear, it sounded like “jot-bul” (좃불). This seemingly insignificant difference was anything but.
For the next minute or so, the kids giggled and pointed at the board. They recognized that I spelled the word wrong, but didn’t know how to communicate it to me.
When the teacher returned, she gasped and then began laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe. After she finally composed herself, she snapped a picture of the board and then told me that “dick fire” doesn’t really fit into our birthday theme for today. Oops….
Fortunately, she was a good sport about it and the kids weren’t old enough to grasp what had just happened. That’s why I’m writing this post from my work computer instead of the immigration office.
Until next time.