498th post – Last day as English language teacher

Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting). 

Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …



My wife has three birthdays. Although the Gregorian calendar was adopted in Korea in 1896, people continued to use the traditional Korean lunar calendar for everyday purposes. So, her family marked her birthday as 196>년 6월 28일 (using the Gregorian year but the traditional month and day). But her grandfather or father didn’t register her birthday, or indeed the birthdays of any of her older sisters, until her first younger brother was born, and then he managed to get two of those dates wrong. Her oldest and third sisters, and her older younger brother, have the correct date, but her second sister has the wrong year and she has the wrong year and day. Her youngest brother, who was registered separately after he was born, has the the wrong month and day.

She said that this happened all the time in those days, and many people have official dates of birth one to three years away from their real one. It is possible to apply to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages or a court to have one’s official date of birth changed, but with the cost and effort, very few people bother. So, her official date of birth is one year earlier, on another day in June (but her lunar calendar birthday never falls in June anyway).

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I go – 아이고

A few days ago we were out and about in the car when the traffic light turned to orange while we were an inconvenient distance from the intersection. My wife, who was driving, had to make a very quick decision to brake or continue through the intersection at the last moment. She said, in second-language-speaker English, ‘I go’ and continued through. Or she might have said, in first-language-speaker Korean ‘아이고!’ (approximately the same pronunciation), which my students dictionary of Korean translates as ‘oh, oops, my goodness’. Both would be perfectly reasonable things for her to say in the context. I asked her which meaning she’d meant, and she said the English one. In fact the Korean meaning hadn’t occurred to her until I mentioned it. Soon after, she was talking to someone else in Korean and said ‘아이고!’ for real.

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“I used to play soccer”

I have just completed the Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA). My last practice teaching lesson was on the grammar points of used to V, [get] used to V-ing and [be] used to V-ing. There’s a lot more about those grammar points and about how I presented them in the lesson, but I’ll stick to one point, not immediately related to language.

Towards the end of the lesson, in order to bring the grammar points out of the textbook into real life, I showed a photo of me aged 13, in a soccer uniform and holding two trophies (won by the team), and also a real-life smaller trophy (awarded to me, more about which later), and said “I used to play soccer”. I prompted questions: where, when etc. I then got them to talk to each other starting with the sentence patterns “In my country, I used to/didn’t use to …” and “When I first came to Australia, I wasn’t used to …”.

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Maxim Mocha Gold Mild Coffee Mix

(Prescript: After I posted this, WordPress kindly informed me of this related post)

A product which is ubiquitous in Korea and among the Korean community in Australia is Maxim Mocha Gold Mild Coffee Mix (맥심 모카 골드 마일드 커피 믹스, mak-shim mo-ka gol-deu ma-il-deu keo-pi mik-seu), a long, narrow sachet of coffee powder, milk powder and sugar or sweetener. It is notable that this product uses six ‘English’ (or at least non-Korean) words in a row. I put ‘English’ in inverted commas because four of them are, in turn, loanwords into English.

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What has four wheels and flies?

As I left the house this morning a recycling truck went past, which was slightly strange because it’s not rubbish/recycling day, but anyway, the old riddle popped into my head:
Q – What has four wheels and flies?
A – A rubbish truck.

This riddle is based on the linguistic quirk that in English, some words can function as nouns and verbs and that plural nouns and present tense 3sg verbs both add ‘s’ to the base.

Most people, on hearing the riddle, process:
What (VP has four wheels) and (VP flies)? (An aeroplane?)

The punchline depends on the interpretation:
What has (NP four wheels) and (NP flies)?

I spent intermittent parts of the day trying to figure out why most people would process the first version, and failed.

Recently (? earlier this week/last week) a student asked me what the difference between rubbish and garbage is. In my usage, at least, rubbish is smaller than garbage – I could say to students ‘Take your rubbish with you’, but I probably wouldn’t say ‘Take your garbage with you’ (unless they’d been very messy, or had done a very, very bad job on the lesson worksheet).

“I go Parramatta”

On Monday I caught my usual train and sat in my usual seat, which is the window seat of a three-seater (Sydney trains have three seats on one side of the aisle and two on the other). A few stations along, a woman, clearly from a non-English speaking background, got on and sat in the aisle seat. At the next station a man got on and hovered in the aisle next to her. Train travellers’ etiquette says that the person in the aisle seat either moves to the middle seat, or stands up to let the newcomer past. Some people state where they are going and/or ask where the other is going, so the first off can sit in the aisle seat. The woman said to the man “I go Parramatta”. I didn’t hear what he said, but she stood up to let him past, so presumably he was going further than that. I then fell asleep.

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Telling time

English has two ways of telling time: five past (hour), ten past, (a) quarter past etc and (hour) oh-five, ten, fifteen etc. Other languages only use the hour:minute method, in various ways. For example, Korean uses ‘yol shi ship bun’ for (10 hours, 10 minutes). (Korean has two numbering systems – one is used with hours and the other with minutes; it’s a long story.)

In last week’s weekly test, the listening test was an interview with the chimpanzee researcher Dr Jane Goodall (or more likely an actress playing her). A questioner asks her what a typical day in Africa is for her. She starts: ‘I get up at quarter to seven’. The students had to write down the time, and there was an extraordinary range of answers. I’m currently teaching upper-intermediate. I know that ‘telling time’ is covered at lower levels, the upper-intermediate book doesn’t say anything about it, and I’ve never thought to mention it.

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