I am very excited to announce on this blog that I was awarded a Fulbright grant to be an English teaching assistant in South Korea starting in the fall! I will be off to Korea in July for the orientation before being assigned to the school where I will teach. I am elated, but also overwhelmed and of course nervous. In fact, I even started worrying after being accepted that I wouldn’t like teaching once I got to the school. I hadn’t been worried about that at all during the application process, but my brain needs to have something to worry about. (Other people with this issue, I think you will know exactly what I’m talking about.) So once my brain no longer had to worry about whether or not I would even receive the grant, it started to worry about whether or not I would like teaching English in Korea. I hadn’t had a tutoring or teaching job in a while, what if I had changed? What if I no longer had the patience, the skills, or even the desire to teach?
In reality, these worries were completely nonsensical. I was forgetting that I had been teaching all semester long, just as a volunteer rather than an employee. In fact, I taught Korean once a week for 10 weeks to other students at OU through the Korean Conversation Club (KCC) on campus. Initially, I hadn’t even intended to do this. I would be the first to tell you that I am not fluent; there’s still a lot I don’t know about Korean yet. Even when I can tell you whether something is grammatically correct, I can’t always tell you whether it is natural or something a native would say. As a result, I was very apprehensive about assuming any kind of position of authority as a teacher, even if it was for a club and not an official course. But the students who had previously taught the beginner-level class at KCC had both graduated, and it seemed like the president of the club was going to have to somehow manage being president and teaching the beginner class by herself. So, I offered to teach.
And volunteering at KCC reminded me that I love teaching! The last time I had actually worked as a teacher was in high school, when I taught Hebrew to elementary school students preparing for their b’nai mitzvot (bar or bat mitzvah). I have worked as a tutor multiple times since then, tutoring English essay writing skills to Korean university students, tutoring French to OU students, and tutoring math and reading to elementary and middle school students at Kumon. It had been about two years since I had done any tutoring or teaching work when I started volunteering at KCC, but I found I still enjoyed it as much as I used to. I especially enjoy teaching languages, because foreign languages and linguistics have always been an interest of mine–I even considered majoring or minoring in linguistics at one point. I enjoy teaching English as a second language as well. Even though English is my native language, ESL still feels like teaching a foreign language because for the student, it is foreign.
So many things about language and linguistics are fascinating: The very different ways that languages develop to communicate similar ideas, concepts, and emotions. The subtle nuances that can be conveyed in the smallest pieces of one language, but require a lengthy explanation in another language, which can often times frustrate speakers grasping at words in a foreign language. The complex relationship between language and culture, the ways that they both influence and reinforce each other. The still-controversial Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or theory of linguistic relativity, the idea that the structure of one’s language affects how a speaker perceives the world around them.
I don’t expect all language learners to be as taken with these ideas as I am (read: not everyone is a language nerd like you, Sara). Plenty of people are learning languages not because of these grand ideas, but simply because its practical. A lot of people have no choice: they are required to learn a foreign language whether they want to or not. But I love the moments when I am teaching a language and the student suddenly gets it, or when they remember a vocabulary word and feel proud of themselves. I love it when students make connections between concepts, or start exploring the differences between their native language and their target language–even if it is in the form of a (good-natured) complaint because it makes learning more difficult. And secretly, I usually like it when students need to review because they didn’t quite get something or forgot it, because I get to re-explain this stuff that I am so interested in. Suffice to say, yes, I’m so nervous to teach ESL in Korea, but I also can’t wait.