I have a weak spot for young boys. I just love their gung-ho energy. I really really do. I've mentioned my colleague Mohamed's three sons before. The oldest, Yousef, will be starting school soon (in March), and he'll be plunked right into fourth grade with zero Korean. Sound fun? Right. So now I'm intensively tutoring him in Korean.
After two solid lessons of perhaps an hour each he's most of the way to reading phonetically, and his retention is very high, so he's also speaking a few sentence structures with his limited vocabulary.
Give me milk.
I don't have milk.
Give me water.
I want to play.
I want to eat.
I am an Egyptian.
He appealed to me to go to a school supply store. Like an idjit, even though I'm busy, I say "Do you want to go to Seoul tomorrow?"
Yousef and I went to Seoul today. We watched ice skaters at Lotte World's ice rink, had a donut with my former student Heehyun, had french fries at Lotteria, and spent way more than he had been given to bring with him at the stationery store (and I got several pens, some twine, some wall hangers, a new notebook, etc.).
When we got home I learned that Yousef's access to my house (not even just the trip to Seoul) had caused intense jealousy in the household. Apparently someone has made going to my house sound a lot more fun than just a study session.
Everyday except Sunday the boys came over-- first on Monday all three came just to spend time in my house. This would have been a lot more welcome if I had not already translated for the family at the clinic and at the cell phone store. I really have a lot to do to get ready for next semester. So when the boys all came over (and made a mess because Achmed eyed by pomegranate with such lust I finally had to give in and give them pomegranate which they managed to get everywhere)(by the way, pomegranates at this time of year in Korea are pretty expensive!) the last thing I expected was that they'd be back an hour later (I never had time to eat dinner) for a Korean lesson, this time with Omar in tow, claiming to be interested in learning, too. Achmed also followed along, promising to be very quiet. They brought popcorn with them. This (unsurprisingly) ended up allover the floor so that I had to clean my floor again.
Tuesday Omar was back, but Wednesday Omar came but did not study, while Yousef and I were able to concentrate again. Yousef is almost reading from memory (except seldom used vowels), and today's conversations were:
Do you want to drink milk?
Yes, I do.
Do you want to drink beer?
No, I don't.
Do you want to eat pork?
No, I don't.
Do you want to eat watermelon?
Yes, I do.
I don't like pork.
I like cabbage.
Do you have water?
No, I don't.
Do you have beef?
Yes, I do.
He has a vocabulary of about 25 foods and drinks, and I'm working hard with him to memorize everything to do with pork, because his mom vented to me one day about how "Koreans put pork in everything" -- which is not true, and it's always clearly marked, but if you cannot read Korean...
Yousef has also mastered a variety of other useful words and phrases, such as "where are you going?" with "I am going to---" and about 15 options of where he is going (city names, school, the dentist, the hospital, the market, home, etc.). He can say he forgot if I ask him something, but I forgot to review "I don't know." He can say he's hot, he's cold, etc. I really want to take him to go practice. I did take him briefly the other day to practice in the Korean snack shop/cheap restaurant (분식), but his brothers came, so then he didn't practice much and most of the time was spent trying to teach all three to use chopsticks, instead of practicing Korean. Incidentally they were closed-minded about trying anything, although eventually Yousef decided he could eat 라볶이 (big fat rice noodles and ramen noodles cooked in a spicy and somewhat sweet sauce), I had to order 공기밥 (plain rice) and fried eggs (not on the menu) for them! Only Yousef would even try 참치김밥 (tuna kimbap) (햄 배고 without ham), although he couldn't get a whole one to his mouth, so I don't think he ever knew what it should really taste like.
Yousef has continued to study everyday. He's 10 and doesn't feel the urgency of the approaching school year, because he's in massive denial that the kids (I told them they all learned English since 3rd grade and some even earlier) will be able to speak to him in English and that the teacher will be able to speak. Having him memorize "Where is the toilet?" turned into a big argument (he's very smart and articulate in English) about how everyone had to at least know words like toilet in English. That is not true, of course, and this area we live in doesn't have a bunch of good jobs (aside from here at the university), so the kids in the school are kids of lower class families that have not been pushed in extra after-school classes. They haven't gone to all English pre-schools. Even the professors (the Korean professors) live somewhere like 분당 (Bundang, a popular up-scale Seoul bedroom community 45 minutes by bus from here) or 잠실 (Jamshil area of Seoul, the corner of Seoul closest to here) because they want their kids in better schools than this one. So Yousef's classmates are not going to be kids of the elites with all the advantages that can bring. This is not to say that kids of farmers can't be incredibly smart, this is to say that Korean housewives in 강남 (Gangnam, south of the river in Seoul) spend their entire lives on pushing their kids to excel academically, rather than working. This amount of stress makes Korean kids unhappy, but it means they have high test scores.
I worried that Yousef's dad didn't have a realistic idea about the English in the school, and that he was passing this onto Yousef (Yousef said something that made me think that) but I went to talk to Mohamed who told me a story of another co-worker's son being so traumatized by a teacher yelling at him in Korean (she told him to do something, he didn't understand, she kept telling him, he kept not understanding, she started yelling) that he refused to ever go back to the school. Right in front of me Mohamed told Yousef to stop complaining to me about having to learn so many languages (in his old school he was learning French and German as well as Arabic and English), and that he had to concentrate on Korean right now. Mohamed clearly understands the school environment will be almost all Korean, and he's definitely worried about adjustment, but Yousef is about as handsome as any kid his age can be. His personality is great, and he's very smart. So I think he should be okay, as long as he can follow basic instructions (that's what we drilled last night-- open your book, close your book, sit down, stand up, get ready, start, stop), apologize, say he doesn't understand, ask for help, say he forgot, bow appropriately (we've been working on that), and so on. We'll have one more lesson, then I'm off to do field research for 1.5 weeks.