How do you communicate with fellow teachers?

An assumption I made before I came to Korea was that everyone I worked with here would speak English, that’s not always true. The schools I’ve worked at have taught lots of subjects alongside English. At my last school there was me, two Korean English teachers and eight maths teachers who didn’t speak any English. At my current school we have a spectrum of teachers some of whom speak lots of English and some of whom don’t. I speak either mostly English, somewhere in the middle (Konglish?) or mostly Korean depending on who is there. I have a couple of thoughts on this, I’d be really interested in other peoples comments about this issue, it’s important to communicate well at school, but it’s also interesting to know what creates good environments for communication. If we know what makes a good environment, we can create one in our classrooms.

Firstly, things work really well; we get things done. Sometimes people have to say things a few times but everyone always understands what’s going on in the end. The thing to take from this is one doesn’t need that much of a language to make oneself understood. Actually, a lot of times I’ve been told something, not understood any of the words that have been said and still been able to figure out what’s going on from context and other clues without thinking too hard.

Secondly, my favourite conversations have been the ones that are exclusively in Korean. Two of the teachers there don’t speak much English but are my favourite people in school to make small talk with, both in terms of fun and practicing Korean . There are a few reasons I can think of

  1. They speak banmal to me. Banmal is an informal way of speaking Korean. It’s for friends, family and (sometimes) people younger than you and people who work for you. Apparently they maybe shouldn’t but kind of can. My boss always speaks formal jeondaemal to me so I think it’s kind of fun that they don’t. I speak jeondaemal back to them but it still just feels easier and more laid back than when I make conversation in with them. All jeondaemal seems a bit too serious for easy conversation.
  2. They chat about normal stuff. People often want to talk about England and cultural differences which is interesting, but talking about food, the weather, our weekends and so on is more fun and easier to talk about in Korean too. Sometimes talking can be a little bit ‘person from country A to person of country B’ instead of just ‘person to person’. I like ‘person to person’.
  3. Humour. It makes a huge difference. If(when) I make a mistake we laugh about it and correct it, it’s not a big deal. When I accidentally did speak banmal to them last week they  gave me a very over-the-top offended look (I was technically being really rude). It was the funniest moment of my day. I feel much less scared of making mistakes, and therefore feel more confident, when there is less pressure like this.

Obviously not all learners are the same but these might be things that are worth considering modelling in ESL classrooms. I’m going to try and learn more from what I like/dislike about communicating in and learning Korean and apply them to my teaching.

The Breathy Vowel has been doing a very interesting series of posts about his experiences learning Korean and what he’s learned from them, check out the most recent one here, and then spend ages browsing everything else there, it’s all good.