Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Say What?

One important aspect of English-language education that often gets overlooked is, I believe, pronunciation. I have met many students of English who are, for the most part, quite fluent, even able to get through a master's program in an English-speaking university, but who constantly struggle to make themselves understood to native-English speakers. This is true not only of students, but of professors in universities, as well. Not only is it frustrating for both speaker and listener, but, it may also make the non-native speakers question their language abilities and doubt themselves.

I think the problem is easily solved, but it requires explicit instruction. The vast majority of students are not able to pick up the correct pronunciation by simply listening and emulating a native speaker. In addition, in all languages, there are specific aspects of an ESL student's first language that cause difficulty when learning English, and these must be acknowledged and understood.
Here are a few common pronunciation problems for Korean speakers when they are learning English, because I'm too lazy to write them all out myself.

One of the most important differences between English and many languages is that it is a stress-timed language, as opposed to a syllable-timed language (such as French and Japanese). Syllable-timed languages give equal weight to each syllable in a word, whereas English (and German, Russian, and Mandarin) are stressed-timed languages, in which certain syllables and certain content words (such as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs) must be stressed. Alongside the stress, of course, must be taught the unstress (the schwa - the most common sound in the English language). English teachers need to focus on word and sentence stress/unstress patterns (which I am not going to define or describe further, since voluminous amounts of information exist already on the topic, and there is no need for me to repeat it here). Just know that as a teacher, you need to be aware of it, and of the addition interference or difficulties that your students may have based on their first language.

Teaching American English Pronunciation, by Peter Avery and Susan Erlich, is a book I would not teach without.

And here are some techniques for teaching pronunciation.

Here's yet another good site to get you started.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Top 50 Blogs for Teaching Abroad

Well, somehow or another, we made it to a list of Top 50 Teaching Abroad blogs. Some of the blogs listed are particularly worthy, so check them out!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why? I write to remind myself.

So why would I start blogging about Korea when we are still here in Canada and our plans to move to South Korea are more than seven months away?

One reason is because traveling, nay, relocating to the other ends of the earth, is (insert appropriate adjective plus exclamatory punctuation here) enough when done alone or as a couple, but it is a different game entirely when preparing to move as a familial unit: dad, mom, son (age 7 at departure time), and daughter (three and a half at DT). There are all the regular preparations to be done when moving overseas (immunizations, passports, visas, insurance, other assorted important documents, etc., not to mention the luggage), but it is now X4. Blogging on this topic is a good way keep a record of our family's preparations for our big adventure.

This leads to another question: why are we going to Korea, anyway? South Korea's a crazy place, with even crazier neighbours. The air is bad. Sometimes, people's habits and behaviours or beliefs range from bewildering to absolutely infuriating and unjust. Our family and friends are all here in town with us, for the most part. We live in a good neighborhood, generally safe, close to conveniences. I have a pretty decent job that I quite like; I never dread going to work, I like the people I work with, I like my actual work (teaching English for Academic Prep at a university), with a good pension and benefits plan. The air is clean. We don't have a lot of money, but we're able to afford not having to pay for daycare so that Matthew can stay at home with the kids, namely just Roo, since Bo is in school all day. (The benefits of being able to afford having a stay at home parent with kids when they're young is invaluable... a topic I'll cover at a later date). We have a Subaru station wagon (white, not too flashy, especially in this neighborhood!), and we live in a cul-de-sac with little traffic. We rent in a neighborhood where we could never even begin to imagine being able to afford to buy a home, a quieter area with winding, unnecessary roads.

Yet, as the years pass, we realize we're settling, albeit uncomfortably so, into a life that neither one of us had dreamed was for us. We're realizing that our grand dreams of travel, of exploration and adventure, of education for our children, are going to pass if we continue to just settle for our present life. We continue to feel itchy and restless because we've seemed to have done exactly that, settled into the suburbs, and into a life that neither of us dreamed for ourselves.

Life seems good. It is good! But perhaps the biggest reason we want to leave this life is because we live among people from a culture with values and beliefs, in many cases, in opposition to our own. The vast majority of the upper-middle class who surround us, and, it seems, our entire culture, value money or the evidence of that money by way of a variety of possessions, instead of time with their children. Actual time spent with their children, as opposed to the time spent working in order to provide iPods, or other devices for distracting their kids' attention from the real world. Time spent teaching their children how to be disciplined and hard-working, positive and well-behaved people who know how to interact with others in the world. To impart upon their children an appreciation for the things they appreciate by spending time doing these things with them... cooking, music, art, sports, gardening, etc.

I am referring to the people who work so desperately hard to fit an image in order to garner the respect and admiration of others around them (by flaunting an existence of wealth by owning a certain amount of property, owning more than one car, outfitting their kids with the proper accountrements of a "Jersey Shore"-obsessed youth - just watch South Park's "It's a Jersey Thing" for their own unmistakable commentary - and so on and on and on...), instead of the respect and admiration of their husband/wife and children.

It would be naive, if not downright stupid, to think that "moving up the ladder" is not present in Korea. In fact, "keeping up with the Kims" is fiercer than the North American "Joneses." So why move us all to Korea? Because the fact remains that we are not Korean, and we will never fit there. We have no desire nor expectation of fitting into Korean society and keeping up with it. We do, on the other hand, feel intense pressure to fit in and keep up with the society and larger culture to which we belong now. And it really doesn't sit well with us.

If we don't prepare now, we will probably never go. We might stay in the suburbs where life is good enough, and we'll settle into becoming the type of people we swore we never would when we first decided upon spending the rest of our lives together.

There are other reasons why we've chosen Korea, such as being able to get quite a good job, and being able to save money, and being able to live overseas with our children, but the biggest is to live our dreams and make them come true. The first step is Korea, and then who knows where?! Possibly living in Israel, or learning how to do organic farming, or studying French in Montreal. And, or course, settling, when we are ready (in maybe 4-5 years, when Bo would be about eleven and Roo eight), into a house in a place (likely in Canada) that we can afford, where we can work at something we love, and where we are surrounded by a community with whom we feel a sense of belonging and solidarity. We might very well have chickens. We would need to have a large garden.

So to answer the original question - why blog? - I write in order to remind myself of keeping to our dreams and not settling, and to maintain an account of the process.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's that time of the month...

...when I feel about ready to explode from stress. For the past week and a half, we've had Hanukkah and Roo's third birthday, both of which have necessitated lots of visiting with extended family (...), and my "Lady Grammar" performance, which went over well at the Language Centre's final party.

Now it's time to gear up for my mother's hasty second marriage. Well, not hasty in that she and my father have been happily divorced since 2000 (for a sum total of 20 years if you count their initial, therapy-inducing ten). I mean hasty in the sense that she and her husband-to-be, Helmut, (yes, that is his name!) have been courting since July of this year. Although they used to know each other in the early 1980s (they used to be couples friends during the drop-off years of disintegrating first marriages), and although there was some "attraction" there, nothing happened, then divorce, then his subsequent marriage, etc, etc.... Anyway, she's blissfully in love, and I'm happy for her.

I had thought that Celine Dion might be involved in this celebration, and by gum, she be! Mom will surprise Helmut with a song ("Then You Looked at Me"), which she'll sing and I'll play on acoustic guitar. It's a pretty huge step for her to actually stand in front of people to perform in this way, so I think it's pretty cool. I don't even care that it's Celine Dion! Bo and Roo and I have also been practicing a song that they'll be singing, and which I'll play, "Hinneh ma Tov." That's exactly how we sound. And look.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm not such a grinch...most of the time...

Though I don't subscribe to the theology touted in Handel's masterpiece, this video still made my heart grow three sizes today! Stunning! You can find out more about Random Acts of Culture here.

Then my cynical side notes the irony of the fact that this great piece of music is being performed in what may be our own culture's hall of worship.

A Recipe for the Holidays

It never ceases to amaze me at how responsibilities, tasks, important events that require preparation and foresight, and illness all seem to occur so often at precisely the same moment, creating stress and anxiety and general ill-will among all those affected. Nowhere is this pattern more prevalent than during this time of seasonal expectations.

I can once again count myself as a victim of the phenomenon described above. Here's my recipe:

Take a cup of your daughter's third birthday party preparations and mix it with the final grammar tests and essays you must have finished marking within the next 48 hours. Don't forget those final report cards that need to be finished on Monday, either! Throw in the rehearsal time for your "Lady Grammar" act you'll be performing tomorrow night at the Language Centre's final party (you know, the one you signed up for at the beginning of November, when birthdays, finals, and holidays were but a faint speck on winter's horizon). Don't forget to fold in the errands necessary for that performance, such as hunting for an electric guitar, high-hat and kick drum when you own none of those instruments and don't know many people who do. In a pan, heat the oil necessary to fry all your Hanukkah preparations (cooking, decorating, practicing songs for your son's Hebrew class, finding and wrapping gifts, preparing a culturally-sensitive lesson for the grade one goyim in your son's class). Add a generous cup of consideration and thoughtfulness towards your husband (which, truth be told, can be especially hard to come by over the holiday season). Measure out 3 tablespoons of flu and cold-like symptoms, and divide them equally among your husband, son, and daughter, but don't add them at the same time: add them in intervals of several days, so that you can maximize the length of time that their illnesses last. Add a dash (OK, make that two or three dashes) of stress related to extended family and their expectations. Stir well, and allow the mixture to ferment in a warm, moist place until your mother's second marriage in a week and a half (the one in which you are expected to play a significant musical role, for which you have not even begun thinking about yet, let alone preparing - you just know that it might involve a Celine Dion song, which makes you exceedingly uncomfortable), and then voila! La piece de resistance! Serve with a stiff drink, or, better yet, several.

Happy Holidays, everyone!!! 건배!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Same-Sex Marriage Debate in Class

For the past 2 years, I have taught English at a Canadian university. Over this time, I have taught hundreds of students, most of whom are Chinese. Among them, though, there have also been a few dozen from other countries, mostly from Saudi Arabia, but also a few from Latin America, Korea, Japan, and a few from Iraq (via Jordan). Now, I figure, simply because of the law of averages, I have had a few students who are gay.

One activity I do most every term in my class (after a few weeks, so that we have had time to develop a good rapport with each other) is a same-sex marriage "debate." I do this for a few reasons:
1) Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada, and people from other countries who are living here should know our stand on it
2) Some of the students I've had are undoubtedly gay, but are generally from countries that either a) don't acknowledge homosexuality as even existing, or b) don't acknowledge homosexuality as even existing, but if it does, it is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or death (mainly the "Koran Corset" countries, as opposed to the Bible Belt - although homosexuality is certainly most alive and kicking in Saudi Arabia).
3) It's good for students to cultivate empathy for others' points of view that they don't necessarily share, and finally,
4) it allows students to practice expressions for stating opinions and disagreeing.

So how do I do this activity? First, I tell the students a story about my best and oldest friend, whose wedding I attended a few years ago. The kicker at the end of the story is that instead of a bride and a groom, the wedding featured a bride and a bride. I let the news sink in for a moment, and observe the reactions, which range from "Wow, cool!," to general ambivalence, to disgust. Then I ask them for their opinions - for or against. Almost without fail, it seems, the students schooled in either Christianity (Korean, Latin American) and Islam are wholeheartedly opposed to the idea. The Chinese, (and Japanese, to a lesser extent) generally range from enthusiastic support to overall ambivalence. (In my class of 14 Chinese students this term, for instance, I had only one student opposed to the idea, and he is nearly 10 years older than the rest of the class - I don't know if age has anything to do with it at all, but I think a little while ago, there was a celebrity drag queen in China that drew some attention to the issue). Then, based on their opinions, I divide them into 2 equal groups (this works better is there is about a 50/50 split of opinion, but usually, because of the Chinese influence, it ends up being about 80% in favour of the idea). The students who are opposed are in one group, with the pro-same-sex group in another. I give them some vocabulary (homosexual, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian) and then I then tell them they are going to have a debate... but they have to argue in favour of the opinion they don't actually have. So, in groups, they brainstorm reasons to support their arguments. Overhearing the brainstorming session the other day was particularly charming - this from a student struggling to find reasons to oppose it:

Student (making a triangular motion with hands): It's wrong for people who go to that place...ahhh...ummm.... (struggling for the word)... CHURCH! In that book... (lengthy pause)...

Student B: Oh, yes, I know... ummm... book, ahhh.... b,b... BEEBLE!!

Student A: Yes, BEEBLE!!

(By the way, what made this encounter even more charming was that there was no trace of irony).

So, after their brainstorming session, they pair up with someone of the opposing team, and argue their viewpoints - the person in favour generally comes out the winner.

After the debate, we talk a bit more, and I tell them my reasons for doing the activity; mainly, to understand that being gay doesn't make you an abomination, and that one of our rights as Canadians (and something to be proud of on the world stage, to be sure) is the right to marry the person we love, regardless of gender. The students are generally very interested and motivated, and will ask many questions.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Trot Rock!

I remember the first time I heard trot music: riding home in a taxi after having been in Korea for only a short while (2 or 3 weeks, I think), when the taxi driver suddenly cranked the volume on the radio and started belting out the lyrics to the song in the most beautiful baritone, complete with vibrato reminiscent of the great Jewish cantors of old. I had not yet heard this music, though it immediately caught my ear, especially the sound of the accordion.

For years, I didn't know the name or the style of this music, though I could immediately identify its distinctive 2/4 beat when I heard it. To me, there is something in the melodies and the chord progressions that reminds me of klezmer, though I know these genres are not at all related. Indeed, after poking around a bit on the Internet, I discovered this music was called trot (트로트), after the foxtrot, and was hugely popular in Korea pre-1960s. It gradually declined in popularity throughout the following decades, though it has become more popular again in the past few years, especially due to modern K-pop artists who are getting back to an earlier sound. Check out Ask a Korean for much more info on this music.

A few videos to introduce you to the phenomenon of trot...

The video below is a song by Lee Meeja, and the song is called Lady Camellia (동백아가씨) – ostensibly one of the more popular trot songs. Thanks again to Ask a Korean for this one.

Jang Yun-Jeong, a young "semi-trot" artist, had another popular trot hit a few years ago, called 어머나! ("Oh my goodness!"). She is interesting because her music has succeeded in introducing a younger generation to this music, which is generally more popular among an older demographic.

And finally, a post on K-pop could never be considered complete without mention of Super Junior. Here is "Rokuko," from their 2008 Japanese release (the single was released the year before in Korea). The one below features the Japanese comedy duo, Moeyan. Other than that, I have absolutely no idea what's going on here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

축하 해요, Ms. Mini!!!

Congrats to the beautiful "lady-boy" Ms. Mini from Korea for winning the Miss International Queen 2010 Competition in Thailand! Thanks to The Prestige for this one!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Drunken Tiger

When I was in Korea in 2005, I was fortunate enough to stumble across some pretty decent Korean hip hop. Drunken Tiger was a group I listened to quite a bit, although the vast majority of the lyrics were unintelligible to me. I read up a bit on the group, found out that it was largely fronted by Tiger JK, a Korean-American artist who strives for mutual understanding between Koreans and blacks in the US, and who recently (and secretly) wed a Korean-(black) American artist Tasha Reid (Yoon Mi Rae). All of the above is pretty much a preamble for the real purpose of this post... the tres cool Drunken Tiger video below, which features Reid aka Yoon aka Gemini. Check it out!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Korean Government

I love it when they do this! ... but I really don't understand. From the caption for the last photo: "Observers of Korean politics say the nation's lawmakers would rather fight than switch votes. Says Andy Jackson, a political columnist for the Korea Times, 'The attitude is that if you're not fighting, you're not trying.'"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Bartering, bargaining, haggling, negotiating... whatever you want to call it, it makes me exceedingly nervous, especially in a situation where I don't actually speak the language I'm bartering in. I'm afraid I'll come across as either being ignorant or unfair, or else I'll worry that I'm getting ripped off.

For the most part, Canadians are really no good at this skill. With a few notable exceptions (namely my friend Maighan, who can secure amazing deals from pretty much anyone - "just ask for a deal," she says, when asked for advice, "just ask - lots of people will give you one!"), the thought of negotiating for an item leaves me tense and fearful.

Fortunately, I recently ran across this post from the Globe and Mail. It's focused on bartering in Beijing, but I think a lot of these skills are transferable from one country to another.

A List of Blogs I'll Read Someday

The link below is more of a bookmark for me than anyone else, seeing as how (right now, at least) I'm the only one who ever looks at this blog. At some point in the future, when I have time, I'll make a point of reading through some of these other Korea-related blogs, written by the other 50% of the population. Thanks, Chris in South Korea for this one!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Countdown to Korea

Matthew and I have made up our minds - Korea, we're coming back! We'll be there before September 1st of 2011.

During our time away from Korea, a lot has changed, as I explored in the previous post. Not all has been negative - a lot of good has happened, too. Specifically, the birth of our daughter, and the fact that when I return to Korea, I will have acquired significantly more experience as a professional English instructor. Added to that is the likely chance that I will be able to take a year to two years leave of absence from teaching at the U of S without losing my permanent status as a university employee! (I love my union!) Another bonus is that there is now a Jewish presence in Korea (Chabad, I knew you'd make it there sooner or later!).

Thus, the countdown has begun, and we are beginning the preparations to relocate our family halfway around the world in less than a year. When we return next fall, our son will be seven and our daughter will be three and a half - still young enough to be able to pick up a second language rather quickly!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Resurrection of Kimchi-Lovin' Canucks

After more than a few years, I have decided to disinter this blog from its graveyard, if only in order to provide the anonymous world of the internet with my musings on anything that catches my interest. For the most part, I'll try to keep it Korea-related, although the connection may seem tenuous at best, if not entirely non-existent on other occasions.

The exhumation of Kimchi Lovin' Canucks, reborn with a new moniker, "Will Kill for Kalbi", is mostly a result of more than three years, three years of repatriation to Canada. Back here, Korea seems but a faint memory, distantly fading, becoming ever-more irrelevant and imbued with a dream-like quality of "did it ever even really happen?"

We spent eighteen months living in one of the many satellite cities that surround Seoul. To this day, if I close my eyes and think hard enough, I can recall the faces of the shopkeepers lining the street where we used to live, where we passed by daily, but these memories become fainter day by day, month by month. The smells, the tastes, and the sounds fade with time. Our friends here have long ago started to roll their eyes and share glances with each other when either Matt or I begin any sentence with, "Didja know that in Korea...".

Since we have been back, much has changed, as much tends to do when given the time and opportunity. We returned to Canada in the early spring of 2007 with our nearly-three year old little boy and the unwavering intention of heading back to Korea in the fall of the same year. But such was not to be at that time. Shortly after Matt and I spent a wild and wonderful two weeks in Europe that spring, we realized that we were to become parents for a second time around. With no jobs, no home and a brand-new baby on the way, we tried to find a new path in the whirlwind of change, exuberant joy and bitter disappointment.

It has been hard. It has been very hard.

People who have suffered from culture shock often claim that the worst part is the return to their home country. If they have been able to live abroad successfully and have been able to find a place for themselves in the new country, the return can be shattering. Such was our situation.

Newly-pregnant, having just returned to Canada from our own lives in Korea, and suddenly surrounded by the suffocating good-will and unexpected expectations of our extended family caused some major psychological fallout and ruptures in the fabric of our family. We very nearly didn't make it this far together. Many times over the past three years we have nearly given up on ourselves and our dreams for our own kind of life.

I could never say I would do it differently, though, because I think, all in all, it will make us stronger in the end. And, most importantly, we have been blessed with a healthy, beautiful, amazing daughter, who will be three in December of this year.

And she loves bibimbap (sans gochuchang, of course).