South Korea / Teaching

Laughter in any language

If you know me in real life, you know I love to laugh. Some people would probably admit in private that they wish I didn’t laugh quite so often — or so loudly. But there are some days in my office when I wish I could laugh more. I sometimes see or hear something funny and wish that I could explain the joke without needing to use so many nuances of language and translation that the moment loses its spontaneity.

But that’s not to say funny things don’t happen at school. Actually, they often happen at my school. Some recent moments that had me laughing:

When in doubt, gesture

Students sometimes raise their hand to ask me permission to go to the bathroom or get water. Some students ask for the bathroom or toilet, and some just say “hwajangsil,” which is bathroom in Korean. One student walked over to me during an activity, said “hwajangsil,” and then, just for good measure, mimed peeing to me. I yelled “yes, go, go” as I practically pushed him out the door and tried to stop myself from laughing. Later I told my co-teacher who got a look of shock on her face as she said “Oh my god!”

 Its own food group

I played a game with my students during which rows of five people had to speak English in a line. I would give them a topic, such as vegetable, and each student has to say a word in that category quickly and in a line. If they repeat or take too long, their row loses and the next row gets a shot. Also, sometimes the kids are going so fast that someone says an answer in Korean, which usually makes everyone laugh. The students were having a fun time playing the game, and they were having trouble with the vegetable category. “Tomato,” “carrot,” “cucumber,” “kimchi!” Kimchi? “Well kimchi isn’t really a vegetable,” I explained. “It is made from vegetables, like radish or cabbage. But it’s like saying salad is a vegetable.” The kids understood, and we continued with the next row who also had trouble. Finally on our final row, we got to the final student, who proudly yelled “kimchi!” Practically the entire class and I erupted into laughter as the shell-shocked student sat in utter confusion, obviously having not understood my previous explanation. And kimchi is practically its own food group here, so I guess I can understand his despair.

In a classroom of boys…

Same game, same students. Topic: items of clothing. “Shirt,” “pants,” “socks,” “underwear,” “br——!” The class erupts into laughter and the student who said the word in question covers his face in embarrassment, hiding from me. I’m still standing with a look of confusion on my face trying to figure out what he said. I assume he has spoken in Korean since I haven’t understood what he said yet the students have. “What did he say?” I ask the students nearby, as I try to replay the word and make sense of it. “Bra—-”

“Uh, women’s underwear,” the student replies. Ah, of course, brassiere! Not the funniest thing ever, but in a classroom of 30 middle school boys and seeing their reaction, it’s pretty funny. I join in the laughter with the students and award the point to the team, which ends up winning the game.


3 thoughts on “Laughter in any language

  1. The peeing gesture is really funny….so glad to hear that you’re doing your fair share of laughing! and anybody, anywhere, that doesn’t like your laughing can go sit in a room and be silent 🙂

  2. I don’t know, Alli. I don’t really remember hearing you laugh much when I was around, and I certainly don’t remember you being loud.

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