you speak english very well

The following is a translation of an actual conversation.

How long will it take?
Uh? Your pronunciation is really good! How long have you been in Korea?
Ten years.
Wow! Really good pronunciation! Say it again!
How long will it take?
Waaa. Really good!

There’s silence as I stare at her, trying to keep my feelings off my face. I live in another city and I just want to know when I can come back and pick up my damn blankets from the cleaners. It’s a full ten seconds before she gets it. We’ll send you a text message when it is ready.

I don’t get angry very often, so I decided to reflect on this situation a little. I was trying to get information, but the only feedback the lady was thinking about was linguistic. I was asking for content and getting unnecessary praise. I already know my pronunciation is decent because people tend to understand me. (Incidentally, today the same lady started hitting me because I didn’t understand her. #ohkorea). There are a couple things I take away from this situation.

1. Unrequested feedback is not always welcome. When I heard her say that my accent is really good, I only felt frustrated. I was thinking, Thanks, but can you please just answer the question?. I need to think about what kind of feedback I give in my classes during or after each activity and perhaps even ask students what kind of feedback (and delivery) they prefer.

2. It occurs to me that, as teachers, we have to listen to our students on multiple levels. If we only listen on a linguistic level then the student who is dancing at the door and learning how to say “May I use the restroom, please?” doesn’t care how good his pronunciation is. He isn’t listening to the lecture on restroom vs. bathroom vs. toilet and he will not remember the importance of article use.

Sometimes this occurs more subtly. When I’m having a conversation with my coworkers and one of them stops constantly to correct my Korean, it breaks my train of thought. I also tend to feel that they’re not really listening to what I’m saying, just how I’m saying it. They’d be missing any subtext as well. I wonder if my students sometimes feel that way.

“Teacher I didn’t do my homework because of the family vacation in Philippines.”
“Wow, Jinseop, your English got really good!” / “It’s the Philippines, Jinseop.”
“So what did you do in
the
Philippines?”
“Uh….. mumble mumble …”

Taking the opportunity to praise or correct sometimes means losing the opportunity to listen. Do I spend to much time fixing them so they’re understandable that I forget to listen to what they’re trying to say? Or equally importantly, to what they’re not saying?

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