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Why It Is Important to Teach Language

You haven’t seen me here for a few days. There was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t have a computer. My computer died, and I didn’t have any money to buy a new one, and then, money showed up in my bank account, so I bought another computer. My daughter kept telling me not to bother blogging any more, but I am here doing it again. When I give language lessons, I don’t insist that I get paid, and I know that is why payments come late or not at all, but I am more of a linguist, a teacher, and a missionary than I am a businesswoman. I give a lot of language lessons away for free because I know there are many people who actually really need them. A good example is a Mexican lady who lives in America complained to me one day that there were workmen who came to her house, and she had gotten frustrated because she needed to communicate with them, but she couldn’t. To try to solve the problem, she tried calling her husband at work because he speaks English. However, when she called, an English speaker answered the phone, and she couldn’t get them to understand that she needed to talk to her husband. When she picked her kids up at school, the teacher wanted to talk to her, but she couldn’t understand. She had had an extremely bad day, and that is when we began English lessons. Not everyone has the same kinds of problems that lady was having, but everyone needs to communicate. Here are some more stories where knowing the language made a difference.

She couldn’t get any where on the phone because she didn’t speak enough English, and she became frustrated.

When I first got to Korea, we caught the bus everywhere we went because we were in a town that didn’t have a subway and I didn’t have a car. Catching the bus in Korea is different from catching the bus in America. Everyone uses public transportation, and it is safe in Korea. There is not a lot of dirty graffiti on the walls and the people aren’t rough like when I rode the subway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in America. You don’ t have to be afraid of anyone mugging you. However, knowing the language really helps. There is a place at the front of the bus as you get on where you pay. We always used cash and just dropped it in the box. Later, they came up with transportation cards, and now they swipe the transportation cards and you no longer have to carry cash. However, we would drop our money in the box as we got on the bus. My daughter was in sixth grade, and she was almost as tall as I am. She was the same size or taller than many Korean women. To the Koreans, she looked like she was 24 years old, but she was 12. The bus driver was charging her the same amount of money to ride the bus as he was charging me. A Korean friend went with us one day, and she saw how much money my daughter dropped in the box, and she corrected her. The bus driver had just assumed my daughter was about 24 years old, and she was charging her the adult fair, but the child’s fair was about a third of the price of an adult’s fair, and she was supposed to be paying the child’s fair. This underscored to me just how important it was that I continue to study Korean because had that bus driver and I been able to communicate better, I wouldn’t have been paying all that extra money for my daughter’s bus fair that I had been paying. My Korean friend explained to the bus driver that there had been a mistake and my daughter was not as old as he thought, and my daughter began paying the right amount.

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When we first got to Korea, there was so much we didn’t understand. Whenever you go to a foreign country, it is just that way. If you speak the language, it becomes much easier. At one point, before we could speak Korea, so it was in the first year, we rode a bus to Seoul to go to church, and then we figured out how to get down into the subway and take it to the neighborhood where the church was. However, when we got to that neighborhood, we were several blocks from where the church was, and we didn’t know how to get to the church from there. I had learned to read the Korean letters, but I couldn’t speak Korean yet. We couldn’t ask for directions. We didn’t understand even how things were arranged. It wasn’t really that hard to get to where the church met, but we wandered around and around through buildings that made no sense to us. We had the name of the place the church met, and if we asked someone, no one knew what we were talking about. We were lost for hours and missed church. Finally, we ran into someone who spoke English, and she helped us find a bus to take home. We could only take the bus to start with because a Korean friend had told us which one to ride. We were actually pretty lucky that the subway was easy, but when we got out of the subway, we had no idea what we were doing. Had I been able to speak Korean, I could have gotten us where we were supposed to be instead of wandering around for hours and then just going home. Language study is so important!!

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In Korea, all the students must study English at school, but very few of them actually learn to speak English. The Koreans, however, understand how important it is to be able to speak foreign languages, especially English. They know that people don’t learn to speak Korean. If you want a good job in Korea, you must pass an English test. The parents are always doing things to try to help their kids learn to speak English. One of my Korean students who was studying English told me a story of what his parents did because they wanted him to speak English. They came home one day when he was just in elementary school and told him to get ready because they were going to send him to New Zealand, but he nor they spoke no English at all. The next day, he was on the plane headed for New Zealand. He went to live with a preacher’s family in Australia. His family nor he were Christians. He was completely depressed when he got there because he couldn’t speak a word of English, and the people he was staying with could speak no Korean. In fact, there were no Koreans around anywhere, and he felt completely alienated. He spent most of his time alone crying. The people were kind, and he eventually learned to speak to them, but there was still a lot he didn’t understand. He went to church with them and really enjoyed the church, but there was so much he didn’t understand about Christianity. When he came home, his parents were satisfied because he had learned to speak English. He liked church and wanted to continue, but he had no idea about churches, so he didn’t go to any church. However, as a university student, he decided to go to Korea Christian University because it had the Christian name on it. That is where I met him in one of my classes, and he asked me if I could help him with English and Christianity. I was attending a bi-lingual church, so I invited him to church, and he was thrilled to death!! He became a Christian. He still attends that church, and when he graduated from the university, he became one of the very few English speaking realtors in Seoul. All the other realtors have his phone number and call him if a foreigner comes into their office. His dad guaranteed him a good job and he learned about Christianity that give him a lot of comfort and happiness, but trying to get there was a nightmare for him. His parents knew how important it was for him to speak English.

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When I lived in Texas, I taught ESL, English as a Second Language, at a small school. There were numerous kids from Mexico in that school. None of their parents spoke English. None of the teachers except me, the bi-lingual kindergarten teacher, and another ESL teacher spoke Spanish. The teachers who couldn’t speak Spanish felt at a loss when they needed to talk to the Mexican parents. They used to grab me and ask me to stay with them after school when the parents came to pick their kids up because she needed to talk to the Spanish speaking parents, and I had to act as a translator. It wasn’t part of my job, but I helped anyway because I understood how important the communication between a teacher and the parents are.

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When I was in high school, I took a school trip to Mexico with the foreign language club. The students were studying both Spanish and French. For some reason, I was the only one actually speaking Spanish, probably because I always played with language. I think language is fun. We were buying souvenirs to take home from our trip. I was having fun because someone had told me the Mexicans could be jewed down, and I had learned how to do it and was getting really good prices. There was a man selling beautiful shawls in front of the Cathedral de Guadalupe. I bought myself a beautiful lace shawl. One of the girls saw it and asked me where I bought it, so I took her back to the cart where the man had all the lace shawls. She tried to buy one. He refused to sell her one, then he said to me in Spanish, “You can buy one, but she can’t.” She was using me as a translator. He didn’t want to sell a shawl to anyone who couldn’t speak Spanish. When you speak someone’s language, you get their heart. If you don’t speak their language, it is like you don’t really care, and it causes them to not really care.

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I could just continue with stories like this. When I was studying to be a missionary, they told me that I needed to at least study the language of the people. They called our first language, our heart language. If you want to help someone understand anything, if you don’t explain it in their first language, it still puts a barrier between you and them. I am currently working on a Spanish speaking ministry in Oklahoma City. When the people I am teaching Spanish come to the Spanish Bible classes and try, the Spanish speakers are enchanted!! Even if they don’t speak Spanish yet, they are happy because someone wants to speak to them in Spanish. Yesterday, a little Mexican American boy began quizzing me about Korean asking me to write his name and how to say different things in Korean, and he was working hard at learning whatever I said to him. For him, it was a fun game. When my Korean son in law heard about the little boy, I could tell his heart was warmed. Even if you aren’t fluent in a language, just showing interest in it encourages the native speakers of that language. It means you care. You also get personal benefits from speaking in foreign languages. If I had spoken more Korean in the beginning when I first moved to Korea, it would have saved me a lot of money and frustration. In certain places in America, if you speak both English and Spanish, they will hire you for a job before they hire someone who only speaks English. I learned when I was in Korea that the American Department of Defense had a job that paid $100,000 a year for an American who could speak Korean. There are many, many rewards that come from language, so don’t give it up, and I will try to help people as much as I can with my bogs and language lessons.

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