The odd mixture of my educational background and future goals often causes people to misunderstand what exactly I want to do with my life.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics Education and I’m currently working on a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics/TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). When people ask me what I want to do after I graduate, I usually mention that I want to go work as a teacher in Korea.
A surprising number of people respond to that by asking, “Do you want to teach math there or English?” To me it seems obvious that my plans are to teach English, but I suppose it’s understandable that my undergraduate degree could confuse them. I always laugh off the question by explaining that I want to teach English there, and that even if I wanted to teach math, I’m not fluent enough in Korean to comfortably discuss mathematical ideas.
Or am I?
Several weeks ago, one of my newfound Korean friends called me up, saying that he had heard that my major was mathematics and asking me to help him study for his math test the following week. I agreed and met him at a study room, where he was preparing for his Calculus 2 test, and his roommate was studying for a Calculus 1 test. I spent the next several hours alternating between studying for my own classes and helping answer their questions as they worked through problems on their online study guides.
We started out communicating almost purely in English, but as the day wore on, they began asking me more and more questions in Korean.
Calculus questions. In Korean.
If you had asked me if I could have a conversation about calculus in Korean, I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of the thought. I’ve never studied anything math-related in Korean.
Despite this, I was mostly able to understand all of the questions they were throwing at me. Part of the reason I was able to understand what they were saying was because words like pi, sine, cosine, and tangent are all the same in Korean as they are in English. Also, since they were pointing to different parts of the problem and graphs while they asked the questions, I was able to use that context to piece together what they were asking.
I also managed to figure out how fractions worked in Korean by listening to their questions. 3/4 would be read as “4분의 3”, literally “out of 4 parts, 3”. It was a great mental eureka moment, and I think Korean fractions will now forever be engrained in my brain.
To be fair, I always answered their questions in English, so there technically wasn’t any actual “teaching Calculus in Korean.” My main goal was trying to explain the mathematics to them, and I didn’t need any of my bumbling in Korean to get in the way of their understanding me, especially in a topic where my Korean vocabulary is limited. It made for a very interesting one-way Korean, one-way English conversation.
I’m taking this as a lesson to never underestimate myself. I understood Calculus questions in Korean! Who knows what else I can understand?
I guess the next step is for me to figure out how to respond to these situations in Korean as well, which relates to my goals for this semester: speaking, speaking, and more speaking practice!