Thursday, 22 October 2009

Losing it in translation

I get it now.

I completely understand how people who don't speak English feel, when surrounded by loud, obnoxious English-speakers, who are oblivious to being in the presence of those who don't understand a word they're saying.

Everyday at lunch-time, I sit at a table full of Korean teachers. Women who use the hour to vent, laugh, gossip and chat... in Korean. I have eaten with them every day since I started working at this school. Initially, it was difficult for me to ignore the banter. And because I didn't understand it, all I heard was loud noise as I ate my lunch.

This week, something happened. As I sat in my regular spot at the lunch table and ate my kimchi, I noticed that I'd drifted off into my own world. I no longer heard the teachers chatting in Korean. It was silent (in my head, at least). I quickly realized that the chatter had all along been some kind of white noise... that I'd become used to. So much so that I didn't hear Mrs. K ask me a question about my weekend plans.

I have quickly come to understand how lost non-English speakers must feel, when surrounded by these words almost everywhere. At least this is me, in Seoul. I know I can go back to Canada or to other English-speaking countries and be just fine.

At lunch, after I snapped back into reality, I quickly counted my blessings for having English as my first language... and for the ability to drown out the white noise.


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1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU for this great entry. I thought I was the only one. Whenever I sat with other teachers, I was in my own world because I couldn't understand a single word they were saying, which earned me a reputation for being unsociable. Only the English head co-teacher seems to understand what was going on.

    (This is also why I'm considering going to Hong Kong during my vacation time -- not only to visit some relatives who I haven't seen for a while, but also to get some relief in a place where I actually speak and understand the language, albeit only with 75% fluency.)

    I've been meaning to write a blog entry about how we, as English speakers, tend to take our language for granted. I did a Shanghai layover en route to Seoul from Vancouver and noticed just how important English is in the world.


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