You think you are studying hard. You got an A grade in your English Conversation class. You listen to EBS Radio three times a week, and you try to read English newspapers, like this one, as often as you can.
And then one day on the street an American asks you how to get to E-Mart. You freeze. Your face turns white, and then pink. You can’t think of any words. You want to ask him to repeat the question, but you can’t remember how to ask that in English. You laugh a little, because you are too embarrassed to do anything else.
Maybe, if the American is very patient and asks you again, slowly, you can remember a few useful words. You remember “across from,” so you can tell him E-Mart is across from City Hall. But you can’t remember how to say “City Hall” in English! Or you can only use your hands to give directions, because you can’t remember how to say “Turn right.”
After this embarrassing moment, you are so frustrated. “What happened to me? I got an A in my English Conversation class last semester. But I can’t answer a simple question from an English speaker in a real situation. I’m a failure!”
Don’t worry. You’re not a failure, and your English study has not been a waste of time and money. You are just suffering from “stage fright,” like an actor who knows all his lines, but forgets them when he stands on stage and looks out at the audience. With repeated practice in real situations, this fear will go away, and you will be amazed at how much you can say to that American on the street.
I understand this “stage fright” very well. So do all of your native English teachers. We experience the same thing in our own lives. We English teachers living in Korea must try to function in our daily lives among people who usually don’t speak English. So when we are not too busy with our jobs, we study Korean. We take classes, or use Korean language textbooks or CDs. Some of us watch Korean dramas or documentaries to improve our listening skills. And of course we listen carefully to the Koreans speaking around us every day.
And then, in a restaurant, or at a store, when a waiter or salesman asks us a simple question in Korean, we freeze. We think we understand the question, and we know what we want to say, but we are afraid to say the words. So we point at the menu, rather than explain our order in Korean. Or we just smile at the salesman, rather than explain what we want. At those moments, we get angry with ourselves, just as our students do when they freeze in English.
So, the next time you encounter an English person on the street, and get nervous, just remind yourself that he knows exactly how you feel. He experiences the same feeling every day. We understand each other. Just relax, and say as much as you can. I will try to do the same the next time I’m at a store, and a salesman offers to help me.
Daren Jonescu -
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