Saturday, April 10, 2010


On Thursday we had a little English lesson within the confines of the teacher's lounge. It actually started out as a Korean lesson; Jonathan wanted to know what a Korean word meant - he majored in Japanese so he's picking up Korean really well.

Susan, our Korean co-teacher, said that the word meant 'foxy'. Jonathan frowned. I saw that he was reading a Go manual (Go is like the Chinese version of chess. Jonathan's whole reason for coming to Korea is to study Go and he goes to a Go dojo every weekend.) and couldn't imagine a scenario in Go in which you would use the word 'foxy'. I asked her if she was sure and Sally, another Korean teacher, clarified.

"Like Kris. Foxy." since she was referring to a six year old boy, I knew we weren't speaking the same language. Jonathan and I continued to stare blankly at the two of them until Sally continued. "He is clever but.... selfish. Like a fox." Ooooh.

We both had to laugh at this and I told them that that wasn't what 'foxy' meant. They asked if there was a better English word and the only one I came up with was 'Machiavellian' which is closer to what they meant then simply 'clever'. I had to, of course, explain what Machiavellian meant and Jonathan kept on laughing the whole time like I was doing something highly amusing.

On one hand, my inability to think of other words to describe things besides 'Machiavellian' was amusing and listening to me trying to explain it was probably even funnier.

But I think it has a little to do with the fact that its easy to assume that just because someone talks with an accent or speaks little English means they're stupid. Maybe he thought they wouldn't understand and me trying was hilarious. But Sally and Susan were perfectly capable of understanding the concept even though their English is limited

I can't say I haven't made that mistake before. When someone who speaks very little English manages to convey a complex concept it kind of throws me for a loop. I know they're not stupid but it's hard to keep that in the forefront of my mind. I am almost certain that this is how I sound in other languages, however, so maybe there are a whole lot of people out there who just assumed I was stupid. This whole misunderstanding has a lot to do with the fact that it easier to talk about simple concepts in other languages then it is to maintain philosophical discourse.

Finally, Susan and Sally asked what 'foxy' meant and, after I delved into the intricacies of the expression, we had a great deal of fun that day yelling things like 'hey foxy lady!'

EDIT: As it turns out 'foxy' does kind of mean what they thought but I still think I told them the right thing. In modern English no one thinks of those other meanings, everyone immediately jumps to 'sexy'.

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