Regarding the Emphasis on Grammar in Korea’s English Education

A 4th grade student just invaded my office, handed me the workbook from her English academy and pointed to a question, wordless and looking at me expectantly. The question:

‘Alice has been having a rough week. After arriving home from another long day at her office, she put her purse down and thought, “I’m going to do something for myself.” She resolved to buy a new dress on Friday.’ Which sentence most closely matches the phrase “for myself”?
1. She made the cake by herself.
2. He needs to confront his boss himself.
3. She kept the secret to herself.
He himself gave the phone to her.

Allow me, a native speaker of English with a degree in English after studying English literature and grammar for four years, who once literally rewrote grammar guide The Elements of Style (thanks Mr. Thomas), to express my response to the aforementioned 10-year-old’s question in GIF form:




The reason I find this interesting – once I pointed to the answer, I looked at Surin and said:

“Surin, where is your hagwon?” (Hagwon is a private academy)

Her response:

“Teacher, what?”

tumblr_mcu172T2hj1rz5ioyo1_400Heechul knows my pain.

Just in case you were wondering if the ability to effectively understand and communicate in English is more important than the ability to solve university-level grammar questions that matter not a bit.

What the After School English Teacher is Teaching My Students: #2

Currently hanging in the after school classroom:

20140930_143042Artist: Lee Hoyeon, 12.

I mean, I’m proud that she’s using proper English while she’s getting sloshed. But between this and Taehyeon (12) asking Seungmin (12) if he liked Hite or Cass beer this morning, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that several of my elementary school students need an intervention.

It's this adult man right here.

Word to the Wise: Students and Candy

If you’re coming to Korea from a nation in which you can obtain Lemonheads, for the love of God, buy 92349 bags of them and pack them in your suitcase. Dedicate your carryon luggage to Lemonheads.

Turns out, they’re Korean kid kryptonite. (*Future hipster band name © Elizabeth Hall 2014)

This is the conversation that occurred between myself and six 5th grade boys as they followed me from the lunchroom and up four flights of stairs:

Jinseong: “Teacher candy! Lemon candy! Give us! Wait, no! Me! Only me candy!”
Me: “I only have a little of that candy. I can’t give you candy every time you want it.”
Hyunwoo: “Then – teacher! Buy more!”
Me: “I can’t! The candy is in America!”
Seonggyu: “Then teacher – go to America! Buy candy!”
Hyunwoo: “We go together! Let’s go!”
Me: “Tell you what. You bring me DBSK’s Shim Changmin, and I’ll give you that whole bag of candy. Plus 5 more.”

*Conversation in Korean persists while they work out who Shim Changmin is*

It's this adult man right here.

It’s this adult man in the mouse ears right here.

Junseong: “But Liz-teacher, that’s too hard! DBSK Shim Changmin…he’s very popular!” (Junseong spends a lot of time at a private academy)
Me: “So is my candy.”
All: “Ahhhhhhhhh! Okay okay!”
Hyeon: “Teacher! We go find Shim Changmin! Then DBSK, you, us…we..we all go to America! We go to America….AND BUY LEMON CANDY!”
All: “Yeah! Goodbye Liz-teacher!”

And then they scampered away, hopefully to spread the rumor throughout the school that Liz-teacher will trade Lemonheads for an introduction to Shim Changmin.

You'll be mine in no time, my pretty.

You’ll be mine in no time, my pretty.

Dis place.

A Couple Reasons to Stay at Hotel Comma Immediately Followed By a Bunch of Reasons to Not.


So it seems I’ve started a tradition of spending Chuseok, a Korean holiday basically equivalent to Thanksgiving, in Busan. Which, I mean, hey, that’s cool with me. Busan is far and large my favorite city in Korea.

This is my third time in Busan, the first time I’ve stayed in an actual hotel rather than a hostel, and the first time I’ve slept within the actual city rather than on the coastline. As such, today’s victim of my rambling, generally unfunny judgment is Hotel Comma in the Beomcheon-dong district of Busan.

Dis place.

Dis place.

Let’s discuss!

The Pros:

  • The name is clever.
    I’m going to go ahead and assume the name was deliberately chosen based on the pause indicated by the presence of a comma in a sentence. Pause…rest…get it? Because it’s a hotel? And you ‘rest’ there? I see what you did there, Hotel Comma. Even if you didn’t “did there”, I’m sure going to pretend that you did and continue to overestimate your clever mastery of English grammar.
  • The rooms are nice and clean.
    The rooms we stayed in were actually quite nice, albeit a tad confusing organizationally. Hardwood floors, nice big beds. Our double room was equipped with two nice computers that we did not use at all, and a sweet IPod dock and speaker system that we definitely did use to have a Super Junior/Block B themed dance party.

    Lookit dem nice big monitors. (Weirdos shown for scale.)

    Lookit dem nice big monitors. (Weirdos shown for scale.)

    A quick Google image search of Hotel Comma gives you the standard, super-clean, “nobody has ever slept in this room ever” photos every hotel does. But the cool thing about Hotel Comma is that, aside from the moments we were actually, physically in the room ourselves, our room was that clean. Hotel Comma is staffed by cleaning ghosts. Ninjas. House elves. Something supernatural. If you were to leave the hotel room for longer than 30 seconds, you’d come back to a freshly mopped (yes, mopped) room and new towels. For example: Nicole and I leave our room and walk down the empty hallway to our friends’ room approximately twenty feet away. We walk in and close the door. Three minutes later, we put on our shoes, exit, realize we (I) left my friend’s sunglasses in my room. She then had to wiggle past the cleaning lady who was already busy mopping our floor to get her sunglasses. Aside from the accompanying paranoia that you’re being watched at all times, it’s pretty awesome how quickly/often they clean your room for you.

Despite all this, let me step on my soapbox real quick and tell you why I will not be frequenting the Grammar Pun Hotel again.

The Cons

  • Reservations and requests are not honored.
    Our reservation was for three nights in two suite-style rooms with a single large bed and jacuzzi bathtub in each room. Sacrificing independent sleeping space wasn’t even a concern when presented with the possibility of bubble baths. We had requested a late checkout on our last day, since our train didn’t leave until 5 P.M. and dammit, we were on vacation.

    1. We had to actually debate the woman at the counter that, yes, our reservation was for three nights and not two, like she thought. Whatever. Basic mistake. No biggie.

    2. We were given rooms with 2 double beds and a regular Korean-style bathroom with no jacuzzi bathtub. No big deal, you say? Try again. I had to talk my friend down from committing rage-induced arson. After a year of “DAMMIT I GOT MY TOWEL WET”s and absentmindedly stepping onto your still-wet bathroom floor in socks, an actual bathtub is a holy grail worthy of a Monty Python quest. I didn’t mind the lack of bathtub so much as the blatant disregard for our reservation.

    3. Our request for a late checkout was not honored, and we were not informed until 5 minutes before the regular checkout time, at which time we were also told if we were not out of the rooms in 5 minutes we would be charged extra. When we expressed our request for a late checkout, we were given a curt “no no no” and the front desk hung up. Polite.

  • The hotel lobby smells like patchouli flavored popcorn.

    Seriously. That's really all I have for this one.

    Seriously. That’s really all I have for this one.

  • There are…..things…in the refrigerator.And they smell like a long-abandoned carcass rotting in the African sun. There’s a communal kitchen and dining area on the top floor that looks clean on the surface. Clean in that “nobody has been here in 73 years” kind of way.In this kitchen, there is both a deep freezer and a regular full-size refrigerator. Opening the door to either of these things leads to sadness, vomiting, and a regression into the security of the fetal position.

    The refrigerator is filled to bursting point with jars of kimchi and a year’s supply of ambiguous fish in bags. Quite different from opening the soju, beer, and Post-it-filled refrigerator at the WoW Guesthouse I specifically told you to stay at last year. A little strange, and definitely smelly, but not terribly atypical of what I would expect to find in a Korean refrigerator.

    That deep freezer, though, is filled with meat. Generally unidentifiable red meat. Racks and racks of it. And none of it is covered or wrapped in any way. It’s just exposed to the elements and my nostrils. I regret opening that door more than I regret most things in life. It’s very much akin to opening a deep freezer and finding a chopped up body. Actually, that’s kind of exactly what it is, really.

    Well hello there; can I interest you in some E.coli?

    Well hello there; can I interest you in some E.coli?

  • The cleaning house elves will never stop opening your freaking window.
    Every time the room is cleaned, the window is also left open. Presumably this is because they mop the hardwood floor every time they clean and leave the window open to help the floor dry. Okay. But I would have happily traded the mopping for the killer mosquitoes invading our room every time this happened.
  • The room layout is intriguingly confusing.
    “Hey, you know what would go great next to this bathroom with an unsealed door? Some really expensive electrical equipment.”
    “But then where do we put the only sink?”
    “Hm…we have space on the other side of the room. Against that wall over there, see? Right next to that electrical outlet. Beside the TV.”
    “Okay. I guess we’ll have to put the only mirror above it, too. Hey, that means the mirror will be right in front of the beds! That will be appreciated by everyone.”
    “But, wait, the only lights are directly above the bed pillows. Should we also put a light by the mirror so people can actually see into it when they’re getting ready?”
    “I think, maybe, that is impossible.”
    “Oh, okay then. Are you hungry? Let’s go eat.”



    Also, my friends’ room had stairs leading up to the beds. And yes, they were fallen down at some point. Sober, you judgmental fools.

    Point is, although Hotel Comma looks nice great on Agoda and Booking.com, and isn’t a terrible hotel, I probably wouldn’t stay here again. Certainly, if you’re a foreigner who doesn’t speak any Korean, or very little Korean, and can’t speak to the crazy lady when she disregards your reservation entirely……run awaaaaay. Busan is huge and wonderful. There are better, conveniently located, equally priced options for you.