Teaching Chinese at a TV station in South Korea
Author of this story (second from right) dining together with some of the students at TBC (Taegu Broadcasting Corporation)
Last August, I became a volunteer Chinese teacher and came to the Confucius Institute at Keimyung University in South Korea. I was given the job of teaching Chinese at the TBC (Taegu Broadcasting Corporation) in Taegu. As is known to all, SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System) is one of the three major TV stations in South Korea and has long been known for its high-quality TV plays. TBC is a local affiliate of SBS in Taegu. The mere thought of teaching Chinese at a TV station that I had heard a lot about filled me with such excitement and stress that I even didn’t sleep much the night before the first day of class.
The Chinese classroom at TBC is a well-equipped meeting room and the students are reporters, editors and other staff members of the station. Many of them graduated from prestigious universities like Seoul National University and some had studied or worked in foreign countries for a long time. Among them, I even noticed several middle-aged men going grey at the temples. After everyone introduced themselves, I started to become even more nervous and tentatively changed my greeting from “Hello, students!” to “Hello, everyone!”. At that moment, it occurred to me that my students were not a group of naughty high school students and I didn’t need to keep order in class by shouting at them or entice them to learn by offering them candies and snacks. On the contrary, they were a group of social elites with far more knowledge and experience than me. Thus, what I needed to do was to prepare and deliver lectures well so as to satisfy their craving for knowledge.
My students and I felt our way through the first few classes trying to fit in with each other. Although I could talk with them in Korean freely, I still tried to teach in as much Chinese as possible. In South Korea, many people learned Chinese characters when they were young. In my class, several elder students could even write beautiful calligraphy in traditional Chinese characters. Thus, they didn’t really understand why they needed to learn Pinyin and simplified Chinese characters, and even challenged me on this. I was already very nervous when talking to them, and I became even at my wits’ end when asked such questions. After I calmed down, I remembered my experience of learning Korea—we also started from learning the consonants and vowels, which corresponded to the initials and finals of Pinyin. Only when we know how to read words based on their pronunciation can we truly understand Chinese. While I was explaining Pinyin to them, I also taught them some everyday expressions from time to time. In order to give them a sense of accomplishment, I taught them to download the Pinyin input system and asked them to send me text messages if they had any problem. Quite soon, their text messages gradually went from the simplest “你好” (hello) to “我今天不能去上课了” (I can’t go to your class today because I have other things to attend to today). Such progress reassured them and brought closer relationship between me and the students, and they were increasingly fond of sending me text messages.
However, I was really floored by some of their questions. Since they worked in TV stations (one of whom was a trustee of TBC and once served as a Beijing-based correspondent with SBS), they were quite sensitive to the news about China. Before the classes, they asked many questions, such as “Miss Liu, from the Koreans’ point of view, the Korean TV plays like My Love from the Star are hardly as good as those of the past, but why are they so popular in China?”, “The global market share of Samsung mobile phones is shrinking while the Chinese homegrown brands like Huawei and Xiaomi are starting to emerge. What do you think are the reasons?”.
At the beginning, I felt quite nervous about these rational and logical questions raised by the students, because unfortunate wording might cause some big problems in cross-cultural communication. However, their sincere looks calmed me down. So, the time before a lecture was for an “impromptu interview”, during which our communication became easier and easier. Seeing that they had less misunderstanding of and more interest in China, I also felt a slight sense of achievement. Sometimes when I was teaching at TBC, some students who were well-read in classic Chinese writings would recite some famous lines, such as “塞翁失马，焉知非福” (Misfortune might be a blessing in disguise), “行善之人，如春园之草，不见其长，日有所增” (Those who do good deeds are like grass in the garden in spring; although its growth is not readily noticeable, it is indeed growing every day), and “登东山而小鲁，登泰山而小天下” (Having climbed the East Mountain, the State of Lu seemed small to Confucius. Having climbed to the top of Mount Tai, the whole world below seemed small). When they recited these sentences in Korean, It surprised me as a Chinese that they knew more about Chinese classical writings than me. I also made introspection — if I hadn’t happened to be interested in literature, wouldn’t it have been embarrassed for me not to be able to answer the students’ questions? Therefore, I kept improving myself by working harder to learn more about linguistics and literature and to keep myself updated on what happened in China and around the world.
As the time went by, the students and I got to know each other better. I found that they were not only good at learning new things, but also amiable and kind. Sometimes, they were like “overgrown schoolboys” who would something that left everyone in fits. On the other hand, they also cared about me a lot. As Keimyung University was quite far away from the TBC, from the first class on, several elder students tried their best to plan the return route for me and one of the students would saw me to the subway station.
Although my teaching at TBC has already come to the end, I still keep in touch with my students. Not long before, one of the middle-aged students took his daughter to the Confucius Institute in the hope that she could continue to learn Chinese here. Another student will be on a business trip to Shanghai and Nanjing, and is eagerly looking forward to this hard-won opportunity to practice Chinese. This was a great honor and encouragement for me. Looking back to the three months when I taught Chinese at TBC, I always think that if I had made more efforts to prepare for the class, to reflect on the present-day China, and accumulate literary knowledge, could the students have learned more? These regrets, however, confirm my resolve to continue my career all the more and motivate me to strive to become a qualified and even excellent international Chinese language teacher.