The other day I was doing a unit on countries and nationalities with my Korean students. We’re using a British book about Pierre from France, Carlos from Spain, Ivan from Russia and so forth. I realized it wasn’t too appropriate for them, so I added Midori from Japan, Lakshmi from India and Kim from Korea.
I’d barely finished writing “Korea” on the board, when Joh, one of my students, stopped me.
“No Korean in English class! You know that!” I told him. I love when I can actually see my students thinking, and I could see the wheels turning in Joh’s head. He’s in a beginning class so I didn’t expect too much from him.
“Japan tell Korea make K!” he shouted.
Now, I remember reading in Richard Kim’s Lost Names that the spelling was changed when Japan occupied Korea but that was before Joh was even born! I assumed Koreans would look at the Corea-Korea thing as a sidenote, the way a lot of Americans look at their Ellis Island misspellings. But Joh was struggling so hard with such a small vocabulary that it was clearly vitally important to him.
“Ok,” I said, and changed it to Corea.
Then I started to ask them where different people live, and what their nationalities are.
“Where does Midori live?” I asked.
“She lives in Japan!!!” my students all chorused.
“What is her nationality?”
“She is Japanese!!!”
One of my students was staying quiet. “Where does Carlos live?” I asked him.
Once again, I could see the wheels turning in his head.
“Carlos… lives… in…” He paused for a moment. “…in the book!”