Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Britain and the USA can be “two nations divided by a common language” George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde

Having lived in Korea for over 2 years I have picked up a lot of Korean. I used to take lessons, which helped, but now I rely on the world being my classroom. One of the stranger aspects of living here is the use of my native tongue – English. Something I didn’t  consider deeply before I came, was that I may have to teach, or communicate using ‘American English’. Being the only ‘British English’ speaker in my workplace, I often find myself either questioning or abandoning British expressions or vocabulary. This is not related to a lack of patriotism, it is simply to aid communication.

אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט

a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot

“A language is a dialect with an army and navy”  Max Weinreich


My experience of language is that it is often a contentious issue; people cling to the familiar because they fear losing their identity, or they see a confrontation between their own usage and other forms. Language is about communication, so I’m usually pragmatic when it comes to dropping or adding expressions and vocabulary. However, I am rather pedantic when it comes to verbal accuracy, for example, I prefer saying thrice instead of three times.

After trying to explain words and phrases to people, repeatedly, I decided to write this post as a logic test for conflicting expressions. This list clarifies many examples where I think Americans, British, and other native speakers compete to use, their words to describe things. Having been born in Britain I have consumed television from the USA, Australia, and obviously the UK. I have also visited these countries and worked with Americans and Canadians. Something else to note is that most of the Koreans I have been in contact with have learnt American English; they have provided an objective critique of Britishisms or Americanisms which make no sense or more sense.

Football v Soccer

There is only one winner, football. The word soccer derives from association football as there are many varieties of football. I believe it stems from the British Public School abbreviations – Like turning Rugby into Rugger. Football has gone way beyond the shores of Britain, and its introduction to Europe and South America has turned the word into an international word like okay or taxi. The poor countries whose majority sports are not football often use the word soccer. My advice to people is that if you travel to the USA or Australia then you might use the word soccer to avoid confusion, otherwise use football. Global usage makes a mockery of the word soccer. We have FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations) UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). The global brands and organizations all use the word football, even in the locations where the word ‘soccer’ is used. If you are Korean then take a look at the listings of the K League. Five teams have Football Club in their names, zero have soccer.

Trousers v Pants

Many People assume that ‘pants’ is an Americanism for trousers. In my experience, many people in North West England, Scotland, and Ireland use pants to mean the long things worn over your underwear. In Southern England pants generally refers to underwear. I once got into an argument in a pub in Italy about this issue. There was a man from Liverpool and a girl from Australia who both used pants to mean non underwear. I’ll let logic have the last word. If ‘pants’ refers only to underwear then why do we have the word underpants but not overpants? Pants is also British slang for ‘not very good’.


Can you pass me a pickle?

Which type?

My fondness for pickles prevents me from accepting this word to mean Pickled Gherkins (the type you find on McDonalds Burgers) I can only presume that in America they don’t pickle anything else but gherkins. This word is also used for gherkins in the UK too. I prefer to use gherkin because that’s what it is. In my pickle related nightmare, when I go to the pickle aisle in the supermarket, I see before me 20 metres of gherkins. When I awake from this disturbing briny dream, I become aware that thankfully, there are also pickled onions, Branston pickle, red cabbage, sauerkraut, piccalilli, cucumber, dill, mussels, mango chutney, and even eggs if you go in an old pub. I think I’m fighting a losing battle on the pickle front but I will continue to use the word gherkin just to help the other forgotten pickles, sitting on their dusty shelves in the storage area of the supermarket. In the meantime, the phalanxes of the gherkin super race stand in formation at the front of the pickle shelves, waiting for their pickle fascists to buy them all.

Fall v autumn

Apparently, fall predates autumn. People used fall in the British Isles before autumn came into use and the emigrants to North America continued using it. I have no real logical argument for this debate. I use the word fall in the classroom to avoid confusion. For this ‘word off’ I make a plea to all North Americans, I think Aussies and Kiwis use autumn. Please, please try to use autumn instead of fall. Fall is a commonly used verb, but autumn is specific to the season; it also makes an easy adjective – autumnal. I believe the word just sounds nicer and as soon as I hear it I feel the colours of the leaves and the cool winds. When I hear fall, I think of an old man dying. Poetically it sounds more beautiful:

The wind rustled through her autumnal, auburn hair. This paints an image of a Venus like woman whose hair is graceful and flowing.

The wind rustled through her fallish/fall like hair. This paints the image of an alopecia victim.

Elevator v Lift

I switch my allegiance to the other side of the Atlantic. As a noun, lift already means to give someone transport, whereas elevator is unique to doing its job. I also prefer technical words to come from Latin, in this case ‘elevatore’ the verb for raise. Interestingly French and Italian don’t use ‘elevator’ or ‘elevatore’; they use ascenseur and ascensore. I believe this would give us the much improved word ‘ascender’.

Prawn v Shrimp

Everybody is wrong, but North Americans are more wrong. In America everything seems to be called a shrimp even when it’s a prawn – these are two different organisms. In the UK and commonwealth shrimp usually refers to the very small prawns, shrimp being a synonym for small. However, I have discovered that not all shrimp are small. The difference is a tiny biological matter – the shrimp’s tail segments don’t overlap in the same way. The second segment overlaps above the first and third segments. The problem with this debate is the difference in seafood worldwide. Despite the differences, I know a prawn when I see one, and I live near Morecambe Bay which is famous for shrimp, so I will use the word prawn for prawns and shrimp for shrimp.

Pavement v Sidewalk

I still use the British version – pavement. I just like the word. I remember an interview with the Indie band ‘Pavement’ who were from the US, when asked why they were called pavement instead of sidewalk; they said that they got the name from a list of the most beautiful words in the English language. I also like the suffix –ment which can make verbs into nouns: embankment, shipment, allotment….etc

Zebra Crossing v Cross walk

I like zebra crossing because it’s more poetic. It may cause confusion in very specific circumstances in Kenya or South Africa. If there is an actual zebra crossing the road then cross walk may be easier.

Queue v Line

Queue is a clear winner here because it gives us the option to make different shades of meaning. I don’t make a line unless I am in an identity parade or perhaps on the school playground. Queue implies that there is something to be gained at the end, like admission or a postage stamp. I just wish the word queue had a better spelling.

I think I’ll leave it there for now. I may add more as they arise. The point of this exercise, which may be futile, is to refrain from patriotism when it comes to English. The language has gone international so I want to try to use the best and most logical (or poetic) words on offer. I often feel lucky to be able to choose between different words, but I do feel irritated when my own words are cast aside in favour of less accurate or less descriptive offerings.

If you are learning English as a second language my advice is simply to learn both and choose. However, you may have to choose between the following options:

American words in the UK: you will be understood but looked down upon.

British/Commonwealth words in North America: you may not be understood, or you may cause offence, especially in the case of fanny, fag, tramp, and pissed.

One of the stranger aspects of teaching and living in Korea is the possibility of giving new students their ‘English’ name. I use inverted commas because of the context of this post.
The naming process is new to me, as I have mentioned previously about 99.9% of Korean students take on a ‘Western’ name for English classes. Some Koreans also take a ‘Christian’ name at their Church of choice. Obviously there were no Saint Ji-sungs or Paul’s letter to the Kims, so it makes sense to have a biblical name. I have often wondered at the logic of how the names come about. I have heard stories about people being reminded of friends back home, favourite football players, movie stars. It seems like some people just write a random 3 names on the board and ask the students to choose . When I got my first new class, by this I mean 1st Grade Elementary, I was genuinely concerned about the weight of a multi (secular) Christening. How would I choose the names? What if they don’t like their names? They could be stuck with this name forever? What if their parents know a serial killer with the same name, or some dark family mystery? A James or a John could be a bent priest, a drunk G.I or a family pet with rabies.
                                Names carry so much meaning that I was confounded when my Korean co-teacher told me I would need to name some people. In the end, after asking other teachers, I approached it like this: what names do I not like? The answer being, I do not like modern trendy names. This can often mean ‘American’ names or names that would get you battered in a playground throughout England. Due to pluralistic nature and cultural melting pot of North America, many names float around without any deep analysis. However, names in the UK can often be a bit too traditional and rely upon saints, disciples and kings. Any other names seem to show a disregard for Western society and the traditions of the Church. I guess I wanted to walk the line between the stifled tradition of my home and the more esoteric American names. Names from the Judeo-Christian tradition are fine –  Michael, Isaac, Solomon, Joseph. Anglo-Norman names are also fine in my book: Robert, Richard, William, Stephen etc. If you are wondering, nobody in England had names like this before 1066. When I say I don’t like American style  names, I mean to say the names which carry no meaning and make no sense on the basic logic of naming traditions. The following is a small selection:
Chip (type of potato)
Randy (a state of sexual excitement)
Chad (a poor country in Central Africa)
Butch (isn’t the Sundance kid dead?)
Jesse ( slightly weak or soft)
Chuck (throw casually or Australian chicken)
Buck (a dollar)
Krystal (what the maze or the ball?)
Dustin (I do it every Sunday after I finish the hoovering)
My stance, although slightly xenophobic, is in the best wishes of the students and the future of the Korean nation. I simply thought if they ever go to the UK, Ireland or perhaps even…Australia, then why not choose a name which won’t be a cause for bullying or hysterics. After all, they could have this name for the rest of their lives. I could be responsible for naming a future football star or president. By complete chance my first naming occasion coincided with when I found my Kings and Queens of Britain cards. This is a deck of cards which has a picture of every monarch since William the Conqueror, and some information on the back. I was a bit coy about this but the co teacher and another American teacher discovered that I was using the cards to choose names. I think they discovered this when someone said to me ‘You have another new student, he has no name.’ ‘Hold on, I’ll just get my cards’.  Moments later I had a young Korean flicking through past monarchs, he made a very quick decision and liked the look of a rather masculine warrior on horseback brandishing a sword. This young student is now called Richard (as in the lion-heart). He likes his name and the person he’s named after. After several days I had a regal looking young Victoria, an elegant Elizabeth (since shortened to Ellie), a studious Edward (the first), a Charlie, a James and an Anne. After exhausting the list of Monarchs I have also used American Presidents, TV show characters; currently I have a huge list printed out which is all English (Anglo-Saxon) names. I usually find the approximate first letter of a Korean given name then give a choice of all the names with that letter. This printout is from an internet site and carries the meaning of each name. The reason I chose Anglo Saxon was because that’s where English comes from so why not give a context. Also, I wondered which names would have floated around before the Normans arrived.
                                             I am not really a patriot or a monarchist but I do think that some sense of tradition should be kept. Working with Koreans, Americans and Canadians has made me realise that people generally don’t care about Britain, England or English for that matter. The English are in a strange situation because we were so dominant but now we are becoming an irrelevance on the edge of an irrelevant continent. This is especially true when you live in East Asia. A place where U.S troops have been posted since the 50’s and where it’s easier to learn English in the Philippines or Australia than the UK. Coming from a previously dominant but now irrelevant nation means that my small political protests and cultural pointers fall on deaf ears. Englishness is simply not important enough for others to worry about, but Englishness is not exotic enough to be curious about. When I protested about being called a ‘Brit’ it was met with a disregard for my utter pettiness. This basic human right of being referred to by the correct adjective based on your state of origin seems to be a weighty issue if you are an Ulster man, Irishman, Basque, Catalan, Bosniak, Kosovan or First Nation, Inuit, African-American, Cherokee… I believe every group, people, nation or ethnicity should have the right to choose how they are referred to by others. Even if this means changing the word for your group, like African-American or First Nation. I may be from Britain but I speak English, my football team is England, my cricket team is England and I follow the English Premier League. I guess I will just correct people until I return to… er…Britain. The worst thing is that other ‘Brits’ have asked me if it really matters. I usually tell people that wanting to be called English is as much about being English as it is about the Welsh being Welsh and the Scots being Scottish; they are other places with other peoples and other traditions. Bring on devolution. 
                                              This trivial stuff was in the back of my head as I took my new classes. I already knew many students , but many faces were new and they didn’t know me. I decided to have a basic Q and A session. When I say basic I mean basic, where do you think I am from? After naming nearly every nation in the World I asked them if they wanted a clue. Pointing to the badge on a girl’s coat which read “British Culture” above a Union Jack, they still had trouble. I asked the wearer of said garment, what flag are you wearing? She didn’t know. After crying for 5 minutes I told them I’m from England. When they looked and read the coat they said “No Englandu, Britaini” “Same thing.” I said, crying again. I have since noticed that 4 other students were either wearing British flags or had British flags on pencil cases, there are some Italian flags too! It’s very post modern that a nation who planted flags in deserts, jungles and bogs all round the World can now conquer the World without trying or without their ‘subjects’ knowing. The British flag has been added to the list of signs, icons and images with absolutely no meaning whatsoever. This same list includes Che Guevara, Brazil, U.S, anything Cuban, meaningless Chinese tattoos and about a gazillion American Sports Franchises. The only symbol you would think might escape the free use of signs and signifiers is the Nazi Swastika, the Swastika in its Buddhist use is in many places here though, this I think is OK because it pre dates the Third Reich. I have since made a point of reminding students and sometimes other adults about the origin of names, designs, logos, and anything else that seems important. Non English speakers often choose to wear slogan t-shirts with absolutely no regard for the meaning of the words. I once saw a typically olive-skinned Italian girl with jet black hair sporting a t-shirt saying ‘Blondes have more fun.’ I asked ‘E vero?’ (is it true?) She just looked at me blankly. In one of my super shy and impossibly quiet classes a girl once walked in with a t-shirt declaring TALK, TALK, TALK in bold black letters. I chuckled instantly and the irony was not lost on the student in question as she hid her t-shirt from the silence.

*disclaimer* This is from the perspective of a UK citizen who arrived in 2009. Some of the information may be out of date, I recommend checking visa requirements with a school, recruiter, or embassy before applying for a post in Korea.


Choosing a tefl job is one of the most difficult ‘professions’ in which to make a choice. I remember being overwhelmed by the potential of of working in virtually any place on the globe. I chose Korea after a lenghty process of elimination, but also because I have always been a huge fan of Korean cinema. This was a starting point which meant I already had a kind of familiarity with all things Korean. My personal elimination process is just a series of questions in no particular order.

Is there a competetive tefl market with jobs available?

Korea is a developed nation with a strong emphasis on education. In an increasingly international environment, and with an export economy English education is a vital part of Korea’s future. The legacy of a confucian system means that Koreans have a highly competetive education and employment sector. Many children attend academies after school. Most students are test orientated and motivated to finish textbooks and proceed to the next perceived level. This can be a disadvantage if you are accustomed to the communicative approach to teaching. Many parents and students see actual conversation and fluency as superfluous to the basic reading, writing and vocabulary memorization. You may meet Koreans who can read a textbook on microbiology with no trouble but they won’t be able to describe where they live or their parent’s profession. This is the Korean culture and if you cannot go with this black and white approach then life may be difficult. Your job is to teach people in their way not to change the educational methods of an entire nation.

Is it possible to communicate with the local population?

I compared the language (Hangeul) to both Japanese and Chinese. This was a major selling point for me. The alphabet is probably the best and most logical in the world. You can be reading signs and menus and less than a week if you make the effort. You can also be writing it confidently in a month or so depending on motivation. It can be difficult to speak because of the sentence structure, but Koreans are hugely enthusiastic about people speaking their language. In major cities and transport hubs many of the staff will be able to speak English. ALL street signs and place names are written in Roman script. After taking a few lessons and teaching myself I can order food, buy tickets, go shopping and have some banter with taxi drivers confidently. Finding Koreans to speak to in Korean has been something of a problem. Many are too shy to speak with foreigners or simply too good at English to bother blundering through hit and miss Korean.

Are there amenities you may expect from a developed nation?

In a larger city you can expect good quality healthcare and excellent tourist and transport facilities. In smaller places the level of organization and sanitation may be lower than Western countries. Timetables and tickets may not be in English in small bus stations. Some restaurants and eateries would not pass environmental health inspectors but there are always reliable chain stores to eat in. International banking facilities are quite difficult outside Seoul. However, most ATMs have English Language options.

Is it possible to live comfortably from the salary?

Yes! If you eat and shop locally you can usually save in excess of 3000 pounds sterling per year. I manage to live comfortably whilst still saving over 40% of my monthly salary. Transport and food is extremely cheap in comparison with the UK. It often works out cheaper to eat with friends in a restaurant rather than shop and cook yourself. If you find good places you may rarely eat at home. If you can work out the bus system and walk a bit then it will save money. I have heard that people can save over 8000 pounds a year. I personally prefer to stay in the country longer and spend a bit on travelling around and going to the cinema and museums etc. Most teaching salaries will vary between 1.9 to 2.5 million won per month. this is usually over 1000 pounds. I would look at the package rather than the salary. Many schools will offer return flights, accommodation and an end of contract bonus. Vacation time can be difficult in the private sector but if you plan on staying longer than a year you should receive a week in between contracts. In highly organized schools with textbooks and a syllabus your preperation time will be far less than in public schools or universities. Living within walking distance of your work is the best perk to save money.

Can you enjoy some elements of a ‘Western’ lifestyle?

In a larger place you can live in a Western bubble if you choose. This has the disadvantages of being more expensive and less rewarding. The presence of the U.S military has had a noticeable effect on the number of fast food chains and retail outlets. In bigger cities you are likely to find McDonalds, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Outback Steakhouse and numerous Tesco Homeplus branches. Imported goods are more expensive but you can enjoy the occassional treats like cheese, wine and familiar brands. Cinemas have subtitles rather than dubbing, this is great as it means you can enjoy version original films.


The most important qualification is obviously being a native speaker. Many parents express a preference for North American English and for females. Several high profile news stories about rape and paedophilia have meant that some places are more likely to hire females. I have found that most schools overlook the country in favour of having a good teacher. The World is also changing. Many home stay programmes for Koreans take place in Australia and New Zealand as they are nearer. I have also met many Koreans who have studied in the UK. In my city there are also many South Africans. You are far more likely to get a job if you have experience with young learners and if you have lived in a foreign country for an extended period. For the EPIK programme (which I passed but then turned down) the main focus is on adapting to a foreign environment and people. If you are reasonably adventurous and have spent some time abroad I recommend Korea as a great destination. If you ae fresh out of university with little travelling experience then the food and intensity of the lifestyle may be very difficult to adapt to


The academic year starts in late February early March. There is aalso a summer break so August can be a good time to start. In the private sector many ‘Hagwons’ hire at any time of the year. This was a huge advantage for me in terms of flexibility.


To secure a job and a visa you will need:

A degree.

Sealed University Transcript. Contact your University and tell them what it’s for. It must be sealed with the University stamp to prove the authenticity of the qualification. Some places ask for two sealed transcripts.

Apostilled Criminal Record Check. This can be costly and time-consuming. After trying in vain at my local police station I ended up using an online service from Scotland. Once you have the document you must have it verified by a Notary Public. This is usually a solicitor who has the qualification to stamp the documents. I only found one person in North Lancashire who was qualified to do this. It can be an expensive process as you need to visit or send your document to the office in Milton Keynes to finish the process.


I think this is the most important question when considering working in Korea. There is a vast difference between Seoul – the second biggest urban agglomeration in the world, and some small town with literally no foreign residents. After passing the EPIK application process to teach in public schools I turned it down based on location. If you apply really early you may get your first choice but I wanted to be in control of exactly where I was going to spend so much time. Seoul is huge and although it’s a fascinating place with so much to do, your school is likely to be in a satellite town or suburb outside the city. This can lead to higher transport costs and if you only visit the centre every weekend then why not just live in another city? The KTX train makes getting to Seoul very fast and easy from almost anywhere in Korea. If you want a good balanced lifestyle with the option of being able to speak to other foreigners then bigger cities are the way to go. A good   of size is the presence of a subway system. Cities over a million population have their own subway systems: Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Daecheon, Gwangju and obviously Seoul. Look for Shinsegae or Lotte department stores. If a city has these it shows the presence of a reasonably large affluent population. I chose Jeonju as there is a historical centre, a good K-League football team, World Cup stadium, and good transport links to most places in Korea.

On a personal note, I intended on coming for a year to save a bit of money then go travelling in Asia and return home. Since being here I have felt really at home with the food, people, places, and the often insane pace of life. I can still find new national parks, new beaches and interesting palaces and museums after my year long stay. I hope to improve my Korean and stay even longer. On the whole I would say that it’s the best location to work for a teacher of English. There is a great balance between earning enough money to live comfortably and still have enough to travel round and enjoy the beautiful mountains and the spicy foods.

At University I researched the impact of international aesthetics on signage. I was mostly concerned with the use of different writing systems and how they can become redundant of meaning in the modern globalized World. This means using letters or characters to ‘decorate’  with no consideration for their meaning. I’m particularly interested in multilingual signs, which indicate a point of origin, and translation in signs and notices. By translation I mean bad translations and misused or misspelt words which can totally alter meaning. These studies went on to inform many pictures I took when I was travelling. I make a point of finding out of the way locations in cities where grafitti and informal fly postering occurs. By going on what is called a derive* I can reveal the hidden secrets of cities by the reams and reams of weird hand drawn or cheaply printed signs and posters. These photos are the hignlights of my discoveries in various places.

If you can guess the locations then leave a comment and I’ll let you know if you are correct. (click on the pic for a closeup)

* derive = unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, where an individual travels where the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct them with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience.