Storytelling Saturday #1: “I want to have fried kitchen for dinner.”

My first Storytelling Saturday! Here is a story that is near and dear to my heart for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve spoken English for longer than I have spoken my native language at this point. From my experience, I would say that the more challenging aspect of learning English (as a non-Western-language speaker) is really about learning the context of each word. English wasn’t exactly a completely alien language to me when I first went to study in New Zealand – some English words were already used in everyday Korean, and many words were easy enough to pronounce for a Korean speaker. So I knew what ‘kitchen’ and ‘chicken’ were, but the words happened to be the two that are not used in everyday Korean. Without a firm context of the words, ‘chicken’ and ‘kitchen’ were just… words. They both started with a sharp, spitting-like sound and were only two syllables long. I found them to be very similar and would mix them up all the time.

“I want to have fried kitchen for dinner.”

Confusing ‘chicken’ and ‘kitchen’ was seen as the biggest entertainment to the Kiwi community. People found it ridiculous that I would mix up such different words. It seemed that I was performing the impossible by confusing chicken and kitchen. But I don’t know if they understood that I didn’t have the vivid mental imagery of the two words as they did. And I never found the mistake funny. I still don’t find it funny. I was ridiculed for putting in the effort to communicate in a language that wasn’t my own.

Yet, at the time, I didn’t have the language capacity to express my distress at getting ridiculed, the wisdom to understand why the words weren’t so clear in my mind, no companion to protect my dignity or the gumption to dismiss what wasn’t good for me.

How to respond? I didn’t. Not exactly stunned silent, but more like smiled silent. I now know that there are people who just aren’t worth speaking to in any language, and even though I’ve now gotten far with English, I still fear. I fear that I’d still mix up kitchen and chicken.

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