By HB (16 years old)
It all began when I was seven – learning English that is. For an entire month, I neither understood the English words in my textbook nor what the teacher was yakking about.
On my very first day at the English tuition centre, I was given an assignment. I had to write the alphabets in the correct order. I did not understand what was going on during class, so I did not complete my work.
The next day, the teacher scolded me and because I did not understand why she was scolding me, I started to cry and vowed to stop learning English. My young mind perceived the teacher as an unpleasant woman. Never in my short life had I met anybody who not only didn’t like me, but was constantly finding fault with me. Nonetheless, despite my desperate attempts not to go to the tuition centre ever again, I was forced by my parents to attend it no matter what. How I hated learning the English language then.
I slowly learned how to pronounce different words and how to recite the numbers in English. There was a game called ‘Three, Six and Nine’ in South Korea whereby we had to count the numbers from one and clap at any number that contains three, six or nine until someone makes a mistake. We usually played this game in Korean but since it was an English lesson, we counted the numbers in English. This game helped me to memorise the numbers in English easily.
When I was 12, my elder siblings left South Korea to learn English in Malaysia. I never imagined I would end up following their footsteps until my mom announced that I would be going to Malaysia too. To prepare me for a Malaysian education, Mom enrolled me at a special tuition centre where the teachers were all foreigners. We were required to speak English the whole time since the instructors could not understand Korean. My classmates were 9 and 10-year-olds who could speak English more fluently than I. It was an extremely embarrassing situation.
I learnt to read English storybooks and answer the questions inside the textbooks during class. I had to write two essays every day. Needless to say, I seldom completed my homework and was disciplined frequently by the principal. You could say I was a frequent visitor to her office.
Before long, it was time for me to go to Malaysia. Anxious but at the same time feeling quite excited, I set foot in Kuching on 2 January, 2010. It was a totally new experience for me. Everyone spoke in foreign languages and they also looked very different from South Koreans. I did not dare to speak to anyone except to other South Koreans who were already living in Kuching.
I went to school on the very next day. Despite my grand age of 13, I was put in a Year 5 class. As I walked into the classroom, I saw 20 kids who looked way younger than me. Everyone stared at me curiously as I was a lot taller and bigger than them. I could feel my cheeks burning. Awfully embarrassed, I did not know where to look so I kept my eyes fixed on the floor. I had instantly become the giant of the lot.
It took me several weeks to adapt myself in school. I learned my little friends’ names and how the school system worked. The lessons of course, were all in English and I did not understand a single thing the teachers were saying. The Malaysian accent was a strange one. It was very different from the Korean or the American accent. I needed my Korean friends to translate what I wanted to say to my teachers or local friends. Nevertheless, I slowly improved after a year and no longer required other fellow Koreans to act as my translators.
I have been studying in Malaysia for more than three years now and have been upgraded to the first language English class since the beginning of the year. I am very pleased that I can converse fluently in English and score a better grade in the English paper than many of my local friends. I will definitely continue to master the English language in the coming days.