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Why English?

That’s the big question. Why do Koreans spend so much time and effort making trying to get their people to learn English and yet come up so empty-handed?

Here’s a case in point:


We saw this little guy outside of McDonald’s in Mugeodong. Cute enough, but his jacket, with “Batman” logos all over the front of it, was stenciled with “Butman” on the back.

“Butman”?  That just begs lots of questions, none of which make for a pretty picture.

  1. Did the designers of the jacket not understand English – or worse, even their own phonetic system?  Even though the many Batman movies that have shown here in Korean spell it “배트맨” No where in that spelling is a “u” sound, short or long.  One would think a graphics designer charged with placing an English language word on an article for sale would have at least a rudimentary understanding of the language.
  2. Maybe it was a mistake in printing. These things happen. In 2009 our dragon boat racing t-shirts were printed with “Ulsan Onling” rather than “Ulsan Online.” We wore them anyway because otherwise we’d have been shirtless or motley crewed.
  3. Perhaps it was intentional. Maybe the designer wanted to avoid the prospect of a legal suit for appropriating a well known logo without properly attributing it to the author or paying the royalties. That, too, is insulting that portions of a foreign culture can be taken wholesale and used at will without acknowledging it’s origins. Simple theft.
  4. Whatever the cause, be it intentional or accident, doesn’t this poor child’s mother  have even a simple understanding of spelling English?  All students are required to learn English and this child’s mother cannot possibly be so old as to have escaped that requirement.  Even so, the connotations of “butman” are just too ridiculous. However cheap the jacket may have been, it is an insult to English speaking people to pervert the name of one of our more revered comic book characters as if this child were now some porn site advertiser. Does she not understand the shame which would be heaped upon this poor boy if he were to be the minority among a group of English speaking peers? Small chance, perhaps, but she should know the potential pitfalls – and the mistaken English her child may be learning.

Some may think that I rant like this just to rant, But, oh, you would be mistaken, dear reader.  I write to educate.  I have written often in the past of the vagaries of Korean use of English (see  here and here and here .)  Since then, the number of improper, incorrect or just plain 바보 English accounterments in my classrooms has dropped to almost nil. Perhaps Koreans (maybe just the teachers I work with) do read this site – and understand.  I’d like to think I’ve had a hand in reducing the poor English here. Maybe the kids themselves, having been embarrassed by me getting my camera out and taking pictures of their pencil-cases and notebooks caused them to examine more carefully what they bring to class. Either way – Hurray! I’ve taught someone something.

Since taking these pictures I have given this a lot of thought. From this point forward, I have resolved not to just laugh and point fingers at  바보 English, but to point out to the wearer, the vendor, the student – whoever – that the article offends me. Their corruption of my language is an insult to me as a teacher of that language and that the improper use or spelling undercuts the Korean national desire to learn the language.  Sure, its more fun to laugh and make jokes about the fact that Koreans spend millions to learn our language – no small percentage of which goes to us,  by the way. But wouldn’t it be ultimately more satisfying to have had a positive impact while we’re here.

And may the Butman be with you.