Bizarre Stuff Korean Parents Say To English Tutors (ie. Us)

The following is a translation of a post my wife, Mrs. Jiwaku, made to Facebook. It was just too priceless not to translate and share in English. A word about the contents of the list:

These aren’t things that one mom once said: they’re things we’ve heard time and again, and which, when we hear them, always cause us to flinch a little… to the complete bafflement of the people–mostly moms–saying them.

So, no, we’re not cherry-picking the really crazy stuff… all the below is from the solidly average, not-extreme-by-general-standards parents. (Yes, mostly moms, because that’s who mostly manages the day-to-day stuff related to their kids’ educations. And yes, solidly middle-class expat Korean families.)

Screencap from the SBS Television series 바보엄마( (Foolish Mom) from 31 March 2012. Click for source.
Screencap from the SBS Television series 바보엄마( (Foolish Mom) from 31 March 2012. Click for source.

And now, Mrs. Jiwaku has the floor…


1. “My kid is totally passive, he can’t express himself [in Korean], can’t think logically, and isn’t interested in anything at all. Could you please fix those problems?”

(Because that’s totally achievable in two hours a week. Maybe your kid doesn’t need English lessons, just psychotherapy!)

2. “I know nagging is really unhelpful and bad for my kid, but I just can’t control myself.”

(If you can’t manage that little bit of self-control, why did you go and have children in the first place?)

3. “My oldest kid doesn’t seem to have a lot of academic potential. Should I just give up on her and invest in my younger kid instead?”

(Does someone need to totally “give up” on life because they’re not good at school?)

4. “No matter what, please ALWAYS give my child a LOT of homework.”

(If they have tons of school homework AND tutor homework, when are they supposed to sleep? And how are they supposed to process what they’re learning?)

5. “Feel get to get angry with my kid, and be as harsh as you like. I don’t mind!

(Is this really your kid? Now, imagine him saying the same thing to the staff when he deposits you in that nursing home someday…)

6. I don’t push my kid as hard as other moms do! It’s only two hours of cram school every weekday after school.

(So, quick calculation… 8 hours of school + 2 hours of cram school + 1 hour of school homework + 1 hour of cram school homework = 12 hours a day of academic work. Could you handle that everyday for even one week straight?)

7. “Please don’t teach my kid in a ‘fun’ way, but in a ‘studious’ way.”

(What the hell is “studious” study? Are you saying learning shouldn’t be enjoyable?)

8. “My kid’s too fat!”

(Try sitting at a desk for twelve hours a day without eating healthy food at mealtimes, and see how you do. Also, how the in hell can you go around saying that about your own kid?)

Other comments:

  • Can we arrange more lesson hours? I can’t stand to see my kid just relaxing at home.
  • Oh, vacations are awful. I can’t wait till the first day of school.

I’ll include the original Korean text beneath the cut, for those who want to see what Mrs. Jiwaku originally wrote. (She helped with and approved this translation above, however.)

영어레슨을 하면서 부모들에게서 들은 황당한 말…

1. 우리애가 소극적이고 감정표현을 잘 못해요. 논리적으로 생각을 할 줄 모르고 관심있는것도 전혀 없어요. 그런걸 해결해주세요.
– 영어레슨이 아니라 의사에게 상담이 필요한 아이를 나에게 대려와 일주일에 2시간 영어 공부를 하면서 심리치료를 하라는 겁니까…

2. 잔소리를 안 하는게 좋은건 알지만, 그게 제 맘대로 안되요.
– 그 정도도 마음대로 안되시면 애는 왜 가졌어요?

3. 우리 첫째는 공부는 정말 아닌가봐요. 얘는 포기하고 둘째에 투자해야 하나요?
– 공부를 못하면 인생을 포기해야 하는건가요?

4. 무조건 숙제 많이 주세요.
– 학교 숙제도 많은데 학원 숙제 많으면 언제 잠을 자고… 또 배운것에 대해 이해는 언제 합니까?

5. 혼내주세요. 막 심하게 하셔도 되요.
– 자기 자식 아닙니까? 반대로 아이가 당신을 양로원에 맡기면서 그런말 한다고 생각해보세요.

6. 저는 정말 안시키는거에요(월요일부터 금요일까지; 매일 2시간 레슨).
– 학교 8시간 + 레슨 2시간 + 학원숙제 1시간+ 학교숙제 1시간 = 12시간 인데요… 저렇게 일주일이라도 하실수 있겠어요?

7. 노는 공부말고 공부같은 공부를 가르쳐주세요.
– 공부같은 공부가 무엇인가요… 배움이 재미있으면 안된다는 건가요…

8. 우리애는 너무 뚱뚱해요.
– 밥도 제때 못먹고 12시간 책상에 앉아 공부해봐요. 그리고 그런말을 한점 부끄럼없이 자기 자식에게 합니까?

기타: 레슨시간 늘려주세요. 집에서 저렇게 가만히 있는 꼴 못보겠어요.
애들 방학해서 너무 싫어요. 빨리 개학했으면 좋겠어요.

11 thoughts on “Bizarre Stuff Korean Parents Say To English Tutors (ie. Us)

  1. Here’s one from a conversation between two of my relatives (by marriage)

    “The school lasts too long. They don’t have time for studying.” (translation: they don’t have time to go to hagwon or private tutors)
    “학교가 너무 늦게 끝나요. 공부할 시간이 없어요” (학원갈 시간/선생님 오실 시간 없어요)

    1. Ha, yeah, I’ve heard similar things to that, too.

      (Newbie expats are constantly in shock because they assume Korean parents don’t realize how dysfunctional the schools are, when in fact that’s clearly understood, but accepted with a kind of fatalist resignation that most young, new-grad expats can’t fathom.)

  2. Oh, and according to a recent study by the OECD cited in the New York Times, Korean college graduates (as opposed to current students) score below average in math tests given to college graduates of OECD countries. In fact we score just slightly above the Americans…

    1. Yeah, American (well, North American, really) numeracy rates are nothing to aspire to.

      I’d credit over-emphasis of mathematics, or the wrong kind of emphasis, for the dismal performance among Korean students, though. There are some math tutors in our own apartment complex who do a very brisk business of teaching advanced calculus to elementary schoolers (three lessons a week, 1.5 hours a lesson is a common scenario, and ALL the kids seem to get math lessons), and who load down the kids with so much homework — 50 practice questions a day, sometimes– that the kids basically internalize a sense that math is torture, and something everyone naturally feels anxious and resentful about about it. Said tutors are supposedly rather nice people, and generous with their time (the lessons last 1.5 hours, but the parents only have to pay for 60 minutes), but… well, something about good intentions and the road to hell…

      As for the college graduates… I’d be curious to know more about the test. Sometimes kids come to us with applied mathematics problems–you know, “word problems”–assigned in the Aussie/Brit schools here, and she’s commented positively on a stronger emphasis on mathematical reasoning and application of math principles, compared to what she got in Korean schools (where it was more about rote memorizing of math rules, and about working one’s way through decontextualized math problems).

  3. I agree that just about everything the mother has posted is quite worrying, but I’m also bothered by your sarcastic and fairly dismissive commentary. If you’re truly concerned about these kinds of attitudes, you’d do well to provide a more insightful analysis (where do these attitudes come from? Why do mothers blindly espouse such values?) and posit solutions or compromises than speak from a position of cultural superiority, which reeks of arrogance.

    1. Ending up back at this post for another reason, I now realize who this clown is. Being chastised by a Youtube rap clown for providing insufficient “insightful commentary” is pretty amazing.

      So is being chastised for “from a position of cultural superiority, which reeks of arrogance” when what I’ve posted is a translation of something a Korean wrote in Korea? Priceless. This twit couldn’t handle insightful commentary if it was fed to him in pablum form.

      Keep on clowning, insightful Youtube rap clown.

      Original Comment:

      Michael,

      Reading comprehension fail. To say the absolute least.

      1. This is a translation of a post in Korean by a Korean tutor (who happens to be my wife), not someone’s mother.

      2. The sarcastic, mocking commentary in italics is hers, not mine. (As should be blatantly obvious even to non-Korean speakers, from the structure of the original post.)

      3. As for the lack of “insightful analysis”: given that the original text was (as I explicitly noted) written for a Korean audience, by a Korean, about Korea, what would the point be? Everyone likely to read it is quite well aware of how common such attitudes and practices are, and either shares her disgust, or, if they don’t, might get woken up by her sarcastic rejoinders.

      So, hey, congratulations: you’re the white expat who was foolish and arrogant enough to march in and accuse a Korean woman who dares to be critical of child abuse in her own society of speaking “from a position of cultural superiority,” and, apparently, of [white] Western “arrogance.”

      (And, to crown the irony, she’s mostly speaking in terms of comparison to other Asian societies she’s lived in… specifically, the developing nations in Southeast Asia that many Koreans look down on.)

      EDIT:

      Remainder of reply snipped and saved for a blog post, as the person to whom it was directed is too lazy to actually read it in its entirety:

      Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 10.07.09 PM

      Let that be a lesson to me about the wastefulness of thoughtful, nuanced responses to comments utterly lacking thought and nuance.

    1. Ha, I don’t even notice that anymore! I don’t get a lot of exposure to Korean media but what I do see (especially set in the modern day) it seems like everyone’s had at least a nose job, with lots of eyelid jobs as well.

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