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[xmca] Just Another Word

Take a look at this data. It's from a class of fourth graders. They've just watched a short video clip meant to teach the following dialogue:

(Julie and Lisa are in a forest. They see a bird who has become entangled in a kite string.)

Lisa: Look at the bird!
(Julie climbs the tree. She reaches the bird but slips.)
Lisa: Watch out! Julie! (Julie falls out of the tree.)
(Minsu, whose kite it is, appears. He sees Julie and lunges to catch her.)
Lisa: Are you OK?
Minsu: Are you OK, Julie?
Julie: Yes, I'm OK. (Julie opens her hands and reveals the bird. The bird flies away. The children cheer.)

As will be seen, a LOT of the meaning of the clip is presented concretely, in the "graphic visual" form of images. So the teacher has to try to render it in language form. She does this to check comprehension.

But there's a problem. The word "free" is available to the children in a number of concrete contexts (e.g. "free time", "free prize", and "free country") but not as a single overarching concept (because Koreans do NOT use "free" to refer to free time or to free offers). 

The children are trying to grasp the concept behind the word, but in the end, it eludes them. Have a look:

T: Yes, Julie saved the bird and let it?
T: Let it?
Ss: Fly.
T: Fly. Good. Let it fly. So, the bird is now free. Do you know free? Yes. Are you free?
S20: Yes.
S21: No. 
T: Oh, you are not free? Why? You are not free. Tell me why you are not free.
S22: Free-ga dokrim aniyeo, dokrim? (Doesn't 'free' mean independent, independent?)
Ss: Nara, nara (country).
T: Free, yes, free. Jayorun (free). So, the bird is now free. What about you, Taeweon? Are you free?
S22: No.
T: You are not free. Why?
Ss: Me too.
T: What? Oh, you too? Why aren’t you free? Tell me. Why aren’t you free?
S23: Ummaga (My mother...)
T: Study?
S22: Study.
T: Ah, study makes you feel sad. Right? Really? What about.. girls? Hyemi Are you free? Are you free? 
Ss: No, I’m not.
S23: Jayupropgeona dokrimjeokin geo (It means liberty or independence)(translating the questions to one classmate)
T: Tell me why you are free or you are not free. Yes, Ujin!
S24: I am not..
T: You are not…
S24: I am not "frei".(almost PERFECT German pronunciation)
T: You are not free. 
S24: I’m not free.
T: Why? Why?
S24: I am swimming. (i.e. I have to go to a swimming class after school)
T: You are swimming? 
S24: Yes.
T: Ah, then, swimming makes you feel bad? Really? OK. What about the other guys? Yes, Dongjun! What about you? Are you free or aren’t you free? You are not free? Why? 
S25: Study. 
T: Listen.(calming down the students)
S25: Study.
T: Study makes you unhappy. 
S26: I am not free. 
T: You are not free. Why? 
S26: Um… Class.
T: Ah, we have classes from morning to the afternoon. Even after lunch. 
S13: Yes.
T: So, that is why you are not free. OK, Junho!
S2: Korean. (i.e. can I speak Korean?)
T: Yes. (laugh)
S2: Nagjirul motheyo! (I cannot go outside!)
T: Ah, you cannot go outside. You just stay in the classroom. But, actually, you know, we went to the gym. We went to the Chaeyukkwan (the gym). We went to the gym, you know, on third class. Anyway, oh, they feel they are not free. So, that’s too bad but we will also have a happy ending. 
Ss: (laugh)
T: In the future. You know, at the end, you will become a … 
S27: Free.
T: You will become a?
S28: Free.
S29: Happy.
T: Flee? Flee? 
S30: Fly.
T: Butterfly at the end, and you will fly. So, don’t worry. Don’t worry even if you are not free at the moment. You will become free in the future. OK? Yes, then, everyone, I’ll give you some handout.

Vygotsky points out that Tolstoy points out that the concept is almost always ready when the word is ready. Until then, the child has a knotty complex of concrete instances, but they do not determine each other: not even the Korean translation really helps here. 

The one thing that DOES help--a little--is metaphor (e.g. "butterfly" and "fly"). I think it helps a little precisely because there is a graphic image in there, but it is so absurd, so crazy, that the mind is left gasping, grasping for some overarching concept that will make sense of it 

For the children, the idea that they will turn into butterflies and fly out the classroom window when they graduate from high school and recognize necessity in the form of the college entrance examination is about as reasonable as the idea that the teacher's handout will help them know the truth and the truth will make them free. 

But the absurdity of the metaphor is exactly why it helps. The meaning of the word "free" is not in the metaphor, and so they have to look outside it. That's just where you have to look to find a concept that you don't have yet. 

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education


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