No, this post is NOT about Mikhail Gorbachev. This was what I envisioned when I heard the name "Mikhail" as you'll discover when you read below. Photo from Picasa Web Images.
I don't know if I have ever mentioned before that during this semester, the school had me teach one of the pre-K classes for 30 minutes in the afternoons. I really didn't want to do it but they compromised with me on some other demands of mine so I really was left with no choice. It hasn't been too bad, honestly, though I'd prefer not to have to teach the wee ones. I have to admit they're pretty darn cute. They are only 4 years old. And there are 4 of them. Well, there were 4. As of today, there are now 5 adorable children in this class.
When I walked in, armed with books to read and stickers for rewards, the children all smiled and waved. And I smiled and waved. And that's when I noticed the new little face sitting with the others. Eun Ah, the Korean teacher for this class, was starting out the door. I stopped her to inquire about the new boy.
"Oh, we have a new boy?" I say. Eun Ah, looks confused. It's no wonder. Her English is truly terrible. Of all the Korean teachers in our kindergarten, she has the worst English skills. I try again. "That boy there," I say, pointing at the new child, "new." It helps sometimes to use really broken English with her. Somehow, she understands this.
"Yes, yes," she tells me, smiling away. And then she starts out the door again. "Um, wait a minute!" I block her path. "What is his name?" After all, I need to know what to call the little guy and ESL children of this age usually have a hard time telling you their name when you first meet them.
"Name?" She repeats. Oh come on, Eun Ah! I know you know that word! Often, she looks like she's in some far off land. She reminds me of a Korean version of Miss Lippy from Billy Madison. Then, suddenly, she seems to snap back to it. "Ah, name! His name is Meek-hail," she informs me.
"Mikhail?" I repeat, dubiously. It seems an odd choice for an English name. Especially since it's Russian.
"Yes, Meek-hail," says Eun Ah. And now, for the greatest amusement of my day, Eun Ah, spells "Meek-hail" for me as visions of Gorbachev run through my head."M-I-C-H-A-E-L. Meek-hail." she tells me.
I have to try very hard to be professional and not blatantly laugh right in her face. It's not her fault. How would she know? Knowing Korean, I can see just how she thought that too. When she said "Meek-hail," my brain immediately pulled up the spelling for "Mikhail." And then it wandered off into facts about Mikhail Gorbachev. And then it snapped back into the moment with her spelling of it. As all of us Americans know, "M-I-C-H-A-E-L" is a very popular name. But it is not pronounced like "Meek-hail," but rather "Maikel."
"You mean 'Michael,'" I tell her as kindly as possible. "Mich-ael?" She says slowly, looking more confused than ever. "Yes," I explain, "it is pronounced as 'Maikel' not as 'Meek-hail. I know this because it is my father's name."
Come to find out that the mother of this sweet little boy chose his English name. And in doing so, she mispronounced it as "Meek-hail." Because the director doesn't have the best English skills either, she didn't realize this mother was incorrect in her pronunciation. And because Eun Ah never knows what end is up, she of course didn't object to "Meek-hail" either. After class, I showed them the difference between "Mikhail" and "Michael." Which unlike "tomayto" and "tomahto," it does truly matter how you say it.