Fewer things better


Kim Ki-hoon, the Korean English teacher making millions a year

Are we trying too hard to educate our children?  Yes, we’re trying to do too many things and most are not helping. That’s in part the conclusion of Amanda Ripley who wrote a book on education throughout the world entitled, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way., whose work was profiled today on NPR.  As is often the case when comparing educational systems, schools in Korea and Finland draw much of the attention, given the higher scores school children there achieve on standardized tests. As I’ve written in a previous post, the schools in Finland are a riddle for American educators who go to visit and learn – how can they do so well without all the solutions being advocated in the U.S. : school choice (more private and charter schools), rewards for the best teachers and schools, high-stakes testing to identify success and failure. Instead, Finland focuses on turning out excellent teachers, paying them well, offering a lot of local support, and encouraging the best college students to go into teaching:  a few important things done well.

South Korea is quite different, with a heavy emphasis by all stakeholders on children focusing on high achievement, even if that means long hours after school and on weekends in private tutoring sessions.  Earlier this month there was a profile in the Wall Street Journal of an English teacher in South Korea who makes millions of dollars a year through his subscription video service and after-school tutoring sessions.  The Korean educational system could hardly serve as a model for the U.S., but American foreign language teachers would be happy to see that kind of pay. In the end, we all know it comes down to the quality and commitment of teachers – the trick is to figure out how we become more successful in filling our schools with dedicated and competent teachers and in ensuring they receive reasonable pay, support, and respect.


waldInteresting story on NPR today on words that are difficult to translate into English because they express concepts for which we do not have an equivalent single word.  The list comes from a request at the Web site Maptia for readers to submit such examples.  The full list is presented nicely at 11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures.  The first example, from German, Waldeinsamkeit, meaning being alone in the woods is one familiar to me, as it was created by Romantic writer Ludwig Tieck in his story Der blonde Eckbert (1797).  German is likely to be one of the languages with the most such words as it’s characteristic of the langauge for speakers to create new compound nouns, which can be amazingly long.  One of the longest was in the news this summer, as it was officially “retired”, due to the fact that the law which referenced it was removed by the EU: Rindfleischetikettierungsuberwachungsaufgabenubertragungsgesetz (law delegating beef label monitoring).

Other nice words in the list:

  • Culaccino: The mark left on a table by a cold glass (Italian)
  • Iktsuarpok: The feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside and check if anyone is coming (Inuit)
  • Pana PoʻO:  The act of scratching your head to try to remember something (Hawaiian)
  • Dépaysement:: The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country (French)
  • Sobremesa: The time spent after lunch or dinner, talking to the people you shared the meal with (Spanish)
  • Pochemuchka: Someone who asks a lot of questions (Russian)