It took 6 months, but I finally got her to talk

I accomplished a HUGE goal the other week.  A goal – that I didn’t think I’d actually achieve – especially as the days ticked away towards the end of the school semester.  But finally…success!!

Let me explain:

I have a sixth grade girl who doesn’t talk.  She’s painfully shy.  I have never heard her even speak in Korean (and any of the teachers I talked with have never heard her voice either).  That is some serious shyness.  Oh…and yes, she is able to talk – she’s not mute or anything.

But, the teachers don’t ever force her to talk because, well, she does her work (non-verbal work that is) and she is never a discipline problem.  Her fellow students are also *surprisingly* quite understanding of her shyness.  They don’t tease her, or yell at her – they seem to just accept that she is one shy girl.  But believe me, these same students have no qualms yelling at the “dumb” kid or the fat kid – so whatever halos you were picturing in your mental image of my students – remove them immediately. 🙂

Even my lowest, lowest, lowest students can utter some verbal this or that at me.  They can at least spit some Korean my way.  But this girl…nothing.  If I even say “hi” to her, she immediately puts her head down. 

And this made me sad.  She’s the cutest little thing and I just couldn’t accept the fact that she was so shy that she couldn’t even say “hello.”  Actually, I believed that she wanted to say something, but she was too afraid.  So began my six month mission – starting in February: By the time I leave Korea, she will say something in English to me.

I knew it would take a long time.  And it was going to be baby steps…actually, baby-ier than baby steps. 

My approach was quite simple:

  • Every time I saw her, I would say “hello” and called out her name (this sometimes meant going up to her in the cafeteria during lunch just to say ‘hi’).  And I always said “bye” to her after every class.
  • Every now and then, I’d give her a piece of candy or a pencil – just because.
  • Smile…a lot. 

I wanted her to know that I was friendly and I never forced her to talk to me. 

A huge help came from a fellow classmate who speaks really good English.  This classmate noticed my effort and started to encourage the girl to try and talk to me…or at least wave back at me. 

Months and months and months…and very little progress.  Sometimes, she’d wave back to me…but only sometimes.

There were only two days left before the students were going on summer vacation.  I thought my mission was a big ol’ FAIL!  But, the girl and her classmate learned I was going home to America.  And *ding* – I think this was the motivation she needed. 

She had her classmate write me a letter in English saying how much she was going to miss me.  And that she was sorry she was so shy.  They delivered the letter to my office.  She still didn’t say anything to me, but I knew that she wanted to. 

The next day, I wrote her back a letter (a very simple letter) and included some chocolates with it to share with her classmate.  The look on her face when she saw it was unforgettable.  It was a cool moment. 

And later that day, she tracked me down – and after about five minutes of just waiting and looking at each other (actually she was looking at the ground) – she finally said “thank you.”  It wasn’t much more than a whisper, but I definitely heard it.  No other teacher in the school can say they’ve heard her speak an English word.

There we are.  The shy girl (in the blue/green shirt) and the very caring classmate.  She even said “bye” to me after we took this picture.

Is she now suddenly going to study English a lot and break free from her shell?  Doubtful.  But, my hope is that she gained just a teensy bit more confidence, and that she felt like someone really cared about her. 

I’ll only have two more chances to see these girls before we head home.  So…I’m curious to see if she will talk to me. 

5 Responses to “It took 6 months, but I finally got her to talk”


  1. 1 jessie m July 29, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    What a sweet story!

  2. 2 Mark Z July 30, 2010 at 3:15 am

    OMG. That is the best! What an awesome teacher! ^^

  3. 3 katie p July 30, 2010 at 3:33 am

    poor little thing! it’s great you showed her that bad things don’t happen when she speaks up! 🙂

  4. 4 Mom July 31, 2010 at 2:23 am

    These are the moments teachers and students will always remember. What a break through!

  5. 5 sungalina lee August 6, 2010 at 8:57 am

    you will forever be a magical person in this girl’s life.


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