When I walked into the cleaners Soon was on the phone. She stood there with the receiver to her ear for a while, only occasionally replying, “okay.” Finally she hung up and looked over at me, “Some people talk way too fast. I haven’t known English for very long. That man was from the government and said they wanted to make a movie about us. Do you know what that means?”
I didn’t know what that meant but Soon just shrugged it off as another mystery that probably wouldn’t be solved.
While I handed her some dress shirts she went on to tell me about learning English in high school while in Korea . She thought she was pretty good at it until she first came to the US in 1989. “Then I tried to speak but it was so bad. I wanted to run away.” Ten years later she hadn’t run away and was being sworn in for her US citizenship.
“I learned real English from the customers in the store and from watching tv at home in the evenings. I like to watch those love stories in the afternoons, so my grandmother copies them for me on the VCR and we watch together at night.
“My English was getting better, but even by 1999 I wasn’t very good at it. At the swearing-in ceremony some famous people came to speak and the news was there for the speeches. I don’t know who they were but three men gave long speeches to my group in front of the tv cameras. All I understood was ‘Congratulations!’ But I guess that was the important part.”