Friday, March 13, 2009

If you're trapped in an earthquake, or in an emergency situation in Korea--don't assume that potential rescuers know SOS and Morse code.

This morning in my lecture we were looking at inventions that have shaped the fabric of America and its cultures (notice the plural here).

During my preparations for the lecture I put together a power point with pictures of the inventors, their basic bio info, what they are known for and what they invented, and of course a picture of what they invented. I also included pics of the evolution of some of the inventions to show how much they have evolved since the original.

When we got to the telegraph an interesting thought came to me as I was lecturing--"Do Koreans know Morse code?"

And then another thought, a rather startling one considering "SOS" is an international/global piece of emergency/crisis information, hit me even harder: "Do Koreans know what the Morse code is for "SOS"? And for that matter, what is "SOS"?

I showed the trainees a picture of Samuel F. B. Morse, and some pictures of the first telegraph machines . . . and then asked my questions.Slide 66

This dude seriously rocks!

The trainees all had looks of puzzlement on their faces--and I'm sure mine must have mirrored their puzzlement but the articulation of my own had more to do with disbelief (though I should know better after 4 years here) that none of them knew what SOS was . . .

Schematic of the first telegraph machine (from wikipedia)

I was especially perplexed that none of the male trainees knew about this because they have military training. I guess this really illuminates that you can NEVER assume anything about what language learners 'should know' regardless of what the topic is.

And as I point this spotlight on what the trainees don't know I'll point it at myself too. While doing research for my THREE hour lecture (good god why do people think language learners can handle a 3 hour class?) I came across this basic bio info about Morse himself,

Samuel Finley Breese Morse (April 27, 1791 – April 2, 1872) was an American painter of portraits and historic scenes, the creator of a single wire telegraph system, and Morse Code. (from

I had NO IDEA that he was a painter . . . how cool is that?!

The Chapel of the Virgin at Subiaco

During the lecture I mentioned that children in North America learn a little bit of Morse code in the Boy Scouts, at summer camps sometimes as a task-based activity, and in many other situations both educational and recreational.

Thinking about this now I think that it'd be a very cool and fun lesson for Korean students to do. Decode the messages into English from Morse code, and then give students English messages that they have to make into Morse code messages.

I'd have to sit down and put some serious lesson planning creativity into how that might work as a conversation/speaking lesson because that's what many foreign teachers are expected to do in public schools . . . but I think using Morse code as a learning tool for recognizing and producing words and phrases could be a very fun and productive language learning experience. Korean students LOVE puzzles and solving problems--Morse code is something that fulfills both of those interests.

Here is some cool Morse code info that I couldn't go into during my lecture due to time constraints . . .


Applications for the general public

Representation of SOS-Morse code.

An important application is signalling for help through SOS, "· · · — — — · · ·". This can be sent many ways: keying a radio on and off, flashing a mirror, toggling a flashlight and similar methods.

Morse code as an assistive technology

Morse code has been employed as an assistive technology, helping people with a variety of disabilities to communicate. Morse can be sent by persons with severe motion disabilities, as long as they have some minimal motor control. In some cases this means alternately blowing into and sucking on a plastic tube ("puff and sip" interface). People with severe motion disabilities in addition to sensory disabilities (e.g. people who are also deaf or blind) can receive Morse through a skin buzzer.

In one case reported in the radio amateur magazine QST, an old shipboard radio operator who had a stroke and lost the ability to speak or write was able to communicate with his physician (a radio amateur) by blinking his eyes in Morse. Another example occurred in 1966 when prisoner of war Jeremiah Denton, brought on television by his North Vietnamese captors, Morse-blinked the word TORTURE.

So I guess there are two things I came away with from my lecture today. One was that even after four years in Korea and all of the teaching experience and exposure I have with Korean language learners I can still be shocked about something I assumed they would know--and I thought that I had broken myself of the assumption habit in relation to almost anything and everything in Korea . . .

The second thing is,

If you're trapped in an earthquake, or in an emergency situation in Korea--don't assume that potential rescuers know SOS and Morse code.

I have no way of checking whether or not rescue workers, fire fighters, police, ambulance, and army training in Korea involves Morse code, or at the very least learning to recognize "SOS" when people are trapped in collapsed buildings . . . or whatever the situation might be . . . . but I really hope that they do have some knowledge about SOS.

Here's hoping that I never find myself in a situation where I forget that SOS doesn't seem to be a common cultural fact and use it when I hear rescuers coming . . . and the rescuers fail to recognize it as a human signaling for help and think it's something else . . .



Anonymous said...

These youngsters today don’t remember a time when cell phones weren’t known for their texting and gaming prowess as opposed to being only used for the spoken word. But they aren’t alone, most people nowadays don’t remember that most modern technologies are all relatively new (within the last 200 years) and take many things for granted such as modern transportation (airplanes, cars, tractors, etc.), communication (phones, e-mail, radio, movies, video conferencing, TV, satellite anything, etc.), and conveniences (air conditioning, computers, microwaves, refrigeration, gaming systems, etc.). It’s hard to convince anyone to be grateful that they live in such a wonderfully advanced time, even those currently suffering because of the world’s current financial crisis seem hard pressed to give up what they now consider the necessities of life.

If things get truly bad in this economic crisis, who will survive without their cell phones, ipods, dvrs, satellite TV, Nintendo, bottled water, Starbucks, internet, and air conditioning? Well, I have to get back to my 19 inch laptop (the same size as my family’s first color TV). I have my Slingplayer going, and I have a lot of TV watching to catch up on from the states, plus Battlestar Galactica is down to the nitty-gritty and Lois is back on this week’s episode of Smallville.

John from Daejeon

Jason said...

Ohhhh John, did you really use the word "youngsters"? Lol . . . funny!

People will adapt, and children especially will adapt. If computers suddenly were removed from Korea the kids would go back to being kids without them in ways that you and I remember--god, does that make me old too?? Ha.

BSG? I have to re-watch season 3 before I wade into 4--which I'm dying to do but won't cause I stopped watching for a while due to too much work, and now I need to review the third season before I look at the fourth?

Did you watch "Razor"?

Have a good weekend, I'm off to Seoul.

Anonymous said...

I teach kids from 5-17, so they are definitely youngsters and are connected to their cell phones 24/7. Two of my better students are voracious readers and have given up reading actual books, and now they read off their miniscule phone screens instead. I do fear that the constant texting and game playing may be a precursor to some damaging hand and eye ailments in these children's futures. I don’t know if you know, but “sexting” is becoming a big problem back in the states. One 18 year-old girl just killed herself after her ex-high school boyfriend forwarded some pictures she had sent of herself to him when they were sixteen. Many of these kids are also being charged under harsher child porn laws and being labeled, and having to register as, sexual predators for life. I can see some of the beginnings of this here and am wondering how the government here will deal, or not, with this new by-product of modern technology. We all know how well this society deals with children suffering from mental issues as it is.

I did see "Razor," and now the Hong Kong/Aussie co-star (Stephanie Jacobsen) is on the TV show, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." I liked her on BSG, but not so much on Terminator. The new BSG spin-off, "Caprica," will be released on dvd next month (around the 21st). If you get some time, you might want to check out the TV show, "Breaking Bad." It's the hip new show out there in TV land and is a lot like BSG in terms of what one might do to insure the safety and welfare of their family as the hero knows he doesn't have much time left on this rock before he succumbs to cancer.

I'm waiting for the spring thaw before I head up to Seoul, but enjoy it now. Who knows what those pesky neighbors to the north have planned? I just hope I make it to the end of the year to make a dent in my stockpiles of water and granola bars.

J from D

Anonymous said...

Your idea to have Korean kids work a little with Morse is a good one. However, you could bypass the English; there is a Korean version of Morse. You can see the table at


Anonymous said...

Your idea to have Korean kids work a little with Morse is a good one. However, you could bypass the English; there is a Korean version of Morse. You can see the table at


Jason said...

Hi Anonymous,

Please think about the fact that I'm teaching ENGLISH CLASS to the students.

Why would I "bypass the English" to teach them Morse code to be translated into Korean?

Before making a suggestion about how I might teach my ENGLISH classes you might want to put a bit of thought into what the goals of an ENGLISH class are . . .