Your Daily Shot of Soju: Korean English Education Wrestles With a Fundamental Flaw

“Your Daily Shot of Soju” is my daily format for sharing random cultural thoughts, pictures and basically anything I want to in an easy to digest and read format. Expect to be updated Monday-Thursday, and probably once on the weekend.

I am a dancing tape recorder:

The other day I linked to a series of articles discussing the incoming administrations desire to fully integrate English into all classes. This includes Science and Mathematics courses. Not surprisingly this move his controversial at best and heavily opposed at it’s worst. You can place me in that latter group. In fact, I do not think the incoming administration even believes that this will happen. The entire thing sounds like the first high bid in what will be a very interesting, to say the least, negotiating process.

I understand the desire for Korea to update it’s English education system. After nearly ten years of being taught English most still can not hold basic conversations. Although they do fairly well on tests.

What I believe, will most likely happen, is that English classes will be required to be fully taught in English (probably a good idea) and the government will train the existing Korean, English teachers to speak and teach more completely in English (also, probably a good idea).

Another move, that I am unsure about, is the hiring of more Native English speakers to teach English here in Korea. One of the biggest problems with the hiring of foreign teachers is that many of us significantly lack teaching qualifications. We may have a degree (in something other than education) and some enthusiasm but those two things do not a teacher make. It does not take a mathematical genius (luckily) to figure out that hiring more Native English teachers would further dilute an already thin talent pool.

This is where I realize the basic flaw surrounding the Korean theory on teaching English, and that is that EVERY student should be taught English. What this results in, then, is over sized classes that meet only once every two weeks. So while every student is taught English, every student is taught English fairly poorly.

In this system, I think it is actually a benefit to not have prior teaching experience. With current time and classroom logistical constraints the Native English Teachers aren’t really teachers at all, we are more like English salesmen. We try to excite kids to the possibility of learning English…from someone else. We would do it ourselves if we didn’t have 1,000 other students to see this week.

As someone who has teaching experience I know what good teaching is. I know what good teaching is not. I know that good teaching is not having 36 students repeat every word you say or playing games for 40 minutes. I know that if they only do this once every two weeks they will remember and retain absolutely nothing. I know that having 22 different classes, some coming with full knowledge of the days lesson and some having no idea what the sentence “how are you,” is makes it impossible for teachers to know their students or plan for their abilities. Finally, I know what a trained teacher is capable of given the proper circumstances, and that these are not proper circumstances.

So instead of having MORE Native English teachers we should have LESS students. Turn the English curriculum into an elective program where students, who actually care to learn English, work in smaller classes 2 to 3 times a week, getting the individual attention they need. Give the Native English teachers a full hour to teach this lesson. Allow them to assess their students. Allow them to create tasks that work with multiple intelligences instead of constantly hammering pronunciation into the larynx of an ill-prepared student.

True, less students would be taught English but those who are would end up more prepared. Additionally, those parents who send their students to private institutions (Hogwans) would be given another, cheaper, alternative to a pricey endeavor. A classroom system that is woefully dependent on rote memorization, completely out of conversational context, has the potential to truly enhance students abilities and us teachers who came here with the hope of actually teaching can put our skills and education to use. At the very least it will provide sufficient English education until the government can train it’s current Korean teachers to teach English more effectively.

If you want to continue exposing every student to English then schools can still use their Native English speakers to teach full classes in addition to the elective classes. Only with the expectation that this is more of an English presentation rather than an English class. At least then everybody is being honest with themselves.

Making English an elective class would be the first baby step in a journey that Korea has deemed absolutely necessary. Turning the entire curriculum on it’s head would be a huge step…off of a cliff.

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1 Comment

Filed under Education, Politics, Things to Entertain You

One response to “Your Daily Shot of Soju: Korean English Education Wrestles With a Fundamental Flaw

  1. Melissa

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read about the problems in the education system here

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