Who Is considered to be a ‘legitimate’ English language teacher in South Korea?
As we have been in Korea, I have questioned what some schools consider a ‘credible’ or ‘good’ English teacher. In the Primary attached school to CNUE, the English class that we sat in on had a native English speaking teacher as well as a non-native English speaking teacher. In the Special Education school, the students learned very little English, and I believe a non-native English speaker taught them. At the Gongwan Foreign Language High School, the English teachers in the class we sat in on were native and non-native. The Hogwan had a native and non-native Englsih speaking teachers and at the Animation High School we met two non-native English speaking teachers. Finally, CNUE has two native English speaking teachers and the rest of them are non-native English speaking teachers.
In the article, “White Native English Speakers Needed,” by Ruecker and Ives, it states that native-English speakers are preferred because they have better English than Koreans and Korean’s are ‘poor English speakers.’ I completely disagree with this assumption and I do not think it is fair that non-native English speakers are being overlooked. From interacting with Tecnam and John, they have given me a great perspective on how well Korean’s can learn English and can speak it just as well as a Native speaker. Even the non-native teachers in the different schools have shown me that anyone can learn English and still be understood. Not only are non-natives fully capable of teaching English, they are also there for the students to identify with. If a student cannot identify with a teacher or even a coach, they can struggle in some ways. For example, native-English speaking teachers may intimidate some students because they may not think that their English is good enough. If they feel that their English is not perfect, then they will be more hesitant to ask questions and/or speak up in class.
As I am sitting here giving my opinion based on my observations, I am curious to know what most schools here prefer. Because I have noticed more of the native-English speakers doing most of the instruction, I am assuming more schools prefer them to the non-natives. However, the non-native English speakers are present in these classrooms and they are definitely there as a sense of support. Having already gone through the process of learning English, they can better help the students with confusing translations or pronunciations of different words or sounds.
In the end, I personally believe anyone can be an English teacher if they have the experience and credentials. That article showed us that a lot of places would take native-speakers that didn’t even have credentials. The only quality that mattered was that they were Native, preferably from Canada, the U.S. , South Africa, and various other English speaking countries (mostly populated by White people). Some of them even say that teaching English is so easy, and anyone can do it if you grew up speaking it. I completely disagree with this, and while teaching English can seem easy, it is not. There are so many grammar rules in the English language and ‘formal’ ways to speak to others and several English speakers do not speak this way on a regular basis, whereas those whom learn English as a second language speak more formal.
From what I have observed, ‘legitimate’ English teachers seem to be native-English speakers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this; however, non-natives are shown as helpful in these classrooms. I am sure they help with translation, cultural differences and extra help for students to better understand English compared to Korean.
While some of you may know I am currently in Chuncheon, staying at the dorms of Chuncheon National University of Education. During our stay so far, we have gotten a tour of the campus, been well taken care of by one of the English department teachers and one of the CNUE students. They helped make our appointments and have paid for most of our lunch and dinner meals, by being ambassadors of CNUE, and making a great impression on all of us. Never have I felt so welcomed then when I came here and will really miss everyone that I have met. Speaking of people I met, I was given the opportunity for one night to participate and experience a home stay with a family, whose English was amazing. My home stay family really made me feel welcomed into their home and I enjoyed every second! My host mom, her name is Grace, was super proficient in speaking English. Both her and her son Kang Min came to pick me up and on the way to the car, I kid you not Kang Min was walking next to and took my hand in his, the expression he had just said that he was so happy I was going with them. On the way to our first stop he called me Noona, which in Korean it is what young boys call older girls also known as “big sister”. Which I had to laugh at because he was just too cute and reminded me of my younger brother at that age. While Grace and I would usually communicate in English, she would encourage Kang min to speak in English to me,which he did, but I think I might have let him get away with Korean because I can understand it a bit and would sometimes slip into using some words towards him. At the time I hadn’t told Grace that I knew Korean and so later when my secret was revealed I had found out that Kang min has told her that I had been comprehending and communicating in Korean. Once we arrived back to their home I found out that not only does Kang min have sisters, but two older sisters, and that’s when I said to myself, ‘oh my gosh! I found the South Korean version of my family’. during my stay I mostly hung out with Grace and Kang min, however I did get to meet and talk with one of the daughters, who I believe is the eldest, we became fairly close, even with the small amount of time. What I found most interesting about the home stay was the fact that Grace would throw out English phrases and words in front of her children, while I’m not entirely sure if it was just to show off in front of me or not, but it seemed almost usual because of the fact that the two children I met comprehended what she was saying so well. Grace seems to be the enforcer of learning English, and when I say that I mean more like positive reinforcement, where if she has to she will speak in Korean, but doesn’t discourage when the kids want to speak English. While I never asked Grace how she learned English, she did at one point mention something about an English Academy and so I almost believe that is how she learened and then in turn taught her children. I had so much fun with my host family, but boy when you haven’t done much exercising and then all of the sudden are doing it over a weekend, it can bite you in the butt, however I will say that the only thing that ended up hurting and still does is my rib cage area. Well that’s all for now! From a slightly sore traveler, bye from Chuncheon!
From the readings we did in Jenelle’s class, I know that the curricula for teaching English in South Korea is TBLT, task-based language teaching, and CLT, communicative language teaching, which are task-based curricula. We read how even though task-based has been introduced to the curricula a lot of teacher don’t end up teaching that way. One reasoning that was listed said that a lot of teachers don’t like the task-based learning because in their culture school is something very serious. To teach task-based like learning seems like it would be more entertainment than actual class.
I will tell you though it’s one thing to read those word and another thing to see what is actually happening. In one of the schools that we walked into, where TBLT was being implemented the student’s English was somewhat, if not completely, fluent, we observed an English class. This school will go un-named, but it’s a boarding school. The students study and are basically stuck to a schedule except for once a month, when they go home. Students are also not allowed to date, have some textbooks that look almost specified for reading tests, and not allowed to call their homes often. Despite all of that, these students were by far some of the most talented English speakers we heard in South Korea.
Now that I have explained the school, let’s talk about how TBLT and CLT were used. In this classroom, there was conversations happening in English over a product that the students could sell to others (one that would make a lot of money and one that would never make money). There was a lot of really good conversation and it was facilitated by two teachers. One international teacher from the US and the other who was from South Korea. Before the discussion began the international teacher gathered the student’s focus asking for students to tell both their ideas. The teacher from South Korea asked them to use the script that was written on the board, which basically said “My idea is _____ we think it will earn money because of _____.” I am glad that they had a script to use if they were nervous or not confident enough. However, the problem with using a script, from the very beginning of the lesson, is there is no gauge of how well the students can manipulate the language to produce their own sentences and it creates a way for students to just read an memorize from the board to their own writing.
In another school, this time an elementary school, which had an amazing library, time for students to play, exercise, garden, and had funny interactive concerts at the end of every week. We were in an English class, where the students were learning how to use the future tense. The students basically repeated off the script that was on the board and there was one correct answer that students had to give to earn a point in the game they were playing. Now the script at their level is understandable, since they were only just learning how to use this tense. Again there were two teachers, one international and one national. The international teacher was mainly going by the script, which was a mild problem considering he had the skill to say that the questions had more than one right answer. The national teacher, however, acted very silly. It made me wonder, if he was teaching by himself, would his students learn the future tense? This question made me think about the reading, where TBLT and CLT becomes more of an entertainment process than a teaching process.
Traveling abroad, let alone to South Korea, already seemed a once-in-a-lifetime experience to me. I was able to get the first stamps in my shiny new passport, was able to experience being surrounded completely by another language, was able to experience foods I would never think of trying back home. In short, I was happy to be a student and tourist in an unfamiliar country, open to every new experience that might come my way.
I knew going in that we would likely visit the DMZ, though I truly wasn’t certain what that might involve. I sort of imagined some viewing point or something, but nothing specific. When we arrived, we learned that MERS and joint military exercises (and possibly a recent North Korean defection) would cause our original plan to visit the main DMZ point—the one where you can cross into North Korea briefly—to be scrapped. Our leaders were scrambling to figure out a replacement and we all settled into the first few touristy days without giving it much thought. It would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but we probably would have replaced it with something just as interesting. At that point, we were too jetlagged and too dazzled by Seoul to care much.
And then, we headed to Chuncheon National University of Education. On one of our very first days in Chuncheon, we had a once-in-a-lifetime experience that far outweighed any trip to the DMZ. I will turn thirty in a few weeks and in my nearly thirty years, I’ve experienced many amazing things: the Grand Canyon last fall (finally!), jubilee on the Gulf Coast, Mardi Gras, the turn of the Millenium, an Olympic games local to me, and more. This experience, though, was unlike all the rest.
Our group was able to meet, face-to-face, and talk with North Korean refugees (defectors, being the less PC term, perhaps). After learning about the program from the director, two groups of North Korean refugee men sat down with us and shared much of their stories, their lives, their experiences with us. We were struck not only by their openness, but by their spirit. These were men who had sacrificed everything, had risked everything, for the possibility of freedom, unguaranteed as it was.
As a ardent supporter of high quality ESL/EFL instruction for adults and children, I was struck not only by their stories—of which an entire blog could not hope to recount everything—but by their self-learning drive. These were men who, though employed in low-level jobs and assisted by the government, strove for more. They had dreams, even when dreams had been denied to them before they defected. Their dreams were simple or complex, practical or impractical. But, they were their dreams. Their dreams. And one way or another, the center was trying its best to help them achieve those dreams.
As a teacher, I know all too well how hard it can be to motivate students, to keep them engaged, to know when to push and when to step back. I have taught students who were growing up in virtual war zones, who faced gang violence, criminal activity, and instability on a daily basis. I have taught students who escaped war-torn countries with the clothes on their backs, either recently or many years ago. I have taught wealthy students and poor ones. Yet, I have encountered few learners as motivated, even though most of these men where having to start with elementary or middle school level material—they were years, decades behind their age cohort in South Korea. I was motivated by them. I plan to share this experience with my future students, hoping they will be motivated as well.
Today, the class visited a foreign language high school. While at the school, we were given individual tours with one of the students. It was interesting to note the rigorous demands the students face while going to the high school.
I was informed that most of the students are lucky to get about six hours a sleep a night. Most of the time, the students are in the classroom studying and learning. This confirms with the other East Asian countries of Japan and China.
I often wonder at what time does learning become redundant. The human brain is not a computer. It can’t absorb and process vast amounts of information.
In addition, South Korean students have reported much stress with all of the studying that goes with the Suneung, South Korean College Entrance Exam. The Suneung is literally the gateway to a high paying job in South Korea and possibly a successful marriage.
There have been calls to reform the system much like in the past in which exams were dropped so students could enter into middle school without worrying about a test score. In the future, there might be other ways to be admitted into college, but in the mean time, students will continue to study long hours for the Suneung.