I am delighted to present you with the first interview for 2016, with one of my favourite educators ever, James Taylor!
Today’s guest is an invaluable ELT colleague and friend: an English teacher, blogger, co-founder and former President of BELTA Belgium, TEFL Commute podcast co-producer, iTDi mentor, ELTChat moderator, conference and webinar speaker. He is very active on social media and we all learn such a great deal from him on a daily basis.
James joined me from Brasília, where he now lives.
Enjoy this amazing interview and listen to James talk about everything from ELT, life experiences and travelling around the world as a teacher, podcasts, books, music and more!
A huge thank you, James!
(And thank you, James for coming up with the brilliant post title!)
I had my share of language learning experience as a child. This is the time when you don’t question the grammar rules or their exceptions, when it’s perfectly okay to make mistakes, be corrected or a tad embarrassed in front of a whole class because you don’t really care.
Then you grow up… All of a sudden, you are conscious of making mistakes, you want to understand the logic behind every grammar rule and yes, and you will be mortified when making mistakes. Why? Because you are an adult, an educated person expressing yourself at a level of a young child and that is just disturbing: you have your ego protesting and screaming: hey, I am not stupid!
I have been learning Chinese and that is not an easy task. Set aside the tones – it’s like learning to sing – the wide variety of dialects, not to mention the many words that sound alike, with different meanings, of course. So while you are trying to say I am a teacher you might be actually saying I am an old rat…
So naturally, most the time when I am mingling with the locals, trying to get the right breakfast on the street, I do feel like a small child – however, and not a smart one…
It all ended when Frank, a well-educated engineer started taking English classes, at a beginners level.
I sensed his frustration, because he really wanted to express himself but couldn’t. How could he? He had just started his journey of learning English at the age of 38.
And last week, after failing to get his message across, he just burst out: “I am stupid! I like 5-year-old!” And that’s when it hit me: I did understand his frustration because I have been feeling the same way.
So I told him: “Yes, you are right: you do sound like a 5-year-old. But that’s okay! Because you are learning! It will get better, I promise. Then I told him: “I also am a 5-year-old… “– in Chinese…
He smiled and was grateful. I assured him: nobody thinks he is stupid, it’s only the beginning.
Frank also helped me, inadvertently. I no longer care if a local gives me that weird look, or even laughs at my fragile attempt to express myself in Chinese. I just gently remind myself: “It’s okay. It will only get better!”
About a year ago, I connected online with a very talented young lady – a teacher in Taiwan who is well-known on social media for her sharing and passion for education. May I present: Annie Tsai!
Annie Tsai had worked for a few radio stations as a copywriter but later on changed her career as an EFL teacher. After being in the same position for 9 years at a public elementary school, she decided to make a change again and she’s currently a 3rd grade homeroom teacher. She’s based in Taiwan but always on the track of going somewhere overseas. Other than being involved in local teacher’s training program, she’s also passionate in backpacking and trying her best to bring the world to her class. She has won a scholarship from Cambridge Global Teacher’s Essay Competition and she was also the winner of 2011 Everybody Up Global Sing-along Competition sponsored by Oxford University Press.
Vicky: Annie, I am so happy you have accepted to be interviewed on my blog. We have never met in person, however, from our connection on social media I have seen all the great things you do in your teaching and that is a huge reason why I wanted you to share everything with us!
Annie: Thank you! I have enjoyed seeing your side of the world via FB. I think this is one of the best parts of being connected via social media. A group of people, albeit never met in real life, share the same passion and profession, which is the living proof of why learning a foreign language makes us a better person in so many levels. We learn to share and communicate and our perspectives can be so much more versatile in this way. It helps to have a clear mind, especially for educators joggling between teaching and management.
Vicky: How true! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – because it is so interesting to see their journeys entering education. How did you decide to join this field?
Annie: I had worked as a copywriter/planner at a couple of radio stations before changing lanes. In my last year at the media industry, I did some serious thinking of my future if I should continue to stay on the same path. That was the same year when the Taiwanese government decided to start the English education from elementary level. With my mom’s strong suggestion, I took the entrance exam they held and passed with flying colours. Thinking back now, it is a life-changing opportunity I hadn’t expected, considering my childhood memory with school wasn’t that rosy and shining. I have to admit that becoming a teacher is the most rewarding and best decision I’ve ever made in my life. It makes me learn more about my strength and weakness. It is the kind of profession that makes you examine your personality and rationale in fairly frequent bases. As a person who had spent the better half of her career life in the media industry, I think it is fair to say that I’ve seen the scenery from both sides. Teaching is a highly self-motivated trade and it is more than often being misunderstood or underestimated by the public. Teaching, however, also brings undescribed joy of reward for numerous people. The longer I stayed in this profession, the more I realized that teachers can play far more important roles in the mini-society they walk in every day. Changes that last for a lifetime may start from a classroom.
Vicky: Wow! What an interesting journey. And in your teaching career so far, you teach Young Learners. What do you enjoy the most about these ages, and what are the challenges?
Annie: Ah, the possibilities there can be and the generosity they can offer is the most important present and privilege a teacher may receive! I love helping these little people to learn the world as I know and knowing that the world is so big that every one of us might see only a fraction of it. The only way to learn the world is to see it in your own eyes. Thus it is a joyful achievement if you get the key to communicate with people from other parts of the world. Often times my young learners surprise me in cute yet awkward moments. Here’s an example, being neighbored with an Air Force base means we all get used to the helicopter noise. At the beginning of this semester, several days after we covered the word helicopter, my children shout the word a few times during the class whenever they heard the whirling noise. Now of course I was a bit annoyed with the interruptions, but at the same time, it was such a memorable moment to see how they were so proud of themselves and they’ve made such a positive and strong connection with the foreign language.
The challenges are always there but they can be presents as well. Since Taiwan is an EFL country, it is almost impossible to have sufficient and positive English exposure once pupils leave English class. And the education policy in regards of foreign language often fails to meet the needs of real teaching scenes. During my prior 9-year stint as an EFL subject teacher, I see my students twice every week, with only a 40-minute block in each session. Without effective and extensive schemes to help these young children to review the content, the language material can hardly sank in their brains. To make things harder to manage, classes always come in diverse abilities and I usually have around 300 students to teach annually.
The English teaching industry has always been an issue in the spotlight in Taiwan. It is true that most people found it difficult to master the language to the level of real communication. It is also true that most people still see English as a subject to learn rather than a tool to master. Thus it is common for people to simply give up and steer away from anything related to English once the pressure of tests and exams are out of the picture. So my hope in switching from an EFL subject teacher to a homeroom teacher is to expend the horizon of teaching a foreign language. I believe that by planting the seeds in the earlier stage can motivates them to make an effort of keeping the language. Eventually it may trigger their minds in exploring the world years later.
Finally, I’d like to share that the difficult teaching context may be inspirational sometimes. You wouldn’t try so hard to adjust and adapt if all things are good. That’s also one of the things I love about teaching. It is a comparatively secured profession in making renovations.
Vicky: That’s a beautiful statement you just made. And thank you for sharing your experiences with your young learners, and giving us some insight into the EFL context in Taiwan as well! So interesting.
Would you ever consider teaching adults? Have you ever done it?
Annie: Oops, sorry, I have very limited experiences in teaching adults.
Vicky: That’s fine! Let’s move on to something different now. You share and interact a lot on social media, and that is how we actually got to know each other. Do you think social media help educators, and if yes, how?
Annie: I found social media very helpful in regards to connecting and sharing. It’s also a great platform for information and subjective perspectives. It is especially beneficial for EFL teachers as they often play the role as the ambassadors of each respective culture. Such characteristic broaden the room for thinking and the definition of better practice of teaching. Even in a country as petite as Taiwan, the resources and intel from different corners of the island can be quite diverse. I’ve learned so much information from my peer via FB and it works like therapy groups sometimes! Social networking helps closing the gap between teachers and at the same time it weaves in new threads of thinking to the existing concept.
To make things more exciting, platforms like Twitter, FB and Pinterest, involves teachers in different time zones and together we get to converse in the comfort of our own sofa. Additionally, professional and independent EFL FB pages such as iTDi also bring in the self-helped professional development courses that I can easily enrolled and learn in my own pace. The interactions performed in these virtual spaces, are more often than not effective and to the point. Perspectives and knowledge are no longer limited in geography. That’s the most fascinating part of all these virtual networking, just like the way I’m doing an interview with you now!
Vicky: Isn’t it great? I am thrilled about this! And in addition, you are part of a fantastic international programme – your kids are pen pals with another class in Greece, that of Aphrodite Giouris, who is in Larissa. How did this project start? What do you do?
Annie: I came across Aphro via Facebook; I think we have mutual friends and after several chats back and forth, we decided to partner our classes and do a series of exchanges. For my students, Greece is just as ‘familiar’ and ‘exotic’ as those Greek gods and goddess they read in the books. The project enables my children to apply the language with a purpose. They no longer see Greece just another far-away country on the map. It has become very real and intriguing to understand that there are kids thousands of miles away learning the same language just like us. Aphro and I also tried our best to match our kids from both sides and make sure each of them eventually receive something specifically for him or her. The experiences are phenomena as most of them have never received any hand-written letter before, let along anything from a foreign country!
I have personally learned and enjoy the process all the way as this project gives me a hands-on opportunity to design an integrated course just right for my class. It’s a great practice to test a teachers’ understanding of teaching material and how to best perform them in the making of the project.
Vicky: I look forward to seeing more and how it evolves! It truly caught my interest since day one and think it is a great opportunity for the kids to broaden their knowledge, both in culture and the language. Now to the future: what is one of your dreams about your teaching in the next few years?
Annie: As a rookie homeroom teacher, it means that I’ll have to be more familiar with other main subjects such as Mandarin and math. I’d like to take advantage of my new teaching context to build a more integrated curriculum. With more time and fewer pupils, I’m thinking about more shared reading experiences and eventually have at least a class drama annually. I’m also hoping for opportunities such as international competitions/networks to bring my children to the wider communities of the world.
As a senior EFL teacher, I’m hoping to organize or being involved in professional development for teachers. I’ve had a few experiences and hoping to continue the journey of sharing. I’m also looking forward to opportunities to brush up my language proficiency and hoping to be able to participate in International EFL conferences. Guess my wish list for Santa is a bit too long ; ) Still, being a teacher gives you the means to make your dream come true.
Vicky: It’s been such a pleasure hearing about everything you do! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Annie – I hope we meet in person some day!
Annie: As a passionate backpacker, I might actually hop on a plane and fly to the picturesque Switzerland some day! Thank you so much for the heartwarming invitation. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Vicky: I will be so happy to show you around! Happy Holidays and all the best to you too : )
I am extremely happy to present you with an interview I have been thinking about for a very long time with one of the people I admire tremendously. Mike Griffin! I connected with Mike in December 2011 on Twitter initially – he stood out for being one of those educators who has great opinions and ideas on education. He also has an amazing sense of humour! I was so happy that he started his own blog, which contains super pieces of writing. Mike blogs at ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections. Heeeeere’s Mike!
Vicky: First of all, a huge thank you for accepting to do this interview – as you know, you are one of my favourite people on Twitter and Facebook, so this is a huge honour for me!
Mike: The pleasure and honour is all mine! #Whoop! Thanks so much for having me. It has been such fun getting to know you on those channels.
Vicky: You teach in South Korea as a lot of us know, as you are one of the most well-known people in the PLN and offer lots to educators on a daily basis. However, can you tell us where and what kind of classes you have, for the people who meet you for the first time?
Mike: I live and work in Seoul. My “day job” is teaching in the graduate school of a university here. I guess it is easiest to say that I have two different jobs within that job. In the first, I teach Business English, Academic English, or Discussion-focused classes for grad students in the International Studies major. In the second I run weekly seminars in simultaneous interpretation for students doing an MA in interpretation and translation. Students come into class with a Korean speech that they read while others interpret simultaneously and I frantically listen to as many interpretations as I can. After that students give each other feedback on what they heard and then I do my best to answer questions and give feedback on what I heard. Everyone always wonders if my Korean ability is good enough for this. It’s not. I actually just listen to the English anyway.
Additionally, I have been (co-)teaching Curriculum Development on the New School MATESOL program for a few terms. I also work on a trainer/mentor training course for public school teachers. I feel pretty busy after writing that.
As for being well-known, that is news to me!
Vicky: Well, it’s the truth! Was teaching your first choice as a profession?
Mike: Not really. Kind of. I am not sure. I actually entered university as an Education major but switched to History shortly thereafter. I thought I might like to be a history teacher for a while but then the allure of living in other cultures was too much.
Vicky: How did you get to Korea in the first place and what do you like the most about living there? Was there anything that surprised you in your first few months there?
Mike: I decided in my final term during my undergrad I wanted to teach and travel. Korea jumped out at me for a few reasons. It was far away and seemed different. At that time (12+ years ago now) not a lot of people knew about Korea, especially as compared to Japan. I was interested in going to a place that was not so widely known. I was also interested in how Korea was changing so rapidly and had undergone such dramatic changes in the past 50 years. I was lucky enough to get in contact online with a Canadian guy that was leaving his job and I appreciated how honest he was about the good and not-so-good things about the position.
The most surprising thing for me in my first few months in South Korea is the thing that still surprises me the most. Buildings go up so quickly! It is amazing. You might go somewhere you haven’t been in a month and see 3-4 new buildings. Even after all this time it still surprises me.
Vicky: You are a huge proponent of Reflective Practice in Teaching and one of the founders of the first RPSIG (Reflective Practice Special Interest Group) in the world, based in Korea. How did you enter this area of interest? How did you start the SIG?
Mike: Wow, great question. I was lucky enough to see and get connected a bit with Dr. Thomas Farrell at a special day-long workshop in 2008. Reflection was also a big part of my MATESOL at the New School as well as my training to be a World Learning/SIT Teacher Trainer. I saw a lot of benefits when I started trying to see my teaching as it was and started talking and writing about it. I guess reflection and reflective practice appealed to me before I even know what they were or what they were called.
Vicky: You present a lot at conferences throughout the year and do a lot of workshops for teachers. What do you enjoy the most about them?
Mike:I absolutely love the sound of my own voice. Wait, no, that is not the right answer. For the past few years I have been averaging about 1 presentation a month, which is something I am looking forward to cutting back on in 2013. I truly enjoy presenting and giving workshops, though. I find it is great learning opportunity for me to discover my hidden beliefs on certain areas as well as to explore thoughts and ideas that I was not so familiar with. The other thing I enjoy is helping teachers see how their experiences and thoughts matter and how they can make their own decisions about their classes.
Vicky: What would you advise teachers who are a bit reluctant to present?
Mike:Just start by starting. Don’t worry about being perfect or blowing people’s minds. Audiences are generally very supportive (especially if you come off as a fellow explorer and not an expert telling people what they *should be doing). I think it can be pretty nerve-wracking at first but it gets easier. My other advice would be that you don’t need to start out with big huge presentations but can start with smaller sessions for your colleagues or friends or something along those lines. I’d also advise being patient and not taking it personally if and when rejections come.
Vicky: Let’s move on to your blog, which is one of my absolute favourites. If I have to choose the top 5, yours is definitely among them. How did you start it and what inspires you to write?
Mike: Thanks so much! It is always great to get positive feedback but even better to get positive feedback from someone that you respect (and someone that has an excellent blog themself!).
I love blogging. I can’t believe it took me so long to get into it. I did dabble with student blogs and blogs that I ran for students back in the olde days of 2007 but I never thought about having my own blog. The constant nagging encouragement of my dear friend Josette LeBlanc (@josetteLB) who has an amazing blog over at tokenteach(http://tokenteach.wordpress.com/)wasthe main push for me to blog. I joined Twitter in 2011 just after the KOTESOL International Conference after Chuck Sandy encouraged the audience in his fantastic presentation to do so. From there after engaging with the community having a blog seemed like a natural next step. I think Twitter is fantastic but the tyranny of 140 characters can be a bit strong at times so it is nice to have a space to share some thoughts.
As for my inspiration to blog, there are a few ideas and rants that I just needed to get out of my system and blogging has been great for that. I have noticed how the simple fact of just having a blog changes my thought process. For example, something interesting or strange might occur in class but now that I have a blog I sometimes think about these events under the lens of “How would I write about this in the blog?” and I think it tends to give me more/different insights than I would have otherwise. I guess I didn’t really answer your question about what inspires me to write but it is partially things I need to get off my chest, lessons I have learned that I want to share, questions I am working through, funny (in my opinion at least) stories I want to share, or other people’s ideas I want to share.
Vicky: You are very active on social media and share a great deal with educators all around the world. Can you give us some insight into how you use each medium and what you see as a benefit? Which downsides are there?
Mike:“Very active on social” media is a very nice way to put it. Haha. I am on the computer a lot for work and Facebook and Twitter are enticing breaks. I mostly use Twitter for professional things (though I am not afraid to be silly and whimsical) and Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family and sharing random thoughts and links. In the past 6-10 months I have been adding more and more Twitter friends on Facebook and it has been interesting. I suppose “worlds colliding” could be a potential downside but I have been lucky enough (as far as I know) to not experience negative impact from merging my professional and personal digital selves. I think there are always risks inherent in any sort of communication but I have been very pleased with my social “networking for professional development experiment.” I guess I mostly share links and try to connect with people. I have been thrilled to discover amazing people who work in similar as well as drastically different contexts in Korea and around the world. Pooling knowledge and ideas with educators around the world has been an inspiring experience.
Vicky: Before our interview, I asked you which your favourite ELT book is and yours is Understanding Teaching Through Learning. Can you give us some details about it – why would you recommend it? By the way, I have already ordered it and thank you for that!
Mike:That is great news! That book was a great intro for me about many things related to teacher training and reflection. It is also a great source of ideas and material for running workshops. I think the authors did a great job of taking complicated ideas and making them accessible and engaging. Something I especially love about that book is how it offers something for teacher across all experience levels.
Vicky: Now let’s move on to Mike outside teaching. What do you enjoy doing when you have a spare moment?
Mike:I don’t have as many spare moments as I would like but traveling and reading are at the top of my list. Combining the two and reading on a beach in a new country is blissful for me.
Aside from my big interest in ELT am also interested in sports, movies, comedy, business, politics, and suddenly social networking.
Vicky: I asked you about your favourite movie before I interviewed you and it is The Big Lebowski – to be honest, I have never seen it, even though I have heard about it before. I had homework to do and learn more about it! Please tell us more about it and why you like it.
Mike: You have to see it! It’s hilarious. It is also one of those movies that gets better the more you see it. I don’t just recommend watching it once, I recommend watching it at least 5 times. Then things will make a bit more sense. I found it extremely witty and funny and I was especially impressed with the dialogue. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. I imagine when you (finally) see it you might recognize some of the lines because people have been saying them around you for years.
Vicky: Nerdy question coming up: have you ever taught with it?
Mike:That is a really #TESOLgeek –y question! It is also a great idea because I have never used it in class. Some of the dialogues would be great. I am imaging it now. I think you might be a bit out of your element if I start telling you what scenes would be good so I will wait for you to get back to me.
Vicky: Mike, a huge thank you for this interview, for your insight and your time. I really hope to meet you face to face soon!
Mike:Thank YOU. Thank you for having me. Thank you for all the support. Thanks for all the laughs and smiles. Thank you for all the sharing and community building that you do. And thank you for being you. Rock on!
(I am very much looking forward to meeting you face to face. I am willing to go on record that all the cake you can eat will be my treat!)
Vicky’s Notes: I would like to thank Mike very much for helping me find a title for his blog – wordplay on his blog title! And thank you – I never say no to cake!
As I have mentioned before, this year I teach mainly adults in a number of contexts: some work in banks or various companies (software, packaging). Very often they have meetings to attend, where they are asked by their colleagues and managers to help resolve problems or conflicts. And they have to do it…in English! What I do with them (not something ground-breaking, a very simple idea) is that I try to think of potential problems they may have at work, such as:
1. What do you do if a colleague of yours is constantly late?
2. What happens if your boss asks you to work with your team at the weekend to finish off a project (and you are not that keen on working weekends)?
3. You have been working for months on installing a new computer program for the company / bank and they call you from the US in the middle of the night, asking you to resolve a glitch then and there! And other issues like that.
Of course, because I am learning their line of work from them (there are so many terms especially in IT and as I have recently learned, in packaging too!) I ask my students what kind of problem they would expect to face at some point. I make a list of all these and prepare role-plays and use them with them (some can be used with many groups!). This idea is also in the amazing book Five-Minute Business English Activities by Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton, under the title of Crisis! – the idea is to present the students with a crisis they need to solve. Most of the times I come into the room, putting on a dramatic face in order to set the crisis atmosphere and announce: People, we have a problem. I was fired! or Our new system is down! or something like that. It is unbelievable how they play into the drama and participate! Depending on the culture you are teaching in though, care must be taken not to scare the students or create unnecessary panic. For example, in some cultural contexts I cannot imagine the teacher going into the classroom dramatically yelling that there is a crisis. It would make the students uncomfortable. This activity has helped my students a lot, as they are pulled into it by the nature of it. They do not even realise when they start speaking and we get lots out of it. Sometimes we get lots of laughs too!
Last Sunday a great number of us were very happy to watch a great webinar on a topic which at least, I had never seen or heard presented before. Chia Suan Chong was the educator behind this great presentation, organised by the BESIGteam. Visit Chia’s blog, where she writes about many interesting topics and also has great interviews!
Before I moved to the German-speaking part of Switzerland, I had absolutely no knowledge of the German language, apart from Danke and Guten Morgen! Then I started listening to people everywhere: on the buses and trains, in restaurants, anywhere I could listen to the language. In the beginning, my understanding was so minimal, I felt like I was constantly running into a wall. As time went by, I started understanding more and more and even noticing features of the language I had never noticed before. (For those who might not know, there are two types of German spoken in Switzerland – High German or Hochdeutsch, or the German people speak in Germany and Swiss German or Schwiizer Tüütsch, which apart from pronunciation and accent includes completely different words in many cases. For instance, the word for bicycle is Fahrrad in High German, whereas Swiss German has borrowed the French word Velo.)
What impressed me the most when I heard people speaking – mainly in High German, was the use of the imperative, most of the times without moderators like please or if you could… as we have in English and I must say it was a bit strange at first for me. I particularly noticed it when a bus stopped once and getting on it, I dropped my wallet in the street and all its contents spilled onto the street. The bus driver stayed there patiently, doors open and passengers waiting, also patiently, and when I said (in English, I admit!) “That’s ok, I’ll take the next one”, the driver made a welcoming gesture, smiled and said “Komm, komm”.
I then thought, “Come, come?”…..Come?!? Where’s please? or, That’s ok, come, I will wait for you? After that instant, I noticed it many times and I asked my Swiss friend about it. She told me that it can be polite, depending on how you say it of course, the tone of your voice and the gestures you perhaps use, or the word bitte (please) used at the end. At a resaturant, they use the laconic albeit polite Zahlen, bitte (to pay, please word-for-word) when they want to pay the bill. Still polite, without the Excuse me, could you please bring the bill? socially acceptable and politely conditioned sentence in English. The beauty of each language!
I should mention that I encourage my learners (most of them are adults this year) to use words like please or transform the imperative into questions (Could you please…?) or indirect questions (I was wondering if you could….). They usually smile when I remind them and they humorously say, “You English speakers use too many words!” I tell them: “It’s great that in German people use fewer words and are more direct, they save time and get to the point right away!” It is amazing to see what works in each language and is equally acceptable.
I would like to thank Martin Sketchley for sharing this fantastic blog post about his time teaching English in Korea. I have really enjoyed reading this – it is so interesting to see how things are teaching in another country. I love the extra reading list as well! Thank you so much, Martin!
Martin Sketchley has been teaching English as a foreign language for six years. He taught for three and a half years in South Korea for various private language institutes. During this period, he was a BULATS Examiner and assisted in introducing the exam to this region of Asia. Martin returned to the UK and recently completed an MA in English Language Teaching at the University of Sussex. Currently, he is a Cambridge ESOL Examiner for B1 and B2 CEF level examinations, works at a local language school in Eastbourne and maintains a blog (www.eltexperiences.com). Finally, Martin is now seeking for a publisher to assist his authoring of a book related to his experiences of language teaching and education in South Korea.
Personal Background to Teaching English in South Korea
I started teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea in December 2005 unqualified, inexperienced and totally out of my depth. As is common in South Korea, all budding English teachers require a degree in any subject and the enthusiasm to teach young learners or adults in a variety of settings. I started my teaching career teaching young learners and teenagers in a small private school in a small rural Korean village. This provided the beginnings of what is now a rewarding and interesting career. After completing one year of teaching at this small private school, I decided to commence a four week CELTA Course at the British Council in Seoul in February 2007. The rest is, as they say, history.
ELT in South Korea
English was initially introduced to Korea with the use of Christianity between the mid-fourteenth and early twentieth century (1392-1910). After the Japanese colonisation period of Korea (1910-1945), English was reintroduced to South Korea due to the Korean War, directly from the US Army (Shin 2007: pg.77). English Language Teaching was firmly established in South Korea within the 1990s, and prior to this, English was taught predominately by grammar translation and rote memorisation methods. However, Kim Young-Sam (a previous President of South Korea), persuaded the Ministry of Education to adopt a more “communicative English curriculum” (Shin 2007: pg.77). There has been slow change to adopt the ‘communicative approach’ of English language teaching, now commonly referred to as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), inasmuch that the current President, Lee Myoung-bak, when he first came into power, asserted that the teaching of English should be in English so that Koreans are able to “communicate with Americans” (Shim 2009: pg.106). Consequently, this has implications for not only Native English Teachers (NETs) but also Non-Native English Teachers (NNETs). There is an expectation, due to current political pressure and the recent educational reforms, which encourage NNETs to teach English in their L2. Furthermore, these recent changes urge the Ministry of Education to implement “a national English proficiency examination that concentrates on practical English” (Shim 2009: pg.107). Although educational reforms have been implemented by the Korean Government, a study in 2006 reported that South Koreans spent an annual $15.3bn on private English lessons and $752m on tests such as the TOEFL (Card, 2006). It is believed that “incompetence in English … is claimed to have cost South Korea important business opportunities” (Song 2011: pg.36) and that Koreans have no option but to focus their financial resources to English learning. There are claims that some “parents will spend the equivalent of a month’s salary … on monthly [English] tuition” (Demick, 2002), with some parents deciding on extreme ‘linguistic surgery’ for their children so that they are “better able to pronounce” (ibid.) particular words thereby giving them a more ‘competitive edge’ in English. So how come South Koreans spend so much money on English education? Park (2009) considers the current ‘English fever1’ within South Korea is due to a Korean’s belief that education, albeit English in this case, is regarded as “the most powerful means to achieve upward social mobility and economic prosperity” (ibid. pg.50). The ‘national religion’ of acquiring English in South Korea is a big industry, with many Korean mothers pressurising their children to learn English with the belief that it obviously would improve their future employment prospects (Park 2009: pg.50). However, English in Korea is “a language hardly or never used in everyday communication” (Song 2011: pg.36) but has become an integral measurement in Korean educational performance.
The English Speaker Model in South Korea
The native speaker model is commonly implemented in South Korea, with Inner Circle teachers being recruited. Kirkpatrick (2007) noted that the Korean Government “decided to employ 1,000 native speaker English teachers in its schools” (ibid. pg.185), with advertisements in various Korean newspapers. There was an advertisement in the Korea Herald (www.koreaherald.com) which sought the following expected native speakers of English:
Type 1 teachers require a Certificate in TESOL or three years full-time teaching experience with a graduate degree in TESOL or experience and interest in Korean culture and language.
Type 2 teachers only have to be native speakers of English with a bachelor’s degree in any field.
(Kirkpatrick 2007: pg.185)
The above advertisement could require Type 1 prospective native teachers, at minimum, to have ‘experience and interest in Korean culture and language’, which was my situation late 2005. However, this raises one important matter whether native teachers, without any formal background or experience in teaching or education, are the best models for English education in the Expanding Circle. Nonetheless, what is and what defines a ‘native speaker’ of English? If English is now the lingua franca, are we not all ‘native speakers’ of a variety of English? A stereotypical ‘native’ speaker of English, in the opinion of South Koreans, is an individual who is considered from the Inner Circle. Kachru & Nelson (2001) refer to a ‘native speaker’ as “someone who learned a language in a natural setting childhood as first or sole language” (ibid. pg.15). However, Medgyes (1992) noted that there is a certain amount of ambiguity by defining the native and non-native speaker (ibid. pg. 340-341). Additionally, issues arise in relation to World Englishes which question “who can be labelled a NS or a NNS because a single norm for standard English no longer exists” (Higgins 2003: pg.616). Higgins (2003) also suggests that in an attempt to move away from the native and non-native speaker model, “scholars have employed a concept of ownership to investigate speakers’ ideological stances toward English” (pg.617). There are critics to the concept of native or non-native ‘ownership of English’, stating “things will fall apart and the [English] language will divide up into mutually unintelligible varieties” (Widdowson 1994: pg.383) if there is any diversification. However, there is some hegemonic assumption that Inner Circle speakers will be communicating with Outer or Expanding Circle speakers, or vice-versa, and, furthermore, to maintain some mutual understanding, Outer or Expanding Circle speakers must employ a normative variety of English to be intelligible with Inner Circle speakers. However, pedagogically, there is a suggestion for English professionals to expose varieties of English in the ESL or EFL classroom. It is noted “that being exposed to several varieties in the classroom can help learners become aware that the success of communication with other English speakers does not necessarily rely on the [expected normative] forms of English they produce” (Suzuki 2010: pg.146). Suzuki (2010) also highlights the lack of teacher awareness, during teacher training programmes, in relation to the diversity of English and the potential effects (ibid. pg.146-151) and she recommends that preparing teachers, as well as learners, for the diversity of English would encourage understanding and appreciation of non-standard varieties of English for both the teacher as well as the learner (Suzuki 2010: pg.152-153). There is additional ambiguity, within South Korea, in classifying a ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ speaker of English, as there could be some countries which use English as an official language, such as in India or Singapore, which may be perceived with less ‘prestige’ due to their ‘endonormative’ variety of English. A news article in early July 2008, from the Philippines, stated that those eligible for a Korean E2, Foreign Language Instructor, Visa to teach English in South Korea include “the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland” (GMA News 2008, www.gmanews.tv) due to their ‘exonormative’ English policy. However, a South Korean news article which was published at the end of 2008 stated that English speakers from the Outer Circle “from India and other countries that use English as an official language will be able to teach at public schools from the following year” (The Korea Times 2008, www.koreatimes.co.kr). This demonstrated that there was some recognition, from the South Korean government as well as parent groups, with particular English speakers from the Outer Circle becoming more acceptable to teach English. Does this demonstrate a greater awareness and acceptability for the diversity of English? Well it is a positive step in the right direction but, as Shin (2007) pointed out, “the NS as an ideal teacher legitimizes the substitution of language politics for racial politics in ELT” (ibid: pg.79). Shim (2002) recognised that within Korea, there was “a strong preference for American English and a unanimous unwillingness to participate in a programme that would introduce them to non-native English varieties” (in Jenkins 2007: pg.101).
Medgyes, P. (1992) ‘Native or non-native: who’s worth more?’ ELT Journal, 46(4), pp. 340-349.
Park, J. K. (2009) ‘‘English fever’ in South Korea: its history and symptoms’. English Today 97, 25(1), pp. 50-57.
Shim, R. J. (2002) ‘Changing attitudes toward TEWOL in Korea’. Journal in Asian Pacific Studies. 12(1) in Jenkins, J. (2007) English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shim, R. J. (2009) Plenary: Empowering EFL students through teaching World Englishes in IATEFL 2008: Exeter Conference Selections edited by B. Beaven, April 7-11 2008. IATEFL: Kent.
Shin, H. (2007) ‘English Language Teaching in Korea: Toward Globalization or Glocalization?’, in Cummings, J. & Davison, C. (ed.) International Handbook of English Language Teaching. Springer: New York, pp. 75-86.
Song, J. J. (2011) ‘English as an official language in South Korea: Global English or social malady?’ Language Problems & Language Planning, 35(1), pp. 35-55.
Suzuki, A. (2010) ‘Introducing diversity of English in ELT: student teachers’ responses’. ELT Journal. 65(2), pp. 145-153.
Widdowson, H. G. (1994) ‘The Ownership of English’. TESOL Quarterly, 28(2), pp. 377-389.
1 ‘English fever’ was a term coined by Krashen in 2003. It is used to suggest an “overwhelming desire to (1) acquire English, (2) ensure that one’s children acquire English, as a second or foreign language” (http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/fever/index.html, 2011). English education in South Korea has also been referred to as a ‘national religion’, a ‘craze’ or has a ‘cult-like status’ (Harris 2005: pg.172).