Sunday, 19 April 2009

English in Korea

For my readers who are also teachers of English, you might be interested in this article from the Korean Times - click here about the sad state of affairs of the English language learning programs in Korea. The people spend a fortune on English language lessons here - but the results are appallingly low.

Having spend time in China and more recently Korea, I have some thoughts on this.

I remember attending an English Teachers' Conference in Hangzhou in December 08, where the state of affairs of English language learning in China was described in not very glowing terms. It was stated that many students after 16 years of English lessons were still functionally illiterate! However they do rate higher than the South Koreans according to the report mentioned in the Korean Times, and strangely North Korea rates higher than South Korea.

My time in Korea has been very short - just over three weeks, but I have learned that there are few people here, despite the fact that many would have learned English, who are prepared to try and say a few words to a foreigner. I've met just two - one a young gun toting security guard in the local KB Bank, and another in another bank.

In China we discovered that many people were coy about speaking English, and if you asked anyone if they spoke English, they would reluctantly admit "just a little" but it was always enough to get the help we wanted. In Korea, they are extra-ordinarily shy - and just won't admit to it. The lady in my little local shop, I am told, speaks English well. When I spoke to her - she just waved her hands " No".

My students - themselves employed as English teachers have poor English skills - and admit they don't talk much in English, and that they have in many cases forgotten their skills. "If you don't use it, you lose it" I say, and one keeps repeating that saying as he is determined to improve his skills.

Despite the fact that there is English on many buildings, and on many products, there seems to be a total reluctance to use the language. There appears to be no similar program here like the regular"English Corner" programs in China where the Chinese and foreigners met for discussions as I did on some occasions in the Dio Coffee Lounge on a Friday night in Shaoxing.

In Korea there are few if any opportunities to practice conversational English. I see the "English" in the English schools - very much Konglish. (like Chinglish is crazy Chinese English, Konglish is crazy Korean English).

I was looking at the Korean English Dictionary of one of the students today and was gobsmacked. It was huge and had so many pages and so many words - many of which I did not recognise. I've never seen them. Ever. I don't think any average English dictionary in Australia would have that many complex words. So why is it "fare" for Koreans. The dictionary was based on a Japanese dictionary!

So it is a struggle teaching English, and quite a challenge to be teaching teachers how to speak, read, and comprehend English - so that they can help their students.

Somehow we must get more native English speakers to counicte with the Chinese and the Korean students - otherwise they will keep on wasting their money.



Kiwi Riverman - The Writer said...

Is there really much point in teaching them English, if they don't want to use it? Practice makes perfect applies here, as in anything. If you keep practising, you will learn how to keep your balance and learn to ride your bicycle properly!



Di Hill said...

It is frustrating. But there are moves afoot to make more opportunities to practice English. It is slow going, as it is in China too.