Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Why are Koreans afraid of foreigners?

It's true. They are scared. Little children go pale and some scream when the see me. (Not good for the ego!!!) School children are the same. Adults too. (But I've yet to have an adult scream!)One thing that I find very weird is that walking around the streets or on the river bank, no one speaks to you (unlike Australia, when we are likely to wave, smile and greet anyone who is walking towards us.) And we look them in the eye.

Why is this so? Here in Jeonju there are few foreigners anyway. So we are a "novelty". The only English speakers students know are their English Teachers and they don't necessary like them. They generally hate learning English. It is compulsory, requires a lot of "drill" work, repeating inane sentences, learning complicated grammar and frequent difficult examinations go with the territory. No wonder they don't like much English.

It is because of culture and language according to my observations. For a start English speakers have been used to communicating with people around the world. For years before computers came along, we would have pen friends and write in English. Many many letters ago, I had pen friends in the UK, America, Phillipines and in Australia. Language prevented Koreans or Chinese from doing the same. Their mailing systems were not as sophisticated as ours either, and both countries since the war have been very poor.

The Confucian philosophy has not helped either. Their strict cultural systems - and their strong family ties have also played a part in this.

These are some of the reasons that, despite the huge per capita expenditure on English language skills that these two countries are some of the worst in the world. Around 140 th in the world.

Chinese students learn English for 12 - 14 years and most are still functionally illiterate.

They "try" to be more western (American particularly) and wear clothes with English on them. Our waiter last night had on his shirt "Drink, Pee, Repeat" and a student had a t-shirt that described her in very unflattering terms. They don't read, nor understand, but feel they are "cool" in a shirt with English on it.

They are being taken for a ride - (as we Aussies would say) by their governments and their schools.

And no one is doing anything about it. Korea is about to reduce the requirements to be an English teacher in Korea - university degrees will no long be necessary to work here, but I think that won't help.

They must reduce the emphasis on grammar, and create a communicative learning enviroment where students learn to converse in English. They don't and they can't.


Kiwi Riverman - The Writer said...

Koreans would have to have younger people living in western countries for some years,and for them to go back as teachers, and as politicians to change their system. It could take a couple of generations to change things around.

Di Hill said...

I'm sure it will take a few generations to change that. It is something that I discussed with my students who are English teachers, and I now have a few "supporters" who will discuss these issues in teaching forums I think.

Language is a huge issue - few people other than Koreans speak Korean, and Koreans hate English - they have been force fed English grammar most of their school life, still can't converse in English, and have very negative thoughts on the west.

deedub said...

Your post in most timely, as I have ET teaching today and tomorrow for a class of TESOL teachers from Korea.

I shall diplomatically raise many of the issues you made and aim to post what I have learned from them.

deedub said...
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deedub said...

I can report that the six Korean teachers studying TESOL teaching here in Melbourne were not that surprised with your views, and generally agree that in the regional areas at least, foreigners are rare and locals find it quite difficult to interact with them.

They also agree that generally learning English is more of a chore than a useful educational aim, due to the rote learning and emphasis on grammar. And very little opportunity to practise outside of the English classroom.

My contacts roared with laughter about the "anything English" that appears on T shirts.