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EPIK Teachers' Essays
EPIK Teachers' Essays
  Date: 2009-07-18 00:59     View: 1293  

A Way to Improve English in Korea
Yeonggwang Girls High School, Anthony Ferngren

Every year thousands of students emerge from schools and universities, some with years of English study behind them, and yet most are unable to actually speak the language. This is a damning, but accurate indictment of the state of the language in Korea.
Last year there was an English speech contest in Yeong-Ju. The eloquence and content of the speeches were impressive, particularly because most of the students had not studied outside of an English setting. Their prepared speeches were of a high quality. Many did far better than a lot of native speakers could have done.
However, it quickly became apparent that the majority, 80 percent at least, where a problem existed. Their language skills were limited to written, memorized words and good pronunciation.
The majority failed to understand the spoken words and questions put to them by myself and other judges after the contest was over. Invariably, they misunderstood the questions, and answered in part or in a way unconnected to the question. Some responded in a way that had nothing to do with the question, demonstrating that the speaker never learned to listen effectively.
They could handle predictable prompts and questions, but unrehearsed questions could not be answered.

   For all their years of study and understanding of the English structure most couldn't link themselves as learners and the language.
Since our language is clearly linked with our personality and culture, why not use the process of acquiring a new language to gain further insight into it and yourself.
   Language is not a passive thing. It is alive, vibrant and meaningful and should be injected in with the personality of the speaker. It is the tool by which human beings relate. It enables the exchange of ideas, knowledge, wisdom and understanding, it will not flourish and will become no more than a mechanical exercise if not spoken and understood.

   One of the most rewarding of language courses and the essence of learning English for both Korean students and Korean teachers is a conversational course. It can be difficult and frustrating. The transformation from basic language or teaching learning patterns and grammar comes down to students taking notes, listening, reading and filling in blanks. They are primarily teacher dominated. Students that enter a conversational based orientation can gain a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of a job well done. The teaching of conversation presents it's own problems in technique, which requires scrutiny and solutions. It should be relative to the age group
and ability of the class. I sometimes put in a short fun exercise to corelate and support the topic. These are easily understood and enhance the students reference at a later date. Any combination or variation from a different perspective can be used. There are no absolute rules as you can be innovative to help with the flow of the class. Acting out the message you are trying to get across is effective by using body movement with a mime in mind. This is very useful and fun. My students sit in a circle with no desks or barriers in between. It's more impersonal and much easier for them to relax.

   The purpose of the conversational class is to keep the flow going smoothly with room for variation and innovation and to get the students to converse with each other at least 75 to 80 percent of the time.


  I begin my courses with the oral aspects of the language. I have the luxury of having high school and Korean teacher‘s classes. Grammar and reading have already been taught and continue with Korean English teachers, I only refer back to them as a revision and clarification.

1. Conversation groups are oral with the occasional support of written material to enhance the topic. The emphasis is on participation. I facilitate the students to learn together and to teach each other. Students may take notes as to the meaning of certain words and  understanding. I only correct a student if it is apparent his/her message is not being understood clearly; If you stop a conversation, a student may lose their train of thought. Towards the end of each class the group decides what the topic(s) will be before next week so they can research and practice, not memorize, what they will say and also add articles (magazine or paper etc) to the exercise. Most of the conversation is spontaneous though, and may take several turns in different directions during the discussions. Students find this invigorating and enlivened by giving their own opinion.
2.  When conversational groups gain the confidence to move on they enter, what I call a discussion group. Here they take part in a debate format, where two sides take a pro and or con stance in controversial issues based on a variety of themes.

   To this date I have had two debates between Dae Yeong Boys High School and Yeonggwang Girls High School. Each was a success and showed the ability of both schools to spontaneously ask and answer questions in English with little difficulty. All the students of each school viewed and appreciated what they saw and learned.

   My suggestion in Yeong-ju is an area on weekends, such as a park, that has been sectioned off for English speakers where they can attend; practice and exchange ideas. There are also English Cafes, which is not a new idea; but none exist in Yeong-ju as of now.


The more one practices English (or any language) the more you acclimatize yourself to this level of thinking which is moving you forward and improving your fluency. It brings you closer to the success that you're designing and you're desiring.

The student needs to want the commitment to learning a language as a foremost priority. There are few that English is fun and easy to learn. For others it's a sacrifice. They must enter the world of conversation with no inhibitions or excuses. Speak English in public with a peer or co-hort. In reality no one cares around you what language they hear; they have their owns lives to think about.
It's only you that succumbs to outdated customs mired in tradition as to learning another language
. Don't be embarrassed by what you've learned. Get beyond the stereotyping and you'll see everything in a new light. You'll be free to speak English to anyone who understands, any where in the world.



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