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Koreans Fluent in English : A Realistic Goal
Koreans Fluent in English : A Realistic Goal
  Date: 2009-07-18 01:00     View: 1170  

(2007 Essay contest)  

 

Vassallo, Jonathan Ryan

Incheon Sangjeong Elementary School(인천광역시 소재)

 

 

I am a recent graduate of English Language and Literature who has been living in Incheon for over two months now. I teach at an elementary school, and I have had plenty of opportunity to talk to students, parents and teachers about the quality of English education in Korea. Through my observations I have come to realize some drawbacks to the current system, which need adjusting in order to speed up and improve the quality of the English learning process in Korea. In my opinion the current system is inadequately designed to make Korean citizens fluent in English, because teachers are not trained properly, students seem unmotivated and not enough time is given for teachers and students to practice conversational English. The educational board needs to invest in teacher training and update the current elementary school curriculum to improve the quality of English being taught. They should also focus on motivational strategies to make students want to learn English, and create more opportunities for students to speak English in and outside of the classroom.

 

Currently, Korean students begin to learn English in grade 3. I believe that English should be taught as part of the regular curriculum to all students in elementary school. A very basic curriculum can be implemented so that students in grades 1 and 2 can begin to learn English as part of their regular lessons. The problem is that when certain students enter grade 3, they are at a much higher level of English than the rest of their classmates, and this creates a huge learning gap in the classroom. This is because some parents have taken initiative to teach their own children, or to put them in extra lessons to learn English, while others have not. The principal at my school has taken such initiative, and I teach extra lessons to students in grades 1 and 2. Some of these students perform very well, as a matter of fact, their vocabulary level is comparable to students in higher grades. If English were taught as part of the regular curriculum to students in grades 1 and 2, this will decrease the level gap when students enter grade 3, which will create a better, more equal classroom environment.

The curriculum that is currently being used in grades 3 ? 6 also needs to change. The CD­ROM used to teach students in elementary school needs updating because students do not relate to out­dated course material. I think chants work for students in grades 3 ? 4, but students in upper years do not seem to respond well to the songs and chants of the kind used in the CD­ROM. Also, the pronunciation and intonation on the CD­ROM is very inaccurate, and this creates conflict between what is being said in the CD­ROM and what the native teacher is saying.

Pronunciation and intonation is very important for teaching Korean students English. It is important for them to practice proper pronunciation, so they learn how to speak English more naturally. This also goes for training Korean English teachers. The educational board should provide pronunciation and intonation lessons for Korean English teachers as well, so that there is less of a difference between the way they speak and the way the native English teacher speaks.

I am lucky enough to have a Korean English teacher who has lived in the United States for a decade, so her pronunciation is good and her level of English is very high. However, I also know that this is not the case for most of the Korean English teachers. Proper English training for Korean English teachers is essential in order for them to teach English properly. If the students are not taught properly, than they will not know how to speak English properly themselves, and this will cause them to be shy, or unwilling to try to speak in English.

Shyness or unwillingness to speak English is also a major problem for students. I find that most students actually have a better understanding of English than they let on. However, they become nervous around native teachers and this causes them to become confused or unsure of what they are saying. The only way to overcome this issue is to try our best to motivate the students to speak English more often, so that they gain the confidence needed to become fluent.

In order for students to take initiative to learn English, they have to want to learn English. It is a very difficult task to force someone to learn a subject they are not interested in, especially a language. English is an essential language in the business world. However, it is also important for Korean tourism and the economy. Making students understand this from an early age is essential, so they can appreciate why they need to learn English. This factor alone may not be enough to motivate some students to learn English; therefore, it is also important to implement some kind of reward system to encourage students.

There are two basic kinds of rewards: extrinsic rewards and intrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards are something tangible, that the students can have as a token of their hard work. For example, in my extra lesson classes I sometimes reward the students with stickers or candy if they do a good job. Of course, these kinds of rewards are at the teachers’ discretion, but the school board can also help motivate students by rewarding them on a larger scale.

Intrinsic rewards are rewards of praise and recognition. These are perhaps even more important than extrinsic rewards, depending on the students’ personality. However, I find most students are happy just knowing that they are doing a good job, and getting recognition for their hard work. This is a costless type of reward system and it is highly effective, even for students who are very young.

The best form of reward system is one that combines both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. For example, a medal or certificate for the best English speaker and most improved English speaker has both extrinsic and intrinsic qualities. The physical certificate/medal can be given to the student, while his/her picture can be displayed in the school as well. This will make the students proud of their accomplishment and encourage other students to do the same thing. By investing in English rewards for the best English speaker in every grade, and perhaps also the most improved English speaker, students may be more willing to try hard so they can achieve the recognition. This may seem like a costly approach, however, it does not have to be, because the award can come in the form of a simple certificate, or medal. This reward system is both extrinsic (medal/certificate) as well as intrinsic (recognition), and I believe it will be very effective for students of all ages.

Younger students may be more motivated by extrinsic rewards, but this can be accomplished in a costless manner as well. Making English fun is extremely important, especially for students who have ADHD or simply do not want to work hard. I find that most grade 6 students find the current curriculum boring and do not try because they are uninterested. Making English fun is also a form of extrinsic reward, because the students do not feel like they are studying, but rather feel like they are just doing activities. This method of teaching is very effective because the students become very much involved in what they are doing and learn without even realizing that they are learning. It could take a long time to teach students vocabulary, but if you create a fun activity for them, it distracts them, and the learning becomes subconscious.

Implementing a fixed curriculum for middle school and high school is also a necessity. Some native teachers have the complete freedom to teach what they seem fit. However, this can be very ineffective. Most native teachers have never had teaching experience, and may not be covering a wide range of language skills in their lessons. This needs to be controlled by having an established curriculum for students in middle school and high school as well. Furthermore, just because a native teacher knows how to speak English, does not mean they know how to teach it. All native teachers should have a TEFL/TESOL certificate in order to ensure they are effective teachers. Perhaps EPIK can implement TEFL training in their orientation program, so that any native teacher who is inexperienced can become better prepared for when they start working. The time taken to train native teachers properly will benefit the students greatly.

Time is perhaps the biggest problem of all when it comes to effective English teaching. I do not think students get enough practice when it comes to learning English. At the moment certain grades only have one class per week, and others have, at the most, two classes per week. Eighty minutes of class does not give students enough time to learn English properly. This is perhaps the reason why sometimes I find very little difference between elementary students’ and high school students’ level of English. High school students tend to forget the things they have learned because they do not have the proper opportunity to practice. I understand that there is a big learning gap between what is being taught at the elementary level and what is being taught at the middle school level. The students who are best at speaking English are the ones that attend private institutions (which are very costly) or those who have had the opportunity of living abroad. Of course, not everyone has this luxury, and this is another big cause of level gaps amongst students.

The easiest way to pick up a language is to immerse yourself in the language. There are four basic skills to learning English: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and each one of these is vital to attain fluency. Watching English television, or reading an English magazine can help speed up the learning process. However, the most effective means is through conversation. Conversational English allows students to listen to the pronunciation of words, as well as practice speaking themselves. That is why the educational board should set up “conversation zones” or hold more English festivals where people can practice English through conversation. I had the pleasure of working at the first annual Incheon English festival. This is a great idea and Korea needs more events like this. These events are fun and they give all Koreans a great opportunity to practice conversational English with native teachers.

Korea is at the beginning stages of implementing its English program and increasing the fluency of the population. It has only been a decade since they have begun to hire native teachers and things are only going to improve. However, in order to speed up this process, certain changes need to start happening now. EPIK and the educational board should focus on better teacher training for native teachers and Korean English teachers, so that the quality of English being taught in the public school system is higher.

An up­to­date and fixed curriculum for students of all ages will decrease the learning gap, and ensure that all students are receiving a proper English education. Implementing motivational strategies and creating more opportunities for students to have conversations in English, such as more English festivals or events, will build students confidence and they will become more fluent. I know EPIK and the educational board has the dedication needed to improve the level of English in Korea, and with a few changes to the current system, this goal can easily become a reality.



(2007 Essay contest)  

 

Vassallo, Jonathan Ryan

Incheon Sangjeong Elementary School(인천광역시 소재)

 

 

I am a recent graduate of English Language and Literature who has been living in Incheon for over two months now. I teach at an elementary school, and I have had plenty of opportunity to talk to students, parents and teachers about the quality of English education in Korea. Through my observations I have come to realize some drawbacks to the current system, which need adjusting in order to speed up and improve the quality of the English learning process in Korea. In my opinion the current system is inadequately designed to make Korean citizens fluent in English, because teachers are not trained properly, students seem unmotivated and not enough time is given for teachers and students to practice conversational English. The educational board needs to invest in teacher training and update the current elementary school curriculum to improve the quality of English being taught. They should also focus on motivational strategies to make students want to learn English, and create more opportunities for students to speak English in and outside of the classroom.

 

Currently, Korean students begin to learn English in grade 3. I believe that English should be taught as part of the regular curriculum to all students in elementary school. A very basic curriculum can be implemented so that students in grades 1 and 2 can begin to learn English as part of their regular lessons. The problem is that when certain students enter grade 3, they are at a much higher level of English than the rest of their classmates, and this creates a huge learning gap in the classroom. This is because some parents have taken initiative to teach their own children, or to put them in extra lessons to learn English, while others have not. The principal at my school has taken such initiative, and I teach extra lessons to students in grades 1 and 2. Some of these students perform very well, as a matter of fact, their vocabulary level is comparable to students in higher grades. If English were taught as part of the regular curriculum to students in grades 1 and 2, this will decrease the level gap when students enter grade 3, which will create a better, more equal classroom environment.

The curriculum that is currently being used in grades 3 ? 6 also needs to change. The CD­ROM used to teach students in elementary school needs updating because students do not relate to out­dated course material. I think chants work for students in grades 3 ? 4, but students in upper years do not seem to respond well to the songs and chants of the kind used in the CD­ROM. Also, the pronunciation and intonation on the CD­ROM is very inaccurate, and this creates conflict between what is being said in the CD­ROM and what the native teacher is saying.

Pronunciation and intonation is very important for teaching Korean students English. It is important for them to practice proper pronunciation, so they learn how to speak English more naturally. This also goes for training Korean English teachers. The educational board should provide pronunciation and intonation lessons for Korean English teachers as well, so that there is less of a difference between the way they speak and the way the native English teacher speaks.

I am lucky enough to have a Korean English teacher who has lived in the United States for a decade, so her pronunciation is good and her level of English is very high. However, I also know that this is not the case for most of the Korean English teachers. Proper English training for Korean English teachers is essential in order for them to teach English properly. If the students are not taught properly, than they will not know how to speak English properly themselves, and this will cause them to be shy, or unwilling to try to speak in English.

Shyness or unwillingness to speak English is also a major problem for students. I find that most students actually have a better understanding of English than they let on. However, they become nervous around native teachers and this causes them to become confused or unsure of what they are saying. The only way to overcome this issue is to try our best to motivate the students to speak English more often, so that they gain the confidence needed to become fluent.

In order for students to take initiative to learn English, they have to want to learn English. It is a very difficult task to force someone to learn a subject they are not interested in, especially a language. English is an essential language in the business world. However, it is also important for Korean tourism and the economy. Making students understand this from an early age is essential, so they can appreciate why they need to learn English. This factor alone may not be enough to motivate some students to learn English; therefore, it is also important to implement some kind of reward system to encourage students.

There are two basic kinds of rewards: extrinsic rewards and intrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards are something tangible, that the students can have as a token of their hard work. For example, in my extra lesson classes I sometimes reward the students with stickers or candy if they do a good job. Of course, these kinds of rewards are at the teachers’ discretion, but the school board can also help motivate students by rewarding them on a larger scale.

Intrinsic rewards are rewards of praise and recognition. These are perhaps even more important than extrinsic rewards, depending on the students’ personality. However, I find most students are happy just knowing that they are doing a good job, and getting recognition for their hard work. This is a costless type of reward system and it is highly effective, even for students who are very young.

The best form of reward system is one that combines both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. For example, a medal or certificate for the best English speaker and most improved English speaker has both extrinsic and intrinsic qualities. The physical certificate/medal can be given to the student, while his/her picture can be displayed in the school as well. This will make the students proud of their accomplishment and encourage other students to do the same thing. By investing in English rewards for the best English speaker in every grade, and perhaps also the most improved English speaker, students may be more willing to try hard so they can achieve the recognition. This may seem like a costly approach, however, it does not have to be, because the award can come in the form of a simple certificate, or medal. This reward system is both extrinsic (medal/certificate) as well as intrinsic (recognition), and I believe it will be very effective for students of all ages.

Younger students may be more motivated by extrinsic rewards, but this can be accomplished in a costless manner as well. Making English fun is extremely important, especially for students who have ADHD or simply do not want to work hard. I find that most grade 6 students find the current curriculum boring and do not try because they are uninterested. Making English fun is also a form of extrinsic reward, because the students do not feel like they are studying, but rather feel like they are just doing activities. This method of teaching is very effective because the students become very much involved in what they are doing and learn without even realizing that they are learning. It could take a long time to teach students vocabulary, but if you create a fun activity for them, it distracts them, and the learning becomes subconscious.

Implementing a fixed curriculum for middle school and high school is also a necessity. Some native teachers have the complete freedom to teach what they seem fit. However, this can be very ineffective. Most native teachers have never had teaching experience, and may not be covering a wide range of language skills in their lessons. This needs to be controlled by having an established curriculum for students in middle school and high school as well. Furthermore, just because a native teacher knows how to speak English, does not mean they know how to teach it. All native teachers should have a TEFL/TESOL certificate in order to ensure they are effective teachers. Perhaps EPIK can implement TEFL training in their orientation program, so that any native teacher who is inexperienced can become better prepared for when they start working. The time taken to train native teachers properly will benefit the students greatly.

Time is perhaps the biggest problem of all when it comes to effective English teaching. I do not think students get enough practice when it comes to learning English. At the moment certain grades only have one class per week, and others have, at the most, two classes per week. Eighty minutes of class does not give students enough time to learn English properly. This is perhaps the reason why sometimes I find very little difference between elementary students’ and high school students’ level of English. High school students tend to forget the things they have learned because they do not have the proper opportunity to practice. I understand that there is a big learning gap between what is being taught at the elementary level and what is being taught at the middle school level. The students who are best at speaking English are the ones that attend private institutions (which are very costly) or those who have had the opportunity of living abroad. Of course, not everyone has this luxury, and this is another big cause of level gaps amongst students.

The easiest way to pick up a language is to immerse yourself in the language. There are four basic skills to learning English: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and each one of these is vital to attain fluency. Watching English television, or reading an English magazine can help speed up the learning process. However, the most effective means is through conversation. Conversational English allows students to listen to the pronunciation of words, as well as practice speaking themselves. That is why the educational board should set up “conversation zones” or hold more English festivals where people can practice English through conversation. I had the pleasure of working at the first annual Incheon English festival. This is a great idea and Korea needs more events like this. These events are fun and they give all Koreans a great opportunity to practice conversational English with native teachers.

Korea is at the beginning stages of implementing its English program and increasing the fluency of the population. It has only been a decade since they have begun to hire native teachers and things are only going to improve. However, in order to speed up this process, certain changes need to start happening now. EPIK and the educational board should focus on better teacher training for native teachers and Korean English teachers, so that the quality of English being taught in the public school system is higher.

An up­to­date and fixed curriculum for students of all ages will decrease the learning gap, and ensure that all students are receiving a proper English education. Implementing motivational strategies and creating more opportunities for students to have conversations in English, such as more English festivals or events, will build students confidence and they will become more fluent. I know EPIK and the educational board has the dedication needed to improve the level of English in Korea, and with a few changes to the current system, this goal can easily become a reality.





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