Wednesday, December 3, 2008

If you've studied English for 10 years...

...then why can't you tell me your name, where you're from or how much money a bowl of Kimchi Chigae costs at the local Gimbap Nala? The perhaps not so simple explanation is that the Korean Confucian culture makes it difficult to learn a second language for the following reasons:

1. Shame. Unless you speak perfectly, you shouldn't speak at all. Koreans seem to like accuracy at the expense of any sort of fluency. And of course, they only way to get better at speaking is to practice speaking but this just really isn't their style. I hear rumors or teachers in Europe or South America having the problem of getting their students to STOP talking! I only wish :)

2. Shame #2. No one wants to appear better than anyone else. So even if you can speak English well, you can't really show it off in front of other people because you might embarrass them.

3. Teaching style. It seems like the older generation of Korean English teachers (and the newer generation too?) seem to prefer the grammar-translation method as opposed to a more communication-focused approach. This perhaps has its place in certain situations, such as when I was learning Biblical Greek and Hebrew because in no circumstance would I ever be required to speak these languages. But English is a living language that many people speak!

4. Tests. Korea is a test-focused culture. Tests to get into middle school, high school and universites. Tests at companies when applying for a job. So teachers teach for the test...and the more standard English tests don't have a speaking component to them.

Anyway, I was reading the following, "Teaching English as a Second Language" Edited by Marianne Celce-Murcia. In the "Guidelines for Language Classroom Instruction" the authors (Crookes & Chaudron) mention the following,

"Teachers need to remain aware that they are not in the classroom to fill up the time with the sound of their own voices, but to arrange matters so that the students do the talking.... Particulary in EFL (English as a foreign learning English in Korea), rather than ESL (English as a second a Korean learning English in Canada), class time is so valuable that we believe that the teacher should move on to practice phases of a lesson as soon as possible..."

And so I try to come up with games and activities that will get the students talking to each other. I will usually spend about 10 minutes or less of a 90 minute class, up at the front doing my talking thing. And I know that my students don't like it because of all the cultural barriers previously mentioned, but it's frustrating because intuitively I know it's good for them if they actually want to learn English. How to overcome this?

1 comment:

Susan said...

Striving for perfection...that's one of the reasons why it is difficult for foreigners to speak Korean in Korea. Whenever I mispronunce a Korean word Koreans laugh at me, mock me or correct me like a child. It's very disheartening.