Thursday, June 21, 2012

A reponse to "Foreigners Can't teach Grammar or Anything of Substance"

Brian left an excellent comment in response to my latest post on foreigners teaching non-fluffy stuff.

Here is his comment:

"Somewhere along the line it became accepted as common knowledge that Koreans (well, Asians) have a superior command of English grammar, but simply lack speaking ability. This is due, they say, to Koreans (and Asians) studying almost exclusively grammar for 15+ years in school, but never actually speaking or using the language. Personal experience never bore that out, because their grammatical knowledge---in general, with some exceptions---was limited. While they did have some detailed understanding of some points, it was, as you sort of mention, due to their learning it in Korean, not in English.

Unless I'm being way too optimistic and generous, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a native speaker English teacher with a Master's and / or CELTA in a university who had a practical knowledge of English grammar inferior to that of a Korean counterpart. The weakness is that they often aren't able to explain or illustrate in Korean, and that's usually what's required, or considered "good" or effective. But the strengths---being able to show those grammatical points in use, to show and teach subtlety of meaning, and to understand different usage---makes up for that limitation, if the NSET is given the chance."

And, yes, I agree wholeheartedly.  I've found that Korean students are generally EXTREMELY weak at grammar.  Like not having the conjugations of the "be" verb down, or knowing how to ask a question in the simple past, or not knowing the rules for comparatives/superlatives.  I think a lot of it has to do with grammar being taught in Korean, in a way that is disconnected from real-life communication.  On the Celta course, I learned that teaching grammar is all about context and that without context, the lesson is complete waste of time.  Why even bother teaching grammar (or vocab too) if students don't know how and when and in what situation they can use it?  This is where Native Speakers can be far, far better than most Korean teachers.

And I've found that while teaching TOIEC listening, I encounter situations every class where I'm able to explain the subtleties of how and when and in what situation to use this one specific vocab item over another one.  An example from today: "Checking-out."  No student in my very high-level class knew a meaning for it besides borrowing a book from a library.  I was able to give an example situation of walking down the street and seeing a handsome guy or a sexy girl and checking them out.  Would a Korean teacher be able to do this?  Maybe.  Maybe not.


Stafford said...

I think this assumption also comes from the fact that most Native Speakers aren't exposed to formal grammar instruction beyond parts of speech and past - present - future being the only three tenses.
I know when I started teaching English my knowledge of form was pretty poor, despite being keyed in on meaning (and shades of meaning) and usage.
Given that communicative competency is the ultimate goal, I think a lot of Koreans are starting to realize the kind of understanding they are expected to have is not really needed (or relevant). That beng said, grammar still needs to be addressed overtly (and in context) during lessons.
Yay! Grammar!

ZenKimchi said...

Hmm... I remember going through some intense grammar studies in elementary and middle school. And that was in ALABAMA of all places. Maybe they were overcompensating.

Stafford said...

So apparently my spelling isn't that great either!

John from Daejeon said...


When I first saw "Checking out," "someone dying" was the first thing that popped into my noggin.

Justin Hurley said...

Your opinion on the subject is spot on.

As a writing teacher, I spend a lot of time correcting iBT style essays. In the course of the last year I've felt like I've been correcting the Korean teachers deficiencies coming through the students work concerning grammar and structure.

I know I'm not a grammar wizard, probably far from it, but understanding context is what most Korean teachers and students are missing.