Thursday, December 18, 2014

Our Students and the Job Market in Korea

In my job, I teach many first year English major students and I often run into students who have grown up in a foreign country for at least a period of time and are fluent (ish) in English and are far better than almost anyone else in their major, even the third or fourth year students.

Then, I also encounter third or fourth year English major students who are pretty terrible at English. Now, I have no idea what their TOIEC score is, but what I do know is that they cannot communicate in written or spoken English, in even a basic way. And I feel kind of scared for them because when they graduate from university, who will give them a job? They are going to be in the 20-30% of young Korean university graduates who are unemployed. Their only skill is English and they are not at all proficient in that.

So, I try to catch students in their first year, especially in the first semester and give them a bit of advice if they come to my office for a chat, or we have a friendly kind of relationship. 

For those who are fluent in English already, I tell them to switch majors. Study something like engineering, or business, or education, or another language like Japanese or Chinese because then they'll have that, plus English.  2 marketable skills instead of one.

For those who are unable to communicate, I suggest that perhaps English really isn't the major for them. I mean, they've studied English for 10 or 12 years already and if they haven't gotten a grasp on the simple past or body-part vocabulary, will they ever be proficient enough to use it to get a job?  I tell them to switch to another major, preferably business or engineering and then study English on the side.

I get a feeling that their Korean professors who are all in the English department aren't telling them this because it's like saying that the classes they are teaching are useless, kind of, in a way. And their parents probably have no idea how much better, or worse at English they are than their peers. So foreign teachers at Korean universities, does that perhaps leave us to tell it like it is?

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