Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Casual English Education

Here's the question:

I have made a Korean friend who will leave for the States in December to go to university. First, he will spend one year attending a language school so that he will be able to speak English more fluently, then he will attend university. We hang out a lot just doing normal things and his English is good enough that he can communicate his thoughts well and I can figure out what he is saying. Sometimes, he becomes confused if I accidentally use some collocation or something, though I do try to speak with as much simplicity as possible. He is super interested in American culture and wants so badly to be able to speak well.

So, I got this idea that maybe he and I could read a book together and as we read, he could underline things that he doesn't understand. I just thought it would be a good platform for some new and different conversation and could be a good way to learn about American culture. Does this make sense? What do you think? Any book suggestions?


It's good to hear that you're making Korean friends and helping them out in a normal, non-scholastic/private medium.

I have spent years around Koreans who are not perfect in English and one thing that I know for sure is that I don't ever change the way I speak when we are in a non-classroom situation. That means that I never adjust my speed, vocab and use of idioms for low-level speakers. There are way too many crutches in place in Korean English education and I don't want to dumb anything down. In fact, I sometimes even ramp-up the level of humor and sarcasm just to expose them to what I consider the trickiest part of learning and comprehending another language.

Your friend is getting ready to move to an English-speaking country. He's going to be surrounded by people who are NOT his teacher just like you are not his official teacher. Confidence is a huge part of learning a language and if he is given an artificial glimpse into how English is practically used, then you are actually putting him at a disadvantage.

Part of my job is to interview potential Korean instructors. Before I actually interview them, I make sure to check their resume pretty closely. I'm not looking for TOEIC scores or SKY schools. What I'm interested in is what city they lived/studied in while abroad. If I see Vancouver, LA, San Diego, New York, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Sydney or Melbourne, they immediately get lower marks from me. (Vancouver is the worst though.) These cities are Korean hubs of English education abroad. Parents drop big bucks on this endeavour as students swarm the schools and language institutes to learn English. Yet once class is over and natural English communication can commence, their parents pick them up and bring them to Korean church/restaurants/study groups. The older students group together with other Koreans and together they all speak Korean, think Korean, eat Korean and live Korean. This is useless for them. Simple being around English doesn't cut it.

Make sure your friend really tries to break free from this. Sadly, it's not that easy. If he's in one of these Korean hubs, then the population there is really going to work on him. They'll try to suck him into their Korean-only world and if he fights back, he can expect to get some harsh treatment from the community. My advice is go anywhere were there aren't many Koreans.

Next, I think that reading a book is a fine idea, but books tend to get a little long and people can lose interest quick. If you do choose a book, maybe it should be a best seller or a storyline that he's familiar with. I'd also suggest news articles, blogs, magazines and even short stories. My biggest goal is to find something that is relatable to students. They stay interested much longer.

In the end, a lot of adult students believe that studying with a teacher or getting some solid exposure (like reading a book with you or chatting) will greatly improve their skills quickly, but that's just not true as those of who are studying Korean understand. He's going to have to diversify his focus and work on every aspect of the language ON HIS OWN on top of with his teachers and non-Korean friends.

Anyone have any book suggestions or anything else they would like to add?

15 comments:

Roboseyo said...

I agree with your point about avoiding the "little Korea" atmosphere of some of those cities. I always tell students going abroad: "Don't live in Koreatown, and don't hang out with Korean students: instead, hang out with a Russian student, a Portugese student, and a Cambodian student: then you'll HAVE to speak English together."

As for books, I always recommend young adult fiction for intermediate students, especially Newberry Award winning books: they're simpler than fully adult novels or literature, because they're for young adults, but any Newberry winner or finalist will be well-written, smart, and interesting. I dis-recommend Mitch Albom, but stuff like the "Shopaholic" books or "Bridget Jones' Diary" are good -- look around the subway and see what others are reading during their commute for books that aren't too hard.

I strongly disrecommend The Little Prince: though the pictures are cute, the vocabulary and sentence structure are quite advanced in the translations I've seen.

조안나 said...

When I was learning Spanish, I read harry potter in spanish. It was really helpful to learn vocabulary, since I already knew the storyline quite well. My Korean boyfriend is also doing the same thing, reading it in English, and I can defintly see his vocabulary improve because of it. It depends on the level, of course, because you need to read something on his level or slightly above. Too high or too low will do no good. If you have to look up/ explain every other word then they will learn nothing. I say, just keep talking with him, focus on fluency, not necessarily correcting every little mistake, and make sure he understands everything you say. If he's at a very low level, I personally wouldn't talk up to him as Ask the Expat suggests. While learning Korean, I learn nothing by listening to something that I don't understand (ie TV, radio, friend's conversations). Just speak slowly, and clearly. He'll get better the more he's around you and you'll be able to have more complex conversations as time goes by. Also, if he can watch movies with ENGLISH (not Korean) subtitles, it will also help him a lot. It will help both his listening and reading skills, which eventually will trickle down to his speaking skills.

조안나 said...

When I was learning Spanish, I read harry potter in spanish. It was really helpful to learn vocabulary, since I already knew the storyline quite well. My Korean boyfriend is also doing the same thing, reading it in English, and I can defintly see his vocabulary improve because of it. It depends on the level, of course, because you need to read something on his level or slightly above. Too high or too low will do no good. If you have to look up/ explain every other word then they will learn nothing. I say, just keep talking with him, focus on fluency, not necessarily correcting every little mistake, and make sure he understands everything you say. If he's at a very low level, I personally wouldn't talk up to him as Ask the Expat suggests. While learning Korean, I learn nothing by listening to something that I don't understand (ie TV, radio, friend's conversations). Just speak slowly, and clearly. He'll get better the more he's around you and you'll be able to have more complex conversations as time goes by. Also, if he can watch movies with ENGLISH (not Korean) subtitles, it will also help him a lot. It will help both his listening and reading skills, which eventually will trickle down to his speaking skills.

John from Daejeon said...

You might want to make sure the book isn't full of taboo surprises. I introduced my advanced 12-year old nephew to the likes of Robert A. Heinlein and Nelson DeMille and his mother, my sister, had a conniption fit due to all the sex in the books. The funny thing is that we checked these books out of their local public library's juvenile section. However, the books did help him out tremendously as both writers are very verbose and one was even out of this world. She's not too mad now that he's going to Caltech on a full ride. I guess Heinlein was a really good influence even if he had some quite unique sexual takes on the conservative lifestyle in the U.S.

For my Spanish upkeep, I tend to read Spanish authors that my previous teachers recommend. Most people have heard and read the likes of Cervantes and Garcia Marquez, but Domingo Santos and Juan Miguel Aguilera are pretty good if you like science fiction.

Bob said...

Thanks very much for the Vancouver bash. There are many dedicated, professional, qualified ESL/EFL instructors in Vancouver and the city and country are working hard to improve the standard of education available to international students. I would counter your argument by asking you if you think that going to a place with little experience of ESL/EFL students and little demand for certification and training of teachers is a good way for students to learn to speak English naturally?

Bob said...

PS

Roboseyo, dis-recommend isn't a word.

The Expat said...

Bob,

Clearly you did not understand the point of why I mentioned Vancouver. I guess that's because you're such a "dedicated, professional, qualified ESL/EFL instructor", huh?

I mentioned Vancouver (and many other cities) because they are traps for Koreans. They head there to learn English only to be sucked into the swelling Korean community and they typically return home with little to show for their time and money.

I won't even address you're little attack on Korea-based teachers.

kelly ann said...

Hi Expat! This is my question that you have addressed, so thanks! And thanks for all the comments too! You will be glad to know that my friend is not going to be in one of those 'hubs'. He's pretty bright and is already aware of the disadvantages that they pose, so he will be studying in Delaware! Go figure! I told him he should be safe there and protected from much Korean influence. Anyways, thanks again for shedding some light. You are genius!

The Expat said...

Delaware, huh? That should be pretty safe. Good luck to you and your friend!

James said...

When I was studying in France, I bought a book to read on my own. It was written by an American author and the story was set in America, but it was all in French. I hadn't read the story before, and I wasn't familiar with the author. The reading level was young adult. What I found really helpful about this was that the story had a very familiar context. Being from America, I am very familiar with life in America. So, that really helped with understanding the story from the context when I couldn't understand all the vocab. I was able to figure out many new words without a dictionary. So, maybe you can try to track down a book by a Korean author with a Korean setting that is in English. Just a thought.

Bob said...

I am from Vancouver. I taught English in Korea for 7 years, 9 months and 4 days. I worked at National and private universities, for corporations (LG and Samsung), for Buddhist religious organizations, for the Catholic University of Korea, and for hagwons in Seoul, Bundang and Chungcheongnam-do. I spent my last 5 years living in Itaewon. I have a Korean driver's licence, two Korean credit cards and several permanent scars on my body from Korea. I ate, slept and drank Korea for most of a decade. I have taught Koreans from 4-80 years of age. In 2009, I worked in ESL for 9 months in Vancouver at private institutions, for a pretty big school called International House and I marked Engish-language entrance exams for UBC. This gave me an appreciation of the wider world of TEFL outside Korea. I have a BA from UBC, a Master of Applied Linguistics degree from USQ, a TEFL Cert. from Seoul National University of Education, an International House Cert. TEFL and am about to get my TESL Canada Standard 3 (Permanent). You misconstrued my second point as a bash on Korea-based teachers. That said, I am in the UK and am neither involved in teaching or languages. Things change.

I don't think you can question my dedication, qualifications or professionalism. I do not bash Korea-based teachers, as I am one of them and will always be so. Many of my dearest friends are there, and I often wish I was too. I suspect that I was in Korea longer than you have been there, but that is immaterial. I spent some of the best and worst times of my life there so there is no reason for me to bear any ill-will to those who choose to teach English in Korea. I am a reactionary pro-Vancouverite, but I am also the Mayor of Haebangcheon.

My point was that language learners have to make a balanced decision between choosing to totally immerse themselves in another language and culture and depriving themselves of the largest pool of highly trained and dedicated pool of ESL instructors in North America. I think that pool of teachers is in Vancouver, BC. Not in Toronto, not in Delaware and not in Hoboken, NJ. If you think that you can remove teachers from the language teaching equation altogether and that students should just move to Mississippi and teach themselves, why do you do what you do?

The Expat said...

I never said that we should remove teachers and I still stand by my original point. Don't move to big hubs where large pockets of Koreans gather. The urge to avoid the local culture and population is too strong.

Curious though, why are you in the UK now?

Bob said...

I think that by leaving cities like Vancouver, Koreans and others remove themselves from the concentrations of teachers with the most qualifications and the most experience. Perhaps the difference in our points is a minor one. I saw first-hand many Koreans who came to Vancouver and left without gaining very much ability, and I know other Koreans who studied successfully in non-standard ESL locations like Oklahoma and Calgary. I see what you are getting at, but perhaps you could try to recognize the body of teachers in Vancouver who are mostly trying their best to cope with a huge influx of EFL students from all over the world? I think that standards are being raised in Vancouver that the rest of Canada is trying to follow and I feel that Vancouver really sets the bar for the rest of the country in terms of the size of the job market and the drive to professionalize ELT. That hardly makes it the worst place to learn English. And it's a darn sight more attractive than Calgary, which has a knock-on effect of bringing more students and raising Canada's international profile. And of making Vancouver a place I can't afford to live in anymore, but that is another issue.

I am in the UK to attend Law School at the University of Leicester. Good luck.

Gomushin Girl said...

I think the important point here is not WHERE the student studies, but HOW. For all students, having quality instruction from dedicated teachers using worthwhile methodology is the first step towards gaining fluency. The second step is to immerse themselves into the larger community and practice the skills they aquire in class. Some students will happily and easily move and mingle with the community around them, but others are intimidated and don't. Those who want to explore will, even if they're dropped in the middle of Ktown LA, and those who won't will still find other Koreans to spend all their time with, even in the middle of Fargo, ND. Location and teaching staff are two of the elements that go into the learning process, but neither of them determine all of the results.

AK said...
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