Thursday, December 10, 2009

School boards looking to hire Koreans to teach English conversation.

Lost on Jeju posts this article from the 제주의소리 that says the Jeju Office of Education is looking to bring in 32 Koreans to teach English conversation in secondary schools. The teachers would initially be on a one-year contract that pays 2.4 million won per month, and are eligible to stay for four years. It's not a new plan in Korea, and not even new in Jeju*, and we've read about plans to hire thousands of Korean English "lecturers" over the past year.
* (June 15, 2009) Not enough applicants for those "English lecturer" jobs.
* (March 30, 2009) 5,000 Korean English teachers being recruited to replace us.
* (November 21, 2008) 4,000 "English Lecturers" coming in 2010.
* (October 6, 2008) More money going into English education next year.

Though some reporters have cast this as a way to replace native speaker English teachers, I've viewed this as a way to supplement schools' English programs, since in some cases schools don't even have an English teacher at all. Moreover, Korean English teachers in schools now are largely unprepared to teach English conversation or English in English, hence the need to hire proficient lecturers. Nonetheless the Korea Times' Kang Shin-who quoted a Ministry of Education official in March:
``Foreign native English speakers cannot teach students without Korean teachers, but the newly recruited teachers can teach on their own. We expect these instructors will replace foreign teachers over the long term,'' Euh added.

I went to work on that quotation in an earlier post, but suffice it to say here that native speaker English teachers will tell you they routinely do teach on their own because Korean teachers don't show up to class or don't participate.

The papers have often used the word "lecturers" because these new hires don't need to have teaching certificates. That has, of course, brought in talk about "unqualified" teachers. Regarding the introduction of "Teaching English in English" (TEE) teachers, the largest teachers' group in the country was against the idea, says the Times:
Meanwhile, more than half of English teachers are opposing the introduction of ``Teaching English in English (TEE)’’ teachers, planned by the government for next year. The government plans to recruit 23,000 TEE teachers, who will conduct classes only in English, over the next five years.

Korea’s largest teachers group, the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association said Sunday that 56.7 percent of English teachers negatively responded to the TEE teacher plans in a recent survey, while 24.9 percent said they need TEE teachers.

Among those respondents against ``English-only'' teachers, 46 percent said it would bring unqualified teachers to schools and 21 percent said current teacher levels are already enough for English education. The teachers' group questioned 425 English teachers at elementary and secondary schools nationwide between April and May.

Talking about "unqualified" teachers, whether NSETs or Koreans, always leads to a discussion about what "qualified" and "unqualified" actually mean: is a Korean English teacher who can't use English "qualified" by virtue of a paper, and is a Korean English teacher proficient in English thereby "unqualified" if s/he lacks it?

Looking at the opposition to importing native speaker English teachers and to hiring Koreans proficient in English, one wonders how, exactly, they expect to teach spoken English, if that's even a real goal at all. An answer that keeps coming up is to provide more training opportunities to current teachers, though I've heard from NSETs that teacher-training in Korea is a charade, and I've heard from Korean English teachers that though they enjoy the sessions, the things they learn aren't practical for them. I'll quote a bit from my post on Monday on the cost of native speaker English teachers, looking here at why Korean coworkers found the mandatory intensive training sessions not useful:
1) Their students aren't interested in speaking English.
2) Their students' English levels aren't good enough to understand spoken English.
3) The activities they learned in Damyang can't be applied to large class sizes like those in public schools.
4) Teachers must follow and complete the textbooks and teach toward standardized tests, and don't have time to waste on speaking English.

Before you talk about hiring or replacing native speakers, or about enlisting thousands of uncertified Koreans to teach English conversation, you first have to check and see whether the system is built to handle it. Is there anything to suggest that Korean English "lecturers" will be more effective in public schools than native English speakers? My semi-educated guess tells me they'll be more prone to overuse Korean in class, will be treated with less respect in the teachers' office, and will be less competent at speaking English than is imagined.

* Not new in Jeollanam-do, either. The Jeollanam-do Office of Education is also recruiting Koreans to teach English conversation, and most recently posted an ad on November 17th.


Walter Foreman said...

Part of the problem or part of the solution?

Your post, as usual, makes several valid and important points. However, I just don't get the relevance of the Youtube clip showing Sung Yuri speaking English. What’s your intention?

I really hope that I’m wrong, but to me it looks as though you are trying to deride someone’s (or worse yet, an entire nation’s) ability to speak a particular language.

I don’t know if this clip should even be considered as evidence of Ms. Sung’s ability to speak English as what she is saying has obviously been scripted. Really, all this video shows is her ability to deliver lines written in a language other than her native language, which, in my humble opinion, she does pretty well.

Now, as to the person who wrote those lines, that’s a whole other story! Whoever wrote those lines, obviously has very little knowledge of spoken English dialog.

In either case, I don’t think Ms. Sung is someone who would apply to teach English in Korean schools, and I really doubt if the person who wrote those lines would either. So, in light of that, again, I have to ask, what’s your intention in posting that video?

The title of your post is, "School boards looking to hire Koreans to teach English conversation." How does the video relate? What message are you trying to communicate by linking that particular video to this particular post?

I enjoy reading your blog as you tackle some difficult issues and bring to light a lot of things that may otherwise remain uncovered. However, by including this particular video, I feel as though you may be becoming more focused on being part of the problem rather than the solution.

I hope I’m wrong.

Brian said...

You bring up a good point. I'll take the video off. My intention was to show that what passes for spoken English often isn't that good, and to question who'd be doing the evaluating. However, I guess it comes off as mean-spirited.

I understand how challenging it is to learn a new language, and that even after years of study someone can still have limited proficiency (especially if that person never speaks or writes it in authentic situations).

But, I have to be honest and say I've met very few Koreans who could speak English well enough to teach it in lieu of a native speaker. There are plenty of advantages of using a non-native speaker---students won't be as intimidated, for one---but I think we should at least be prepared for a big drop-off in quality, as well as other issues. The biggest, I think, is the temptation to overuse Korean in the classroom, and thus defeat the purpose of these teachers in the first place.

Brian said...

And Walter, you always bring up great points in your comments here---promise that after I get back from out of town next week I'll respond to some on other threads---so I appreciate that. I'll bet you've had some interesting experiences at KNUE.

Peter said...

"Teaching English in English?" I'll believe that when I see it. I have had some really good co-teachers -- Koreans who had been teaching for years, spoke English quite proficiently, and were genuinely interested in getting students speaking English in class -- and even they never went an entire class without speaking Korean to students. If some hastily-thrown-together program can churn out lecturers who can do better, I'll eat my hat.

Mike said...

I hope that the creation of this "standard" will rev up the engines, so to speak. I want to see more "English Teachers" who can speak English. As I've said before, I never had a Spanish or French teacher that wasn't completely fluent.

koreablogger said...

This TEE thing is just more unrealistic nonsense. There simply aren't enough Korean teachers who are capable of the feat. I've been here 7 years and have met literally hundreds of them, so I know.

That aside, apart from conversation class, I see no reason why all English classes should be taught in English. An English grammar class can be carried out more effectively in Korean, no? The students would be much more likely to understand the material.

The same is true for reading and writing lessons.

A conversation class is, of course, different because the whole point is to develop spoken English communication skill. So students and teachers must necessarily speak in English only.

What is really needed, and a point in all of this that is often missed, is that there should be more focus in the system on English as a communication tool, rather than as a 'subject' as it is currently taught.

Were that the case, and were such changes to become a reality, there would automatically be relatively more conversation classes because demand for them would go up. I've heard that such changes are in the works (speaking components in the standardized tests, for example) but I don't know how far along they are with that.

If the system is changed first, then more Korean teachers who are proficient in communication will be required. But given the academic way in which English is still approached in practice, they are not necessary right now.

Puffin Watch said...

My understanding of the native speaker program is Korea is a homogeneous nation. Koreans are known to be hugely gun shy about speaking English to foreigners. There are the anecdotal stories of international conferences and the Koreans are all in the corner talking to themselves. Many of us experience it in our daily life. University kids who have been studying English for 12 years when challenged to use a verb that's not eat, play, or kill are in total shut down mode.

Having a non-Korean in a classroom is supposed to be about making kids comfortable with speaking English to a foreigner. We're not going to laugh at them. Hell, it's even about getting kids used to being in a room with a barbarian.

And it's more than language. They also have to learn culture. If you offend the crap out of a foreigner (say, by sticking your finger in his ass), you're going to find communicating is rather difficult.

For a nation that appears to be building its own Great Firewall of China by public assent and acclaim, it's no surprise they're also hitting upon this "brilliant" solution of having Koreans teach speaking.

Puffin Watch said...

"Teaching English in English?" I'll believe that when I see it.

Peter your skepticism is well founded. Remember the English Village boondoggle? These were to be little islands where it would be English English English from the moment you stepped into "the village".

Never happened.

Lots of Koreans serious about English know even if they study abroad, they need to find places with low Korean populations because New York, Vancouver, Toronto, LA, etc. are way too seductive in terms of established K-towns they can disappear into.