TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE (ESL) in SOUTH KOREA
As a youth the Far East or the Orient was incredibly romanticized and took hold of my imagination continuously. This was partly due to the limited access to learning about the Far East within an educational system heavily geared toward the West, especially the United Kingdom and the USA. The closest aspects to Far Eastern culture and life were small Chinese takeaway restaurants and the stereotypical Made in China goods.
I first applied to teach English in South Korea in 2012 and was accepted to teach there in 2013, however due to personal reasons was unable to go. Then in 2018 I reapplied to start teaching there and was accepted again. To eventually get to Asia after such a hiatus was momentous.
Arriving into a wintry Incheon airport was very new. My first steps in the Far East. There were other EPIK teachers who had arrived at the same time so this didn’t make the shift too extraordinary.
The orientation at Cheongju in February 2019 was a wonderful experience and an excellent introduction into South Korea and transitioning into ESL teaching. The intake of teachers was very diverse with teachers from South Africa, the USA, Canada, the UK and New Zealand. The international diversity occasions are so magical and the friendships I made during this orientation continued throughout the year in South Korea. I instantly connected with a British teacher called Fathia with family from Somalia. She was so friendly and engaging and glad to meet someone from Africa in a new environment.
Arriving into Ulsan city was just as exciting, my new home in the Far East. When we arrived my co-teacher was there to meet me and take me to the apartment I would be staying at. The co-teaching approach to education is a very dynamic and supportive method especially teaching in a new culture.
I think that the co-teaching approach to education could be very effective in South Africa as it enables educators to team-teach and to promote a space for activated learning to occur. From a behavioral perspective, it also releases the pressure on one teacher having to manage large class numbers.
Each week I prepared lessons for my classes based on a specific theme, for example, Food Culture. I would design a key activity, such as a group project designing a new food menu. To start the lesson I’d use an icebreaker activity such as charades, getting students to act out keywords, in this case, related to food and eating. These icebreaker activities literally did just that, it broke the ice, enabling the students to laugh and get them stimulated for the best 50 minutes in their school day. I would then move on to a new activity such as roleplaying where students would roleplay certain characters related to the theme. For example: a chef, waiter, and customer in a restaurant. I’d give them time to writing a dialogue script and then practice it between them before presenting it to the rest of their class. Using engaging, high-energy conversation games promotes speaking and listening too. For example, getting students to sit in pods of three, with one student facing away from the teaching board and two students facing towards the teaching board. I would then write keywords onto the teaching board and the students who could see the keywords would explain it to the students facing away from the teaching board. They had to explain the words without saying them. The key to these activities is for the students to be guided into talking and listening and for me as the educator to facilitate their teaching and learning. I was so excited in the final term to see how some of my students became teachers themselves and started instructing their peers in activities and exercises. If your own students are motivated to start teaching concepts then it is working.
Ulsan Science High School (USHS) is an intensive public school associated with UNICEF. It is a special school for high-level learners who are dedicated to learning. There is also much incentive to learning because the Year 1 or Grade 10 students are all given an opportunity to fly to Los Angeles on a school excursion. The students study continuously in the morning before classes begin and in the evenings from 19:00 to 23:30. They are under pressure to pass their tests and exams well because it provides them with opportunities to study at well-resourced universities in South Korea that includes the SKY universities (Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University), KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) and UNIST (Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology).
The levels of English varied from student to student. I taught some students who were 15 years old who were more fluent than some of my 19-year-old students. Often students attend Huagwans or English Academies after normal school. It is at these academies that they make considerable progress in English. Some of my students preferred me to use Korean names whilst other students preferred me to use English names. It was up to them.
The conversational English lessons, therefore, play a crucial role in not only furthering the confidence in speaking, writing, reading, listening but to have fun and enjoyment in their learning and to develop other aspects of themselves such as their body language, facial expressions, voice projection, pronunciation, receptivity. Their other classes do not provide as many opportunities to develop interpersonal and interrelation skills. The ESL classes further these developmental aspects as well as their English communicative abilities.
Korean Contemporary History
Korea has a complex and intriguing contemporary history with overlaps to that of South Africa. Historically and geographically, Korea is the linking road between Japan and China. It has therefore played a significant role as a trading point and has also seen many invasions from what was an imperialist Japan. During the 1800s there was so much concern from Japan that the Russian government offered exile to one of the Korean empresses, Myeongsong.
At the end of the Second World War, Japan had to relinquish their hold in Korea. What followed was the Korean War, which became a battle between the USSR (Soviet Union) and the USA. North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war, there is a stalemate between both Koreas.
The liberation of South Korea resulted in considerable investment from the USA as they sought to rebuild their nation. It is interesting to note that South Korea is the fastest country to go from being a financial aid receiver to a financial aid donor. There was heavy investment into Korean chaebols or conglomerate companies such as Hyundai, LG and Samsung. These companies today are at the forefront of technological developments in communication devices, transport vehicles that use different fuel systems and other technological apparatus that makes living easier and more comfortable.
South Korea’s energy sector was also revitalized. They currently have 5 functioning Nuclear power stations.
Whilst South Korea developed dramatically, North Korea became stagnant. Today it is one of the poorest nations in the world with one of the worst records of human rights and ethics whereas South Korea is a leader in Asia in equality and ethical leadership with a strong democracy. North Korea is run as a dictatorship.
There is a strong Western capitalist influence in South Korea. American brands, restaurants, shops, franchises are spread throughout South Korea. There is a strong blend of Western ideologies within a Korean framework. The Korean cosmetic industry is one of the most advanced in the world. I was amazed at the amount of cosmetic shops in inner-city Ulsan.
Kakao Talk & Smartphones
If you are living and working in South Korea you have to install and use kakao talk, South Korea’s version of What’s App. It is a messaging and talking app and also includes online shopping. There is even a Kakao Bank feature that enables you to load Won currency onto your app and to pay at shops by swiping your kakao app at the till rather than paying with a bank card. A group of my Grade 10 students did a presentation in English about design thinking and one of their examples was kakao talk and kakao banking. They were promoting the way that transactions could be processed through this application and in the process making payment processes swifter and easier.