Hyeon Bin (현빈) – That Guy (그남자) from the Secret Garden OST
Since starting my MA, my Korean studies have been a little neglected. Where I used to put in a good 6 hours of study a week, plus a lot of conversation. It’s now down to checking through my vocabulary flashcards on Anki each morning, and occasionally listening to a lesson at Talk to me in Korean or writing my journal on lang-8. Things are definitely not what they were though, and my level seems to be plateauing a bit. It’s frustrating, but understandable. I really don’t have much more time to allocate to anything.
Anyway, last semester a collective groan was uttered among the teachers in my county when it was announced that we were to receive Korean classes. We’ve had them before and they’re usually teacher centred, lacking structure and not suitable for people’s levels. They also cut into essential lesson planning time, which never goes down too well. Therefore it’s somewhat of a surprise that this semester’s class is both very enjoyable and really useful.
SCENE: Interior. Seven people sit around a table with drinks and snacks that they have bought. One holds a small whiteboard and pen, another is typing on a laptop computer. Two more are poring over a textbook. A conversation is taking place in English and Korean, with people dipping in and out as they are inclined. Sometimes Korean vocabulary or phrases are written on the board. Some people write them down, others don’t. Other times people are engaged in their own conversations, or writing notes for each other. At times the person with the whiteboard is unoccupied, as the rest are occupied on their own tasks. At these times she takes a snack and waits for questions.
OK, so forgive the frustrated screenwriterish description, but that genuinely is how our class goes. There are seven of us present, and our levels range from not being able to speak, read or write anything (well, almost anything now) through low-beginner, low-elementary and low-intermediate. There’s also our teacher, who while a native speaker, doesn’t have much Korean teaching experience. All this meant that at the beginning of the first class, we sat down and worked out how we could make the best use of our time (these classes are mandatory). Once we’d put down the education office’s suggestion that we could learn Korean songs to perform, we decided to dispense with the notion of a traditional class entirely, and simply dedicate the hour and a half to working on our own Korean goals.
In general the class works pretty well. We always start with a quick discussion of what we did over the weekend, and take some vocabulary and phrases from that. Then people drift into their own projects, in my case translating the song at the head of this post into English, for other students learning the alphabet (surprisingly easy in Korean) or reading simple words, or asking questions which occurred over the week to the teacher. We also have some little routines to help each other out. For example, I often put other people’s questions to the teacher in Korean for speaking practice, or students helping out with English explanations if the teacher is struggling. The overriding theme of the class is a group of individuals working as a community, and helping each other to meet disparate goals. Just the opportunity to focus on Korean that is relevant to each person for 90 minutes a week is really helpful.
The effect of the class has been noticeable. One student has taught himself to read over a couple of weeks, and everyone’s speaking and level of expression is increasing bit by bit. What is really noticeable though, is how keen people are in class, and how much more people are putting in outside class now. It just goes to show that autonomy in the classroom leads to autonomy outside it (in this case at least). Really, this class is out of the ELT textbook, devolved, autonomous and learner-centred. Just my luck that it’s one in which I’m a student, and not one of my taught classes. Hmph.