If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you have read my previous two posts here and here, and I hope you might continue to read future posts about my Korean class. The aim of this post is to contextualize everything that is to come by providing some background on the class, the students, the materials and anything else that might be useful in understanding what happened. I’m sticking to description here, and avoiding giving too many details of the institution*, the teachers or my fellow students. The juicy analysis is coming in later posts.
I took a three week course which was billed as “intensive” at a university in Seoul. The class met for four hours a day from 9am until 1pm every weekday, for a total of 60 hours of instruction. This was delivered in blocks of 50 minutes, with 3 breaks of 10 or 20 minutes between. Teachers were pretty exact in keeping to break times. There were also 5 short writing homeworks, as well as 2 longer presentation scripts to write outside of class time. We were also expected to learn the day’s vocabulary (generally 30 to 60 words, at least 50% of which were new to me) after each class in preparation for a quiz the following morning.
Interestingly, the course is taught by three different teachers. All are native speakers of Korean, and I believe that all majored in Korean at university. On Monday we are taught by an older male teacher, who I’ll call “older male teacher”; on Tuesday and Wednesday we have a female teacher, who I’ll call “female teacher”, and on Thursday and Friday it’s a younger male teacher who I’ll call… well, you get the idea. The reason given for the mix of teachers is that men’s and women’s speech styles in Korean are very different and so it’s helpful to have exposure to both.
All the teachers seem to be experienced and qualified. All sound like they have been at the university for at least five years. The two male teachers have MAs in foreign language teaching (female teacher doesn’t say), and all hint that they speak at least one other foreign language. Classes are conducted entirely in Korean, save for the odd English word or Chinese character. Students are also expected to speak only Korean, and this is largely adhered to.
I am placed in level 5 of the course (the highest level), presumably by virtue of scoring highly on a pre-course level test of grammar, reading and writing. This seems about right for me in comparison to my classmates’ abilities and the materials (just about!). There are only five people in my class, and I am the oldest and the only male. The four others are another western English teacher, a western undergraduate student on vacation, an East Asian post-grad exchange student, and an East Asian lady who is married to a Korean and lives here.
Our classroom is quite plain. There is a world map on the wall, but not much else. There is a projector hooked up to the computer, which teachers use every day. They also use the whiteboard, but less so than the computer. One thing I notice is that things written on the whiteboard are often deleted quite quickly, rather than being left there. Desks are on wheels, and so younger male teacher rearranges us into two rows facing each other, and side on to him. This is the shape that we stay in for the duration of the course. We tend to sit in the same places, expect when I move from back left to front right because, one, I suspect it’s causing the pain in one side of my back (it isn’t) and two, because I keep falling asleep. This is a function of our classroom being too cold without the heating, and too hot with it. There seems to be no happy medium.
The shape of a class
The teacher comes in at nine every day and starts the first of four sessions. Invariably they greet us, and often ask us what we did the previous evening. After a quick chat, it’s vocabulary quiz time. Quizzes are all of the definition matching and gap fill variety, and usually include a couple of questions about the day before yesterday’s vocabulary too. With this done, the teacher introduces the day’s topic, either by explanation, a teacher led discussion or a powerpoint presentation. Our textbook includes a “talk about these pictures” kind of activity for introducing the topic, but this is never used. The rest of the 50 minute session is taken up with vocabulary work: teachers generally explain key terms and nuance either verbally or using Powerpoint. Female teacher often leads us through a listen and repeat of all of the vocabulary for that day. Generally the section finished with a vocabulary exercise (usually definition matching) and a short listening.
The second section is based around a reading passage. Teachers use different strategies for teaching reading. Older male teacher tries to get us to notice structure, female teacher likes to pre-teach vocabulary and then let us get on with it, and younger male teacher shows us cartoons of a couple of the stories before we read, then takes us through the reading line by line. In the book, comprehension questions follow the text. The male teachers largely ignore these; female teacher has us do them as pair work.
Session three is mostly be finishing off the reading and working on grammar. Again, there’s varying degrees of presentation (book, Powerpoint, board) and explanation (register, similar points), and then some basic manipulation exercises in the workbook. We are usually asked to do these out loud, and there is little time to write the answers. There is nothing that would equate to a “free practice” stage of a PPP lesson.
The final session includes listening and discussion. Discussions are usually teacher led, with the teacher asking questions to each student in turn and requiring answers out loud. However, on occasions discussion takes the form of a kind of round-table meeting. Here the teacher participates and is still heavily involved in the discussion. There is little feedback on errors, though teachers help us to phrase something if we are having difficulty and are happy to answer questions. The class usually finishes with a longer listening (around 2-3 minutes, I’d guess). There is rarely much of a pre-listening stage – we generally go straight into it. After we listen once the teacher usually comments that it’s very difficult, and plays it again with reduced speed and pauses. Again, there are comprehension questions to follow. Older male teacher tends to tell us the answers, younger male asks us the answers, and female teacher has us ask each other in pairs. This usually marks the end of class.
The class uses a textbook that was written by the institution. It has 6 chapters based around a general theme (people, work, education) and each chapter is comprised of 3 units of 8 pages. The first two pages of a unit cover vocabulary and discussion, the second two reading, the third speaking and listening and the final two writing. There is also a workbook that provides written practice of vocabulary and grammar. One of the things I really like about the book is that it has a glossary for each unit with the vocabulary words presented with an English translation, their Chinese characters (no use to me, but good for others in my class), and a definition and example sentence in Korean. It also has tapescripts in the back, which is really useful as the listenings are really difficult to understand.
In order to get the certificate of completion, students are required to pass assessments in reading, writing, speaking and listening. We have a daily vocabulary quiz (possibly included in reading score – actually I’m not sure), two formal presentations (speaking), five writing homeworks, and then at the end reading, listening and writing exams. Reading and listening exams are comprehension based multiple choice exams. The speaking exam consists of a semi-prepared five minute speech followed by five minutes of questions from classmates.
There’s not really much to conclude here, but I hope that this post will serve as a useful reference for forthcoming posts.
* I am a little twitchy about Korean libel laws, which seem to be both strict and nonsensical (that’s a bit libellous in itself!), hence the non-disclosure. If you’re interested in where I studied, feel free to drop me a private message.