Tag Archives: #KELTChat

Guest post: A crash course in Korean Culture (please) by Sophia Khan

Today I think this little corner of the internet has pulled off something of a coup, a guest post by the blogless ELT person who I would most like to hear from™. That person is of course, the wonderful Sophia Khan (@sophiakhan4), who has been very generous with her comments here and on many other people’s blogs, and an always entertaining and enlightening presence on my Twitter feed. For those of to who are not familiar with Sophia, she describes herself as:

Half-Bengali Brit in Australia via France with 2 wonderful half-Canadian kids. Teacher, trainer, editor, mother, nerd, interested in stuff.

To that I would add ELT thinker, regional PLN guru, international webinar presenter and all round font of knowledge and discussion. In summary, you are strongly advised to read what she has to say here, which is…

Hi all, this is @sophiakhan4 doing a guest post for @breathyvowel…Alex kindly invited me to do a guest post on his blog a while back, and after a short but heartfelt exchange of tweets recently on “Korean conundrums” (with my fellow #AusELTer @trylingual too), he suggested that this might be a good topic.  So here we are. Thanks for inviting me, Alex 🙂

Well, I don’t know who said this but I’m sure somebody did: we don’t teach courses – we teach students. So why do I feel like I’ve been a million in-house PD sessions that focus on teachers teaching courses, without ever attending a session simply on who my students are? Of course, from an individual perspective this wouldn’t make sense – every class would be different – but from a cultural perspective, there’s definitely something to be learned. What do students of a particular culture expect? What do they respond to? What don’t they like? What’s ok to say and what isn’t? In short – how can we best reach them?

I’m based in Australia, and over here South Korean students have always been one of the dominant groups*  in my classes – sometimes even the only group. As a result, I’ve often wished fervently for a bit more understanding of Korean culture. It often seems to me that (in a multilingual context) the students’ own culture is swept under the carpet with a blasé “Well they’re here now”. But surely a better understanding of where our students are coming from leads to better teaching and learning.

So if a new teacher were to ask me for some pointers on Korean students, this is what I would say (I know it’s very generalised, and I don’t mean to stereotype, just to try and touch on some things that I wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard way – please let me know if I’m off track!):

1. Korean students have often been rigorously educated and may find it hard to accept a more “relaxed”, communicative teaching style. They are also used to a more teacher-centred, authoritarian style in class. This means it can be hard to get a true grasp of how they’re feeling about your course. They may sound very positive when they talk to you, and they may seem to be enjoying classes – but in their exit evaluations you suddenly discover that they wanted a “more strict” or “serious” teacher and “didn’t learn anything”. Some suggestions:

  • Make sure they are clear on the pedagogical value of what you are doing (e.g. by habitually outlining your aims and writing them on the board)
  • Take the time to explain why you are doing things in a certain way – for example, why you are using a task-based approach to grammar rather than a deductive, presentation-based one (this came up in a recent KELTchat on TBL).

2. If students do a placement test to determine their level and class, you can probably expect a few Korean students to complain that they need to be in a higher level than they are. Sometimes this is a genuine concern on their part (e.g., if there’s one thing many Korean students feel they “know”, it’s grammar, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll be teaching from a grammar-based coursebook). Sometimes their actual level seems irrelevant; all they want is a higher level on their certificate (this type of student may think persistence will win the day. One manager I knew had a Korean student in her office ALL AFTERNOON trying to negotiate a change of level. She left her office in the end; he stayed). Some suggestions: 

  • Acknowledge the student’s strengths but point out the reasons why they are not ready for the next level yet. Remember the idea that language classes aren’t just about grammar may be new, so explain in terms of the 4 macro skills and show the CEFR or similar descriptors if you need to (this also lends face validity to what you’re saying).
  • Ask what the learner would like to do in and out of class to help work on those areas.
  • Close the discussion firmly. Say something like “Great, we can definitely do some work on XYZ, I’m really looking forward to working on this with you. Let’s see how we go this week and talk again on Friday.” Then hope they don’t rematerialise on Friday, but if they do, rinse and repeat 🙂 

3. Korean students sometimes complain about lack of correction – some even say they want their teacher to correct everything. Some suggestions:

  • Make your correction policy clear – explain what you will correct and why (e.g., in freer speaking activities you won’t correct anything on the spot but you will take note of errors for correction later – this was touched on in a recent #AusELT chat on speaking).
  • Make sure there is a regular correction focus in your class, and explore varied ways of doing this. 

4. In your multilingual class, you might feel that your Korean students are being quite insular – living together, sticking together at school, using L1 in class, eating only Korean food and generally not taking advantage of the rich multicultural environment around them. My only suggestion:

  • Let it go. You can encourage use of English in class, encourage getting to know the local culture as way to better learn English, try to demonstrate this, but otherwise…let adults make their own choices. They’ll get there in their own time and their own way. (When I go and live in Korea, I’m sure I’ll be doing a fair amount of hanging out with other anglophones, eating sandwiches and speaking in my L1 too.) 

5. Young adult Korean students may not have experienced of the type of academic skills valued in a Western context (e.g., critical thinking, articulating and arguing your viewpoint, evaluating, etc.). Plagiarism can be an issue. Some suggestions: 

  • Sit down and talk to the student concerned – even the whole class – and make sure the issue is understood.
  • Provide strategies for proper citation and avoiding plagiarism.
  • Give them a bit of leeway at first, e.g. a ‘do-over’ rather than a formal ‘resubmit’.
  • Remember this is a process, and your job is to give practical help, not be angry.

And that’s about it. But before I go just a few general things I’ve learned:

  • I had no idea just how ‘rigorous’ Korean education could be until I read this post by @alexswalsh. I’ve since learned that South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world**.
  • Be a little wary when you have Korean and Japanese students together. There’s a complicated history there. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know much about it (if anyone has a link to a non-Wikipedia potted history I’d appreciate it) but there have been tears in my class (again) on this count.
  • Maybe it’s something to do with that beautiful alien-heiroglyphic script of theirs, but I’ve found most Korean students can draw really well and make beautiful charts and posters. Exploit this!
  • Make sure you have been to a “Korean BBQ” and that you know at least what kimchi and bulgogi is. Plus you will like it and (in a multilingual context) it’s a great option for an end of course meal.
  • Don’t ever do a foreign language lesson that involves drilling the word ‘cheval’ (French for ‘horse’). I kept saying it, wondering why everyone was giggling and looking shocked instead of repeating. I suspect it is male-appendage-related in Korean. Please enlighten me 🙂

And that really is it. I’d be interested in knowing what you guys think. Have I missed something important? What do you think teachers need to know about their Korean students? How can we understand our Korean students better?

Australian Education International

** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_South_Korea


#KELTChat Summary: Automaticity & Fluency (23rd September 2012)

This a summary of the #KELTChat that took place on Twitter on the 23rd September 2012. It is dual posted on the KELTChat Blog and my personal blog The Breathy Vowel, but feel free to only read the one version!

On Sunday night we witnessed one of the busiest #KELTChats ever, with over 200 tweets sent in an  hour on the subject of Automaticity & Fluency. Along with regular members, I’d really like to mention the great contributions by two first-timers (I believe): @bora_maren and @jankenb2. Welcome to the community 🙂

We started out chatting about how important fluency was in our classrooms. The consensus was that it is important in every context, but especially so in Korea, where the bias of school teaching (we will return to this later) is towards grammar and vocabulary, and some teachers are guilty of treating language as knowledge, rather than as a skill, especially where speaking is concerned. We also pointed to the fact that opportunities for practice outside the classroom are limited. I think this is why those of us who teach at universities, such as @languagebubble, put fluency “at the forefront” of their classes.

For @keisenhow it was not only speaking fluency, but thinking fluency in English that was important, which she tries to promote through a task based approach, with thinking time built into a pre-task stage. Combined with relevant tasks and good modelling this helps her students to access the language that they need to complete the task.

We then had some fascinating ideas about the nature and role of fluency. @jankenb2 felt that fluency helped students to free their minds to focus on meaning more (I think I may have Matricized this a little in transcription), and @tamaslorincz added that it might also help with accuracy and range. @chopedu summed this up nicely with a metaphor: “Like learning to drive, we struggle before we can relegate the mechanics to the subconscious and just focus on the journey”. I wasn’t quite sure I agreed with this view on fluency though, for me meaning should always come first, but I am in no doubt that fluency helps to deliver quicker and clearer meanings. The beauty of #KELTChat was that this was then jumped on by both @bora_maren and @chopedu, claiming that form should sometimes come before meaning, and that students could not focus  on meaning, accuracy and fluency all at once, and that performance in the other two factors would drop if students focused on just one. This thread of the discussion then moved on to the role of repetition and games in the classroom. I suggested that simple speaking tasks could be redone with different audiences, and different focuses each time, and @jankenb2 highlighted the role of games in maximizing repetitions within an environment where they are actually required (ie. not just endless drilling).

While all that was going on, another chat within a chat was taking place about the role of fluency within high school classrooms. @bryanteacher (another brilliant recent addition to the #KELTChat squad) suggested that he focused much more on fluency activities, and introduced us (well me, at least) to the concept of ‘unlocking’ what the students already know. This was heartily agreed with by @annehendler, and the point was raised that it often meets opposition from school teachers who prefer to focus on the eminently more measurable and testable quality of accuracy (@josettelb).

At this point @alexswalsh chimed in with a very good point about the fact that fluency activities were strongly tied to motivation and the reasons the student is learning English. This seemed a good point, and again goes back to the testing culture here – why bother putting in the effort to be able to produce something fluently when all you need to do is check a box on a multiple choice exam. @michaelegriffin, @languagebubble and myself all agreed that motivation is crucial in developing fluency, but that we may be able to ‘sow the seeds of motivation’ by giving enough space for fluency in our classrooms. The flip side to this argument came from @alexswalsh again, suggesting that a) students may just throw chunks of language together to finish a task, and b) that doing fluency activities with large classes is not practical because many students simply revert to the L1.

Another issue that came up for public school teachers is that of level, and teachers not trusting their students, or not thinking fluency activities were necessary at lower levels. @bryanteacher pointed out that any “low-level” middle school student has a good few years of English education behind them, and this would seem to make the case that fluency needs to be concentrated on from the very beginning, a bit like what I understood Demand High ELT was all about.

The penultimate part of the discussion stemmed from the motivation thread, and considered how we could make an atmosphere in our classrooms that was conducive to practising and building motivation to achieve fluency. We talked in terms of a “safety zone” (@languagebubble), of which features might be “thinking time” and a “friendly atmosphere” (@bora_maren), or a “social presence” (@keisenhow). “Lightheartedness and laughter” and improving student dynamics through team building are important for @languagebubble.

Actually, that wasn’t the penultimate bit of the discussion, as another thread popped up at the last (this is not the easiest #KELTChat to summarize, in case you hadn’t noticed). This brought in a bit more SLA research which says that students learn linguistic features in predictable sequences. What does this mean for fluency though, @chopedu asked @jankenb2? The response was that even when students seem to be backsliding (I assume in terms of grammar and lexis), especially in conversations, this may still be a sign of progress, and again brought us back to the separate concepts of ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’.

Finally we did get down to talking activities, which for the sake of my tired fingers I’m going to present as a list.

In terms of book recommendations @languagebubble and I also highly recommended English Firsthand for developing fluency, especially at lower levels.

And that more or less rounded off the chat for the evening. Both moderating and participating was a thrilling experience, it seems like every chat is better than the last right now, so thanks to everyone who joined in! I’m going to leave the final word to @bora_maren, in one of my favourite #KELTChat tweets ever:

“It was my first time joining.I enjoyed it a lot. It was a bit confusing and I am still dizzy but I am sure i will get better.”

Pretty much sums it all up I think.


Alex (@breathyvowel)

PS I’ve tried to be as accurate here as possible, while weaving the various threads of the chat into some kind of cohesive whole. If anyone feels that they’ve been misquoted, misrepresented or misused, please get in touch and I’ll do my best to correct it. You can also see a Storify of the important bits of the chat here:


Back once again (with the ill behaviour)

Hello everyone,

Apologies for the lack of updates recently. Things have been a bit mad for the last couple of months, with an intensive English summer program, an MA assignment due and a trip back to the UK, where I actually still am, but finally have a bit of time to write. I’m back to Korea next week though, and looking forward to picking up the blogging and tweeting once more. This post is a bit of a preview of what’s coming up for me this semester.

Actually, that bit is in part a lie, as I thought I’d share what’s been keeping me busy first. This is my latest research project for my MA, which started out as a bit of a p*sstake as sociolinguistics wasn’t really interesting me, and ended up becoming a fascinating inquest into gendered speech and narrative. The paper is a bit disappointing, as I tried to cram way too much in, but if you’re interested in that kind of stuff it might be worth a read, and if you’re not, it will certainly serve as a sleeping aid 🙂

Gender, identity and narrative in oral tellings of Red Riding Hood by native speaking English teachers in South Korea – Alexander Grevett – Public

The other thing that’s been keeping me busy is the university’s Summer Intensive Program, and the 5 week pronunciation course that I taught. This was one of the more interesting teaching experiences I’ve had, and deserves a full write up I think – one that I will try to do over the next couple of weeks.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to Mike Griffin (@michaelegriffin), firstly for mentioning me in his post for iTDi (not totally sure this blog is deserving of international recognition, but I’ll take it), but also for hooking us up with a slot at the KOTESOL International Conference where we’ll be presenting about #KELTChat. Thanks Mike! I’m really looking forward to both the presentation and just getting back into a growing community – we’ve been on the backburner a bit over the summer, but I have great expectations for the new semester. With my MA, I feel like I’ve been doing too much professional development to do any professional development.

Finally, I’m just looking forward to getting back into a routine of teaching, and having the time to work on other things again. I’ve managed to convince my department that we should focus more on speaking and have a higher participation grade. This is great, except now I have to write a rubric for class participation. Expect a whingeing, cry for help style post early next week.

Think that’s about it. I’m off to wade through about 200 unread posts on Google Reader. Before I go, huge congratulations to Alex Walsh (@AlexSWalsh) whose Alien Teachers blog won British Council Blog of the Month! An incredibly deserving winner, and a must read if you haven’t already.

Alright, cheers and that. Will post again soon. For real.