I’d like to tell you about one student of mine, just #onestudent. She is a 22 year old first semester student in the Graduate School of International Studies at the university I am currently employed at in the modern capital of South Korea, Seoul.
The student, Yeajin, told me she is enjoying most of her classes and her life in graduate school. She said some classes are challenging but the workload is manageable. She is not really sure what she wants to do when she finishes grad school but is thinking about working in an NGO or government agency. From my observations she is a very polite and sweet young woman. She seems hardworking and curious. My impression is that she is bright and thoughtful. She is not extremely outgoing or outspoken but will freely share her thoughts when asked. She is a pleasure to teach. I might be kidding myself but it seems to me that she looks more and more comfortable speaking at length in English every week I see her.
I am not about to take any of the credit for this, though. She is working hard and she has so much English around her and she uses English every day in her life and in other courses. She is taking courses like Global Economics and East Asian Security in English. In her coursework she has classmates from all over the world. She is enrolled in my course called International Discussion, which is a spoken fluency focused course talking about issues of concern to students like Yeajin and her classmates. As above, I think she is making great progress each week. I also think she started out in a good place for these improvements.
I am not an expert on such things but in terms of speaking I think she’d be in the 6.5-7.5 range on IELTS. I am pretty sure her TOEIC score will be above 900 soon if it is not already. I guess she’d have to be nearing in on C1. I think her TOEFL score is just on the verge of being high enough for her to able to study in US university without restrictions. I don’t mean to imply that these mean much of anything (or convey much of anything for that matter) but just want to give you, dear reader, an idea of this student’s level. She can handle complicated discussions and makes her points clearly. Her pace when speaking is not so fast but she is very good when she gets going. It does not require “undue effort” from a listener to follow what she is saying. Mistakes are minor and outright errors are rare. In short, it is easy to understand what she is saying. She is a strong user of English.
I am not sure if anything I have said here sounds very much out of the ordinary or is very exciting. Maybe her English abilities sound right in line with expectations for a student in an English medium graduate program. You might even be wondering why I told you all this, and I am not 100% sure either.
I guess this is where I should mention that Yeajin has never left Korea and is from the most sparsely populated and rural province.
I would say she is higher than her average peer in the grad school in terms of communicative competence even though she is in her first semester. In the first few weeks I found myself wondering exactly why she was so strong at English. So, I asked her. I might have said something like, “Sorry for this strange and direct question but why are you so good at English?” She seemed a bit surprised but calmly answered that she has always liked English and that she reads in English a fair amount (outside and previously to grad school work) and watches lots of TV and movies from the US. She also said some of her high school classes (like science and history) were in English as her school was designated as an international/foreign language school (this not the type with mostly international students, as more than 85% of her high school classmates were Korean). Accordingly, she had more hours of English than the average high school student. Now, she has lots of non-Korean classmates and has weekly private lessons focused on TOEFL with a native (please note the lack of scare quotes here) English speaking teacher.
Another reason I shared this is because I am sick of people talking about how there is such a massive dearth of English in Korea apart from the occasional English class. I am, of course willing to admit that Yeajin is not a typical student but I am not sure if the experts realize that students like her exist. Please kindly note the lack of scare quotes on the word experts. This is the result of a long and contentious internal monologue.
Where were we? Oh yes, EFL. Korea is an EFL situation. It seems to me so many people harp on about Korea being an EFL country or an outer circle situation they fail to see the whole nuanced picture. There is English out there. Just as an example, the young lady next to me in this coffee shop in Itaewon as I write this has just read more than half of a graded reader in the time it took me to aggressively but gently tap out these words. In past
rants posts I have expressed my confusion about terms like ESL and EFL and have also offered up some newer categories that might be more accurate and telling. What is my point? Maybe something about relying on labels like EFL too much. Yeah, that and not assuming students need to go abroad to improve their English or to have access to English.
All within the last 12 hours…
(which was actually 6 hours of class)
- I answered a student’s (factual) question incorrectly and another student looked it up and shared the correct answer with everyone and I thanked the second student and didn’t feel embarrassed at all. Just moved right along.
- A shy and quiet student I had last term is no longer shy nor quiet.
- I learned that a former student was (allegedly) in Psy’s Gangnam Style video. I have seen the video 20+ times but I was never looking for him. I might have to revisit this.
- Three students from another one of my classes decided to audit (= attend without a grade) my Monday class just for the practice and experience. That was nice.
- This list of tips on Korean culture for foreigners prompted quite a bit of discussion.
- I introduced the word and idea of “podcasts” to a student who wanted listening practice at home and she seemed really interested in giving it a go.
- I saw a book published in Korea for Korean learners with lots of Korean explanations that actually seemed pretty decent and reasonable.
(Perhaps I am becoming a less harsh critic of such materials?)
- I somehow wrote the phrase “heavy petting” on the board. So that was cool.
I then told the students I have actually never said this and I didn’t think it was actually very useful. We settled on “beyond kissing” to refer to what the student was talking about.
- I survived my first 3 hour lecture as a lecturer on “Korean and Global Politics”
(mostly for foreign exchange students). If you have any questions about the Shilla Dynasty please let me know.
- One student was shocked to hear my thoughts/feelings when I hear the phrase, “You’d better” and it seemed like this was a nice learning moment for her. I don’t think she will be telling people what they’d better be doing so freely in the near future.
- One student was shocked to hear about tipping culture in the US.
- Some interesting vocabulary that I never would have dreamed to
(pre-)teach came up.
- An interesting discussion about DVD rooms and the implications of going with others sprung up.
- Zero students that are not registered for the class randomly strolled in late expecting some extra English practice and entertainment.
- Some Korean students seemed legitimately shocked how “You are good at using chopsticks” might not be such a great compliment to a Westerner. For more on #chopsticks you might want to read my very short story.
- I thought of some small changes that can make things better next Monday!
Update 1: At some point it occurred to me that this might be a nice blog challenge.
I think the exact moment was when Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) over at 4C in ELT shared the post on Twitter. You see, Tyson previously suggested that my Movie quotes/Big Lebowski in ELT post could be a nice blog challenge. I wasn’t really so familiar with the process at that point. It seems that there will be a few takers. The blog challenge is something like: Why not list a few cool things that happened in the general vicinity of school for a day and share them? I am really keen to read more of them and it is quite a bit of fun. I will be sure to update any takers on the list below.
a) Carol Goodey (@goodey) took the challenge and her lovely post about her experiences teaching (I think) recent arrivals to Scotland can be found here.
b) Another interesting list of cool things was provided by Tom Randolph(@tomtesol) from his experiences right up the way here in Seoul.
c) Gemma Lunn (@GemL1) also supplied a golden list of cool things from her interactions in the past few days at her middle school in Busan.
d) In her new blogging home the gifted, talented, funny and optimistic Ann Loseva shared several cool things she recently experienced teaching in her native Moscow.
e) Tyson also shared his list of (mostly) cool things and shared lots of insights about what is going on in his EAP classes in Canada.
f) Though nobody suddenly belted out an Abba tune Kevin Stein (@kevchanwow) had a plethora of coolness today (much more, in fact, than yesterday).
g) The first person to publicly accept the challenge might have been my friend Yitzha Sarwono (@yitzha_sarwano). I was waiting patiently and excitedly for Icha’s post all week and her post was well worth the wait.
h) Ava Fruin (@avafruin) joins the band and jumps on the bandwagon in style with one very cool thing (which can also be seen as the avoidance of uncool things from my view).
i) Ratnavathy Ragunthan-Chandrasegaran shares some awesomeness and her cool groove with the world here. Best of luck, my friend and a well-deserved congrats on the coolness surrounding you.
j) Here, Laura Phelps shares some cool and interesting things that recently occurred in Tbilisi as she winds down her time there. I am extremely happy that the blog challenge “tricked” her into posting this because I love her writing.
k) There is no such thing as too late when talking about cool things. Here is Dave Dodgson’s very cool list of cool goings on as of late.