Thougths of the Times; Don't Be Ashamed - It's Not Your Fault

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), March 14, 2000 | Go to article overview

Thougths of the Times; Don't Be Ashamed - It's Not Your Fault


There is a consensus that despite great the efforts by both government and private sectors, English language education in Korea over the past half century has failed and that both teachers and learners are responsible for the disappointing result. Yet, the teaching side should take mo e blame.

Generally, in academic circles, four aspects are emphasized in teaching foreign languages: Cognitive, affective, linguistic and institutional. In all these areas, Korea's teachers have somehow neglected the key ingredients primarily due to lack of training or absence of strong motivation. The government, while changing educational systems frequently, especially college recruitment procedures, failed to provide effective teaching methods for different kinds and levels of schools. Rote memorization of vocabulary and grammar has been the rigid pattern in English education from elementary school to college. The outcome is, as everyone recognizes today, students blushing and stammering when speaking to a foreigner after years of English classes at school.

In the cognitive aspect of language education, teachers should make more effort to offer meaningful instruction to their students so they can enjoy greater rewards, tangible or intangible, short or long term. Most important is giving them the intrinsic motivation that helps learners develop individualized strategies for comprehending and using English. In Korean English classes, students are forced to memorize like machines only to be frustrated by seeing low scores in their vocabulary quiz and English dialogues drills. Constantly, they are obsessed with earning higher grades in KoSAT (Korean Scholastic Ability Test), like a drowning man struggling to keep his head above water without being able to properly use his arms and legs to stay afloat.

In the affective aspect, developing self-confidence and risk-taking attitudes is vital for the students to attempt to produce and interpret a language that is beyond their absolute certainty. Instead of allowing such psychological armament first, teachers throw wet blankets over the learners' enthusiasm and challenge to overcome unfamiliarity by conducting the class with frequent commands of "Be quiet" or "Don't move." In this circumstance of high anxiety, who dares to use English without worries of making errors, or to use the language creatively? Thus, learners would rather remain silent from the beginning. Teachers are required to be tolerant of the "learning noise" in their class.

From the linguistic point of view, Korean English teachers more often than not allow native (Korean) language interference and even the mingling of languages come into the process of learning (English) sounds, words, structures and discourse. …

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