Tag Archives: Teaching English as a Second Language

Why Korean ESL Students Ask “Why?”

Many new Korean ESL instructors are sure to notice that their students have a peculiar way of asking the question “why?’ They will notice, for example, that from the mouths of a Korean ESL student, the question “why” has the kind of emphasized lilt which illustrates, without a doubt, that the student clearly understands how a question mark influences the inflection of a word. Instructors may also notice that their students will add an extra syllable to the word, thus “why” ends up sounding something like “why-ee?”

I’m no linguist, but I believe that at least part of the reason students exaggerate the long “e” in “why” has a little something to do with the fact that the English word for why sounds somewhat similar to the Hangul word of the same meaning, which sounds something like “whea.”

Now consider for a moment that Korean ESL students are expected to speak English exclusively during class time and, further, that the penalty for speaking Hangul during class includes anything from a lower participation grade (and Korean students DO take their participation grade seriously) to a two-minute speech on a subject of the teacher’s choosing – in English. It logically follows then that students want to make sure there is no confusion over which language they are speaking, thus the emphasis on the difference in vowel sounds.

This does not necessarily explain, however, why they drag out the long “e” when their teachers announce it is time to take the weekly review test or in-class quiz. In those instances they are clearly just trying to annoy their teachers.

New instructors are also sure to  notice that Korean students use the question “why” as a kind of catch all for all “wh” questions. For example, say Yoojin’s friend comes by her classroom during break to talk to her and calls her name from the doorway to get her attention. While  most American kids would answer “what?” a Korean kid will respond “why-ee?” Students respond similarly when called on by a teacher to answer a question or read aloud.

Important for new instructors to remember is that since “why” is not always used literally, it is wise to take a moment to consider the context in which the student is using it. Honestly, the sooner this technique can be mastered the sooner instructors can minimize the amount of class time taken up by asking students, in a puzzled tone, “what do you mean, why?”

Again, I am no professional and can only base my theories on classroom observations, which probably hold about as much water as a mother’s intuition over, say, the educated diagnosis of a trained pediatrician. Still, I believe that English teachers themselves encourage the improper usage of the word “why.”

Instructors are encouraged to use the Socratic Method to guide students through essays; that is, they ask leading questions that encourage students to find the answers for themselves and respond verbally, which arguably encourages participation. While I always figured that the Socratic Method was meant to encourage students to think more deeply about philosophical questions and not merely for skimming passages, it does have some practical application. Unfortunately, and this is especially true when working with reticent youth, it becomes very necessary to ask absurdly pointed questions to get the students to respond appropriately. As a result, the Socratic Method comes off sounding a little something like this:

“OK Jimmy, according to paragraph two, line three,  aerobic exercise is beneficial becauuuussse….why?

Obviously, the proper way to ask questions like this is to front-load it with whatever “wh” question is appropriate. But, since most instructors have little to no experience with or training in pedagogy, much less child development, and are merely trying to do their job, which is to get Jimmy to say the right thing,  the application of the Socratic Method becomes a kind of  fill-in-the-blank word game.

Finally, ESL instructors contribute to the “why” phenomenon when trying to induce topical conversation in the classroom. For example, while trying to break up the monotony of the repetitive main-idea-and-supporting-detail-outlines teachers must illustrate on the board throughout class, they may stop periodically to ask simple content questions, usually something along the lines of:

“So, do you think deforestation is good or bad?”

Regardless of a student’s response, however blatant that response may be, instructors, in an attempt to encourage discussion (for which there is not time) will reply with the now infamous question “why?” i.e. why do you think deforestation is bad? This is generally followed by a thirty second discussion of little to no consequence before the teacher must move on to stay on schedule, no one being the wiser.

New instructors will also discover, and this is the best part, that teaching is as much about being influenced by students as it is about influencing them. I mean, I could obnoxiously insist that my fellow instructors amend their teaching ways and preach the proper pathways to good grammar (as if I knew), probably causing new instructors all kinds of unnecessary paranoia in the process. Instead, I rather encourage teachers to view the “why” phenomenon the same way I have come to view all Konglish; as a kind of in-between language that captures something that neither language can capture without the other. So, if you are, or will soon become, a new ESL instructor in Korea, I say let yourself be influenced by your students and, most of all, let yourself be influenced by Konglish. Learn to respond to a moment of confusion or the call of a friend the same way students do and the same way I and my fellow instructors have learned to do as well. Learn to just ask “why-ee?”

“The Lisa Song:” A Gift from my Chung Dahm Students (South Korea)

One of my favorite students ran into my classroom this afternoon before

Front Cover

classes started and gave me a piece of chocolate cake from Paris Baguette and a big handmade construction paper card. I’m not sure for what occasion – late birthday or early going away gift? Perhaps just an assignment from one of her summer intensive classes? Anyway, I couldn’t wait to share it and have copied the contents of the  card here (verbatim):

Lisa

Wacky night Lisaish night

When all the kids tango to the moon

Presidents appear and waltz with you

A bear appear and tap dance with Lisa

Every thing is so wacky, you can dance

to the son.

Crazy night Lisaish night

when all the birds fly out to space

A pig sings “sing” and dance with you.

A spider back flips and turn cart wheels

Every thing is so Lizaish, You can eat

pigs head.

It was a super special thing to get since I have been feeling a little blue these last couple of days. It’s nice to think “kids tango to the moon” on my night, though I don’t know about eating pigs head.

`

Last Weeks of My Last Term at ChungDahm

Summer in Korea

Summer in Korea

It hardly seems possible that it’s already the first week in August, though the weather outside certainly confirms the fact. I’ve never lived anywhere so humid and hot in my life. Even in the Midwest, the humidity never really goes above, say 70 percent, and even then, not for very long. Here, the humidity ranges between 75 and 100 percent every day while the temperatures are routinely in the 90s (Fahrenheit). It’ always about to rain, raining or just finished raining too, so things are always dripping wet. Rather than comparing the atmosphere to a sauna, a more apt analogy is a tropical rain forest. Often the moisture is so dense you can actually see it in the air, almost cut through it with your hand. It reminds me of the many misty photos of Asia I’ve seen in my life, though I can tell you walking through these landscapes is not nearly as romantic as they are to look at.

Things are changing rapidly at my branch. Both of our branch’s Faculty Managers have moved up to HQ and about half of the faculty are leaving. This is mostly due to the fact that, like Gary and I, most instructors’ one-year contracts are coming to an end. This was the last week for at least four “veteran” instructors and there are four new instructors haunting the halls, sitting in on classes and trying to learn the ropes. They don’t know just how lucky they are to get a week to observe and adjust, for certainly not all new instructors get that privilege. They have been asking questions about why so many people are leaving. We give them the standard explanation that contracts are expiring and people usually choose to leave at term’s end. It’s too difficult to explain fully why most instructors don’t renew. There are just too many nuances that a new instructor could not possible understand, and no one wants to terrify a new person. It’s better they see for themselves what it’s like to work for ChungDahm. Besides, it’s a different experience for everyone.

Most of my students are all doing pretty well, though they are a little more excitable than usual because they are on school break (yes, they still come to academy during school break).  I have built great rapport with many of my students and feel like I have become rather masterful at managing a classroom of elementary or middle school students. I have even made progress with one of my most difficult students, who I have had in my Wednesday 4:00 pm class for three terms in a row now.  On most days, he follows my instruction and does as I say with little resistance. Just the other day, for example, instead of choosing to act out in anger by kicking his desk, as is his habit, he simply stated that he felt angry. I was a little stunned that he chose to articulate his feelings rather than acting on them without thought. I also feel like my rapport with him had a little something to do with his choice. All in all, I view this change as progress.

Another one of my students recently won a prize for best webzine. Since I am his teacher, and he made the webzine for my class, I get a little recognition too. A staff member came around to my class and snapped a picture of me with the student, though I have no idea how the photo will be used. (Probably some promotional marketing pamphlet somewhere).

Right now I am in the middle of a bit of a time crunch. It’s enough to keep me on my toes and make me a little resentful that I don’t have more time to write this week, especially since taking on an extra class, but I also know it won’t last long and I have lots of great poems in the works.

Only three more weeks of gainful employment before Gary and I head south to Busan for a well deserved, and real, vacation by the sea, followed by an adventurous visit to Tokyo, Japan.  We’ll be back in the states by September 20th.

Leaving South Korea:Last Weeks At Chung Dahm

Seven is the number of the month in which I was born, and the number of the month in which we find ourselves in now, this 2010th year AD. But the significance of this number today has to do with the number of weeks left in my contract with Chung Dahm; the number of weeks in which I still have gainful employment.

It means only seven more weeks of Closed Circuit Television and working 4:00 to 10:00 PM with only one or two five-minute breaks and never sitting more than a couple of minutes at at time. Only seven more weeks of lesson planning and grading online essays with their strange and arbitrary set of parameters, e.g. you must make exactly seven comments, each comment must contain 250-350 characters,  include the student’s name, an example and make reference to the in-class lesson.

It also means only seven more weeks to spend time with some pretty amazing students who bring me a great deal of joy and laughter and who have exponentially increased my enjoyment of Korea and the quality of my life’s experiences. Only seven more weeks to interact with these kids and appreciate their unique perspective of the English language and American culture. Only seven more weeks to spend time with awesome co-workers turned friends and fellow writers whose insight and experience will no doubt continue to inspire me long into the future, wherever we may find ourselves.

As in past experiences, as I prepare to move from one geographical area and way of life to another, my experience of and interactions with the objects and inhabitants of this world are more vivid than in months previous. The lines that frame objects and people are sharper, their colors, if not always brighter or identifiable, more noticeable. Even the moisture that sticks to my skin as I move through the humid Korean air is weightier.

I began my countdown the first week I started working for CDI, when I was culture shocked and slightly traumatized by a week-long training session that was quite different from my expectations, despite my efforts to suspend those expectations. I kept counting down through the first awkward, stressful weeks of my first term teaching children who I could barely understand and who arguably didn’t understand me – wondering all the while how anything could be taught or learned in an environment in which the language barrier was so pronounced. And when homesickness pierced my liver and shot through my heart after every American holiday, I counted even more carefully the weeks left in my contract.

Now the acute awareness over every awkward mistake of my early weeks in Korea has begun to give way to acute awareness of momentary perfections, often manifesting in the beautiful faces of my students. My relief over surviving another day now daily metamorphoses into confidence that comes from  perseverance.  I am not longer timid to tell a student he or she is not doing well nor do I refrain from taking their cell phones. I no longer fret over Korean people staring at me on the subway, or the lack of friendly acknowledgments from fellow foreigners on the street. Today, I move through the streets with confidence and teach like an expert. Today, I know these days, at least for me, are coming to an end.

The Earthquake Affair: Another Abecedarian Story by Chung Dahm Students (South Korea)

Here is a story my Comp. 100 class and I composed using the exquisite corpse writing prompt our last night of class. Starting with the letter “A,” each new sentence must begin with the next letter in the alphabet. There must also be an attempt at cohesion in the story. All together, we composed four stories. This was voted as best. (Remember, these are middle school aged ESL students.) I’ve copied it verbatim here:

Again and again the children asked their mother to push them on the swings. But their mother, her belly holding yet another child, shook her head, her face white. Children started to find out where their father had gone. Dad was in restaurant with his secret girlfriend. Every other day, he met this secret girlfriend for lunch at this favorite restaurant.

Father!” the children cried in unison when they saw him – one with a shocked face. Girlfriend also stared at the children and asked father “Is they are your kids? Why are they calling you father?”

Ha ha ha,” they are not my kids, they are kids who live in my town.”

I am your son! I am your first son,” the boy cried, his tears streaking his cheeks and rushed home.

John, the first son, went home and surprised by strange man sit closely with mom.

Kelly, I really think you should tell your husband we’re dating. I mean, look at OUR baby!”

Listen to me, we can’t let anyone know about our love-child NOW!” Mom whispered and John the son hide behind the sofa, was so shocked that he cried

NO, it can’t be – Mom and dad BOTH can’t both be having an affair! “Oh my god, what did you mean that both me an your father having affair?” Mom shouted.

“Please tell me it isn’t so!” she wailed. “Quickly, hide Luke!” she said to her boyfriend when she saw her husband coming.

Really, I can’t believe this situation! I heard all things! How can you have affair” said father.

Suddenly the ground began to shake and rumble.

To be continued…

——-

We ran out of time before we ran out of alphabet. But we didn’t run out of fun!

Children’s Day in South Korea (Auli Nal)

Today is Children’s Day in S. Korea, a national holiday, and judging by the two-million people in Pyeongchon Central park today, a big holiday for families. (The number quoted in the previous sentence is an exaggeration – there is no way that many people would fit in PC Central Park. It’s simply meant to connote my surprise over the quantity of people in the park today. Hundreds of people would be a more accurate estimation.) A great number of these people were children.

There where children in strollers, children on bicycles, children on roller blades, and children on skateboards. I guess you could say there were many children on wheels.

Children not on wheels were involved with familial activities such as flying kites, catching balls or playing chase; this despite the limited number of square footage (meter-age) available per individual. Still more families could be seen sitting on blankets on the grass eating picnic lunches or just relaxing with their shoes off. One family appeared to have ordered their picnic food from a restaurant as I saw a man on a scooter delivering them their food. I can just imagine the directions they must have given over the cell phone when ordering: “Ah, yes, we will be the Korean family of  four on the green blanket in front of the blue tent right next to the croquet court.” Made me wish I could speak better Korean.

I can’t imagine Americans celebrating children quite to this degree. In terms of scale and participation, today’s holiday  is more akin to the American Labor Day. Schools are closed for the week, parents take off from work and most acadamies and hagwons are closed, except of course, ChungDahm.

Though many students did not attend class this evening, the ever vigilant instructors of ChungDahm English and Critical Thinking were on the front lines ready to deliver a little edu-tainment to any child who appeared. I took the stance that providing education for chlidren on Children’s Day is the ultimate in celebrating children. The students didn’t really buy it though.

Fortunately, Kim ChungDahm, the fictional entity that makes all upopular rules and decisions at ChungDahm, allowed teachers to pass out candy suckers – a rare treat since we are normally strictly forbidden from giving students food. The irony of this gesture was not lost on the students. Nonthelsess, we were a little less hated as a result.

Letter from Anyang, South Korea: Missing America

Lately I’ve been missing small-town life. Oh, not the small-mindedness and lack of vision that is often characteristic of living in small communities, but the simpler pleasures. Things like tulip festivals and poetry readings attended by the same five or six people at the neighborhood coffee shop. Maybe it’s a reaction to the rash of recent Face Book postings and photos of families engaged in family-type activities that are particularly suited for spring; or maybe it’s from living in a city that is more densely populated than anywhere I have lived before. In any event, with only four-and-a-half months to go on my teaching contract I am looking ever forward to setting my feet on familiar ground and living among familiar people.