Saturday, October 29, 2016

Is This The End?

So, there's a major scandal going on in lovely South Korea involving President Park Geun-hye and a supposed "Svengali" figure who has fled to Germany.  It's all very complicated and weird:
"Park has been facing calls to reshuffle her office after she admitted on Tuesday that she provided longtime friend Choi Soon-sil drafts of her speeches for editing. Her televised apology sparked huge criticism about her mismanagement of national information and heavy-handed leadership style many see as lacking in transparency.
There’s also media speculation that Choi, who holds no government job, meddled in government decisions on personnel and policy and exploited her ties with the president to misappropriate funds from nonprofit organisations.
The saga, triggered by weeks of media reports, has sent Park’s approval ratings to record lows and the minority opposition Justice party has called for her to resign."
She's four years into a five year term (South Korean presidents are limited to a single term) so she was already a bit of a lame duck.

One Korean newspaper has her pegged at an incredible 14% approval rating.

Friday, October 28, 2016


Last year over at my old digs, I bloginated about Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy, a.k.a. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books.  The decision to change the titles of the books in English is understandable, but they are much tamer than the original Swedish ones (e.g., Men Who Hate Women).

So now I've started the fourth book, not written by Larsson, and the English translation is The Girl In The Spider's Web.  According to wiki, the Swedish translates to "That which does not kill us."

It's pretty clear the English audience is primed for "The Girl Who. . ." titles and, once again, the original Swedish doesn't really come off as a gripping title for a gripping (so far) series.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Data Entry Is Sexy

Whelp, this weekend I'll be in the office listening to recordings of my students and doing word counts to measure English ability and confidence.

It's too early for a definitive conclusion, but it looks like using the Socratic Method in a beginner English class won't improve your students' language abilities directly.  But more indirectly it can improve confidence and lessen anxiety, which are important goals in a beginner class.

But we won't know for sure until all of this data gets crunched.  And between pre and post surveys, experimental and control studies, and pre and post project studies involving almost 500 students, there's a metric f-ton of data to crunch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Delight And Instruct

My greatest fear as a teacher is drawing something on the whiteboard that resembles a cock and / or balls.


"I can't lie / I kind of like the pain"

American Football, "Desire Gets In The Way"

Maybe every band should take 17 year breaks between amazing albums.


Many hackles were raised when South Korea recently decided to deploy a U.S. missile defense system poetically named "THAAD."  Conservative Koreans thought it was a necessary step against North Korea and possible Chinese aggression.  Liberals thought it was yet another multi-million dollar giveaway to the United States via military spending.  A larger issue was that China might somehow retaliate, given that Seoul and Beijing have deep economic ties.

Lo and behold, China just dropped the hammer on the growing, lucrative tourism business in South Korea:
"The Chinese government told provincial travel agencies to cut the number of tourists traveling to Korea by over 20 percent compared to last year, according to various sources on Monday.
Sources in the Korean Embassy in China, consulates and travel agencies said that city and provincial governments, including in Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Shaanxi, contacted travel agencies in their regions either by phone or by meeting with executives and delivered this directive."
Obvious economic downturn aside, it's interesting that a country like China can just decide to order up a 20 percent decrease in tourism to another country.  I guess dictatorships do have their advantages.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Into The Future

I finished Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, and I really enjoyed most of it.  Like most of my favorite sci-fi, it matches a pretty sweeping backdrop and heady ideas with a few solid, believable characters rooted in relatively straightforward problems.  (IMO, Iain M. Banks is still the master of this big, colossal universe and issues vs. two or three well-written, relatable characters).

Robinson isn't afraid to hide his agenda -- the Earth as we know it is going to be destroyed by human rapacity, and even colonizing other planets, moons, and asteroids (mostly asteroids) isn't going to solve some basic problems.

The climax of the novel (SPOILERS!) is the "re-wilding," where the two main characters manage to stage a massive re-population of the Earth's wildlife and, by extension, a revitalization of our planet's ravaged ecosystem.  The book really shines here, as Robinson matches a breathless narrative to some pretty complicated (for an idiot like me, at least) earth science / ecology issues.

Unlike Banks, Robinson doesn't seem to think interstellar travel will ever be a possibility for humans.  And so the stakes become even higher for a fully revitalized planet.  He suggests that the human species is so unconsciously tied to Earth that extended periods away from the planet will directly lower one's life-span.  People who live off-Earth, "spacers," are common enough, but without the occasional trip back to our Mother Planet they basically stunt their own life-spans or go crazy.

This is the first Robinson novel I've read, and I'm curious to pick up The Mars Trilogy, of which I take it 2312 is something of an addendum.  Still, I had no problems going into this one "cold" without having reading some of his earlier work.

Also, his take on the future of gender norms and sex is pretty mind-bending.  There are some moments of actual, literal poetry as well, which was welcome and unexpected in a "hard sci-fi" book.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

KOTESOL Continued

KOTESOL 2016 featured two keynote speakers.  The first was Thomas Farrell who spoke on teachers and "Reflective Practice," the active work of thinking about your teaching and how it impacts on your students.  While that sounds rather vague, the presentation itself was engaging.  He argued that teachers who actively reflect on their practice will directly encourage students to reflect as well, and become more active and engaged learners.

On Sunday, Harvard's Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa spoke on the nature of 21st century teaching.  It was an impressive overview of new emerging studies in cognitive science, behavioral science, and how the paradigm of "education" is moving towards one of "learning science."  She argued that teachers needed to embrace the inherent complexity of a field that is changing so quickly.

While these two presentations stood out, as mentioned, almost all of the talks I attended were great.  I'm planning on becoming more involved with TESOL while I'm in South Korea, and I'd encourage others to do the same.

The problem, of course, is that great conferences like KOTESOL require lots of resources, effort, and, ahem, money.  This year my boss managed to get my college to pay for our registration (non-members: 75,000 won), our train tickets, and our hotel.  I realize a lot of teachers in South Korea don't have this luxury, so it would be nice to see more colleges, public schools, and hagwon put up some money for an event that offers so much in the way of theoretical reflection, practical advice, and networking opportunities.

Quit While You're Behind

I'm still not convinced Trump makes it to election day.  He's obviously already trying to poison the well with claims of election "rigging."  But who's to say he doesn't go a step further and drop out entirely?  He gets to accomplish his goal of doing as much damage to American democracy as possible and he avoids the election night humiliation of losing to a girl.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


I had a great time last weekend at KOTESOL's 2016 International Conference.  I was really blown away by the quality and depth of the speakers, both actual Ph.D.-totin' academics and college instructors like me with mere M.A.'s and such.  (I did attend one hilariously awful talk, but honestly that's still a pretty good percentage of quality to dross over two days.)

I've got more to say, if only to suggest some really great books about teaching, but this week I'm also buried in grading midterm exams and crunching the data for me and my co-workers' own research paper.

As one co-worker suggested, our data is really good and adding up to something interesting but let's never use student word count as our primary data source ever again.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"I could hold you for a million years"

Adele, "Make You Feel My Love"

I guess I'm pretty much agnostic about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize.  I like his music just fine, but as I mentioned on The Twitterz he's as much a cultural icon as a musical one.  I'm about ten years too young to appreciate him as the former, but musically he remains an unstoppable force, creatively speaking.

If you put a gun to my head I guess I'd pick Blonde on Blonde as my favorite album.  Or maybe Highway 61 Revisited.  Or Blood on the Tracks.

And Adele covering Dylan is positively lovely.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

English Is A Language, Not A Test

So, a student told me that my “reputation” at my school was good except for one thing – grammar.

Yes, my beginner level students have decided my grammar sucks.

I thought about it and I’m pretty sure there’s a logical explanation.  A lot of my students have taken or are taking TOEIC classes (Test of English for International Communication).  This test is notorious for two things 1) high scores are required for good jobs in South Korea, even in positions that don’t require English ability and 2) it’s bullshit.

By bullshit, I mean that the test is notorious for “gotcha”-style grammar questions that focus on some of the most difficult, but also very obscure bits and bobs of English, and not really on on practical aspects of communication.

Thing is, my students have it ingrained in them from early on that English is not, in fact, a tool for human communication, but rather a series of obscure tricks and riddles that must be mastered if you ever want to make a decent salary.  English is not a language, but a test (in a country that is overly obsessed with tests and constant test-preparation).

So yes, because I teach my classes in a conversational and immersive manner (i.e., a manner accepted by contemporary language education folks as the best one) where the goal is communication first and obscure grammar points tenth or eleventh on my list of pedagogical goals, I am “bad grammar teacher.”

Only a Korean, non-native TOEIC course instructor, teaching English grammar in Korean, can properly grok English grammar because Korea.

Just today a report came out that the number of Native English Teachers in South Korea (NETs) is declining rapidly.

It's worth noting that I've been here long enough to recognize a pattern -- parents will complain NETs cost too much.  Then, five years later, they'll complain that they can't afford to send their kids to hagwon (private English after-school academies) where the bulk of teaching is done by -- wait for it -- NETs.

So in short, yes many NETs are incompetent.  But frankly, two things needs to happen: 1) increase the standards for the teachers you bring over and 2) stop treating NETs like clowns and their classes like "play time."  (Although play time can be an effective approach sometimes to proper immersion teaching, of course!)

Treat them like teachers and their classrooms like situations where language education can actually occur and, lo and behold, you might actually have some decent results in the end.

Let's maybe start by realizing white NETs have no inherent advantages over non-white ones?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Beyond Belief

Some good things about the South Korean national health care service?  It's cheap (I pay about 60 dollars of month to be on it), hospitals are common, and access is pretty much universal.

The bad news?  Do not -- repeat -- do not get into a car accident or suffer any kind of trauma involving internal bleeding.  Because Korean doctors will simply refuse to treat you:
“Kim [a two-year old] was hit by a car Friday in Jeonju, North Jeolla, and died after 13 hospitals refused to operate on him, saying they lacked operating rooms or surgeons. Kim died during an operation at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, Gyeonggi.
‘The biggest failure lies with Chonbuk National University Hospital, whose doctors initially diagnosed the boy but later refused to do his operation,’ said an official from the Health and Welfare Ministry, ‘followed by Cheonnam National University Hopital and Eulji General Hospital for turning down the boy'.”
A toddler is bleeding to death and 13 hospitals refused to treat him.  Fucking madness.

Doctors who performed the initial diagnosis treat the foot but not the internal bleeding.  How is this not manslaughter?

The EMS helicopter won’t run because it’s after “working” hours.

As if murders and car accidents can’t happen after five, on the weekend, or on a national holiday.

What a clusterfuck.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

"clean bodies and clean minds"

A Korean chef is making waves in the global food scene.  She's a vegan monk (literally!):
"This is a woman who has never worked in a restaurant, let alone owned one. She’s never had any official culinary training and never published a cookbook. She doesn’t use garlic or onions in her (strictly vegan) recipes – ingredients which some Buddhists believe stimulate the libido. But Kwan has the New York restaurant scene in her thrall, directors climbing the steep, dusty half-mile between the temple and the small hermitage she shares with two other nuns – and an entirely new breed of acolytes queuing up to digest her wisdom. While she finds it the funny side of this, she also sees it as a useful means of propagating her own perspective on food preparation. For her, cooking should never be about greed – the licking of lips and the stuffing of faces. It should be about serving dishes as a means to a higher end: clean bodies and clean minds.
'Food is meant to nourish your body and help your mind find enlightenment,' she says. 'It’s a way of bringing humans back to nature, of clearing our minds for meditation. This is how we grow.' To illustrate her point, she jabs a tiny finger in my direction. 'You’re the soil,' she says. 'Food is the seed.'”
A few years back I went to a temple outside of Daegu for Buddha's Birthday (a national holiday in Korea).  On that day you can get a "free" bowl of vegetable bibimbap (but you're an idjit if you don't throw five thousand won into a collection box.)  It was good, but Ms. Kwan's dishes sound even better.

But also a small nitpick: "zen" is the Japanese term for Korean "seon" Buddhism.  Why so many writers use the former rather than the latter when talking about Korean, well, anything, is beyond me.

Note: Posts tagged with "Advanced Conversation" were used with my adult English students as jumping-off points for discussions.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

These Are Interesting Times We Are Living In, No?

Monday, October 3, 2016

That's Why They Pay Me The Big Bucks

Today's Warm-up Proverb, Idiom, or Slang Expression in English (tm) for my adult students was "beer goggles."

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Non-Political Trump Post For Reals