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?

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