When a language is learned in a country where it is not spoken, as a foreign language, it is difficult to have a chance to be exposed to the environment where the target language is spoken. Since I went back to Korea in the age of 11, I had lived in Korea for 15 years. I did all my studies in Korean and went through the Korean curriculum. At first, it was difficult to adapt to the Korean culture and language. At that time, I spoke better English than Korean because I spent most of my childhood in Canada. However, I was able to follow up because I was still young and my Korean was not that bad compared to other second generation immigrant children. The most important factor was that I was living in Korea and was exposed to the Korean-language environment.
What about my English then? English was now not the main spoken language and gradually the usage of English decreased. English in the Korean curriculum was not challenging enough to develop my English skills; especially conversational skills were getting worse. It is because in many EFL contexts, a focus on grammatical form or accuracy remains the standard, with the majority of classes following a teacher-fronted, grammar-translation methodology for language learning (Muller, Adamson, Brown and Herder, 2014).
The purpose of language education is to gain conversational skills that can be applied to real-life communication situations (Ministère de l’Education, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche [MEESR], 2013). However, in order to meet the learning outcomes, it is important for the students to be exposed to the real-life language usage settings. Learning through text books and in-class activities are not enough to fulfill the objective to communicate in the real world. According to Atkinson’s (2011) chapter, language learning and teaching should be based on building up the ability to use the language in real-life settings. This means that language should be learned through adapting to the environment and culture. I believe this implies that language should not be only learned through text books – memorizing and repeating (Larsen-Freeman and Anderson, 2011). Following are the methods that I have used to maintain my English proficiency in high school.
- Listen to English radio every morning for 30 minutes: I listened to the radio on my way to school in the bus (http://home.ebs.co.kr/morning/main). The show introduced world news headlines and useful expressions in English.
- Read English newspaper (The Joongang Daily, The Korea Herald): I read the English newspaper published in Korea. It was easy to understand because it mainly dealt with Korean news.
- Participate in English debate class: I went to a private language institute’s debate class. The class would be divided into two, pro or con, and would debate about an issue.
- Work as English newspaper head editor in high school: The name of the newspaper was “The Zelkova” and we would publish two newspapers a year. I was able to write in English and revise other peers’ articles.
- Watch American TV series: I watched my favorite TV series “Grey’s Anatomy.” It was an amusing way to improve my English skills and see how people actually use the spoken language.
There is no right or wrong way in trying to be exposed to the target language environment. However, learning only from text-books is difficult to gain the ability to communicate.
Atkinson, D. (2011). A sociocognitive approach to second language acquisition. In Atkinson, D (Ed.), Alternative approaches to second language acquisition (pp. 143-166). London: Routledge.
Gouvernement du Québec. Ministère de l’Education, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche. (2013). Quebec education program: English as a second language. Retrieved from http://www1.mels.gouv.qc.ca/sections/programmeFormation/secondaire1/pdf/chapitre100v2.pdf
Larsen-Freeman, D. & Anderson, M. (2011). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 3e. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Muller, T., Adamson, J., Brown, P. S., and Herder, S. (2014). Exploring EFL Fluency in Asia . Retrieved from http://www.palgraveconnect.com/pc/doifinder/10.1057/9781137449405.0001