Purpose of creating this blog

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* This post is to provide “Polyglots and Hyperpolyglots” blog followers the background of creating this blog. It would enable the followers to understand the blogger’s intention of creating this blog and prospect how this blog would look like in the future.

My philosophy of teaching and learning is that it is an ongoing process throughout a lifetime. Even though I am now a language teacher myself, I continuously learn new languages. Since I arrived in Montreal, I have been learning French for over a year now. Personally, I believe that learning new languages helps me become a better language learner because I get to understand the learners’ point of view of – the difficulty of learning a new language.

My teaching career started since I was a senior in high school. I started teaching languages; English and Korean to students in various ages and levels of proficiency. I worked part-time as a language teacher in private institutes and post-graduate institutes. I have mostly taught English to high school students and adults in Korea. For high school students, I helped them prepare for English proficiency exams and university interviews. In addition, I taught business communication and writing to adults who needs to learn English for work-related purposes. I always enjoyed delivering knowledge and seeing students develop language skills. In Montreal, I taught two sections of EAST 220 First Level Korean course in McGill University every week (2016Fall & 2017Winter). Teaching Korean was new to me however, I had a wonderful opportunity to teach students at McGill. I used videos, audio files and multimedia in class to create an active learning environment. In addition, I always tried to deliver the language along with the Korean culture. One of the motivations of creating a language blog was to enhance students’ understanding of Korean culture and to share my struggles when I was learning languages. All content in the blog is through my own real-life experiences of language learning and teaching.

I was privileged to have a chance to learn many languages. It was either because I was living in the country where the language was spoken or the language course was part of the second language curriculum in school. I have experience learning five languages: English, Korean, French, Japanese and Mandarin. Language learning is never easy and there are many stories which I wanted to share with my students and friends who are interested in learning new languages. This blog is mainly about my personal language learning and teaching experiences which could strongly relate to language learners’ own experiences. In addition, the blog talks about the historical and cultural backgrounds of the language. Language is inseparable with culture however this is difficult to learn when you are learning a language as a foreign language. I have opened this blog entitled, “Polyglots and Hyperpolyglots,” in 2016 and received several feedbacks so far from my colleagues in education. I seek to continue blogging and hope to share my teaching and learning experiences throughout my career.

Are native speakers better language teachers

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  • Teaching English

Are native speakers the ideal teacher of English? There has been a lot of research regarding whether native speakers (NS) are better teachers than non-native speakers (NNS). I do agree that native speakers would feel more comfortable when speaking the language and thus many students prefer to have native speakers as their teachers. However, nowadays it is difficult to define native and non-native speakers. Labelling “the native speaker” which used to be comfortably available to draw a demarcation line is now difficult to identify (Kachru and Nelson, 1996). In addition, non-native speakers bring a great number of strengths to language teacher and act as role models of successful learning themselves. Also, they understand the difficulties and obstacles when learning the language because they have been through all of it (Larsen-Freeman & Anderson, 2011).

In North America, most second language learners of English would want to improve their communicative ability either speaking or writing. Because they are living in a country where the target language is spoken, it is obvious that they are learning the language to “survive” in the English spoken environment. In this situation, I believe there is a stronger preference toward having a NS teacher than EFL teachers in Korea.

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In Korea, where English is learned as a foreign language, the purpose of learning the language in schools (middle school and high school) is to get good grades. Reading, listening comprehension and grammar are important in getting good grades in English. On the other hand, speaking or writing is not evaluated most of the times. In this English learning situation, my English teachers in high school all taught English in Korean and the class focused mainly on reading comprehension and grammar. As a student, the class style matched directly with my needs of learning English. I did not have a NS teacher in high school and never had a chance to speak in English with the teacher (which made my spoken English deteriorate). However in schools where there was a NS teacher, their role was to enhance students’ speaking abilities. Giving the native speakers the role of teaching communicative abilities may arise from the stereotype that NNS who was born in foreign countries and who learned English in EFL contexts lack native proficiency in English (Liu, 1999).

  • Teaching Korean

There has not been a lot of research related to NS and NNS teachers of the Korean language. To be honest, I was unable to find research which dealt with NNS Korean language teachers. Since most Korean language is a less commonly taught language (Wang, 2006) and teachers are Korean heritage people, there must not have been a need to do research on NNS teachers. I believe that there would be more research on NNS Korean language teachers in the future due to the increase of Korean language learners. Already on youtube there are foreigners who upload Korean language tutorial videos. And there is even a TV show where foreigners discuss about certain topics every week in Korean.

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In order to be able to teach Korean language, the teacher should not only be fluent in the language but also knowledgeable with Korean history, culture and Chinese characters. This makes Korean heritage people to easily become a Korean teacher. However it does not necessarily mean that NNS cannot be a Korean teacher. From my experience teaching first level Korean class in McGill University, even though I am a NS of Korean I sometimes had difficulty in explaining certain grammar. Since there are exceptions in grammar and certain grammar can be used in various situations, students would easily get confused. However because it is so natural to me I would not think it could be confusing for them. Whenever I receive questions, I realize that this grammar can be confusing to KFL (Korean as Foreign Language) learners.

  • Conclusion

I think there are both pros and cons of NS and NNS language teachers. Therefore, stereotyping NNS that they are not better teachers than NS is not appropriate. I think all learners can become native-like speakers if they invest certain amount of time and continues to have interest in the target language. Also, becoming a teacher does not only mean to be perfect in the language but should have empathy towards students’ difficulty of learning new languages and the ability to guide them throughout the process. Along with this effort and mindset, specializing in the target language studies (linguistics, SLE, SLA or Literature) would enable NNS to become good teachers.

References

Kachru, B. B., & Nelson, C. L. (1996). World Englishes. In S. L. McKay & N. H.Hornberger (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language teaching (pp. 71–102). New York:Cambridge University Press.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Anderson, M. (2011). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 3e. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Liu, J. (1999), Nonnative-English-Speaking Professionals in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 33: 85–102. doi:10.2307/3588192

Wang, H. (2006). Korean Language Teachers in Higher Education in North America: Profile, Status, and More. In: 11th Annual Conference of AATK. [online] pp.147-187. Available at: http://www.ncolctl.org/files/Korean-Language-Teachers.pdf [Accessed 22 Nov. 2016].

Study abroad in California

All universities in the world would want their school to have a good reputation and high rankings. One of the big factors in getting high rankings for universities in Korea is to be global. Being “global” can mean many things – international faculties, international students or global partnerships. The slogan of my home university in Korea was “Ewha Global Initiative” when I was a student in 2009. They have started many projects which provided students to have global experiences. I have benefited a lot from my undergraduate school’s global projects. Today I would like to talk about my study abroad experience when I was an undergraduate student at Ewha Womans University.

  • Study abroad program in Ewha

Study abroad program, so called exchange student program is one of the popular programs that most of the students want to go in Ewha. It is because students can bring course credits back to their home university. Also, it is not much of burden economically because students get to pay the tuition to their home universities (Korean universities’ tuition is cheaper than the U.S.). It means that they pay less than the host university students but can receive the same quality education. In addition, they get to take courses in the target language and make friends from all over the world. Because of the many benefits, a lot of students apply to the exchange student program. I applied for the study abroad program for 2013 winter semester. I remember that the evaluation process took several months. It was a three-step process. First, I needed to submit all the documents. It included GPA, TOEFL score and an essay explaining why I should be selected. The office of global affairs would evaluate the documents and shortlisted students are interviewed by two professors. Lastly, they provide a list of students by ranking. Since there is a quota for each host university, the students who has the high ranking (who has high total scores) gets a higher chance in choosing schools that they want to (Ewha OIA, 2016).

  • Study abroad to California

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Luckily, I went to a study abroad program in 2013 winter semester. I was accepted in a special program called “ISEP.” ISEP is a non-profit organization which helps universities worldwide in student exchange programs. I was able to choose from the partner schools with ISEP. I submitted top 10 schools that I would like to study and was admitted to the school that I wanted to go. Since my experience studying outside of Korea was 15 years ago, it was a great opportunity to improve my English and take courses in a North American institute. I went to study at a small liberal arts college called Pitzer College in Claremont, California. I took four courses. It was not that challenging for management or economics courses because I have already taken most of the courses in English at Ewha. However, the writing class was very challenging at that time because I had to write 10-15 page research paper for the final assignment. I was not familiar with the library system, citations or formatting the essay. To be honest, I have never written anything this long even in Korean. The biggest pressure was the length criteria. Writing is never easy and we often feel frustrated and delay writing at the last minute because it is stressful (Murray, 1978). However, Pitzer was a very nice place as an international student to improve writing. In my writing class, there were only 10 students in class and the writing teacher was the director of the writing clinic center. I would easily go to her office and ask for advice. This family-like atmosphere helped me become active in my learning and improve in a short period of time. I have benefited a lot from the personal care from the faculty in this small private college. One semester at Pitzer enabled me to take my first baby steps in studying in North America. I personally think that my inspirational studying abroad experience in my senior year in undergraduate program triggered me to pursue higher education in graduate school.

References

Ewha OIA. (2016). Office of International Affairs. [online] Available at: http://oia.ewha.ac.kr/ [Accessed 27 Dec. 2016].

Murray, D. (1978). Write before Writing. College Composition and Communication, 29(4), 375-381. doi:10.2307/357024

The Korean language “Hangul” worldwide

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  • The Korean language

South Korea, an East Asian nation on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula has the population of 50.22 million (World bank, 2013). Korean language is only used officially in Korea (South Korea and North Korea) and in several regions in China. Korea is a small country in size and has not been recognized by the global world compared to Japan or China. For example, when I first came to Canada in 1995, not many people knew about Korea besides the separation between the south and north. Korea became familiar to many people when Seoul, the capital of Korea was the host of the Asian games in 1986 and the Olympics in 1988. It was a time when there was an increase in foreign visitors and travelers. In addition, the economic success of Korean conglomerates such as Samsung and LG have contributed in publicizing the country.

  • Popularity of Korean culture and language

In the 2000s, the popularity and success of K-pop and Korean dramas; the Korean wave (Hanryu; 한류; 韓流) has led in promoting Korean culture and language. Fans of Korean culture worldwide are learning Korean and this is reflected in the increase of Korean language courses in universities worldwide. For example, in my EAST 220 First Level Korean course in McGill University, there are 65 students. The students in this class are very diverse and not limited to Korean heritage students. East Asian Studies department in McGill, undergraduate students are required to take two language courses among three (Korean, Japanese and Mandarin). Therefore, I was expecting that most of the students would be majoring in East Asian studies. However, over half of the students were not in East Asian studies. Rather, students were taking Korean language courses because they simply wanted to learn Korean. Students in this class told me that they want to listen to k-pop or watch dramas without translation, go to graduate programs in Korea or get an internship position in Korean companies. To be honest, Montreal is not a city with a lot of Korean population compared to Toronto or Vancouver in Canada. However, I was surprised to see students voluntarily registering class not because it is required but because they want to learn.

  • The Korean alphabet; hangul

fanThe Korean alphabet, hangul; 한글, consist of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. It was invented by King Sejong in 1446. It is the only language in the world which the inventor and the year of invention in known. Before the invention of the alphabet, Chinese characters were used in writing. Since the Chinese characters were difficult to learn, especially to lower class people, the king created the alphabet which can be easily learned (The Academy of Korean Studies). As a Korean language teacher, I think that any person can learn to read Korean within several hours (using youtube tutorials). It is even possible in 30 minutes even though you need more time to know what it means. However, it does not necessarily mean that the Korean language is easy (the alphabet is easy to learn).

The Hunmin Chongum (訓民正音; 훈민정음) manuscript, the only known copy of the manuscript in existence was found in the 1960s and is now on display in the Kansong Museum of Art in Seoul. That copy, listed as National Treasure No. 70, is included in Unesco’s Memory of the World Register from 1997, which looks to preserve, disseminate and call attention to important older documents across the world (Lim, 2009).

  • Personal thoughts on Korean language learning worldwide

It is interesting to see that Korean has become a language that people learn as a foreign or second language. I have pride as a Korean descendent and happy to deliver Korean language and culture to people who are interested in Korea. Korean language itself is not an easy language but it is interesting and easy to understand if it is learned through the history of Korea.

References

Lim, H. and Limb, J. (2009). A historic find, surrounded by controversy. [online] Korea JoongAng Daily. Available at: http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2913607 [Accessed 25 Dec. 2016].

The Academy of Korean Studies. (n.d.). Hangul. [online] Available at: http://terms.naver.com/entry.nhn?docId=795707&cid=46674&categoryId=46674 [Accessed 25 Dec. 2016].

UNESCO. (2016). The Hunmin Chongum Manuscript | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. [online] Available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/memory-of-the-world/register/full-list-of-registered-heritage/registered-heritage-page-8/the-hunmin-chongum-manuscript/ [Accessed 25 Dec. 2016].

World bank (2013). Population, total | Data. [online] Available at: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL [Accessed 25 Dec. 2016].

My first encounter to English

img_3472I first learned English when I was five years old. In 1995, my family immigrated to B.C., Canada and was able to learn English as my second language. Since I was young, I was able to learn English fast and became fluent within several years. From my memory, I was in a kindergarten class with other students but occasionally went to the ESL class several times a week. My ESL teacher was an old lady who taught me from ABCs. At first, she taught me one on one and when I was learning grammar I was in a group of 3-5 students. Quarter of the students in my kindergarten class (not ESL class) were Asian but most of them were second or third generation immigrant children. Their first language was English and did not speak their heritage language at all. This might be the reason why despite the big number of Asian students, ESL class was rather small. I benefited a lot from the ESL class and I really thank my teacher Mrs. Kerkum.

I lost most of my memories of my ESL class but I do remember that “direct method” was used. Direct method is also known as the ‘oral’ or ‘natural’ method. The direct method is named “direct method” because meaning should be connected directly with the target language without translation into the native language (Freeman, 2000). Since English was only used to teach in class, there was no way to translate into my native language. Also, the main purpose was to teach communicative skills (Larsen-Freeman and Anderson, 2011).

The theoretical assumption is that language can be learnt only through demonstration. Instead of analytical procedures of explaining grammar rules, students must be encouraged to use language naturally and spontaneously so that they induce grammar (Richards and Rogers, 1986). I did not know the terms ‘present participle’ but was rather introduced to find “Mrs. ING.” The teacher showed me a picture of an old lady who had a cane that was written “-ing.” Whenever the teacher shows Mrs. Ing, it means that I should be using the –ing form. This way of teaching grammar helped me in naturally learn the language.

The Direct Method continues to provoke interest and enthusiasm today, but it is not an easy methodology to use in a classroom situation. It requires small classes and high student motivation, and in the artificial environment of a classroom it is difficult to generate natural situations of understanding and guarantee sufficient practice for everyone. Brown (1994) points out that direct method did not take well in public schools where the constraint of budget, classroom size, time and the teacher background made it difficult to use. And especially in an Asian context where English is learned as a foreign language, the purpose of language learning is to take a test and get a good mark. It helps them to go to good school and get good jobs. So, in terms of limited resources and since the purpose of language learning is not for communication, direct method cannot be seen as a realistic way of learning a second language.

However, variants of this method have been developed where the teacher allows limited explanations in the student’s native language and explains some grammar rules to correct common errors a student may make when speaking.

References

Brown, D. H. (1994). Teaching by Principles. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall Regents.

Brown, D. H. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching (4th ed.). New York: Longman.

Freeman, D. L. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford University Press.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Anderson, M. (2011). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 3e. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. C. & Rogers, T. S. (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching: A description and analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Improving Conversational Abilities in EFL Context

group-conversation.jpgWhen 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

References

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

Learning Strategies for learning a new language – Vocabulary memorization

vocabulary1Words formulate a clause, phrase and sentence. It is the smallest component of a sentence. When we learn a new language, most of the times we get overwhelmed with the vocabulary words that should be memorized. Learning new vocabulary in a second language is a continuing process rather than a single event (Chamot, 2005). Especially memorizing vocabulary in the target language is important in a setting where “The Grammar-Translation Method” is used (Larsen-Freeman and Anderson, 2011).

I teach two sections of EAST 220 First Level Korean course in McGill University on Thursdays. In this class, we have bi-weekly vocabulary exams. While half of the students in class managed to get over 80% of the words, many students had a lot of difficulty in memorizing. Students have told me that they make vocabulary flash cards, stick post-it notes on the walls all around the house, write down the words multiple times and use online tools to memorize the words. These are examples of learning strategies that students have come up by themselves.

Good language learners tend to have their own learning strategies that facilitate the learning process. However, less successful language learners can be taught new strategies, thus helping them become better language learners (Grenfell and Harris, 1999). In the above situation, a task like vocabulary learning requires matching the new word to the definition. In this case, memorization strategy that has been successful for them in the learner’s past experience can be applied. According to an empirical study by Fan (2003), when students perceived that a strategy was useful they used it more often than strategies they did not perceive useful. Once a learning strategy becomes familiar through repeated use, it may be used with automaticity (Chamot, 2005, p. 112).

However, while a particular learning strategy can help a learner in a certain context it may not apply well in other learning goals. In addition, a certain learning strategy might not work to all students. Therefore, it is important for the teacher to introduce several options of learning strategies that the students can choose from. The students would try out the provided strategies and use what works for them the most. Throughout this process, the student can modify the learning strategies and customize based on their learning style or the type of study.

References

Chamot, A. (2005). Language learning strategy instruction. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 25, pp.112-130.

Fan, M. Y. (2003). Frequency of use, perceived usefulness, actual usefulness of second language vocabulary strategies: A study of Hong Kong learners. Modern Language Journal, 87(2), 222-241.

Grenfell, M., & Harris, V. (1999). Modern languages and learning strategies: In theory and practice. London. Routledge.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Anderson, M. (2011). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 3e. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.