Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

English Mania


I was informed recently that I will be hosting a one-a-week teachers class. I’m actually really excited about this (though it does take away my 1st planning period on Fridays 🙁 ) because I get a chance to interact with the English faculty outside of my regular English classes or lunchtime. I won’t be teaching anything, just coming up with topics and facilitating discussions.

For my first class (which actually won’t happen for a few weeks because of the English competition and midterms) I’m thinking about showing this TED talk about English mania. It’s something that as an EFL teacher I’ve been torn about. On the one hand I love teaching English as a foreign language, and it’s my job – on the other hand there are times where I somewhat feel like a cultural imperialist.

I agree with many of his points, but I’m not sure I agree with his conclusion. The clips of the Chinese students yelling their goals in English were particularly shocking. I guess I don’t feel that I can agree with his conclusion because I’m inherently biased as a native English speaker who is already benefiting from the fact that English is the dominant language for global communication. Would I agree with his point if I had to learn Chinese in school starting in the third grade?

“Why English? In a single word: Opportunity. Opportunity for a better life, a job, to be able to pay for school, or put better food on the table. Imagine a student taking a giant test for three full days. Her score on this one test literally determines her future. She studies 12 hours a day for three years to prepare. 25 percent of her grade is based on English. It’s called the Gaokao. And 80 million high school Chinese students have already taken this grueling test. The intensity to learn English is almost unimaginable. Unless you witness it.

Teacher: Perfect!
Students: Perfect!
T: Perfect!
S: Perfect!

T: I want to speak perfect English.
S: I want to speak perfect English.

T: I want to speak —
S: I want to speak —
T: perfect English.
S: perfect English.

T: I want to change my life!
S: I want to change my life!”

My Korean students are in very similar positions to the Chinese students in this video -they have been learning English since elementary school, and they also have a test similar to the one mentioned in the video called the suneung (수능) that will greatly affect their future. If they don’t do well on the suneung, they probably won’t get into a good college, which in turn affects their ability to get a job after graduation, and regardless of what type of college they want to get into, a good portion of the suneung test is English ability. Is it any wonder that I have students who stress over English? It’ll be interesting to see what the English teachers, people who went through this education system and managed to still retain a love of English, think of this video.

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안녕하세요! My name is Emily and when I started this blog I had received a 2010 – 2011 F*lbright grant to teach English in South Korea.  I then decided to apply to renew my grant, so I am now staying in Korea until July 2012. This blog is not an official F*lbright Program blog, and the views expressed are my own and not those of the F*lbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Philosophy Pre-Law and Classical Civilizations, and found myself 3 months later teaching English at SGHS. The town that I taught in, SG, is a small town of 12,000 people, an “읍” (eup) rather than a “시” (shi – city), and though it was sometimes hard teaching in such a small town I really enjoyed the unique experience of being the first foreign teacher SGHS had ever had. I lived in the largest part of the county which is significantly bigger (40,000 people) than the town the school is situated in, but is also considered rural by Korean standards.

During my second grant period (2011-2012) I decided to change schools and I currently teach at CPHS which is located in an even smaller town than previously, in Jeollanamdo.

This blog is meant to serve as a reflection not only of being a Native English Speaking teacher in Korea, but also of living as a foreigner in rural Korea.