Problems for learners in South KoreaThe english language is a huge part of Korean society. Billions of dollars are spent every year on foreign language education and the spending continues to increase. Despite the popularity of learning english, there are numerous problems that students of all ages face during their years of study. Although the number is high, this article will focus on three major problems facing Korean students today; the role english plays in the Korean education system, the differences between english and Korean, and the cultural differences of Koreans in the classroom. Let’s first look at the role english plays in the Korean education system.
In my 8 years of teaching in South Korea, I have questioned many of the practices used in Korean schools
. When it comes to learning english, there is too much emphasis put on test scores and student ranking. For example, in order for university students to obtain a job with a good company like Samsung or LG, they must obtain a TOEIC score of a certain level. This creates a lot of pressure and anxiety prior to taking the test. If students do not obtain a high enough TOEIC score, they will not be considered for a job position. Students are then forced to attend english language institutes in their free time to try and improve their scores for the next test.
Another issue with the education system in South Korea is that there isn’t a strong enough foreign influence in the classrooms. Typically, students will have english class with a foreigner for about one hour a day. Elementary school students may study with a foreigner for only forty minutes a day. In order for students to absorb and practice natural english, there needs to be more time spent with their foreign teacher. english needs to be used in the classroom regularly during lessons and there needs to be more testing for actual english speaking ability. Korean teachers who teach english tend to only focus on grammar structure and vocabulary memorization. Rarely do they teach or practice english conversation with their students because they themselves may lack the ability to do so. Their only option is to play an audio CD or tape. With that in mind, let’s now look at one of the reasons why speaking english is so difficult for Koreans.
english is definitely one of the most difficult and challenging languages to learn. So it is not a surprise to see Koreans struggle with the acquisition and understanding of the various aspects of the language. When comparing english and Korean, there are numerous differences that need to be addressed. First of all, the grammar structure is completely different. Some consider the structure of english grammar to be backwards to that of Korean grammar. This creates a lot of difficulty for students when having to translate between the two languages. In addition to grammar structure, Korean students have a difficult time pronouncing a number of english consonants. Examples include /f/ /v/ /p/ /b/ /z/ /j/ /l/ and /r/. Korean students struggle with these sounds because their native language does not contain them. Therefore, it is common to hear Korean students pronounce words such as ‘four’ as ‘pour’, or ‘very’ as ‘beddy’. Constant pronunciation practice is needed to help students learn these tricky sounds of the english alphabet.
A third problem that Korean students face is the influence of their country’s culture. Confucian religion plays a dominant role in Korean society. In the classroom, the teacher’s position is strong and dominant. Learning usually consists of listening, reading and constant memorization, especially when preparing for tests such as university entrance exams or TOEIC tests. Nobody questions the teaching styles or methods of their teachers, thus creating a rigid, inflexible learning environment. This kind of teaching style prevents students from participating in language exchange such as debate, pair or group activities, or role plays. As a result, students may appear timid, shy or discouraged when asked to express themselves using english in the classroom.
In conclusion, there are a number of problems that Korean students must endure when learning english. Whether it is within the education system itself, in the classroom, or within their own culture, students will have to find their own ways to overcome these issues and excel at the english language.