Audio-lingual, U-RAH, U-RAH!

The Audio-lingual method is one of learning by repetition. That is, having the students repeat the target language, many times.  I hear it was invented by the US military, as a way of teaching its’s soldiers the lingo of the country that they would be based in, let alone the language of the people that they might be fighting. In a Korean classroom, (especially that of an Elementary classroom) Audio-lingua is king, and I’m not talking about Elvis. Students here are expected to read, write and recite the target language.  As a student of the Communicative language teaching method, this is just wrong, as in simply just inane. I can cite that if the context is not set properly, the target language that the student would be saying, means nothing. But what I can get from the students, what is worthy of pronunciation, sometimes isn’t worth the effort at all. They’ve been drilled and drilled with a said response to a question, it can be difficult to get them away from the default response and have them think about a real answer.

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Hold out your hand, a half eight missive

“Close you eyes and hold out your hand” the student said to me. Reluctantly I did, and I was pleasantly surprised. In my left hand was a lapel sized carnation with an accompanying cluster of greenery and white drosophilla  flowers. It smelt nice, a little bit brusied, but otherwise a nice thought. I thanked the student, at least I think I did. Can’t remember if I did, I was a little weary at the time having gotten a broken nights sleep the night before. Will see to it to thank her again when I teach her next. The other little surprise was a green note, delivered on green (origami) paper, folded into a half figure eight. It took me and my colleague a couple of minutes to decipher the message written in Korean. The substance was essentially, my name is Jason. Thanks for teaching me, and making our lessons fun. Keep on doing the same thing. Bye. Simple and in the style that a Korean elementary student would write for teachers’ day. Thank god she wasn’t older. In the past I’d received messages from students (good-byes that time) and they were bordering on romantic. Still, being a private girls middle school, what other sentiments could you expect? They were honest, and sometimes humourous. I felt touched.

Maximising STT, failure within earshot

IMG_20120217_155054While I was in Shenyang, I got to spend a lot of time in one of the local Starbucks. To paint the scene, the first thing you hit after you’ve gone through the revolving doors is the counter. You’re greeted (in Chinese of course) by the staff. I stroll up to the counter and order my usual hot chocolate, grande’ size. The shop is normally crowded but I’m usually able to find a seat. Coffee shops tend to be places where all sorts of people meet. Not uncommon that I’ve seen foreigners congregate here for whatever reasons. I’ve seen a bible club run, meetings occur (locals and foreigners alike) and of course the 1 to 1 English lesson. I have to say that this guy was talking way too much. When I took my CELTA training, the specific teaching footnote was to maximise student talk time (STT). They are afterall, there to practise their English, not to sit and hear someone preach. Having to sit in close proximity to the ‘1 to 1’ couple, was annoying. CELTA, I think, had turned me into a stern critic of English teaching. This way or nothing. To be fair, the student did look on the shy side, or heaven forbid was seeking advice, but there’s always room for improvement, on both sides of the fence.

Only falling out of your chair is more difficult

P110712001I have to admit that the students have done well so far. The lesson plan was based on TPR, or, total physical respsonse. I had a box of realia for the students to act out a character. An over-sized toy hammer, a fly-swat, a hula-hoop, an empty beer bottle, an old cricket ball and a rubber chicken.

So far, the students have role-played stabbing a monster with a hammer cum crucifixes, lobbed grenades-cricket balls to cries of “fire in the hole!”, flipped burger patties with a fly-swat, stabbed other students with fictitiously broken bottles, and the jewel in the crown: a student giving CPR to a chicken. He was eliciting a paramedic. The only object they found difficult was the hula-hoop. I found myself climbing out of make-believe manholes and playing the lion tamer to invisible lions. Though innovative and witty, this lesson didn’t fit everyone. Using a different mode of input/ output didn’t suit all of the students though. Some of the more bookish students drew a blank, while the more physically inclined students did well. It takes all sorts.

CELTA, CELTA, open sesame!

CELTA in the background

It came as a bit of a surprise when I applied for a job, two in fact, that the same day I’d get a reply.

CELTA was a month long course in English teaching. If it were any longer I’d had lost more hair worrying over it. Every time I’d combed my hand through my hair I’d gotten a strand of hair coming away. Maybe it was  just natural attrition.

Months in preparing for the course, a month in relative purgatory or, “study jail”.

So many ups and downs over my progress on a day-to-day basis, I thought I’d was passing one day, the next day I thought I was failing.

I have been to boot camp, and I have survived. One of the tutors said that doors would open once I’d gotten CELTA. I never realized it’d be that soon.

Of crime and ducks



When I was at primary school, the principal had a leather belt hanging on the wall for any miscreant students to ‘meet’ if they had been bad. Such was the life of a school boy 25 years ago. Now with corporal punishment being ruled out, and  alternatives have been found. Even in Korea this is the case. Though, old-time teachers have been known to hit their students, with bamboo sticks or even open hands.

The classic Korean style punishment takes many forms. Ranging from holding books aloft for as long at the students’ arms hold out to standing or squatting like a sprinter in the starters blocks, in the corridor to (what I’ve seen at Middle and High schools) writing out a letter of explanation and apology. All stock standard stuff. The funniest type of punishment I’ve seen meted out is the duckwalk. Looking it up on youtube I find it as either a common exercise or, in the case of my video, a punishment dealt out to wayward students.

I would be teaching class when this goes on, with shuffling and murmurs of agonst from the students. I poke my head out the door of the English centre, rather theatrically, smile quizzically at the students and usher them on with a wave of my hand. It’s all very funny to me.

Flying solo between the lazy and uninterested

1st graders, right after lunch

3rd grade high schools are probably the worst of the lot. Whenever students ascend to the last grade of any school they always have the feeling that education is now unnecessary. You get the same effect from sixth grade elementary schoolers too. But these guys at my high school are just lazy, unmotivated, and refused to be motivated to study at any means.

It’s probably what got them to what technically is a ‘technical high school’. Pardon the pun. Teaching the third grade class I had all of two students that were engaged in the task. All the rest just could not be fucked to do anything but indulge themselves in their own conversations, preen their hair and basically do nothing. From my perspective they’ve got an uncertain future with prospects of little money or jobs. Even if you’re a girl in Korea you still need money to get married, right? And even before they meet some unfortunate sap, they need money to dress themselves up to the nines and tens. Even looking at some of even the disinterested students I see some sort of spark, some internal drive that sets them apart, but most them I don’t see anything. The lights are on, but no-ones home. Not smart enough to draw the threads of causality together, education equals money and a future.

I should have been riled up, but knowing that if I got ticked off, it means nothing to them. Well okay, the lesson means nothing to them, just the same way that they mean nothing to me. Here to do a job, get in, get out with my karma intact.