Friday, January 16, 2009

When is the "native speaker style" too much?

A quick post on my mind before I go!

Today at lunch, my coworker and I were discussing our disagreement with our other coworker's style of teaching. She wasn't there but we have talked about this before so we essentially know the gist of her argument. It goes as follows:

She thinks that institutions employ native speakers in order to get access to their natural way of speaking in order that the students will be able to imitate us and speak naturally. This means that we should try to speak at a normal rate, using a normal kind of style in class. The students will be able to see the "real deal," as in what they'd actually encounter if they were to travel to Canada or the USA.

Both my coworker and I disagreed with this on many levels, including some of the following:

1. I think it sounds bizarre if second language students have bad, distracting grammar but they throw around a bunch of slang. Or if they use phrases that only native speakers would know, they don't sound native-speaker like, they just sound kind of weird. Like I'd rather a student speak in a simple, basic way that is free of errors rather than trying to sound like a native speaker.

2. The students that we teach at my university are low-level beginners, usually with only 1 or exceptions in a class of 20. If we don't speak slow and simply, I'm not sure they really have any hope of comprehending anything. My students have actually told me that my class is the best English class they've ever taken with a native speaker because of the simple fact that they can understand me and are not confused about what they need to do in activities or whatever.

3. To me, comprehending simple and slow comes first as they are grasping the basics. Fluency, in listening and speaking heading towards the native speaker level comes much later.

What are your thoughts on this?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Leaving on a jet-plane

I'm leaving for my semi-annual vacation in a few days and so will be officially off (this) blogosphere until March. If you want to hear about the life and European travels of my alter-ego, Just Wandering, you can cruise on over to the aptly named, Just Wandering Blog.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Frustrations in Writing

Thanks to the Korea Beat for finding this blog entry from a Korean about his frustrations in improving his English writing ability. As a teacher, I generally feel the same frustration. At my winter camp, I'm teaching "reading and writing" and while I feel comfident in teaching reading, I feel less than competent in the whole writing area. With the lower level students, I kind of feel like it's a waste of time to do writing when there are so many other, more pressing things for them to learn first. Grammar, vocabulary, and basic conversation come to mind.

With the upper level students, their strengths and weaknesses are vastly different so some sort of one size fits all lesson plan in writing doesn't seem like it would work that well. I give them individual feedback every day on their writing sample they do for homework, which seems helpful but I wonder if there is some better way. Peer editing...but is this just a pool of misinformation? A writing textbook...but does it have enough actual practice or does it just talk about writing? A review of basic grammar such as subject/verb agreement and how to use a noun/adjective/verb/adverb in a sentence...but this would be a lesson in tedium for the better students who'v mastered this already. An essay riddled in common errors so they can get some practice in editing...maybe???

What do you think? How to teach writing to upper level students?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Vocab Games

I'm doing a 2 week camp at my university and my class is focusing on vocab/reading/writing stuff. A fun review game to get some energy up at the end of the class is the memory circle. Get all the students to stand in a circle. The first person says one of the target vocab words. The next student lists the first word and then adds a new one. And so on it goes. When a student can't remember, they must sit down and are out of that round. The last student standing is the winner.

Another activity is writing all the target words on the board. This will work if the target words are not completely new but at least some of them are familiar. Give the students hints until they can guess which word you're talking about. Write down a brief description next to it. Then, erase the descriptions at the end and get the students in the class to describe the word, without using the word and their classmates guess what it is.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

World Link Textbook...and Just Wandering

In case you haven't figured it out, I have a double-identity. One part English teacher at a Korean University, one part traveler/tourist/live-er of life in Korea. My other blog, called Just Wandering portrays the latter. Check it out, it's a lot more informal with pictures and links and other good stuff like that. Plus, another one of my (former?) identities is a Christian scholar/preacher of sorts, so I have a lot of links to sermons I've done and papers I wrote in grad school. Check it out.

I did a review of  World Link Book 1)on my other blog. You can read it here.

My Dream

...for my classes is to get into podcasting or videocasting. As in getting my students to make videos or audio files and then to put them on the internet and get the students to interact with each other leaving comments and checking out each other's stuff. Or, to get all the students to sign up for Facebook or another one of the social networking sites and interact with their classmates that way. Or to use Google groups and start some threads and get some conversation happening. But, I feel somewhat hindered by the low level of students I teach. Low in regard to their actual English ability and low in regard to motivation. I give about 1 hour of homework every week and have 6 mini quizzes and 2 big tests in a semester but many of them can't even be bothered to do the homework or study. And so I wonder if I have a bigger vision for what they're capable of, would they actually surprise me or would it just be a total flop? I have a feeling it would probably be the latter and I'd be stuck with the dilemna of whether to give them all "F's" or not.

So, I'm actually thinking of seeing what else is out there in the Korean ESL world for jobs next year. My contract is done in about 6 months and although I love my school and the people I work for and with, the low-level unmotivated students are starting to get me down because I feel limited in what I can do with them. Almost like the student's apathy is creeping into my own thinking. And thinking small is not really my style at all.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is Korea worth it?

With the Korean-Cad/USA $$$ exchange rate going to crap as of late, there is a lot of talk among my friends and on places like Eslcafe on whether it's worth it to come to Korea anymore. Add to that the new visa rules requiring interviews in home country consulates (enforced sporadically it seems), criminal record checks that are expensive and almost impossible to get for certain people, like Canadians and a health check, it doesn't really make that much sense to come here. And to further the chaos, all of these rules about visa stuff seem to be applied on a case by case basis, depending on who you get at the immigration window on any given day. a newbie add to the fact that if you end up at some crappy ABC Hagwon, your chances of getting screwed over on $$$ and the Korean government being powerless/ too lazy to help you is extremely high.

So my advice? To newbies, it is: stay away! I just don't think it's worth it here anymore. The rewards, (high (ish) ) salaries, airfare and free accomodation just don't really make up for it anymore. There are other places in the world to go, that have a more organized ESL industry (Japan), more interesting culture (Vietnam), a chance to learn a language that could actually be useful to you (China/Hong Kong/Taiwan), have an enjoyable life drinking good beer and eating sausages (Eastern Europe), traveling around to other interesting countries (central America), lounging on a beach drinking a margarita (Thailand), or making exhorbant amounts of money (the Middle East). And the money isn't so bad at all in a few cases in these countries.

But to those who are here, it's not a bad place to stay for now it seems. It remains to be seen what will be the result in terms of salaries for everyone when the doors open to Indians and Filipinos. Most of us who have been here for more than a year or two are past the hagwon thing so actually have some vacation, and a bit of job security. Or at least the experience and knowledge to procur a decent job in a jiffy if need be. And are not working for the basic 2.2 or 2.3 million, either through higher salary at the regular job, or overtime opportunities.

Grammar Review Game

Sometimes, if I want to review some grammar concepts that we've studied in the past few weeks, I'll play this game. I'll write out a conversation covering the main concepts, and then scramble up the words within each sentence. Then, I'll also mix up the order of the sentences. I let them go in teams of 2 and the first couple teams to unscramble both the words within each sentence and get the correct order, will get some prize of some sort. You can do it one of two ways: either hand out papers with the mixed up conversations and space for the writing the correct one, or put it up on Powerpoint and get the students to write in their notebooks.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Board Games

One of my favorite things to do in class is board games. Sometimes I'll make my own and play as a class for a review game or the World Link Textbook has some really good ones in their teacher resource book.

When I use the ones from the textbook, I'll put the students in groups of 4 and get them to referee their own games. I'll promise a "stamp," which translates into grades for my class to the winner of each group. I'll write on the board a couple example questions from the game and put up some wrong and right answers. Then, I'll ask my students which one is wrong and why until the get the hang of it. In their own games, if their classmate answers incorrectly, he will not be able to move his marker ahead but will have to remain in the same square. It's amazing how competitive Korean students can get and I can see them all listening intently to their classmates and figuring out if their grammar is correct or not. If they have a dispute, I'll come offer the final decision about a right or wrong answer. Getting them to correct each other adds a whole new element of intensity to the class and dramatically improves accuracy of speaking. Try'll be amazed I think!

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

An Interesting Writing Activity

A big challenge that I have with the low-level students that I teach is working on their writing. If I had to pick their major area of weakness, among reading, writing, listening, speaking and grammar, I'd have to pick writing. So I always try to think of ways to work on in a way that doesn't require me personally checking or reading everything they write. I only have 90 minutes/week or in class time and 8 or 9 classes of over 20 students, so there just isn't really time for an in-depth analysis. And I also want it to be interactive and fun for the students as well. So I came up with this activity that ended up being really fun, even more so than I thought.

I got the students to spend about 5 minutes writing 3 (for the very weak students!) to 5 (the better students) sentences about an interesting, exciting, or scary experience they've had. Then, I put them into groups of 4 and they had to trade papers and write one question. Then they trade 2 more times so they've read all the papers and asked one question for each paper. Then, the student answers the three questions, in writing and I'll do a quick check and if it's at the end of the class, I'll let them go home. The weaker students will require much longer but I'll be able to help them because most of the students will have already gone.

With the better classes, who are not resistant to speaking in English, I'll do this as a walking around, finding a partner and then asking and answering a question about the story they just read. And then they can have a mini-conversation hopefully.