I have lived in Korea for a year and a half, I arrived in March 2010 from the US. My reasons for moving to Korea are like many other foreigners: to teach English and to travel to do so. ESL, or English as a Second Language, has become all the rage in Korea these days and teaching in Korea is incredibly rewarding and fun.
However, there are also challenges. Language barriers and cultural differences will be your biggest obstacle. Fortunately, by turning the tables and using your own Korean pop culture, teaching in the country becomes much easier.
Take a look at these three steps to help you with your ESL lessons in Korea:
1) Connect with your students. This is actually a universal rule in teaching, but even more so in a foreign country. The way you interact with Korean students is by talking about things they know. I mean, K-pop. K-pop is so ingrained in Korean society that almost every student, regardless of age, knows all the popular songs. Has an entire class ever sang “Gee” by Girls’ Generation or “Hands up” by 2PM? It’s such a pleasure to see it.
So the lesson here is not to talk about that new American musician that just came out. He will get blank stars from the students. Rather, he talks about the latest K-pop superstar.
2) Learn the culture. Each country has its own forms of standards. Korea is no exception. Although new teachers will have a hard time learning Korean culture at first, it will help you in classroom teaching in the future. Don’t you know what Pepero Day is? Just ask one of your Korean coworkers. Do you know the meaning of Chuseok Day? Take the time to look it up on Wikipedia. Have you ever heard of the 6-25 date before? Look up the history of the Korean War and find out.
Your students will appreciate your attempts to learn their culture. Thus, they will be more motivated to learn.
3) Take a Korean class. Korean can be difficult at first. Their writing system, Hangul, will resemble Egyptian hieroglyphs at first glance. Speaking Korean will also be a tongue twister game for many. However, even knowing basic words will make students laugh. Instead of bothering you, they will be in awe of how a foreigner is learning a new language. They will appreciate the fact that you are learning their native language, just like they are learning yours.
Anyone who takes the time to learn another person’s language shows that you care. And you definitely do.
If you follow these three tips, your students will be motivated to learn in the classroom. Many times, the best way to teach is not to have the best theories or mythologies, but simply to engage with the student. To see what motivates them, their likes and hobbies. Once you’re curious to learn about them, they’ll naturally do the same for you.