Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2009 6 Month Intensive English Training Program -- Halfway through Session 1 of the program

Well, it's week 6 of session 1 (each session is 10 weeks) in the 6 Month Intensive English Training Program I'm teaching in and a lot has been going on.

I've been drawing materials from several sources to use in combination with the primary textbook I chose for the "Cross Cultural Communications: Understanding English Cultures" course I had to design with less than a week before the course/program began. I went to the 3 book stores in Seoul (Yongpoon, Bandi & Lunis, and Kyobo) and found some stuff I thought I could make work.

The first book is called "A First Look At The USA: A Cultural Reader" by Milada Broukal, published by Longman, 1997 and costs W13, 000. It has 7 sections with 21 lessons that are high-beginner to low-intermediate level in content. Due to the other materials I've been using in the course we are only doing about half of the lessons, and the trainees seem to be fine with this.

The second book is called "More About The USA: A Cultural Reader" by Milada Broukal and Janet Milhomme, published by Longman, and was published in 1996 and costs W13, 500. We're going to start using this book next week after the trainees do a mid-term exam this Friday on content from the first book. It will be interesting to see how the high-beginner/low-intermediate trainees (about half of the 20 in my class) deal with the jump in level of textbook. The other half are intermediate to low-advanced in terms of language learner level and should actually be really happy that we're moving up to something that will challenge them more, and hopefully improve their reading and writing skills too.

The two books I just listed are what I consider the 'primary texts' for the course. There is, however, a third book that I've been using fairly frequently too. It's called "Dangerous English, 3rd Edition" by Elizabeth Claire (What the book? has it listed at W20,000). The trainees LOVE this book. The introduction of the book points out that 99% of ESL/EFL adult language learner texts avoid a lot of language the learners run into when they travel to English countries, when they read English materials, listen to songs, watch movies, and talk to native speakers of English in real life situations outside of the sterile institutionalized conservative language classroom. It's a good point, and was part of how I prepared the more conservative in-service trainees in the course to be open-minded to the content--needless to say I really had nothing to worry about. The trainees motivation and interest in the content of the book that I've done so far in class has been awesome.

For example, there's a section about "Dangerous Pronunciation" and words that commonly get mispronounced by Korean language learners. Things like "six/sex" and "fork/fuck" are on the list, and if you've ever wanted to find a motivating force for language learners to finally get that problem pronunciation issue fixed give them language content like this and watch the smoke come out of their ears as their minds burn with the fear and titillating excitement of knowing that they MUST fix this problem or they'll commit some kind of linguistic blasphemy while they visit the 'holy land of English' during their one month in America.

The book has a huge range of topics and covers everything from slang words to pronunciation to political correctness and language to English at the doctors to dating and sex English to taboos and more . . .

If you decide to use this book for your own adult language learner classes/courses I strongly advise you to consider how the administration, colleagues, and the trainees/learners will react to the materials, and also to consider how your teacher-student dynamics generally work in the classroom. If any one of these things gives you some doubt I would not recommend using this book. Every time I teach material from this book I spend a great deal of time considering how to frame the beginning of each class so that the more conservative trainees, and especially the Christian trainees, don't find a reason to become offended or upset by the content of each lesson. So far everything has been going very well, but I know that if I wasn't spending the time to figure out how to prepare the trainees minds to be open to the material and help them to see there are valid reasons for learning it that I'd be stepping on one of the many mines that lie hidden beneath the Korean ESL/EFL landscape . ..

One of the secondary sources I've been pulling things from is called "Conversation Gambits: Real English Conversation Practices" by Eric Keller and Sylvia T. Warner, published by Thomson Heinle 2002. For W29,000 it seemed a bit pricey the first time I picked it up to look at it. But it's one of gems in my teaching library. It has a great range of situation-based topics that focus on the functional language you need to know and the cultural knowledge to use the expressions is, while not explicitly laid out, embedded in such a manner as to be easy for the teacher to draw out and illuminate for students. Some examples include 'how to interrupt,' 'listing excuses,' and 'thinking ahead' (something desperately needed in Korea, lol, sigh).

Another secondary source that I've been using is called "101 American Customs" by Harry Collis and Joe Kohl, published by Compass Publishing, 2004. This is a tiny book that you can photocopy the two small pages of each topic, and then cut and glue them onto one A4 page to make a nice handout. I usually do 4 topics so that means 8 pages in small size cut and pasted onto A4 paper to make a double-sided handout. I use topics from this book for 'culture warm-ups' at the beginning of classes, and I have used them as material for an entire lesson before too. There are other titles in this series: "101 American English Riddles," "101 American Englsih Proverbs," and "101 American English Superstitions." Each of them costs W7,500 so they're not too pricey. They have the English on one page, and the Korean on the next. This is nice because if you have mixed level classes, or are working with a low level class, you don't have to worry too much about low level students falling behind or struggling with the primary cultural idea/fact that you want them to learn.

Two other books that I picked up but haven't used yet in the course are "All About The USA: A Cultural Reader, 2nd Edition" by Milada Broukal and Peter Murphy, published by Longman 1999 (W13,000), and "Contact USA : A Reading and Vocabulary Text, 3rd Edition" by Paul Abraham and Daphne Mackey, published by Longman, 1997 (W14,000). Both have excellent content in terms of everything from race, class, gender, famous American people (Bill Gates, Oprah, etc), and things like fast food culture, culture shock, equality, the role of women in the US, sports, music, etc. I don't know if I'll be able to work a lot of the content from these two books into the course, but even if I don't I know that at some point in the future I'll use content from these books so they were worth adding to my personal teaching library.

The final text that I've used material from twice now is called "Conversation Strategies" by David Kehe and Peggy Dustin Kehe, published by Pro Lingua Associates, 2004 (W29,000). This book is similar in content to "Conversation Gambits" but different enough that I decided to buy it. It is designed for pair and small group work, and has vocabulary/expression pages, writing exercises that support the content of the lesson, and model scripts for language learners to use if they need them. The really nice thing about this book is that it takes the conversation strategies and combines them with interesting topics and content--this is not always the case with many books I've found in Korea. This is a book that I know I will use a lot in the future when I teach conversation classes that are intermediate level or higher.

Lastly, while looking for reading books that I will use in session 2 of the 6 month course (it begins in less than 5 weeks) I found this, "Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom" by Andrea DeCapua, Ed.D, and Ann C. Wintergeist, Ed.D. (W45,000). If I was teaching a cross cultural course with high-intermediate to advanced trainees I'd use this as my course textbook. Unfortunately, my class of 20 trainees is half and half, and the lower half would not be able to deal with the language level of the book. All this being said, I have already used some of the content on the four stages of culture shock in my course, and plan to try and use a few more of the amazing activities I've skimmed over so far during the rare bits of free time I've had to look at some of my newer acquisitions in my teaching library.

I think this book also has content in it that would be useful for new foreign teachers entering Korea for the first time. Especially the four stages of culture shock information. I've read about it before, but the book does a really good job of breaking the stages down, and offering suggestions for how to deal with them too.

I haven't been blogging about how the last five and a half weeks have been going during the 6 month course cause I've just been too busy and tired. I also don't like to blog when I'm tired/stressed out cause I don't want to be a ranting and raving blogger during those moments when I get frustrated or infuriated by something that's happened during the day. I think it's better to get that off my chest with my girlfriend and close friends, and then later after I've calmed down and had time to process things I might blog about it. But blogging in the moment tends to lead to bad places . . .

One thing that is interesting about this program is that the 20 trainees have 'mentors.' The English Korean professors have 5 trainees each that they meet with for one hour a week. During this time trainees can talk about the courses they are taking (and of course, about the foreign instructors teaching said courses, hmmmm), and if they need help or something they can ask for it then. From feedback I've gotten from the Korean professors it seems as though my teaching style and methods, and course content, are being well received.

I'll finish with a quick story from last week. I asked the trainees to read 6 pages from "What's so good about Korea, Maarten?" by Maarten Meijer, published by Hyeonamsa 2005 (W12,000). The topic was about Confucianism in Korea. I wanted the trainees to practice explaining what Confucianism is, and what it's role is today in Korean culture. I thought that with the pre-reading task they'd be exposed to Maarten's way of explaining Confucianism in the book, and also be exposed to the English vocabulary and expressions they need to talk about Confucianism in English.

Later I heard about half of the class complain that the reading level was 'too difficult' and that they had to 'look up almost every word' . . . this surprised me a little because I've used this book before when I was teaching Korean public school teachers in a one hour a week conversation class. These teachers did not have to look up 'almost every word' though they would have to check 3-5 words per paragraph. (I am teaching the trainees "Advanced Reading" next session--one thing we're going to work on is severing the umbilical cords they all have to their damn electronic dictionaries!!!)

I asked them to limit their explanation to 3 major ideas, and to less than 5 minutes in length as I imagined some of them going to America and inflicting a 3 hour lecture about the virtues of the Confucian way of life in Korea on their home stay families . . .

At the beginning of the lecture I went over the basic ideas and principles of Confucianism in English to provide a second modeling of vocabulary and a review of the belief system itself. I (foolishly) thought that this simple speaking task would not be a huge challenge for the trainees. I told them to focus on answering two questions: 1. What is Confucianism? 2. Why is Confucianism important in Korea today?

Needless to say I failed to consider that your average person in any culture around the world has usually not spent a great deal of quality time reflecting on the definitions, social functions, and meanings of their socio-cultural environment. After moving from group to group, and hearing what was being said, I was satisfied though that the trainees were making some progress towards helping each other explain the basic ideas of Confucianism in simple English.

Anyways, by the end of the class each group had come up with the English to explain the basic idea of Confucianism, and a few of the fundamentals of the belief system--so I had to be happy with that. In terms of teaching tasks and goals I'd given myself a very difficult goal and hadn't really realized it due to a lack of my usual prep time wherein I usually try to catch the blind spots I have with regards to whatever I'm teaching . . . regardless of all that I'm happy with the end result.

I was even happier when I closed the lecture by asking the trainees to think about how they would explain the basics of the Korean flag to Americans. I drew the flag on the white board, and then began asking them for a few of the meanings. When I added that each of the four symbols in the corners also refer to north, south, east and west one of the trainees put up her hand and told me that I was not correct . . .

What made this really 'interesting' was that this was the trainee who had been acknowledged by the class as the Confucian expert during discussions we had in the lecture.

I looked at her, smiled, and said politely, "I made a lesson about the Korean flag for public school three years ago, and did a lot of research. I'm pretty sure that the four cardinal directions are a part of the meanings in the flag. But let me look it up on my computer before we leave for the day, okay?" The trainee agreed, and I wrapped up the class.

I printed off a copy of wikipedia's entry on the Korean flag, and brought it to the classroom where the trainee was waiting with a few of the other trainees.

I handed her the copy, pointed at the appropriate spot, and she looked at me and said, "Wow, you know Korea!"

Zing! Lol!



PatrickB said...

Jason, great blog I must say! Hey, I have never been to Korea before but have some knowledge of law enforcement there. I think it's somewhat likely that the nutty girl may indeed have been working on behalf of law enforcement to bust someone for dope.

Nutty, none-the-less!

Brian said...

I've been deputized to prepare students for a discussion test coming up in June. The other teacher involved has given me no direction on it, and nobody else seems to know what it's about. But I have to prepare them. Three more months, three more months, three more months . . .

Anyway, I asked around on Dave's, and a guy suggested I give him a call. He gave me a lot of good tips, and recommended "Conversation Strategies" by David Kehe, so I searched through the reader to see if you had talked about it before.

Generally when I approach teachers' workshops I keep it simple, because they've told me they don't want to . . . well, do anything. I mean, they said they just want to talk, but they generally don't talk about anything, so I read an article each class and answer some questions. Anyway, should I ever have such a workshop again---mercifully I don't---I think I'd plan a little syllabus around some of the skills mentioned on this post and in the book. I have nine more workshops left with this school (yes, I'm counting down) and may try to introduce a few ideas before its all said and done. I'm anticipating fallure, though, at the one school, because they would much rather just sit around and talk in Korean, or scowl, or say "we already know this." But, anyway, I'm going to go back through some of these training program posts when I get a chance.

Jason said...

Hi Brian,

There's not much you can do with Korean teachers who have shitty motivation levels and attitudes.

I wouldn't take it personally cause this tends to be the case with many KTs. Often, they are so overworked and exhausted that they just can't summon the energy to be positive and motivated. Also, older KTs prefer the grammar-translation lecture teaching style they got during their own education histories--so when you come in and try to do a communicative style teaching with heavy participation you will face heavy resistance due to anxiety about loss of face amongst the KTs.

I'd suggest using "Jazz English" volume 1 and/or 2 as possible textbooks for them if they want old style teaching. You can also intro a bit of communicative style teaching but see how they react and adjust accordingly. Only veteran EFL/ESL teachers with a lot of years in Korea and/or a lot of talent for teaching generally get to push the boundaries with KTs who are negative and have bad attitudes, etc. New teachers and low experience teachers just end up running into a brick wall with this type of situation.

Good luck,
p.s. In September I may write more stuff for newbies but right now I'm too busy.

Maria said...

Very good, very interesting!
Two things:

- Why always just America, America here in Korea - yeah, I know why - why STILL then, rather? In a cross cultural class I would include a few pages of 'Trainspotting' for a dose of REAL USED ENGLISH - ^^ - as well as some Rushdie, the Booker of the Bookers ...

- From the comments: I cannot believe that there are still KTs with bad attitudes, wow, ??? To me it is a sign of a lack of understanding what language is all about - it is so MUCH MORE than communication - to me personally it is first of all INFORMATION - i.e. READING. (My principal was impressed with me knowing about Korea's uniqueness re their metal chopsticks - simple - Wikipedia - ^^!). I see too little about the irony/contradiction/paradox of the conversational method - one can't have a conversation with a person who has only mastered conversational English - it is dreadfully boring! Conversation happens with an informed person, and then especiallly, exciting conversation happens with a person who can forget their own face for a moment and focus on the receiver, throwing in some spicy titbits, some daring food-for-thoughts ... cliches does NOT make for good conversation.

Thanx Jason, I am learning (& thinking!) a lot from READING your blog - teaching teachers is what I am working towards - I am madly frustrated with the handling of language here as if it is just concrete to be poured in a mold, or a cake made to look like the model of a cake - ^^ (making meaning is NOT a MECHANICAL process, it is interactive, interTEXTUAL!)

To conclude, to Brian - what I learnt so far is that having a thick skin is unfortunately one of the essential ingredients for a language teacher with a love for language - Jay Parini's 'The art of teaching' helped me through those rude student moments - ^^ - making mistakes is the name of the game - it makes for fast & memorable learning - ^^