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A FEW THOUGHTS ON STUDYING ENGLISH!!

A FEW THOUGHTS ON STUDYING ENGLISH!!

When asked to contribute to the next issue of the POST I immediately turned to Hong Sung-Won’s article “Take a Detour in Approaching TOEIC, etc.” and decided to expand on a few points as well as add a few of my own. He made a couple of VERY good points that also carry over to and are a big part of learning spoken English and that I try to get across to my Freshman Conversation students each and every semester. For any of my current or former students reading this some of my comments are going to seem all too familiar as I start each and every semester with a speech that contains some of what Hong Sung-Won suggests for studying TOEIC.

The biggest obstacle or hurdle that any student studying English, or any second language for that matter, has to overcome is the FEAR of making mistakes. Ultimately it takes about a month to six weeks to hammer this point home to my students, but once the students in the Freshman Conversation classes realize this they become much more relaxed and their learning curve increases rapidly. Learning a second language of any kind is no different than learning anything else, such as a musical instrument or a sport; if you DO NOT practice you WILL NOT improve. Hong Sung-Won also makes a very valid point about using tools OTHER than books to study TOEIC (movies and TV programs with scripts etc.) that may be a little more interesting, watch these and continue to watch them. This can also be used for conversation and I use a sitcom called “FRIENDS” for a class that I teach, it helps develop listening and speaking skills as well as improving vocabulary as common everyday ! spoken English including slang and idioms are often used throughout the show. This is one of the most enjoyable classes I have taught since coming to Korea, the students find that it is a FUN way to learn and much more interesting than a textbook and tapes. If something is enjoyable it makes it so much easier to learn and therefore you learn much faster. The students can often relate to the situations and they get to follow a series from episode to episode learning more about the characters and then anticipating what might happen in a scene or episode.

Students in Korea are often amazed at how well students speak who have studied abroad. They fail to realize that there are NO MAGIC textbooks in the language institutes in Canada, the United States, Australia, England or any other English speaking country. In fact they often use the exact same books that are used here and the institutes are not that much different than here in Korea either. However, what students fail to realize is that when studying in an English speaking country those students DO NOT leave English in the classroom after they have finished class, they MUST use it outside the classroom every day most of the day, in a restaurant, a shopping mall or movie theater. They improve at a much faster pace than students studying here in Korea NOT because of anything different in the classrooms BUT because they MUST also use English everyday outside the classroom ? they have to practice otherwise people will not understand what they need or want. An! d studying once a week as we do in the Freshman Conversation classes is only going to make a minimal difference in the students spoken English ability, HOWEVER, and I also try to get this point across to my students, if they make a concerted effort to speak English a little each day (practice outside the classroom) it will make a much bigger difference. You DO NOT have to use a book, have a simple conversation each and every day with a friend about anything that you might normally discuss with them in Korean ONLY do it in English. I had a night class last year that would often meet for an hour AFTER our class and as a group sit and discuss things in English (without a teacher), and they were NOT allowed to use Korean (they controlled this by fining any guilty parties), the improvement that this class made compared all my other classes by the end of the semester was remarkable BECAUSE they practiced and used English outside the classroom!!!

And as Hong Sung-Won pointed out near the end of his article young children DO NOT learn a language at any school they learn by imitating and by guessing or making mistakes and therefore improving dramatically. One of the reasons that younger children learn at a much faster pace is because they have no inhibitions (they are not afraid), they are only interested in making sure that whomever they are talking to understands what they have to say. This certainly is NOT the only reason that they learn so fast BUT it certainly is a contributing factor.

I have a three year old son that simply amazes me on a daily basis. He has grown up hearing both languages BUT until recently only used English when he spoke. And his English improved dramatically after spending time the last two vacations back in Canada playing with my sister’s kids, he listened and then imitated what he would hear them say and found out that by doing this everyone understood him. When we returned to Korea this winter we enrolled him in a Korean playschool for 3 hrs/day 5 days a week, he has been going for about a month now and since everyone there, the teachers and kids, only speak Korean he had to use Korea in order to be understood. He has learned more Korean in a month than I have in 6 years here!! Now he understands everything that is said to him in Korean and can answer whereas I often DO NOT understand either the question or the answer. I teach English so the only Korean that I know is what I need to communicate with a taxi driver, a! shop owner or in a restaurant, I DO NOT have the opportunity to learn and use it everyday like he does. He is perfectly bi-lingual now and even knows who understands or doesn’t understand each language and then uses the languages accordingly.

Now I realize that comparing a 3 yr. old to university students is NOT a fair comparison especially since younger children learn at such an unbelievable pace but the point is he IS NOT afraid to make mistakes and only wants to be understood and by making mistakes he learns from them therefore developing at a remarkable pace.

So I will close this article by posing a question that has bothered me ever since I arrived in Korea in 1996. Since it is common knowledge that children learn the fastest and easiest the younger they are WHY do most Korean mothers NOT teach their children both Korean and English from the day that they are born (I know a few mothers that do but MOST don’t)? MOST Korean mothers now have some English speaking skills, they may not be very good but that isn’t important. If a child grows up learning English, even BAD English it is still better than NO English!! But they prefer to NOT teach them when they are young and instead wait until they are often 8,9,10 years old or older and then spend hard-earned money sending their children to hogwons to learn when it is much more difficult for them.

I have also created a website specifically for my freshman classes but it is there for anyone that wants to use it, please feel free to check it out at: http://eslcafejames.tripod.com/home.html

James Crossman  dgudp@dongguk.edu

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