Thursday, October 08, 2009

A foreigner teaching Koreans how to teach Korean?

According to a Chosun Ilbo article entitled "American Professor Prepares Korean Language Teachers," American Robert Fouser is teaching Seoul National University students how to teach the Korean language to foreigners, which makes me wonder what exactly he does. For example, does he teach them the English they will need to explain the Korean language or does he teach them language teaching techniques? Or does he teach them both with a focus on dealing with the special problems of teaching the Korean lanaguage?

Mr. Fouser says that Koreans lack a systematic approach to teaching Korean to foreign learners, which I think is true, but I wish he or the article would have given some examples of exactly what Koreans are doing wrong. More on Robert Fouser in ENGLISH and in KOREAN.

Here are some of my suggestions for teaching Korean.

The very first thing that should be taught to foreign learners of Korean is hangeul, which is the easiest thing about the Korean language. Why bother learning Romanized Korean when hangeul can be learned in just a couple of days?

Next, the teacher should give the students a brief summary of how the Korean language works while introducing simple vocabulary words to be used in examples of the language. In other words, the teacher should give a general description of such things as Korean word order and how markers are used to indicate such things as subjects, objects, and verb tense. Korean and English are so opposite each other that without such an explanation many English speakers may waste weeks wondering what the hell is going on. When I first started learning Korean, I wasted about thirty-two weeks wondering what was going on because no one bothered explaining to me the basic concepts of the Korean language. Therefore, I think having a native English speaker teaching a Korean linguistics course concurrently with a native Korean speaker teaching a conversation class would be a good idea. English would be used in the linguistics class, but not in the conversation class.

After teaching hangeul and explaining the basic concepts of the Korean language, I would start piling on the vocabulary while making sure students understand the differences among Korean adjectives and transitive and intransitive verbs. I would have students juggling active and passive voice with every new verb they learn instead of saving passive voice for some future date. If the students were studying in Korea, I would teach them the seven basic Korean sentence patterns from the get-go so that they could start listening for them out in Korean society and start filling in the blanks with the new vocabulary they learn. I also believe in teaching past, present, and future tenses together rather than separately because they will be hearing them all together when they walk outside the classroom if they are learning in Korea.

A Korean language classroom in Korea should just be the staging area for preparing students for the real learning experience outside the classroom. Instead of trying to teach all the language inside the classroom, teachers should focus on teaching the concepts and structure of the language and have the students learn the meaty parts on their own outside the classroom. A sample homework assignment might be to give the students ten questions or statements to ask or say to Koreans outside the classroom, and then have the students record the responses they get. The students could then compare and discuss the responses they get the next day in class. That is more interesting and effective than reading the responses in a book.

Korean language teachers need to start thinking outside the four walls of the classroom.


  1. Hm, what are those "seven basic Korean sentence patterns"? Can you please explain?

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    I wrote about the "seven basic Korean sentence patterns" back in 2005. I have added the link to the post, which I should have done in the first place. Here is the link:

    The 7 Basic Korean Sentence Patterns

  3. If Dr. Suh Doo-soo could have put it as concisely fifty-three years ago! Anyone wanting to learn this fantastic Korean language or planning to teach it, Korean-speaker or otherwise, should avail themselves of this enlightened post!! Thanks -

  4. They need some outside help on this one, the first step to overcoming our problems is admitting we have them, anyways !!

  5. Maybe he's teaching them about some of the underlying theory of language teaching. A lot of the stuff covered in Tesol programs (MAs and basic certificates) are applicable to other languages. Things like grading tasks, language chunking, concept checking questions go a long way towards being understood in the classroom.
    Simply being a native speaker with a degree doesn't necessarily make someone a good teacher, regardless of whether they're speaking English or Korean.

  6. LOL "When I first started learning Korean, I wasted about thirty-two weeks wondering what was going on"

    You are not the only one...

    When I started to seek out more information, I discovered the 7 speech levels, honorifics, topic, subject, and object markers. I also wasted time with romanized Korean.

    These are way too integral to the language to be omitted from the get-go! And I still can hardly put together a Korean sentence (at least I realized why).

  7. "Therefore, I think having a native English speaker teaching a Korean linguistics course concurrently with a native Korean speaker teaching a conversation class would be a good idea."
    That's so right! I'm just wondering if you know the "Koreanclass101" It's really effective, my nattive language seems to be so close from the Korean language... I'm not in Korea right now, but I learn really fast... well, I have been hearing korean for about a year, and I decided to start learning it and it has been 06 months. I understand simple dialogues, and I can watch some Kdramas or listen to Kpop without subs... but mastering the language seems a bit far. I'm a teenager (17 years old) and it's really hard to find time to learn a language... You really helped me to get some courage, thank you so much.

  8. Thank you for the kind words, Louna.

    I do know of Koreanclass101. I have only seen sample lessons, but it seems like a good program, and it seems to be helping you.

    Korean is a hard language, especially when studying outside Korea, but you seem to be on the right track. Watching Korean dramas and listening to K-pop is a great way to improve your listening skills while also becoming familiar with the culture.

    Just remember that it takes time to become fluent in Korean. Things can be going well, and then you start to feel you have hit a wall. That is when many people give up, but if you keep studying, you will eventually climb over that wall.

    Learning Korean is a lot like climbing a mountain full of steep cliffs and plateaus. You struggle to climb up a cliff to the next plateau, but after making it, things are easy for a while until you come to the next steep cliff, when it seems like you are not making any more progress. If you just keep trying to climb that cliff, you will eventually reach the next plateau, when things seem to become easy, again.

    Good luck climbing that mountain.

  9. Thank you for your reply Mr.Bevers It made me very happy,

    Yes, I've already experienced this feeling of "hitting a wall" it's too hard to get back to the "essential" and to see my goal again. I'm not usually that kind of persons that would care about what others think about me, but the look that my friends and classmates give me when I'm trying to "steel" some time to learn something is that kind of look that tells you : ( You can't do it sweetheart, so don't try so hard) and it just absorbs all my energy...
    But even so, you really helped me. thank you so much.


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