Tips for Teaching Korean Students

It's no secret that Koreans are some of the most dedicated and prolific English Language Learners (ELLs) in the world. If you travel to South Korea to teach, you'll notice that it seems like the entire country is studying English. If you decide to teach English in an English speaking country you'll undoubtedly find yourself teaching Korean students at some point. As a result, I thought I'd write a blog entry with some tips on how to best meet the needs of Korean ELLs. This advice will be based on my own experience teaching Koreans (about 5 years) and some popular tips found from doing a bit of research.

1. Know your Role
According to Confucian ideals, teachers are supposed to be supposed to be highly respected in society. This respect your receive from your students can be something that you can definitely use to your advantage (especially with classroom management), but it also comes with certain expectations. As a teacher in Korea, you are supposed to be professional (well-dressed, punctual, well-prepared, etc.) and an expert in your field of education. My advice here is to do your best to meet these expectations (at least for the first month or two) and you'll be much more successful in teaching your students.

2. Use Communicative Approaches to Learning English
The English education that Korean students typically receive in public schools, is pretty much what you would expect from 1950's classes in North America. The teacher lectures from the front of the class, students sit in rows (and do not communicate with each other) and they are expected to learn from rote memorization that consists of drilling and repeating the same tasks over and over again. The result from this type of learning, is that students never really learn how to communicate in English. Sure they may know all the grammar rules, but they do not know how to apply these rules when speaking to each other. My tip here is to use communicative activities as much as possible in your class. Pairing, group work (like task-based assignments), games, etc. will be extremely valuable in improving the speaking and listening skills of your students. Korean students will also enjoy the the change from their tradition classes, which will keep them engaged in your classes.

3. Work Ethic
One of the nice things about teaching Korean students is that most of them (definitely not all) are hard working and dedicated (for a variety of reasons) to learning English. This is great because learning English is tough. As a teacher of Korean students you need to use this work ethic to help your students improve. Give homework as much as you can. They might not be thrilled about getting lots of homework, but they will do it and then they will improve their English.

4. Get to know your students
I've mentioned this before in a previous blog entry, but I thought I'd mention it again as it definitely applies to Korean students as well: You should try to get to know your students as much as possible. For me, getting to know my students always helped in managing my classroom. As I just mentioned this doesn't mean becoming best friends with your students. What this involves is taking the time to learn who your students really are and forming professional teacher-student relationships. This often happens in the time when you are not teaching at the beginning or end of the class. You can start this process by letting the students know about you. You'd be surprised how interested students are in finding out information about their teachers. You also need to make an effort learn about their lives by finding out what drives, interests, goals, etc that they may have. Why does all this work...I think it comes down to it shows the students that you care about them and if they get to know you, they'll probably not want to disappoint you because they will begin to care about you. 

5. Being Patient and Remaining Calm 
One of the worst things you can do in your Korean class is lose your patience and freak out in class. Often teachers believe they can just scream and yell at their students to control them. This doesn't work and only creates a negative and fearful class atmosphere...and who wants to learn in that environment. For me, and other teachers I know, teaching Korean students (especially young learners) could definitely be frustrating at times. Teaching students from a different culture, who have different expectations about their classes, limited English, and may have never meet a native English speaking teacher before, can present a wide variety of challenges. When you add in normal classroom management problems that every teacher faces, and you can see why teachers sometimes lose it in their classes. Students will feed off their teachers energy and attitude, so if you want your students to behave the way you want, its important to model the correct behavior and attitude. Also, if your students snap or get angry with you, it is important that you do not take this personally. You gotta have thick skin as a teacher. Remember these students have lives outside your classroom, and the reason they lash out could have absolutely nothing to do with their teacher.

I hope these suggestions help. For more useful tips on teaching check out some of my other blog entries. And of course, if you have any other tips or advice fro teaching Korean students, please let me know in the comment section below


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