TEFL Outlook Montana

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The Republic of Korea has become one of the top destinations for native english speakers teaching abroad, as the demand for their services grows greater every year. In 1988 there were less than 1,000 native english teachers in the country (Na 2006). Today, there are more than 22,000 (Lee 2010). The demand for native teachers and the emphasis on english education has been called an “english fever” (Park 2009). Yet many Koreans of all ages find themselves undergoing enormous stress and difficulty learning english despite the myriad opportunities for learning it, including foreign teachers placed in many high schools, a swelling number of students going abroad to study english, and hagwons, which are evening or weekend cram schools. The biggest challenges are phonology, vocabulary, orthography, and grammar structure. english and Korean have a dramatically different phonology. The first challenge this poses is that some english sounds simply do not have Korean equivalents. “R” and “l” are often pronounced with the Korean “r” sound, which sounds roughly half-way between the two. Koreans also do not end words on consonants in the same way as we do in english, so the “t” in “print” is pronounced like “teu,” (vowel sound: ??). Also, for words ending on an “r,” the sound is often approximated to the vowel sound, “eo,” (??). The letter “f” is replaced with an aspirated “p,” so the word “coffee” becomes “keo-pi,” with a strong release of air on the “k” and “p.” As with many languages, “v” is also replaced by a “b.” The hard “th” (?) also becomes a “d,” and the soft “th” (ð) becomes a Korean “s,” so the antiquated word “thither,” for example, becomes “di-seo,” hardly a recognizable variant. Finally, the “si,” as in in “division,” as well as the “z” sound, effectively become a “j” (Park 1997). The result of all this is demonstrated by the sentence, “Does Christopher have pizza,” which would be pronounced, “Deo-jeu Keu-ri-seu-t'o-p'eo hae-beu p'i-ja,” where the apostrophes represent aspirated consonants. This is complicated even further by the fact that there are thousands of english-origin loanwords in modern Korean, with more added every year. Though one might expect this to help, it presents a difficulty because (1) meanings of words are often changed, (2) students are accustomed to these words being pronounced with Korean phonology and, (3) this is exacerbated by the fact that students often envision foreign words in hangeul, the Korean writing system (Tyson 1993). This leads to a situation in which students memorize english words based on Korean orthography, complete with codified phonological differences. They also confuse the uses of words which were adapted into Korean with different meanings, such as the word “ssain p'en,” or “sign pen,” to mean marker. With this kind of habituated mixing of english and Korean, students sometimes feel confused or frustrated when english speakers cannot understand their “Konglish,” the term in Korea for this phenomenon (Garlick, 2003). Moreover, english and Korean grammar are almost opposites of one another. Consider the english sentence, “They made it look like the man threw the saw so hard that it cut the wood.” In Korean, this would be, if we were to literally translate each Korean word into english, “They + (topic marker) + man + (subject marker) + wood + (direct object marker) + cut + extent (“so”) + saw + (direct object marker) + hard + throw + like + look + made.” Students in Korea are often taught to learn english through translation, and this example proves what a disaster that technique can be for everyday conversation. This paper has discussed some challenges for Korean speakers which are linguistic in nature. However other challenges are political and socio-economic in nature, and these appear to be the hardest to overcome. Because of the common perception in Korea that english, as a global language interconnected with business, science, and global power, it is sometimes viewed as a barometer of one's class, sophistication, or even intelligence. They outline the importance of sensitivity and cultural competence as a tefl teacher. Wherever we go, we should strive to understand the symbolic significance of english in that country and apply it to our work to show respect, support, and help guide our students through their navigation of english on their own terms.