25 Feb


One of the first challenges an ESL teacher faces is that of getting his students to stop speaking their native language in class. This is especially important if the teacher himself does not speak the language. The best way for an inexperienced teacher to accomplish this task is through a rewards system. At the elementary level, stickers work great, but the Star/X system can be just as effective and much less costly. At its simplest level: if the kids speak the language then they get an X; if they speak English they get a Star. These Stars and Xs are drawn on the board by the teacher and they mean everything to the students. Students quickly turn to ratting one another out in the attempt to collect more Stars while at the same time causing their peers to receive the dreaded Xs.

I was never big on the system in my days as a kindergarten teacher, but I used it from time to time when I felt it was necessary. There’s supposed to something terrible on the other end of that third X but it’s best to avoid at all costs, lest the teacher be caught in a bluff he can’t deliver on, thus losing the respect of the class.

The point is that the kids learn that speaking their native language is not allowed in class, so if the teacher ever speaks in that language he’s sure to catch some flack for it. However, the kids can often become confused about what qualifies as English and what qualifies as their language.

Case in point: the Wonder Girls phenomenon.

Wonder Girls

I refrained from posting on them in the past, having perused a lot of posts from waegooks arguing about the sexualization of underage teen girls and don’t care to get involved. To be fair only two of the girls would be considered underage by Western standards (Sun Mi and Ahn So Hee, on the far left and right respectively, and both fifteen) but one of them, Ahn So Hee, seems to be the fan favorite and many of these fans are men in their thirties and forties. You be the judge!

Got to love 2:15 when they So Hee beats up their biggest fan err I mean a flasher.

Compare this with a live version posted by JYP himself



I’ve never heard a single stretched out for quite so long. “Tell Me” sparked a shoulder shrug dance craze that even made some imitators famous. Little kids love it and still sing it all the time (though many have moved on to 이바보/Stupid). So when an English teacher says “Jenny TELL ME the answer to question number 1 on page 17,” this little kid has has embodied the song and has probably seen Tell Me written 텔미 on multiple occasions. It doesn’t take a great leap for them to think ‘Korean’ when they hear it. Tell Me = 텔미 = A Korean word = My teacher is speaking Korean = No one is supposed to speak Korean in class = “TEACHER KOREAN!!! TEACHER X”

With certain kids this can lead to an extended conversation where the student refuses to believe that the word is English or that it must have been copied from Korean. I feel bad for the thousands of teachers all over this country who have had this conversation way too many times.

My kindy class used to find such things hilarious. “Elevator English too!!! Bwahahaha!” I miss them. Hoping to have a visit tomorrow before they graduate. (Yes there are hagwon kindergarten graduations)


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One response to “TEACHER KOREAN!!!

  1. Phil E. Sieve

    March 11, 2008 at 3:09 am

    I am teaching at a hagwon. I, too, wonder how to not make any mistakes with award and/or penalty systems and thus, lose the students’ respect (well, I don’t know how much their respect is, but their self-perceived respect). I don’t know if I can focus on the material and tallying up bad marks and good marks and remain accurate. I have one class of 5th graders that remind me of what I’ve heard of kindergarteners. Do you have any improvements upon your design?

    I will miss the “Hi”s and “Hello”s, but not teaching or South Korea when I leave in 9 long months. I will be happy when I can have my own plate, choose what I want on it, and have soap and toilet paper for before and after, respectively, wiping my bottom before touching other things. It amazes me they bother with the sandals system here. They are nice people, though, and I’ll miss the people…just not the country.


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