Yesterday in Gwangju I attended the Global English Teachers Association (GETA) symposium. The title was 'Transforming Learners, Teachers, and the English Classroom.
This was recommended to me as a professional development conference. For Native English Teachers it was anything but.
From the first presentation to the last NETs were bashed. Within the first hour a reference was made to crimes being commited by NETs. There were a few laughs during the day at our expense, and the overall purpose of the day seems to be to make the argument that monies would be better spent training Korean teacher's rather than recruiting and hiring NETs.
One discussion group was held entirely in Korea (although it was an English conference.) The topic of that presentation? 'Transforming ELT in Korea.'
This was not a small break out group - this was one of two late morning discussion groups. Native English speakers who were already seated in the auditorium were told to attend the 'Transforming ELT in Asia' discussion panel.
The fact that the Transforming ELT in Korea panel was held in Korean shows exactly how much input NETs have in the discussion.
There were a few interesting presentation in the afternoon during the break out sessions. These were mostly by grad students presenting their research. But the overall theme for the day was that NETs are bad for the development of teaching English in Korea.
The original poster mailed the conference's booklet to me, and I've typed out the first part of the plenary session below. Titled "Transforming ELT in Korea" by WonKey Lee (이완기) of Seoul National University of Education, this portion is called "Transform, Transcend, and Reform":
A former head of the Samsung Group remarked that one should transform everything except one's wife and one's children. But today I wish to go one step further than he did. I will leave my wife alone, but I will argue that we do need to transform our children and their English learning, because English learning is going to be a more and more important part of transforming them.
Why transform our children? Briefly, because the world that our children will grow up in is growing up too. Like our children, the world is no longer stable, but rather meta-stable, like a bicycle in which every working part has been replaced many times, or like the human body itself. The body only remains what it is through a process of constant transformation. This constant transformation necessarily changes every cell of the body not once but many times. Similarly, in a meta-stable world, only constant transformation can ensure survival. Staying put, or hanging around, means decay and disappearance. As Dewey said, if we go on teaching today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of their tomorrows. I will talk about this somewhat less briefly below.
But why transform English learning? Briefly, because learning English as a FOREIGN language in a world which is using English as an international language means staying put and hanging around, decay and disappearance. If we go on learning English as a FOREIGN language in a world where it no longer plays the role of a language spoken by American and British people in faraway places, then we rob our children of their tomorrows.
But what exactly does "transform" mean? As every English teacher knows, meanings are only exact in exact contexts. But exact contexts can be very hard to explain. This is why, of course, our teachers find it generally easier to replace an English word with a Korean one rather than to define an English word in English. The dictionary meaning of 'transform' is 'to change completely in form, appearance, or nature.'
Here I'm going to use my English word "transform" to mean both of the two other English words: "transcend" and "reform."
By "transcend", I really mean to totally demolish the existing system and make another different system by going beyond the limits of the current system.
For example, I mean teaching English as a global language and not as a FOREIGN language at all. Now, in our context, in the Korean context, that means that we need to think of English as a new Asian language, a trans-Asian lingua franca, and not as an American one. After all, English was not originally American either! But English was transformed from a European language into an American one, and now it is being transformed again. This transformation will mean demolishing the existing system of English, and of English teaching, and making a very different system.
And the word 'reform' is defined as 'to improve by changing or removing undesirable quantities. By "reform" I mean to partially add something new or change some parts of the existing system so that it can be regarded as different or improved from the previous system, like replacing the parts of a bicycle or replacing old cells with new ones.
For example, I mean that we need to replace "native-speaking English teachers" with Korean bilingual teachers. After all, we can't depend forever on those expatriate native- speaking English teachers for English teaching in Korea. When we replace "native-speaking English teachers" with bilingual Korean natives we will have teachers we can count on for life.
He mentions native speakers again, a few pages later:
As English becomes a lingua franca, or an international language, the status of English as a foreign language, that is, as the native language of a group of foreigners, will also diminish. That is, the status of English as a second language, or lingua franca, may keep increasing. As a result, "nativeness" in English accents may also decrease, and also the native English speaker as a model may also decrease in importance or status. That means competence in English is likely to be favored over nativeness. Thus, it becomes not important or necessary to try hard to resemble English native speakers in speaking English. Meaning-deliverability in a reasonably intelligible pronunciation, and meaning understandability will be essential for the use of English language for communicative purposes.
A variety of local accents in using English may be appreciated, and will be no problem if meaning delivery and meaning-getting take place successfully. Thus, competent bilingual speakers of English will probably increase, as more and more young learners start to learn English at their early ages. People may not need to go to English speaking Western countries to learn English, because they can have easier access to English and more opportunities to learn English in their own country or in their neighbouring countries.
And again a few more pages later:
There are a great number of native-speaking English teachers in all levels of schools as well as in private sector institutes across all Korea. Most of them have been doing a great job in teaching English in Korea, but some of them clearly have not met our initial expectations. Many, for example, do not want to go to provincial areas where they are really wanted because of the inconveniences of life there and the lack of cultural benefits. Chasing money or seeking pleasure in Korea instead of being dedicated to ELT is undoubtedly a problem. So now, it's getting more and more difficult to employ well-qualified teachers.
Employing native-speaking English teachers who are not sufficiently qualified to teach English in Korea is a lot more costly than training Korean English teachers to be competent in English and English teaching methodology. To employ one foreign teacher we need to pay expenses twice more than employing two new Korean teachers. In addition, to employ foreign teachers is a yearly task, because once they finish their contracts many go home (and some even do so before they finish!). In contrast, once Korean teachers are trained and qualified with some initial investment, they will not incur extra cost until they retire. Training Korean teachers is more economical. And well-trained Korean teachers can do better in ELT than most foreign teachers.
So, it is necessary and desirable to reduce the number of foreign teachers every year, and to invest more budgets in training Korean teachers in improving English proficiency and teaching methodology. We can't rely on native-speaking English teachers forever. We are planning to replace native-speaking English teachers with competent, bilingual Korean teachers of English in the long run. Then, only highly qualified native-speaking English teachers could be invited in a smaller number, and be used as teacher trainers of Korean English teachers.
Certainly it makes more sense to simply train local teachers rather than import thousands. And, if spoken English is to take a backseat to grammar and reading---which it does---if the skills NSETs are brought in to teach aren't considered important or highly-regarded---and they aren't---and if NSETs aren't respected and appreciated as professionals---'cause they aren't---then yes, it's simply more efficient to train Korean English teachers. Though I hate to see that conclusion arrived at by misinformation and distortions.
I will say again, not for my longtime readers but for the benefit of any Koreans who come here, that the biggest reason some teachers "clearly have not met our initial expectations" is because of the lack of planning and support that has accompanied them. Schools and co-teachers, now several years removed from the introduction of native speaker English teachers, still do not know what to do with them. I recall asking a co-teacher at the beginning of the semester what she would like me to teach, and she said "[the previous teacher] gave them candy." It's true that many NSETs are new and inexperienced, but remember that we are hired as native speaker assistant teachers, and are supposed to work in tandem with experienced Korean teachers. Then consider that these teachers are often not proficient or even basically competent in the language, and that some shirk their duties by not attending class with their assistant teacher and not attending the mandatory teachers' workshops.
Regarding attracting teachers to rural areas, as a person who spent a year in Gangjin county, I can attest that not even Korean teachers were happy about being there. In fact, when I was there the school chose not to use me, because it was phasing out native speakers in favor of using homeroom teachers to teach English, even though these teachers knew nothing of the language. And in some rural areas, there aren't even English teachers at all, and another subject teacher has to cover the English classes. The difficulties of attracting foreign teachers to rural areas has more to do with bureaucratic ineptitude than with the challenges of rural Korea.
For the benefit of Korean readers who have not visited my site before, I'll direct you to some links here where I've written more about the challenges native speaker English teachers face.
* (12/2/2009) In the Korea Herald, writing about mandatory culture classes for foreign teachers.
* (6/26/2009) Korea Herald: Just what makes a teacher "qualified"?
* (6/15/2009) Not enough applicants for those "English Lecturer" jobs.
* (6/5/2009) Seoul wants English classes to be taught in English, will give TEE certs out.
* (5/13/2009) Korea Herald: The media bias against foreign teachers.
* (5/6/2009) 12% of native speaker teachers in Ulsan not retained.
* (5/1/2009) Korea Times: Foreign teachers wrongly portrayed in Korea.
* (4/7/2009) Korea Herald: Stop the scatter-shot approach to English.
* (12/30/2008) Half of foreign teachers leave after one year? GREAT! That's an article that should be brought up every now and again, because a MOE official in charge of native speaker English teachers says``They are neither regular teachers nor lecturers who can conduct classes independently. They are `assistant teachers,' hence their teaching experience doesn't matter much,'' he said. ``Rather, it's better for students to have more new teachers so that they can meet various kinds of foreigners,'' he added.
* (12/10/2008): Poor guy.
* (11/24/2008): EPIK in the news some more.
* (11/21/2008): 4,000 "English Lecturers" coming in 2010.
* (11/14/2008): A must-read: an account of teaching English in South Korea in the sixties.
* (10/6/2008): More money going into English education next year.
* (9/11/2008): More English-Only classrooms, more gimmicks.
* (6/23/2008): Pronunciation matters.
* (11/28/2007) A reaction to Kang-Eun-hee's "Korean English Teachers."
You'll find links to other articles within those posts. And that's without addressing schools who don't honor contracts.
I've exchanged a few emails with the original poster, and I quote, with permission, part of the reply:
It was as bad as I posted. The written stuff is tame. I am not exaggerating when I say that by the end of the first session a presenter had made reference to NETs committing criminal acts.
When the last presenter said, 'We shouldn't be so hard on the native English teachers, some of them are doing a good job.' I knew I had missed a bunch of NET slamming. Also, the break out session on improving ESL teaching in Korea was held in Korean - I wonder why?
I have never felt so uncomfortable at a gathering of academics in my life. And I have 10 years of working in a research environment under my belt.
It's been en vogue for a while to discuss the "myth of the native speaker" in literature on second-language acquisition, so I'm aware of the arguments against using native speaker English teachers. Indeed, at the TESOL Conference last month the plenary speaker there, too, referenced native speakers backpacking across Asia. The author makes a good point that English is a global language, and shouldn't be treated as a foreign one---thus one only studied as a subject not a language---but I don't like divorcing English from its speakers. I wonder if the "myth of the native speaker" turns up in literature on teaching other languages, or if it's written by "foreigners" that, say, disregarding polite speech in Korean or Japanese is appropriate.
Teachers here soon learn that English as we know it isn't taught in South Korea, but rather English is studied as a subject. It's a rude awakening to see just how separated English is from its speakers in Korea, and that native speakers in the schools seem more tolerated than valued. I can't say I'm surprised to see Koreans speaking out for the need to replace native speakers---after all, with the new tests, the new lecturers, and the Indians, the writing's on the wall---but I think it's inappropriate for an "academic" conference that, although I put it in quotation marks, had Korean professors from all over the country. Just as foreign attendees question "why am I here?" at discussion panel conducted in Korean, so too might native speaker English teachers as "why am I here?" in a system that doesn't seem to want them.