You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Stories about teaching English in South Korea’ category.

At the beginning of the spring/summer semester at my high school I found out that I was going to be allowed to give speaking tests for my 12 ‘second’ grade classes.  Last semester I dropped several comments every once and a while about how student motivation and classroom behavior are heavily influenced by whether or not there are test points assigned to the lesson content they are learning in my co-teachers ears . . . and apparently during a pre-semester meeting it was decided that I could have 10% of the English grade.  For my 10 ‘first’ grade classes, though, at first I was told there weren’t any test points that I could get assigned to my classes . . . and then later, about six weeks or so, I was told I could write 3 questions of the 33 questions on the mid-term and final exams for the English section of the test . . . this just goes to show one of many examples of how hard it is for native English teachers to design a semester syllabus, choose the curriculum, and how testing points are all too often not assigned to their classes and/or they’re told about the testing points weeks after they have already prepared and designed their lessons . . . but I digress, and should get back to writing about the process I went through designing my speaking tests.

I have a lot of experience designing speaking tests and administering them with different kinds of EFL language learners (from middle school and high school to pre-service student teachers and in-service Korean English teachers).  But I decided to do some research and re-read materials I have in my EFL/ESL library (see the list of relevant books at the bottom of this post) cause I hadn’t looked at them in a long time.   While doing my research and writing up my speaking test design I thought to myself, “What do you do when researching “EFL/ESL speaking test +Korea +public school +high school” and your own writing is the only thing you find that is relevant?  HAS NOBODY who teaches high school in Korea designed speaking tests, and then written about it online? Wow.”

Actually, there are bloggers who have written about speaking tests in Korean public high schools but they are a minority.  Also, due to the nature of blogging as an informal genre most of them haven’t really gone into much detail about their test design process, why they chose the test format they did, and other details that I would have really liked to read about the experiences of other native teachers in Korean public schools doing speaking tests . . .

One teacher I did find, and I posted about, wrote this series by  Supplanter‘s blog which I found pretty interesting–and which reinforced my decision to record all the speaking tests with my mp3 player (something I usually do anyways–Korean university students are notorious for trying to get their test scores raised if they don’t like them, so when they do come to ask for an increase I suggest we review their recordings and look at my notes for their test . . . this usually dissuades most of the complainers, lol).

The Grade Changing Fiasco Part 1

The Grade Changing Fiasco Part 2

The Grade Changing Fiasco – part 3

Finally, I come across something related to my search parameters, Evaluation of The Foreign Language High School Programme in South Koreaby Yvvette Denise  Murdoch, a master’s dissertation submitted to the School of Humanities, University of Birmingham to fulfill requirements in the Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language”, 2002.  Unfortunately, while it’s an interesting read, Murdoch doesn’t really provide much in the way of how she tested and what process she went through while designing her tests.  But that being said it’s still a good read.

Anyways, I decided to give myself a research and writing project to kill time when I had no classes at school.  I loosely based my writing goals on Chapter Six: Developing Test Specifications of “Assessing Speaking” by Sari Luoma, Cambridge Language Assessment Series, Cambridge University Press 2004.

Here is a list of things a teacher should be considering, at least some of them anyways, when designing a language test,

“the test’s purpose; description of the examinees; test level; definition of construct (theoretical framework for the test); description of suitable language course or textbook; number of sections/papers; time for each section of paper; target language situation; text-types; text length; language skills to be tested; test tasks; test methods; rubrics; criteria for marking; descriptions of typical performances at each level; description of what candidates at each level can do in the real world; sample papers; samples of students’ performances on task”  from “Assessing Speaking,” Chapter 6, page 114.

The problem is the logistics (I’m going to use this word a lot) of designing and giving speakings tests in Korean public school English native speaker classes is that there are so many unforeseeable, unplannable, and unbelievable (from a native teacher’s perspective anyways) issues and challenges that come up throughout the whole process that trying to do a truly professional EFL/ESL speaking test is nearly impossible–in my opinion . . . but I’ll get into that in more detail in part 2 of this post.

I also found “Chapter Eight: Ensuring a reliable and valid speaking assessment” to be an extremely helpful unit to help me refresh on what I needed to be thinking about as I designed the speaking tests for the high school boys.

While reading Chapter 6 I came across three examples of how to do test specification write-ups: Example 1: An end-of-course classroom test, Example 2: A language test at university entrance, and Example 3: A general purpose proficiency test . . . after reading this chapter I decided to do my own test specifications write up . . . although I was unable to follow the models exactly due to the realities of planning lessons and tests that Korean public schools present.

Alright, that’s enough about why I decided to write this blog post . . . time to wade into the nitty-gritty of what I did while going the process of making speaking tests for a Korean public high school.

Before class/semester begins language learner assessment:  There were no opportunities for me to assess the actual language learner levels of the students in each class.  The only thing available was the students test scores from the previous semester which in terms of communicative ability and fluency really had no validity or relevance.  The only thing I found useful about the test scores that I asked my Korean English co-teachers to show me was being able to see which classes might have a majority of low level students, or average to higher level students so that I could alter my teaching methods accordingly (or ‘differentiate’ them).

Test #1 format (of 4 over the course of the school year, 2 in the spring semester, 2 in the fall/winter semester) : one on one interview, teacher and student

Test #2: one on one interview, teacher and student

Test #3: Unfortunately I won’t be teaching as my contract finishes August 24th, 2010.  I am, however, leaving all testing and lesson materials from the book I was using for the next native teacher.  I hope that they will continue to teach from the same book . . . my original plans for the four tests were that in speaking tests 3 and 4 that the tests would shift from focusing on accuracy with a low degree of fluency to a higher focus on fluency in balance with the test point values for accuracy.  The book I was using focuses on developing fluency and learning, practicing, and mastering speaking strategies so it will be interesting to hear from the new native teacher how the students progress throughout the fall/winter semester.

Test #4: fluency and accuracy have equal values on the rubric.

Class hours before Test #1: two fifty-minute classes.

NOTE: The logistical realities of teaching EFL speaking and conversation in a Korean public high school often necessitate the instructor exhibiting a degree of “flexibility” when it comes to following EFL methodology the way it “should” be practiced versus adapting to and dealing with the chaotic and extremely unstable school schedule and teaching/learning conditions.  I scheduled the first speaking test with only 2 weeks of instruction due to several reasons: 1) My classes were not assigned time slots during the school’s official midterm exam and final exam periods (thus necessitating me having to schedule testing during regular classes). 2) The students do not understand fully (perhaps even not at all) how they will be tested (my test will be the first ever speaking test done at the school in its entire history), and this diminishes their ability to develop effective learning styles and habits specific to my classes (I made a “How to” study guide for speaking tests handout (look at the bottom of this post) and gave tips and strategies during my classes). 3) I fully expect motivation and attention levels to dramatically spike after Test #1 has been completed as students will have a much clearer idea based on first-hand speaking test experience with a native speaker/teacher in a public school setting.

Test #1 focus: pronunciation, intonation, grammar, and demonstrating/performing cultural rules for speaking and interactions during the test (for example, how to shake hands)

Test Duration: 2 minutes

Type of school: 2nd grade classes at an all boys trade/sports school transitioning into an academic high school, Seoul–the 2nd grade students were enrolled during the trade school standards for acceptance.  The overall English abilities are lower.  On average each class has 25% false-beginner, 50% low-intermediate to intermediate, and 25% high-intermediate to advanced levels of English language ability.

Class size: 30-40 multi-level high school boys

Language learners: mixed levels, on average each class has 25% false-beginner, 50% low-intermediate to intermediate, and 25% high-intermediate to advanced levels of English language ability.

Test location: in the native English teacher’s classroom, no other students are permitted to be in the room; also, no Korean English co-teachers (they’re presence would inhibit student speaking performance and test conditions), all other students will be waiting in their homeroom, and in groups of 5 come to the hallway outside, line up and wait for their turn.

General Conditions: each class of 30-40 boys will be divided into two groups, A and B.  Boys will do a lottery that places them in one of the two groups, and also determine order of testing.  This is to avoid the ‘not fair’ criticism that is a very big concern for Korean students in testing situations (whether or not what they’re saying has anything to do with ‘fairness’).

Role of Korean English co-teacher during testing: KET will be responsible for organizing the boys into testing order, and keeping them quiet as the tests are in progress.

Absent/Sick students:  more than likely a make up test time will have to be set up during a lunch period as soon as possible

NOTE: During testing I realized that my co-teachers were not taking attendance on the day of the test (they tend not to during regular classes too, sigh), not marking down who was absent/sick, and that they had not checked the order of testing group lists we had made against the class attendance list to make sure every student was on the testing list . . . this caused some problems later, and hopefully other native teachers can avoid this by explicitly asking their co-teachers to check these rather important details (although, even when explicitly asked, the unfortunate truth is that the task is not done or done poorly).

Test Writing/Editing: due to “issues of motivation and a lack of interesting co-producing lesson plans” the native English teacher designs and writes up the English test text and rubric.  A younger Korean English teacher who I wasn’t actually co-teaching with ended up helping me edit and proof the test questions and make sure there were no problems.

Test Planning/Meetings with Co-teachers:  Getting the co-operation and willing participation of co-teachers was extremely challenging and often met with failure in the weeks leading up to speaking test #1.  For speaking test #2 I decided not to go through the ridiculous stress and passive-aggressive/apathetic participation I was exposed to during prep for test #1 due to being constantly reassured by my co-teachers that they knew what their testing roles and tasks were (which they didn’t, and had forgotten).  Test 2 had several administrative problems due to a lack of a pre-test meeting where I wanted to, as I did in the pre-test meeting for test 1, go over and review what each of us needed to do, how to do it, and try to make sure my co-teachers understood the very few testing tasks I had asked them to take care of . . . I will write more about this in part 2.

Test Review Class:  a test review class will be scheduled  in the week before each testing period so that students can learn and practice test procedures as it is the first time for them to participate in a public school speaking test, and familiarizing themselves with the procedure will help reduce stress and anxiety for students.  This is also vital for the co-teachers as they have never participated or overseen speaking tests and they need the practice time too.

1 week before the test:  a list of questions based on the English class lessons will be provided to students.  The reason for this is that the classes are multi-level and the speaking book lessons are intermediate level.  In order to give the lower level students a fighting chance to do well on the test it is vital to provide them with the general test content.  If they actually study hard, and practice hard, they will then have the possibility of achieving a good test score.

Primary focus of KETs in test design: produce ranked results for evaluations–in general, they had very little to no interest in accurately and fairly assessing student speaking abilities.

Primary focus of NET:  I wanted to accurately, and in a fair and professional manner, assess student speaking abilities.

Role of KETs in test and curriculum design:  0%.

Role of NET in test and curriculum design: 100%

Reasons for choosing teacher-student interview style test versus other types of speaking tests:

1) Large multi-level classes preclude being able to pair up students.  Putting a low level student with an advanced student is a recipe for disaster.

2) Low level students need a testing situation where they can be prompted if need be, and also a friendly non-threatening partner for the speaking interview.  Pairing up students who are not friends or part of the same social peer group within a class (there are multiple groups) creates the potential for classroom peer to peer dynamics to sabotage the testing process and validity (i.e. I’m gonna kick your ass after school if you screw up my test score).

3) Selection of partners process and ‘fairness.’  If students perceive the process to be “unfair”–regardless of whether or not they’re right–this can dramatically impact teacher-class relationships, etc.

4) Small groups . . . see #1.

I mentioned that some other instructors I know suggested doing pairs or small group speaking tests but my reaction is the same as I found online while doing some research to see what other instructors have done for speaking tests.  The instructor in a A Case Study: One Speaking Test Format says, “But a good conversation depends on both students doing their part, so you run the risk of one person’s grade being affected by the other’s performance.”

The relationship between test format choice and language learner levels is critical.  In the particular situation of large multi-level classes in Korean public schools the range of choices is severely limited by both consideration for the students abilities AND the logistical nightmare that is organizing and scheduling the test dates and times.

I came across two articles from the Internet TESL Journal.  The first is Using Pair Work Exams for Testing in ESL/EFL Conversation Classes by Ian Moodie, Daegu Hanny University, Gyeongsan, South Korea


“In utilizing one-on-one interview examinations obviously the instructor can get a sense of the oral communicative competence of students and overcome this weakness of written exams.  However, there are other disadvantages to this approach.  First of all for the instructor, time management can be an issue.  For example, assuming a two hour period for exams, a class of 20 students would mean each student only has six minutes of time for testing.  This includes the time needed to enter the room/office and adjust to the setting.  With such a time constraint it becomes doubtful that the student and instructor can have any kind of normal real-world conversation. Also, considering the weight of the exam (assuming that it is between 20-40% of the final score), it is not a lot of time to elicit and test for speaking ability or listening comprehension.  Six minutes for 30 or 40 percent of the student’s grade puts a lot of pressure on the students to perform in a very limited amount of time.  The fact that it is a direct conversation with the instructor, who will dole out the final grade, would also make it more stressful for the students.  As for the instructors, it can be taxing to both have a conversation with a student and evaluate it simultaneously” (my bold, my italics).

The logistical realities (or  perhaps ‘nightmare’ might be more appropriate) of my English classes and testing pretty much forced me to have to ignore certain EFL standards and methods for testing that I would have preferred to follow.  The testing time was only 2 minutes, the class sizes 30-40, and because the school was not integrating my testing into the official mid-term and final exam testing days I was forced to schedule TWO WEEKS (one class per week) of class time in order to complete all the 2 minute tests (and that was just for test 1)–if I’d reduced the testing time to one week only each test would have lasted something like 45 seconds MAYBE…


Pair Work Conversations

“One way to improve upon one-on-one testing is the utilization of pair work activities as part of or all of the exam itself.  This type of activity frees up the cognitive resources of instructors in order to pay closer attention to the production of each student than if they were participants themselves.  Students have a longer time to interact, instructors have longer to evaluate and comment on each student’s performance.  In the case of the instructor following Communicative Language Teaching methods, where pair work may take up a significant portion of a class, it would be appropriate to incorporate similar activities in the exam.  That way the exam itself is much better integrated into the fabric of the course.  Students can be tested for performance related to activities done in class.  For a conversation course, oral pair work exams are much more relevant than written exams or one-on-one interviews.  There may also be benefits in regards to student motivation.  If students are aware that they will be tested on activities similar to the ones done in class, they may have more incentive to be attentive and use class time effectively.”

I had originally planned on getting my guys to do a lot of in-class pair activities so that I could have them test in pairs . . . but learner motivation, maturity, and self-discipline in the classroom quickly made it apparent that I’d spend more time on trying to get the low level/low motivation language learners to do the paired learning tasks/activities and to keep them from disrupting the other pairs who were actually doing the work . . . I quickly reassessed my curriculum plan and testing from paired to teacher-student interview format.

I also took a look at the different ways one can test speaking . . . here are links and descriptions.

CPE Speaking Test

Duration: 19 minutes (28 minutes for groups of three at centres where there’s an odd number of candidates).
Participants: Candidates are interviewed in pairs. There are two examiners present: one who asks the questions, the other acts as assessor and doesn’t speak during the interview.
Format: The oral test consists of three parts.”

Part 1 (Interview)

“Tests ability to: use language for social purposes, such as in making introductions, answering questions, giving an opinion.

This first section of the CPE Speaking exam lasts about 3 minutes (4 minutes for groups of three). In this section the examiner will ask you at least three questions to give you the chance to introduce yourself and for you to give an opinion on a general topic to do with your life experiences, interests etc.”

Part 2: (Collaborative Task)

“Tests ability to: use language to discuss and interpret, to agree, disagree or agree to disagree, negotiate and collaborate, to rank or classify, speculate, evaluate, make decisions etc.

There are two sections to Part 2 of the CPE Speaking test, which lasts about 4 minutes (6 minutes for groups of three). The examiner will ask you and your partner to talk about a set of visual prompts together.”

Part 3 (Long Turn and Discussion)

“Tests ability to: speak at length coherently, use language to develop a topic, describe, compare and contrast, hypothesise and comment.

Part 3 of the CPE Speaking test lasts about 12 minutes including 2 minutes for each long turn and 4 minutes for the final discussion. Candidate A is passed a card and has to speak about the topic without interruption, either from the examiner or their partner. When Candidate A has finished the examiner asks Candidate B a brief question about the topic. The roles are then reversed: Candidate B is given a different card and speaks for 2 minutes followed by Candidate A who answers a brief question about the topic. At the end of the long turns both candidates participate in a discussion with the examiner about the theme of the two topics.”

IELTS Speaking Test

“Duration: Between 11 and 14 minutes.
Participants: Candidates interviewed individually. The test is recorded.
Format: The test consists of three parts.”

Part 1 (Interview)

“Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking test lasts between 4 and 5 minutes. The examiner will ask some simple ‘getting-to-know-you’ questions which will help the examiner find out a little about you and help put you at ease. These will be general questions such as about your family, your studies, where you come from or what your interests are.”

Part 2 (Long Turn)

“Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking test lasts between 3 and 4 minutes (including 1 minute preparation time). The examiner gives you a task card and you have to speak about the subject without interruption for between 1 and 2 minutes.”

Part 3: (Two-Way Discussion)

“In Part 3 of the test, which lasts between 3 to 4 minutes, the examiner will ask you questions linked to the topic in Part 2.”

While doing my research I came across a research article excerpt from,  The paired speaking test format: recent studies by Linda Taylor.  In the two page excerpt Taylor talks about the drawbacks of one to one testing versus two students paired up for speaking tests.  I think the article has extremely valid points about language learner anxiety and how being paired with a student helps to relax them, raise their performance levels, and also produce a wide range of speaking skills and content whereas a teacher/evaluator pairing with a student has an ‘asymmetrical’ relationship that impacts what a student thinks they can and can’t do based on a different set of relationship rules from their L1 classroom cultural experiences (Korean public school classroom culture is notoriously imbalanced in terms of teacher-student power dynamics) but I would argue that I create and foster a sense of informality and friendliness between myself and the students I have in my conversation classes.  To play Devil’s Advocate with myself, though, I would say that in a testing situation there is a dampening of the normal English conversation class teacher-student dynamic I try to foster because of testing anxiety and its powerful influence on a student.

Speaking Test Rubrics: I told students I would post copies of the rubric, and explanations of the rules and standards for each point in the classroom.  I also went over the rubric in the test review class, and had my co-teacher translate what I said to reinforce and make sure the students understood how they would be tested.  I think the students were surprised at how transparent and fair I was making the testing process–overall, their reactions were positive.

I’m going to end part 1 of this post on speaking tests with copies of the handouts I gave my classes, the list of books I referred to while preparing my speaking tests, and links to other posts I’ve written about speaking tests in Korean public schools.  It’ll probably take a few days to finish writing part 2 of this post . . . in it I plan to write about some of the challenges and issues that arose during the designing of the tests, during the testing itself, and also more about test 2.


Test Procedure

1. Each class will be divided into two groups: A and B.

각 반은 A와 B 두 그룹으로 나누어 질 것입니다.

A lottery will decide the order in which students are tested.

추첨을 통해 각각의 그룹 안의 학생들의 시험 순서가 정해질 것입니다.

2. Group A testing : March 29th to April 2nd

A 그룹 시험일 : 3월 29일부터 4월 2일까지

Group B testing : April 5th to 9th

B 그룹 시험일 : 4월 5일부터 4월 9일까지

3. Go to the waiting area 5 minutes before class time/test time begins.

수업/시험 시간이 시작되기 5분 전까지 대기실로 가기 바랍니다.

4. Leave all papers and notes outside the test room. If you are caught cheating you will get a ZERO score.

모든 서류와 메모들을 시험실 밖에 두고 들어오기 바랍니다. 만일 부정행위가 발각된다면 0점을 받게 될 것입니다.

5. The Korean teacher will tell you when to go to the English classroom for your test.

한국인 선생님께서 여러분이 시험을 치르기 위해 언제 영어 교실로 가야할 지를 알려주실 것입니다.

6. Five students at a time should wait outside the English classroom in the hallway QUIETLY.

한 번에 5명씩의 학생들이 영어 교실 밖 복도에서 조용히 시험을 기다리게 될 것입니다.

7. Wait quietly outside the classroom door. If you talk loudly and/or laugh you will do 30 minutes lunch time cleaning.

교실 밖 복도에서 조용히 기다리세요. 만약 큰 소리로 말하거나 웃는다면 점심시간 30분 동안 청소를 하게 될 것입니다.

8. When it is your turn, come into the classroom and be ready to start the test immediately.

당신의 차례가 되었을 때, 교실로 들어와서 바로 시험을 볼 수 있는 준비를 하도록 하십시오.

9. The test is only 2 minutes so please be ready to speak English

시험은 오직 2분이 소요되기 때문에 영어로 말할 준비가 되어 있기를 바랍니다.

10. After the test is finished you should return to the waiting area (homeroom).

시험이 끝난 후에는 대기실로 돌아가길 바랍니다.

11. Do not talk about the test with other students. If you do this you only help them get a higher score than you.

다른 학생들과 시험에 대해서 말하지 마십시오. 만약 하게 된다면, 이는 단지 그들이 당신보다 시험에서 더 높은 점수를 받는 것을 도와주는 것이 될 것입니다.

Speaking Test Study Guide

1.  Find a quiet place to practice and study.

2.  Find a partner to practice asking and answering questions with.

3.  Memorizing spoken English . . .

a)  Read over the class handouts.

b)  Write all of the expressions, questions, and answers 5Xs each.

4.  Practice speaking the expressions at NORMAL VOLUME and SPEED.

5.  Practice in the same way you normally speak.  Do not practice speaking quietly, and in a robot voice.

6.  Make an mp3 recording of yourself speaking, and listen to it.  Try to find errors and then practice the correct pronunciation and intonation.

7.  Speak slowly when you begin your practicing, and then slowly speed up to native speaker speed if possible.

8.  Do some practice speaking each day over many days.  Do not practice the NIGHT BEFORE the test day, or the HOUR before the test day.

9.  After memorizing the English do not use a script paper when you practice speaking.  Practice speaking with NO PAPER because you cannot have a script in the test.

10. If you need help with pronunciation, intonation, or have a question about the language on the speaking test YOU should ask your Korean teacher, or Jason, for help.  Do NOT ask for help in the hour just before your test date and time!

Rubric for Test 1

Criteria Points Score
Eye contact andHandshake 1 2 3 4 /4
Intonation 1 2 3 4 /4
Pronunciation 1 2 /2
Grammar 1 2 3 4 /4
Fluency 1 2 3 4 /4
Total /18
A = 15-18 points, B = 11-14 points, C = 7-10 points, D= 5-6 points

NOTE 1: My co-teachers insisted on the point range for each letter grade . . . thus the unusual “D” value.

NOTE 2: Use an mp3 player to record each speaking test.  If necessary, you can use this later to support your evaluation and the score you give a student if it is challenged.  If possible, and necessary, use a video camera (or point and shoot camera with video capability) if you are assessing body language and gestures.

Criteria for Marking: Explanation of Point Values

Eye contact and handshake

1 Korean style eyes down, left hand/arm horizontal position, very soft hand pressure, 5+ seconds holding hand too long, bow
2 Left hand begins in Korean style position but student self-corrects, right hand 4+ seconds holding time or less, hand grip pressure is too soft or too strong
3 Left hand stays at side entire time, right hand 3 seconds holding time or less, pressure a little too soft or a little too strong, eye contact good
4 Left hand stays at side entire time, right hand 3 seconds holding time or less, medium pressure not too much pressure


1 No up and down sounds, robot speakingYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question
2 Very little variation to up and down sounds, and wrong direction of sounds with wordsYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question
3 Good up and down sounds paired with appropriate wordsYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question
4 Excellent up and down sounds paired with appropriate wordsYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question


1 Unclear and difficult to understand.
2 Clear and intelligible pronunciation.


1 Many errors in use of articles, subject-verb agreement, forget to use verbs often
2 Some errors in use of articles, subject-verb agreement, use of verbs
3 A few errors in use of articles, subject-verb agreement, use of verbs
4 Excellent use of articles, subject-verb agreement, use of verbs


1 5+   second/s response delay time in producing correct response
2 4     second/s response delay time in producing correct response
3 3     second/s response delay time in producing correct response
4 0-2  second/s response delay time in producing correct response

List of books I referred to while preparing my speaking tests

Teaching ESL/EFL Speaking and Listening

ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series

I.S.P. Nation


Practical English Language Teaching: Speaking

Kathleen M. Bailey

McGraw Hill


Keep Talking

Communicative fluency activities for language teaching

Friederike Klippel

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers


Teaching Large Multilevel Classes

Natalie Hess

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers


Assessing Speaking

Sari Luoma

Cambridge Language Assessment Series


Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy

Scott Thornbury and Diana Slade

Cambridge Language Teaching Library


Keep Talking: Communicative fluency activities for language teaching.

Klippel, Friederike.  Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers.  Series Edited by Penny Ur.

W30,000 (?)

How To Teach Speaking.

Thornbury, Scott.

Series Editor: Jeremy Harmer.  Longman, 2006.

W27 000

Teaching English to Koreans.

Edited by Susan Oak and Virginia S. Martin.  Hollym Publishers, 2003

W15 000

Conversation Strategies

David Kehe and Peggy Dustin Kehe

PLA (Pro Lingua Associates)


Strategies in Speaking

Michael Rost



Basics in Speaking

Michael Rost



Language Testing

Tim McNamara

Oxford Introductions to Language Study, Series Editor H. G. Widdowson

Oxford 2000

Blog posts I’ve written about speaking tests in Korea (and other related topics)

EFL/ESL speaking tests in an all boys high school in Seoul, South Korea — More of my favorite answers . . .

EFL/ESL Speaking tests in an all boys high school in Seoul, South Korea — The worst test answer I’ve ever heard.

EFL/ESL Speaking Tests – My favorite responses from high school boys during speaking tests

Day 2 of speaking tests in a boys high school in Korea: Don’t poke the sleeping tiger!

EFL/ESL Speaking Tests — Here’s a three part series on what happens when things go wrong for the native teacher.

EFL/ESL Speaking Tests in a Korean Boys Public High School: Trials and tribulations of test #2

Vampires buses and loudspeakers on a Friday . . . how could teaching in Korea get any more fun than that?

False-beginners and low level students in a Korean all boys high school — How do you help them get ready for a speaking test?

Co-teacher/Native teacher mis-communications: Korean Public School Testing System — Each semester has a final grade?

Thoughts on designing speaking tests and their relationship to native teacher respect and authority in Korean public schools

EFL/ESL Native Teacher Schedules in Korean Public Schools — Day 9 of the semester and I still don’t have a ‘permanent’ class schedule…nice.

The relationship between the power of tests, corporal punishment as the primary classroom behavior management system, and respect for a native English teacher in Korean public schools….

EFL Teaching and Curriculum Design in Korea – Tried to make a 2 month syllabus and in the first week it’s already been destroyed…

While walking to my classroom this morning to open it up and get it ready for my first class after final exams I saw this poor kid standing in the middle of the path running through a courtyard that is surrounded by four buildings on my high school’s campus . . .

As I got closer I could hear him yelling/chanting what I think was his name, his class number, and something else I couldn’t understand.  As I walked past him I looked at his face to see what he was feeling–and saw that he was crying.  His tone of voice was quite upset too.

I don’t know why he was crying or what he was upset about but I felt sad for  him standing out there all alone . . . I wondered if he was protesting some sort of injustice that had been done to him, or a friend, or what terrible thing had happened that would make him cry openly and stand all alone in one of the most visible spots on the campus where nearly every teacher and student would be able to see and hear him . . .

I hope someone tells him that high school is not forever, and that things have a way of working themselves out (most of the time, anyways).

On another note, just after the class time chimes went off for my first class of the day a Korean English teacher came to the door of my classroom to ask me if she could let students know their English essay test scores.  I said yes, of course, and stood back and watched as she let students come up and check their scores.

Regardless of how long I’ve been in Korea it still shocks me every time to see how openly test scores are given to students.  The two guys on the right kept hooting and hollering and making comments about every student’s score as each walked up to check . . . and this is normal for public school classroom culture. (Oh yeah, the two guys on the right were also flipping through the test sheets looking at other students’ grades–nice.)

You have to wonder how this contributes to the overall stress of students in Korea, and hope that in the future things change to a more confidentiality-based test culture.


It’s the final exam period at my high school and all the guys are doing tests until 11:40am.  They then go home or to hogwan (cram schools) to study and get ready for the next day of testing.  If memory serves the exams run till Wednesday or Thursday of next week.

Since I have no classes I’ve been sitting at the desk computer in my classroom working on some summer camp lessons, reading, and enjoying the peace and quiet of the school in general because during testing periods the cacophony of high school boys letting off steam in between classes is missing–oh joy oh bliss!

If you’re prepping for summer English camps you might want to check out this post, English Camps in South Korea – A Guideline for Foreign English Teachers.

Last winter break I went all out and prepared what I thought was a kick-ass 2 week program of English camp materials.  I reworked a series of lessons I’ve made about how to write a paragraph in English, how to write a ‘hamburger’ essay, some English culture lessons, and mixed in a few ‘fun’ game/activity lessons . . . the first two week camp with 26 students responded fairly well to the lessons I’d set up, but the second group at the second camp was a nightmare.  The reason I am putting the links to the blogging I did is to give an idea of what can happen to a native teacher even after doing tons of prep, and having tons of experience teaching English camps . . .

Winter English Camp in South Korea: Camp #2, Day 1 — My Teaching Nightmare Becomes Reality: Zombie Student Attack!!!

Winter English Camp in South Korea: Camp #2, Day 1 — Lesson prep in Korea is the Achilles Heel of EFL teaching

Winter English Camp in South Korea #2, Day 2: The Zombies Return . . . and not even the power of kimchi ice-cream can wake the undead! (See pictures of kimchi ice-cream here!)

I decided that I am NOT going to do an academic style English camp for my summer camp–err, I mean classes.  It’s just not worth the time and energy to prep the materials when the guys will all be burned out from just finishing the semester, and then they have to attend classes all through the summer ‘break’ . . . for newbie teachers coming to Korea or already here, you should know that “camp” and “break” or “vacation” do NOT have the same meanings in Korea as they do back home.

Also, students are given homework assignments by their homeroom Korean teachers that they have to do over the winter and summer ‘breaks’ (seriously? Can you imagine the reactions from North American students to something like that if they tried to do it? LOL!); students are enrolled in hogwan (cram schools) summer/winter programs, or they are enrolled in summer/winter classes at their schools (mistakenly called ‘camps’).

Some native teachers will find themselves being asked to work at overnight English camps held at training centers located in more rural areas outside the cities in Korea.  If you agree to do one of these camps I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you read my English Camps in South Korea – A Guideline for Foreign English Teachers cause there will be stuff you cannot even imagine that will go on that you need to prep for.

At one over night summer camp I did in 2005 Korean teachers would ask the native teachers with NO WARNING to do something with the students for 30 minutes to an hour because of poor scheduling and some dead time that unexpectedly appeared . . . or a period on the schedule that a Korean teacher was supposed to do but they somehow con a newbie into agreeing to do for them . . . having easy ready to go songs, games, or simple activities in your head for these situations can really help if you agree to doing them.  That’s just one of many things newbies can’t possibly anticipate when they’re thinking about doing these kinds of camps.

Also check out this post, New Foreign English Teachers in Korean Public Schools–Summer and Winter Camps Checklist

Here’s an excerpt from the link,

“l) Has the director and or your co-teacher actually been to the camp site to confirm information and details you are being given?

m) Assume your presence will be required at EVERY event on the camp schedule unless told otherwise—I looked at my first camp schedule in Korea, and thought, wow, only four classes a day—that’ll be easy—and then realized at the camp that I was expected to be involved in about 11 hours worth of classes (other things on my schedule weren’t called “classes” but in reality were) and events EACH DAY . . . ask questions, and be informed. Don’t be afraid to say when you’ve hit your limit when it can jeopardize your health, and also if it is exhausting you beyond what is reasonable to ask you to do each day and still be an effective teacher.

n) consider taking a small fan with you if there is no air conditioning, and you don’t know what kind of quality the fans are that are in the rooms at the camp (I’ve actually done this, I put one in my suitcase, lol)

o) Take mosquito coils and repellent with you

p) Consider bringing cleaning supplies with you if you are a “clean-freak” as you may not be happy with the state of your room, and there may not be any cleaning chemicals or clean cleaning tools to use in the building, or on the camp grounds. You also, unfortunately, cannot rely on your co-teacher promising that the rooms will be cleaned before you arrive to the camp. The standards of cleanliness and the methods used may not be similar to what are used in your home country.”

Oh, another thing for newbie native teachers: there are technically NO LIMITS to how many English day camps you can be asked to teach as long as they do not exceed your contract 22 classes per week (and they’re not overnight camps).  I’ve gotten several emails from 1st contract in Korea newbie teachers asking about this, and in some cases newbies are outraged that they’re being asked to do ‘more than my friends at other schools’ . . . I wish they’d consider that they could be back in their old retail jobs in a shopping mall doing open to close 12 hour shifts for shitty pay and all the other crap most of us have had to deal with in other jobs before, during, and just after finishing university . . .

Native teachers vacations during the summer and winter breaks always take a backseat to the school’s schedule and camp priorities.  This makes things insane for native teachers trying to book plane tickets, paying for them (get the insurance that allows you to change the dates!), and trying to make any kind of plans with friends and family to see them during the vacation.  Schools generally don’t know when the camp dates will be until almost the last week of the semester, and even then it might be after that . . . yeah.

Here’s an excerpt of something I once wrote to a teacher asking me about her vacation days, re-signing bonus two weeks (you get two weeks of home leave between contracts–though you may not be able to take that time BETWEEN contracts) . . .

“I checked our contracts to make sure about the re-signing two week bonus and it says,

‘Article 10, Item 2.  In the case of renewal of this Contract pursuant to the foregoing Section 1, Employee shall be given two week paid leave for a home visit which shall take place 2 calendar weeks prior to the last day of the Contract specified in Article 5 hereof until the day immediately preceding the commencement of the renewed term. However, head of work place, due to condition of work place, may delay the visit to use the paid leave, upon agreement with the Employee.’

I wouldn’t pay any attention to the last part of the clause, ‘upon agreement with the Employee.’, because the reality is things are not contingent upon our ‘approval.’  Whatever the principal wants is usually what happens.

That being said, if it’s a really big deal to you then you can try to ‘fight’ this, and I mean POLITELY and diplomatically push for what you want as hard as possible with the powers that be in your school.

As for winter and summer camps there are no fixed limits for them as long as the classes per week do not exceed your contract 22 maximum.  If your school organizes day camps throughout the entire summer break they can do that as long as during the winter break they give you the vacation time you are owed.  If you sign on for a second contract and then have the two contracts overlapping onto each other in terms of vacation time then things get messy in terms of getting all the vacation time that is owed to you.

The contract, though, says,

‘1. Employee shall be entitled to a vacation period of 21 workdays in total during the Term of the Employment set forth in Article 5 hereof. If the requested vacation period interferes with regular school schedule or smooth work operations (e.g. English campsoperated by the district offices or schools, school reopening schedules after the breaks), employer/employee may alternate vacation dates. “
This clause basically gives the school carte blanche to say when you can or can’t take your vacation and re-signing bonus two weeks.  I’ve run into this kind of bs situation before and unfortunately in spite of trying diplomacy, politeness, and frequent discussions nothing changed in my favor.  I ended up having to just face the fact that I wasn’t going to get what I wanted because the school’s agenda always supersedes my own.'”Anyways, all that aside I’m planning on doing a CSI-style acting and script writing theme camp where they guys will . . .

– watch one episode of CSI, use that as a model

– a lecture about the CSI genre and the basic narrative structure

– decide how many scenes we’ll do

– decide what roles each student will take in the process

– I’ll teach them common expressions used in the show

– script writing sessions

– filming the scenes

– editing the video

– watch the video

– end of camp party

It’ll be interesting to see how it all works out. I’ve done lessons before where I had students make 1 minute TV commercials and we then videoed them and it was great.  There are tons of things that a native teacher can focus on: pronunciation, intonation, gestures, idioms, storytelling, script writing, cultural background info, and more.  Often the problem I run into is keeping it simple enough and not setting up too much content for the students to learn, and giving them enough time to prepare and practice and then perform the commercial.

I guess I’ll close with suggesting that native teachers might want to focus on making their camps extremely student-centered, task-based/project-based, and allowing for a lot of ‘guided’ free time wherein the students can be creative, learn through exploring different topics and activities, and in general actually have some FUN while learning and using English.

If my students give me permission I’ll post the video we make . . . keep your fingers crossed cause I think it’ll be very funny!


It’s my birthday today . . . and this morning some stuff happened that put a damper on that.

But then this afternoon ‘someone’ knocked on my classroom door, walked over to my desk, said “Happy Birthday” to me, and handed me this . . .

I feel all “shiny” inside right now, lol.  It’s always nice when the ‘powers that be’ let you know you’re doing a good job.

Now to decide what I’m going to spend this on . . . I’m thinking a nice pasta dinner in Itaewon tonight.



Last week on Wednesday my high school had practice exams all day so my classes were canceled–actually, my speaking tests were canceled.  They were postponed to today . . . oh god, the day after the 3:30am Korea vs. Nigeria game is NOT A GOOD DAY TO HAVE ANY KIND OF TESTS–or classes for that matter.

Anyways, the guys came into the classroom, one by one, for their speaking tests looking pretty ragged.  Baggy eyes, low energy, and a general lack of memory and concentration plagued nearly all of them.

Some of them, however, had some pretty funny and original answers.

I have four questions that I always ask as warm-ups for the guys.  The first question is “How are you today?” (“I’m fine, thank you, and you” is banned as an answer because I want to retain some semblance of sanity, and I’m sure if I had to endure 250 “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” responses I’d lose my mind!)  One kid replied, “I’m serious.” Lol . . .

Another guy, in response to “What’s your favorite book or movie?” said, “My favorite book is The “Prince of Machiavelli””  Wow . . . lol.  This guy is already prepping to become a politician or CEO (actually, is there a difference in Korea?).

And later on a kid said his favorite book was “Playboy” . . . ha.

One thing I noticed during this second series of speaking tests was that I failed to anticipate that some guys would remember and use “How about you?” and/or “And you?” during the test instead of saying the full question that was being tested.  Before the testing I give the guys a handout, and next to some of the listed questions and expressions that will be tested I give warnings and sometimes even outright ban certain types of responses or actions during the test (as you can see I did above with the “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” response).

A few of the lower language ability guys actually remembered this speaking strategy that I had taught them during a lesson that happened in the earlier part of the semester, and they tried using “And you?” any and every time they had to say something that I had already asked them (the test is an interview format) . . . I couldn’t let them get away with that because it would have screwed up my rubric and then totally messed up the proficiency test curve at the school.  Fortunately, the students doing this knew they were pretty much ‘pseudo-cheating’ by trying to avoid speaking the English content from the lessons that I was testing, and didn’t protest when I asked them to not use the two expressions.

Getting back to the funny stuff, another student had me nearly burst out laughing because he pretty much speaks English like this guy,

It took everything in me to keep the laughter under control, and I managed to finish the test without laughing or displaying the ginormous grin that kept trying to burst out all over my face from disturbing the kid doing the test—seriously, it was freaking hard, lol!!!

I’ll finish with another of my all time favorites.  During the test there is one question where I speak extremely fast and slur the words.  I discovered, however, that 99% of the guys in the first class I was testing were able to distinguish the exact words I was saying and respond with the correct answer.  NOW THAT IS SOMETHING TO TAKE NOTE OF! Especially for teachers who think their students don’t understand a lot of what they say to them.  Even the low level guys were able to follow me saying “Do you like to use ______?” (the blank was filled in from a list of vocab from the lessons) really really fast.

Since this particular test item was given a category on my test rubric I had to change what I was doing so that I could still test my students use of “Excuse me, could you say that again?” and/or “Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”  I decided to make the last part of the question “Do you like to use na-na-na?”  Which most of the guys found HIGHLY amusing, and so did I for that matter because their reactions were funny.  They knew what I was doing, and they knew I knew they knew what I was doing . . .

Anyways, the absolute hands down best reaction came from one kid, who when I said “”Do you like to use na-na-na?”, he proceeded to give me  a kick-ass Spock eyebrow lift . . . I’m guessing it was because he forgot for a second that he was being tested on his ability to use the correct response to something you don’t understand–but he did understand because he knew the “na na na” was nonsense . . .

Actually, it was more severe and questioning than what Spock is showing in the above photo, but you can use your imagination to visualize it, I think.

Well, time to pack up and go home.


Today I had three classes worth of speaking tests . . . and I heard the worst answer I’ve ever been given in the course of five plus years of testing English speaking skills in Korea with middle, high school, university, and teacher training programs.

A student answered the question, “Who is your hero?”, when I asked him with this response,


I blinked, took a deep breath, and told myself that his pronunciation must be terrible . . . or that I must have misunderstood him somehow.

I asked him again, “Who is your hero?”  This time the friendly look in my eyes and patient smile on my face that I try to maintain at all times during speaking tests were gone.

He gave the same answer.

Now I’ve been in Korea long enough to know that the holocaust and Antisemitism are things that some/many (?) Koreans don’t seem to have any education or understanding of how they are perceived in western English culture (and many other languages and cultures around the world), but it still rankles me that there’s such a huge degree of insensitivity to this issue.

After hearing the student give the same response again that Hitler was his ‘hero’ I checked one final time to see if I still wasn’t mishearing him somehow.

I spelled it out, “Are you saying “H-i-t-l-e-r?”


Now that any benefit of a doubt or error on my part, or his part for that matter, had been erased I had to decide very quickly whether or not I would say something about his response while in the middle of testing . . . I decided to say something.

“That’s not good.” I also added an extremely disapproving look.  But I had to stop there because it was neither the place or the time to try and educate this kid about the holocaust, and that Hitler was an evil monster.

To compound the issue I don’t think I can rely on getting any kind of help from the student’s Korean English teacher because all too often in Korea when issues of racism arise in a classroom situation with a native teacher and a co-teacher there is a gross lack of cross-cultural awareness about racism and taboos in English.  For example, if a student yells out the N-word when I’m showing a video clip or have a picture with black people during a lesson, I reprimand the student, and then ask the co-teacher to reinforce my reprimand in Korean to make sure it sinks in . . . well, in this kind of situation the co-teacher has often been laughing with the class at the racist comment, or thinks it means nothing and therefore doesn’t merit any kind of serious reaction on the part of the teacher.  I’m not saying this happens all the time, but it happens with far too high a degree of frequency . . .

I remember in 2006 a situation that happened while I was doing a Remembrance Day World War I and II lesson that focused on women in the wars for the all girls high school I was teaching at.  Upon seeing a picture of the devastation that happened after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki one girl bellowed “GOOD!”  I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the floor, and I said “No, not good!” back at her.

But again, I was put in a situation where the limited language abilities of the students mixed up with the seemingly complete and utter lack of awareness that saying dropping the bomb was ‘good’ is a horrible thing to say (and in a country where Buddhism is a major religion, seriously!) . . . what do you do?

The next slide in that power point had some facts about the Koreans who had been kidnapped and taken to Japan as forced labor, and I can’t remember the exact number but I think it’s something like 10,000 Koreans were killed and/or injured by the atomic bomb blasts in Japan . . . yet this girl thought that it was only the Japanese who were hurt, and thought that it was a ‘good’ thing.  I have to wonder what kind of historical content is in the high school textbooks about the atomic bombs because you’d ‘think’ that the fact that Koreans were killed by the Americans dropping the bomb might be something the nationalists would fight to have students learning . . . but maybe not.  I don’t know.

Ah, here is an entry on wikipedia, “During the war, Japan brought many Korean conscripts to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki to work as forced labor. According to recent estimates, about 20,000 Koreans were killed in Hiroshima and about 2,000 died in Nagasaki. It is estimated that one in seven of the Hiroshima victims was of Korean ancestry.[8] For many years, Koreans had a difficult time fighting for recognition as atomic bomb victims and were denied health benefits. However, most issues have been addressed in recent years through lawsuits” (my italics and bold).

That’s really sad.

I think I might write a post about native teachers and cross-cultural issues that come up in the classroom, and focus on the issues of race and racism that I’ve personally had to deal with, and also stories I’ve heard from other native teachers over the years.

It’s definitely a topic that I haven’t seen a lot of blogging about (then again, I haven’t done much research so there could be a lot of blog entries about this topic) on the Kblogosphere.  I have read a few posts here and there, mostly written by African-American native teachers, about stuff that has happened in their schools and classrooms.  But I don’t think I’ve read any posts about situations that have come up, and how the teacher dealt with them, and what they’d suggest to new teachers, and veterans for that matter, who are coming to Korea to teach.  Definitely something that is worth writing about, I think.

Alright, time to end this post with a positive story about teaching in Korea.

One guy that had his speaking test today made me laugh.  He walked in and before sitting he paused, crossed himself, looked up and kissed his hand, and then sat down, LOL!

I know for sure that I’ve had Catholic Korean students before–but I’ve never had one cross themselves and pray before taking a speaking test with me!  LOL!

Well, time to go do some listening test recordings and then watch the soccer game tonight.


I’m now in week 2 of the second speaking test I’m giving at my boys high school . . . and thought I’d post about some of the answers the guys have been giving to questions on the test.

At the start of the test I usually have 3-4 questions that serve as a warm-up before getting into the test questions.  I record the tests on my mp3 player in case there are any disputes over test scores, and also include “What’s your name?” just in case there’s a mix up in the testing order and somehow one student’s score card is mistaken for another–I can then go to the recording and sort out any problems that way.

Anyways, in response to the warm-up question “How are you today?” a student said, “I”m supreme.”  Lol . . . nice, and very unexpected.  It’s always great when a student answers using English in their own way while at the same time it is understandable (too much of the time it’s nonsensical).

Another warm-up question is “What do you think of the weather today?”  In this case the reason the answer stood out is because I’ve never heard the Konglish expression “It’s hard” (meaning “It’s difficult/stressful”) used as an answer to a question about the weather, lol.  Usually the error happens when you ask “How are you today?” and the speaker says, “I’m hard,” which then leads to the dilemma every native teacher faces in Korea: to explain to the student the sexual meanings of the misuse of “hard” or to just tell them it’s an incorrect usage of “hard” and that they should say “stressed” or something along those lines.  I usually go for explaining the sexual meaning in an indirect manner but with enough of a hint that they get that there’s a sexual meaning to it . . . the reactions are priceless.

One guy’s response to “What’s your favorite book or movie” had me laughing almost too much and I really had to reign myself in so that I could continue the test.  He told me his favorite movie is “E.T.  You know?” and then raised his finger up towards me with a huge grin on his face and made the glowing light chime sound . . . oh my god it was so funny!

Later, with another student I asked “When’s the best time to see you?” and he looks at me straight-faced but with a small glint in his eye and says, “I don’t want to see you”–snap!  I laughed, and said “Okay, fair enough.”   Cheeky bugger!

I’ll finish with the funniest response I’ve gotten to “What’s your secret to happiness?”  One student said, “My secret to happiness is a positive attitude and AV” and we both burst out laughing.  For those of you who don’t know what “AV” means it’s “adult video” . . . I tried not to laugh but just couldn’t . . .

It’s always so refreshing to have students come into the test with some degree of motivation, personality (versus the zombie-eyed guys), and a sense of humour because after the 50th test things begin to get a weeeeee bit monotonous when asking the same questions over and over and over and over . . .

Well, time to get ready for my next class.


One of my biggest pet peeves about working with Korean English teachers and supervisors involves editing English for tests and other documents I get handed.

It completely blows my mind that the teachers and supervisors will praise my editing skills to no end–and yet completely ignore some, many, or even all the editing notes and corrections I might make on a document . . . and it makes me go completely insane when it’s on a TEST!

One of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had with this happened during a six month Teach English in English program in which I was an instructor.  There was a pre-program listening skills test that all the Korean English teacher trainees had to take in order to assess what kind of progress they would make during the program (they were also tested at the mid-way mark, and at the end of the of program).

I was handed the test manuscript that Korean English teachers and supervisors at the training center where I was working had made, and asked to edit it closely and carefully.  I gave it my usual close editing, and then returned it . . . foolishly assuming the notes would be followed.

Instead, the Korean teachers responsible for making the corrections ignored some that they disagreed with, and missed others.

Now you might think “Who cares, Jason? It’s just a test and the Koreans are responsible for the test.”  NO NO NO . . . the Koreans in charge of the program, upon hearing some complaints from the trainees about grammar errors and other problems on the written test paper, told the trainees that the native English instructors made the test and this resulted in immediate damage to the trainees’ perceptions of our credibility and competence. Not a small thing when you’re teaching Korean English teachers, some of whom resent being taught by a younger foreign teacher when they are older and don’t want to acknowledge they need more English language skills training and communicative teaching methods training.

The reason I’m writing about my pet peeve with editing and how Korean teachers and supervisors tend to ignore my editing notes is because this past Monday I edited a promotional pamphlet for my school.  As I was editing the copy I kept thinking that it all looked really familiar to me, and then I realized that it was familiar to me; I had edited the rough draft a Korean English teacher had shown me about two or three weeks ago.

I had circled all of the Konglish style capitalizations of words that he wanted to make ‘look’ important and yet should never be capitalized; I had crossed out grammar errors and spelling errors; I had rewritten unclear and bizarre wordings and expressions . . . and yet NONE of these corrections were to be seen in the proofs sent from the print shop for final editing!  The head English teacher who gave me the proofs to check over was surprised to see all the red ink on the proofs, and I had to go over it with her explaining why I had marked different things.  It’s so much “fun” to do work you’ve already done once a second time–NOT.

Today, the teacher who had originally shown me the rough draft of the writing which I had edited weeks ago comes and asks me to help him understand the edited copy of the proofs from the print shop . . .

We sit down, and I look at him and say, “Mr. X, do you not remember the editing notes that I did for you several weeks ago?  Why didn’t these things get changed?”  Mr. X looks a bit chagrined, and says he doesn’t remember.  I repeat my question, and he gets up from the table and goes to his desk, leafs around amongst a pile of papers and then finds the original rough draft.

He comes back, without the rough draft, and apologizes to me.  Argh.

I like this co-teacher, and because we have a fairly good co-teaching relationship I sat down for a THIRD time and re-explained all of my editing notes to him.  If I didn’t like him I would have told him to go look at my original notes and just do what they say . . .

Having one’s editing notes and corrections ignored seems to be a somewhat common phenomenon across Korea based on what I’ve heard from other native teachers.  It’s one thing when the native English teacher doesn’t have an English language degree, or other qualifications that would make them competent editors–I get that, but in my case not only am I am English literature major but I’m also a very experienced editor (I’ve edited English Master’s Degree thesis papers, English literature PhD dissertation work, and EFL/ESL journal articles).

I think the reasons editing notes and corrections get ignored are sometimes innocent (the Korean teacher is too tired and overworked and the deadline is looming and they just miss the corrections) but other times the editing is ignored because of pure laziness, arrogance and an unwillingness to acknowledge that the native teacher’s English abilities are superior to the Korean teacher’s . . . I’m sure there must be many other reasons but I’ll leave that to others to figure out.

I guess the point I’d like to make here to any Korean English teachers reading this is DON’T ASK FOR EDITING from a native English teacher if you’re not going to use the editing notes and corrections.

Oh, and please for the love of kimchi do not use Haansoft word processing program for writing in English.  The spell checker for English is atrocious, and there is no English grammar checking function.  Use Microsoft Word, and make sure to use the spell and grammar check function!  It’s ridiculous to be asked to edit a document that has basic grammar errors on it that could have been caught by a computer program thereby not wasting the native teacher’s time.

And on that note, it’s time to go home–woo!


Yesterday while in the midst of testing a group of guys in one on one interviews I suddenly notice that the student I had just begun the test with was behaving oddly . . .

I then sense something happening behind me over by the windows of the classroom that face out onto a hallway.  I turn around and see two of the guys who are waiting out in the hallway for their turn to be tested STANDING ON THE WINDOW SILL AND MAKING FACES at the guy I’m testing . . .

I take a deep breath, apologize to the student taking the test, and head out into the hallway.  There were about seven students waiting outside, and several of them try to become invisible as I say “Who was on the window?” in a low voice, but with death flashing in my eyes.

One of the guys points at the two delinquents and I grab each of them by the back of the neck and march them into the classroom.  I take their student numbers down on a piece of paper, and then push them back out into the hallway.

I look at all of the guys and say, “Be quiet.  Next person who is a problem gets ZERO.”

I probably wouldn’t be actually able to give them a zero cause the school’s policy is no student can score below a 7 out of 10 for the speaking test, but the odds of them knowing that are low, and the threat definitely got their attention.

As for the two delinquents I told them they had to come see me at lunch time today, and we spent some quality time together duckwalking out on the playing field in the nice hot sun–I don’t think they’ll be messing around during a test again in the near future.

The thing that irks me about all this is that the guys would NEVER do this with a Korean teacher, especially a MALE Korean teacher, cause they’d get their asses beaten black and blue.  I don’t do that, and they know it, so therefore in their minds I’m not a ‘real teacher’ and they feel they can do what they want to without fear of punishment.

It’s pretty sad that being seen as a ‘real teacher’ by Korean students is contingent upon the power and ability to use corporal punishment . . .

Anyways, time to get ready for the next speaking test group.


I was surfing my blog roll and came across this 3 part series by Supplanter on what happens when a native teacher’s speaking test design and plan get changed by a Korean supervisor . . . it’s well written, and I could totally relate to everything being described as I’ve been through similar experiences at other places I’ve worked at in Korea.

Some people reading my blog posts about speaking tests may think I’ve been a little paranoid but I was really striving to avoid having to deal with any ‘English test score ajumma fallout.’  Really, who likes to have an ajumma aka Korean supermom appear at your desk to cry, yell, and attempt to browbeat you into quivering submissive goo so that little Subin will get a perfect English test score–not me, that’s for sure.

Anyways, check out Supplanter‘s series cause it’s definitely a wake up call to any native teacher considering asking for permission to start giving speaking tests.

The Grade Changing Fiasco Part 1

The Grade Changing Fiasco Part 2

The Grade Changing Fiasco – part 3

As I’ve mentioned a few times I’m working on a massive post about designing, planning, and giving speaking tests in Korean public schools . . . for now, here are some of the smaller posts I’ve written on the topic.

EFL/ESL Speaking Tests in a Korean Boys Public High School: Trials and tribulations of test #2

False-beginners and low level students in a Korean all boys high school — How do you help them get ready for a speaking test?

Co-teacher/Native teacher mis-communications: Korean Public School Testing System — Each semester has a final grade?

Thoughts on designing speaking tests and their relationship to native teacher respect and authority in Korean public schools

The relationship between the power of tests, corporal punishment as the primary classroom behavior management system, and respect for a native English teacher in Korean public schools….

Time to go get some chow.



Flickr Photos