&#91WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV&#93At English Cafe, no stuffiness served

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&#91WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV&#93At English Cafe, no stuffiness served

Here's a pop quiz -- fill in the blank with the correct word: What time would you like to ( )?

A) lip B) leaving C) leave.

If you know the answer to this overwhelmingly demanding question, please send it to the organizers of English Cafe, a local English education program on the EBS-TV network. Aired weekdays from 9:30 p.m. to 9:50 p.m. on channel 11, the program is one of the best-received English programs on the peninsula.

In this country where a fever to learn English burns, various programs have risen and fallen. A typical English education program will feature a Korean and native speaker duo. They will sit quietly at their desks, decorated with a bouquet of flowers, ready to fill the audience's brains with a progressive form of some big stuffy text. The setup is perfectly designed to induce sleep. However, English Cafe, launched last August, takes a different approach. Featuring actors whose strengths extend to comedy, the program is full of music, performances and plays used smoothly to digest daily expressions.

Last Friday, the goal was to learn how to buy a ticket at a bus station in English. Instead of a long and elusive list of sentences, viewers were showered with uplifting hip-hop music.

But the song did not contain your average Eminem lyrics. Here, the singer in baggy pants raps lines like "A one-way ticket to Busan, please" and "What time would you like to leave?" over and over. Then, with an all-too-cheerful attitude, the host appears and kindly explains the expressions.

The host has two high-spirited, native-speaker sidekicks, Lisa and Issac, who know how to act out. Another pair of Korean actors, who want to learn English just like the viewers, then show up. To complete the scene, a band with a drum and tambourine is ready to spice the show.

Hold on, there's even more. To explain northbound and southbound, the band comes out to the main stage and starts a mime performance keyed to the popular local song, "One Ticket." It's almost impossible not to know the meaning of the two words after watching these performances.

Kim Hyung-soon, the producer, says: "Previous English programs were not designed for 'real' beginners. English Cafe aims at those who want to start from rock bottom." For his groundbreaking idea, Mr. Kim and his co-worker Moon Hyun-sik received the Producer of the Month Award last December from the Broadcast Producers Association of Korea.

A physician in Seoul, identified only as Dr. Kim, raved about the show.

"I have a rich vocabulary and sure know millions of jargon terms, but I could not communicate with my foreign patients. But thanks to your enjoyable program, I feel less unsure in front of my patients." Now Dr. Kim, who can easily spell "bronchopneumonia," can ask for a one-way ticket to Busan, leaving at 8:30 p.m.

By Chun Su-jin

"What's on Korean TV" appears Wednesdays in the JoongAng Daily.
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