Konglish inquiry traces evidence back to poor textbooksKoreans spend a lot of time worrying about their English skills. Rightly so ― English is the world’s common language, after all, and any native English speaker who wanders around Seoul for a few days will soon realize that most Koreans’ knowledge of the language is limited.
So reason holds that Korean parents are ready to thrust their children into private learning institutes from an early age in the hope that they will get a head start in the alien tongue.
However, the educational reality often turns out to be less than perfect. Take the teaching materials Korean students use in the classroom.
A basic teaching principle is that the difficulty of the textbook should not exceed the students’ level of skill. In Korea’s hagwon, private institutes, this is often not true. Take as an example the following dialogues quoted from a text intended to illustrate basic vocabulary for elementary school students.
The first one is to show the meaning of the word “leaf.” Besides the unbelievable fact that the text features an elementary school student who can articulate complex opinions in English about an American poem she has read in translation, the grammar and syntax are for the most part correct. Whatever follows is all downhill .
The second dialogue is meant to show the meaning of the word “eye.” The conversation swiftly moves into the realm of the bizarre. The teacher asks a student: “Have you ever seen a one-eyed man?”
The student answers: “Yes, Mrs. Kim. I’ve seen him.”
Teacher: “What do we call a man not to see anything?”
Student: “We call him a blind.”
Now, that’s more like the kind of Konglish my students would produce. But shouldn’t the teacher be speaking better English?
Anyhow, the dialogue continues, reaching new and ever more surreal heights.
Teacher: “What about the three-eyed man, if any?”
Student: “Well, I don’t know what I can say, for he is a monster among the two-eyed men.”
For a final look at the outlandish world of English-teaching materials in Korea ― and if you think I am making this stuff up I can send photocopies of the originals on request ― take the following dialogue to illustrate the word “baby.”
Teacher: “What’s the skill of babies?”
Student: “Their only skill is crying.”
Teacher: “Who is the most beautiful baby in the world?”
Student: “A smiling baby.”
Teacher: “What is the baby’s main job?”
Student: “It’s crying, sleeping, smiling and lying on the bed.”
by Jeremy Garlick
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