[LEARNING CURVE]Being able to speak English is not necessary for everyone

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[LEARNING CURVE]Being able to speak English is not necessary for everyone

I taught English for seven years in Korea at all levels, while learning Korean and working toward my master’s degree in international relations.
I’ve now moved on to instructing meditation and breathing but find it worthwhile to pass on my reflections of English learning and teaching in Korea. I certainly learned a lot about myself and the country ― its culture, its people and its uniqueness.
Korea is a tough nut to crack for foreigners. Almost no other place has its dynamic nature, so full of raw energy. There are no cognates to its language, that is, no similar words at all in Western languages. On the surface, Korea is so sharp and abrasive that it cuts like glass, which all foreigners find painful when they first arrive.
Whether it’s the bumping, yelling, crude manners, loudness, bizarre value system, or the dullness of city landscapes and buildings ― something is unseemly. But once, or if, you break through the outer surface, you meet Korea and its people’s essence: jeong.
Jeong is to Korea as the frontier spirit is to America. Jeong’s modern meaning is affection in terms of human relations, but its historical root is love: love of one’s self, love of mankind, and love of nature.
Modern jeong comes out in a complete affection for the inner group and nature. If you have one true Korean friend, you can probably never forget this jeong. Climbing any mountain, listening to the music, eating the food ― one can feel an oozing of affection.
Korean mountains grab the soul with their edginess, and draw you near them with their charm. The nation itself and its people emanate with raw energy, love, vigor and vitality.
The problem in terms of learning English is that this love and energy need to be channeled correctly.
As an example of the failure of the present system, I’d like you to count on your fingers the number of English specialists in Korea, that is those who can read, write and speak competently in English.
Compare it with Japan, where 90 percent of the population cannot even mutter a hello, or give a damn, but where 10 percent is as competent as needed. The reason is the Korean half-hearted approach, studying a bit of this, a bit of that like playing with gift wrappings, but never opening the box.
Let’s face it ― language study requires at least two things: a goal and curiosity. Studying English for a college entrance exam, for conversation, for TV sitcoms, or for business is all different. State the goal and aim for it, which our students either confuse or ignore.
Second, learning comes from asking. If there is no motivation, there is no curiosity, and thus no questions. No questions, and very little learning is taking place.
Many students have said, “Don’t teach me culture!” Sorry, but culture and language go hand and hand. One must have an interest in that country’s culture to some extent and then immerse oneself fully in the culture without discriminating ― if one wants to taste its essence. But if you ask frankly, most Koreans really don’t want to learn English.
Fine, then back to the original point. If Korea only needs 10 percent of its people to be fluent in English in order for its economy to function well, stop teaching English to everyone. It’s all right not to know English.
Let’s end the undue stress. In fact, it’s all right not to know anything. The only thing one needs to know is oneself ― that is, what do you really, passionately want to study?
Then curiosity spews out, and questions, too. I’ve seen these students. They’re beautiful to teach, and succeed in English.
Let those who want to study do so, and let the others be free to master Korean studies or other things. It’s the only solution for the English learning/teaching idiocy.
This method requires one to know oneself, which requires one to calm the mind and understand one’s strengths and weaknesses frankly.


by Roar Sheppard
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