Category Archives: English Language Learners

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English language nerd


‘Her mouth was trash’

It was another night of grading papers, and I was getting a bit bleary-eyed as I read English reports from my students. I perked up, however, when I read one paper.  The student was reporting on White Princess, a movie he had seen.  He wrote, in part:

White Princess looks beautiful and handsome.  But she is very bad girl.
She said, “I kill you, a**hole.”  Her mouth was trash.

The asterisks are mine. After all, I run a family-friendly site here.  Students can be full of surprises, even when they’re aspiring pastors and missionaries.


I’d like to think that this graphic doesn’t apply to any of my students.  I’d prefer to reserve judgment until I’ve finished grading all of the midterm exams and essays.   Time to take a break; I’ve seen enough for now.   o_O

The joys of semester’s end

I survived the spring semester.  Hubby and I rushed to get finals and papers graded, as well as write syllabi for classes we’re teaching next semester.  Our apartment/office saw a steady traffic of students turning in papers.  More than a few students exclaimed their gratitude for us: “I love you, professor!”

One of the things that got me through the last couple of weeks of the semester is a video clip posted by Johnny, one of our international students.  Johnny is just one of many uber-talented pupils I’ve had the opportunity to meet.  His clip demonstrates how he and his peers coped with the hustle and bustle of exams.

Sometime soon, I’ll talk more about international students who choose to study and make a difference in Korea.  Until then, check out this video on surviving exams.  Enjoy.

Unexpected blessings

This semester will soon come to an end.  Hubby and I are planning our final classes and preparing final exams.  We enjoy teaching, but we’re beat!  I’ve graded a ton of papers.  I expect my students to improve their English-speaking skills AND learn how to write a good sentence.

Today I was fighting fatigue and grading papers when one student’s paper brought a smile to my face.  My class recently studied how to use adverbs.  I assigned follow-up homework:  Write a poem using adverbs.  You can imagine the groans I received!

I believe that pupils will rise to your expectations if you give them a chance, and my kids did not disappoint.  One of my students, Josh, submitted this poem:

The Lord in the Morning

Waking up in the morning.

Alarm clock sings loudly.

My soul sings to the Lord peacefully.

The sun rises.

I whisper my love to God sweetly.

Having a shower.

I confess my sins to the Lord.

He washes my sins clearly.

Taking clothes.

The spirit comes to me slowly.

Every day …

I could sing of your love forever.

— Josh Kim

Sometimes we teachers wonder if we’re getting through to our students, especially those of us teaching English as a second language.  Josh’s poem is a burst of sunshine and an unexpected blessing.

Students and surprises

I have been in South Korea for three months.  My, how time flies!  I’ve seen some wonderful improvements the students’ English skills.  This is especially true of the freshmen, many of whom who had no clue what I was saying the first day of class.  They didn’t even understand me when I said they had a five-minute break or that class was dismissed.  Now they understand my jokes.

Teaching English to first-year college students is no picnic.  In both teaching and learning, students and teachers must overcome communication barriers.  Even assigning homework isn’t easy.  Typically, I’ll repeat the assignment a couple of times orally, and then I write it on the board.  For students who still don’t understand, I’ll allow Korean translations among the students.

In my intro class, many students did well on my midterm.  And several students flunked it.  It was a wake-up call for those young men and women who hadn’t put in the time studying.  However, I didn’t focus on that.  I told the shocked students that even though they hadn’t done as well as they wished on the midterm, it was possible for them to earn a good final grade if they worked hard.

I prayed for these students at the beginning of every class.  Each of them has God-given gifts, but I felt they needed to be reminded of that.  From time to time, I’ve surprised my students with assignments they thought they could not do.  They surprised themselves when they did a good job.  I never doubted them for one moment.

Today was my students’ day to surprise me.  A couple of girls stopped by the office to tell me that they were waiting for me in the cafeteria.  They had “treats” for me.  I walked over to the special dining area to find that the students had prepared a feast — homemade kalbi (beef) and potatoes, grilled chicken, mandoo (dumplings), fruit, and assorted drinks.  The students also brought trays of the regular school lunch and went to get my husband so that he could enjoy the festivities.  My husband called the surprise a “love feast.”

The food was simply delicious, as were the beverages the guys brought.  (I didn’t eat much of the school lunch.)  At the risk of sounding cliché-ish, I could feel the love.

After lunch, the students crowded around to take pictures with hubby and me.   The kids said they thought that I was a really good teacher and that they had learned much from me.  Also, since the end of the semester is near, the students asked for words of wisdom.

I looked at my husband.  He said, “Don’t look at me.  They’re talking to you.”

I reminded the students that they all had God-given gifts.  I told them that I remembered the first day of class, when they clearly had no idea what I was saying to them.  Now, I said, they are students who touch my heart with the writing and conversation skills they now demonstrate.  I told them I would miss them.  One student said that she hoped I would remember their names.

For me, these students put a face on Korea.  Yes, I intend to remember their names.

Teaching English in South Korea

I was born to teach.  That’s the feeling I get each time I step into one of my English conversation classes.  Two of my courses  are at the introductory level.  Most of my students are freshmen.  I also teach a group of advanced English learners.  Most of them are third- and fourth-year students.  I take my time preparing for the lessons because it is important that the students learn something new each day and grow in confidence about their English-speaking abilities.

Korean schools teach English at the elementary and secondary level.  (My husband tells me that he earned extra money a few years ago when he was asked to teach English to kindergarteners.)  My students have studied English for several years.  They’ve studied grammar and lots of other rules.  However, many students are not strong when it comes to English conversation.   Korean students in college now often have been taught  English by Korean teachers.  My university believes it’s important for students to learn English from native speakers.

The students are eager to learn.  I use a lot of group exercises because I believe in strong interaction in the classroom. Younger students, such as freshmen and sophomores, seem to really enjoy participating in groups.  Upperclassmen, on the other hand, seem to prefer to work alone.  I nudge them into groups anyway.

Even before I taught my first class, I was struck at how respectful Korean students are.  I’m still getting used to all of the bowing.  Students might be running to class, but they’ll slow down and bow on the run!  In my classes, students will go out of their way to assist me.  In one class, someone always gets me a cold drink when it’s hot.  In another class, a student will erase the board at the end of the session.  I’ve also had a student offer to do copying for me so that I can continue teaching uninterrupted.

This is a school where girls walk across campus holding hands, while some boys can be seen with their arms around each other’s shoulders.  The kids at this school — at least while they’re around adults — seem very humble.  If they see my husband or me carrying a heavy package, they will insist upon carrying it for us.  It’s almost like teaching in Disneyland.  🙂

There’s one thing, though, that I’m trying to understand.  In a couple of my classes, I have girls who question me if I let a class out a little early.  Usually, I do this because I want to make sure the students make it to the dining hall before it closes.  We work hard during the class period, so I see no problem dismissing early.  However, I have had girls in two different courses approach me after the session, informing me that the class is supposed to last until, say, 5:30 p.m.  What if someone says something, they ask.  Perhaps these young ladies are classic overachievers.  I’m not sure what motivates them.

But I do know this:  I like teaching in “Disneyland.”