students’ countries

I have occasionally said to people that I’ve taught students from more than 30 countries. I think the list below is accurate, but I might have missed one or two. Overwhelmingly most of my students have been/are from Asian countries (esp PR China, Hong Kong, RO China, Thailand) at my current college, South American countries (esp Colombia, Peru, Brazil) at my previous college, and South Korea in South Korea. I’ve had only one or two students from most of the African, Middle-Eastern and European countries.


Mongolia PR China Hong Kong RO China South Korea Japan

Thailand Cambodia Vietnam Malaysia Singapore Indonesia Fiji

Mexico Colombia Peru Brazil Argentina

Tanzania Kenya Egypt UAE Jordan Israel Lebanon Turkey

Spain Italy Hungary Czech Republic Poland Latvia Lithuania Greece

Iran Pakistan India Nepal Bangladesh


The textbook’s section on ‘future forms’ introduced [be] Ving, [be] going to V, will V and shall I/we V? Shall used to be used in statements, the traditional explanation being that I/we shall and you/she/he/it/they will showed a simple intention for the future, while the reverse – I/we will and you/she/it/they shall showed a strong intention. This distinction was probably not ever strictly observed, but throughout the 20th century the use of shall in statements declined. The last remaining holdout is the use of shall in questions of offer or suggestion. Even then, there are many contexts in which I would never use it. One example was (something like) ‘A: Let’s go to the cinema tonight. B: Sure. What shall we see?’. I said to the students that I would never say that, and I can’t imagine that anyone I know would. I would probably say ‘What do you want to see?’, even though that’s much longer and goes against my general principle of ‘keep it short and simple’.

I searched my diary for the two and half years of my first stay in Korea. I used shall twice, both in formulaic expressions. The first was about a night out with colleagues. I left early-ish because I had an early class the next morning, but ‘Most of my colleagues stayed and two (who shall remain nameless) and got falling-down drunk (literally).’ (Google Ngrams shows that shall remain nameless has always been more common than will remain nameless, and grew rapidly in the second half of the 20th century, against the general decline in shall.)  The second was ‘One of the level 4 students said that his dream vacation would be to Andromeda […] He said that a fortune teller had told him that he had previously lived there. i asked how he got to earth, and he said that he had “borrowed” a human body. All .. right … err, let’s stick to the planet earth, shall we?’. He then nominated Peru, which kind of makes sense; maybe the Nazca Lines were made by Andromedans.

한국어 쓰기 연습 (1)

나는 한국어를 배우고 있어요. 하지만 아직 잘 못 행요. 그래서 매일 연습 하야 뒤요. 시작 합시다!

나는 호주 사람 이에요. 보통 호주 시드니 광역시에서 살아요. 하지만 요즘 한국 광역시에서 살고있어고 대학교에서 영어를 가르쳐고 있엉요.

처음 한극에 이천육년에 왔어요. 일년 육개월 동안 이광역시 있는 학원에서 일 했어요. 정말 좋았어요. 그때동안 다른 시 살는 한국 여자를 만았고 결혼 했요. 그래서 다른 일을 찾았어요. 고등학교에서 일하기 안 별로 좋았엉요. 일년 후에 우리는 호주에 갔어요.

작년에 요즘 하는 일을 찾았어요. 가끔 좋아하지만 가끔 안 별로 좋아해요. 대학교  근처 있는 아파트에서 살고 있어요. 좋아하는 취미가 사진을 직기 예요. 요즘 아름다운 봄 꽃 많아요.

내 한국어는 어때요?

(I know there are mistakes. 살다 is irregular, so some of those ㄹs shouldn’t be there.)

Korean proverbs

In a lesson during my first time in Korea, the textbook had a page about English-language (mostly English) proverbs. As well as struggling with the proverbial meanings, the students also seemed not to understand the whole idea of a proverb. I tried to elicit a Korean proverb, but one student flatly stated that there were no such things. This seemed unlikely in a land of Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity, all known for aphoristic teaching, and folk wisdom is pretty much the same the world over.

A few days later, in the middle of a completely different discussion, a student in a higher class said, ‘Well, as we say in Korea: “The ship with a hundred captains ends up in the mountains”’, which of course was exactly what I’d been after. (Obviously, compare ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’.)

Jump ahead eight or nine years to this morning, when I went to a hospital for physio treatment. There was a bookstall, possibly run by the hospital auxiliary. I looked for an easy book in Korean. There was a book about countries of the world, which I thought might be too restricted in its language. Then I saw a pocket-sized book of short paragraphs. I translated the title (via a mobile phone app) as ‘Proverb Dictionary’. Yes, 244 (pocket-sized) pages of Korean proverbs, while I thought I might be able to dip into, and attempt to translate, either with what Korean I know, or with the help of an app or Google Translate. Each entry has the proverb itself and a short explanation. Two start with ‘ship’, but I can’t see the word for ‘mountain’ (unless they use a more formal word).

Korean pronuciation of English part 1

(mostly geeky, occasionally technical, uses IPA symbols)

When I first started teaching ESL in South Korea, I began to notice certain pronunciation patterns in my students’ speech. I won’t call them errors, because the more I learned about Korean, the more I became convinced that they were directly and systematically related to the sounds which exist, or don’t, in Korean. Broadly speaking, and allowing for individual differences in ability, it is possible to distinguish three groups of sounds:
those which are identical or nearly so in Korean and English, which generally cause no problems;
those which are partly similar and partly different, which generally don’t cause problems in some contexts but do in others; and
those which are very different, which generally cause problems in all contexts.

This is supported by evidence including: academic literature on ‘interference’ and ‘learner English’,  my personal observations teaching ESL in South Korea, living with Koreans in Australia and socialising with them here and there, a systematic comparison of the sounds systems of Korean and 
English, and consideration of the way English words are written in hangeul.

One writer says “Interference is the ‘effect of one language on another, producing “instances of deviation from the norms of either language”’’, another “A learner’s English is … likely to carry the signature of his/her mother tongue, by virtue both of what goes wrong and of what does not”.
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Strange sounds in Korean

Almost all learners of a second language have to produce sounds which are not found in their own language and which they may not have even heard before embarking on learning that second language.

Korean has three series of oral stops (sounds like English p, b, t, d, k and g), affricates (sounds like English ch and j) and fricatives (sounds like English s and z), but the differences between them are sometimes confusing for learners of Korean as a second language. Definitely, one series (ㅂㄷㅈㅅㄱ) is unvoiced and unaspirated (sometimes called ‘plain’ or ‘lax’), another (ㅍ ㅌ ㅊ ㅋ) is unvoiced and aspirated, but every source I’ve read has a different explanation for the third (ㅃ ㄸ ㅉ ㅆ ㄲ). These are not just ‘double letters’ like English spelling has; they are distinct (but obviously related) sounds which make distinct (and usually totally unrelated) words.

For an English speaker, there are issues with the first and second series of sounds (which I may write about at some future time) but during my masters study I wrote a short summary of the explanations I had found for the third, which I copy, paste and slightly edit here. Continue reading

100th post

It’s my birthday – woot! It’s also the ninth anniversary of starting work on my first stay here. If the owner/director or secretary of the hagwon saw my date of birth on my application or associated  documents, they didn’t say or do anything. I didn’t tell anyone (I am ambivalent about birthdays at the best of times, and don’t like drawing attention to myself) until mid-evening, when I mentioned it to an American colleague, and we sat on the stairs drinking duty-free whiskey out of paper cups from the water machine and eating duty-free chocolates I’d bought on the plane.

This year, it’s the end of my first week of work. The timetable is scheduled so that most of the foreign teachers have no classes on Fridays. Officially, we are still ‘at work’, and are expected to do work-related things. I have a lot of administrative things to do, and am trying to plan next week’s lessons, the first from the textbooks. The problem with new classes and new textbooks is that I have no idea how long any activity will take. I can estimate, and I could be entirely wrong, one way or the other. Next week’s lessons are also going to be disrupted by a compulsory standardised test.

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