What did you say? Things your students say in Korean.

When I started at this school, I had NO IDEA what the children were saying to me. I work in a Korean playschool so the students only learn English as subject. My favourite story is of a day with the 5 year old’s just a month or two after I started. One of the boys said something to me and by the way he was acting, I knew he needed the bathroom. Unfortunately, the assistant wasn’t around so I just let him off and left the door of the classroom open. A few minutes later, he appears back with nothing on from the waist down. Turns out he needed a hand finishing in the bathroom and with no assistant, he just came back to me!

After that, I promised myself to get my Korean together so I’d actually understand what the students were saying and I did. I just listened to them and since they say the same things day in day out, I would write it phonetically, ask my co teachers and then learn how to say it properly. Here are the top phrases my students say;

  • 쉬 마려워요 (she mar yeah woh yo) – I need to pee
  • 똥 마려워요 (dong mar yeah woh yo)- I need to poo
  • 선생님………( sun saeng nim) – teacher
  • 연필 필요해요 (yun pill pil yoh hay yo)- I need a pencil
  • 지우개 주세요 (gee you gay juice a yo)- Eraser please
  • 색연필– (saeng yun pil) crayons
  • 아파요– (app pie yo) I’m sick/hurt
  • 어떻게 해요 ( oh dok a hay yo)- How do I do this.

Here are some phrases and words that you can say to the students;

  • 애들아! (yeah dra)- Guys!
  • 조용히하세요! (jo young he ha say yo)- Be quiet!
  • 어디 아파요? ( o d apa yoh) – Where are you hurt/sick?
  • 화장실 가다오세요 (hwa jang shil gat da o say yoh)- Go to the bathroom and come back.
  • 빨리! (bally) Quickly

Since we’re here to teach English, you should obviously keep the Korean to a minimum but in a a bind, these phrases may help. As ever, my Korean spelling could be atrocious so feel free to tell me any mistakes!

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Teaching Kindergarten in Korea – my words of wisdom

Teaching Kindergarten is possibly the most exhausting thing you can do. My school teaches Korean age 3 to Korean age 7 and after 4 years, I almost don’t know what silence is. Between the crying, the talking, the shouting, the laughing, the sheer activity, it’s always go, go, go.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years*;

1. K.I.S.S.- Keep it simple, stupid!

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It’s a marathon, not a race. Set small goals for every class and work on simple things. Use the same words and phrases until they can use them correctly and then change it up. Little by little, they’ll make great progress and enjoy doing so because they won’t be under preassure.

2. It’s all about being organised.

Yellow sticky notes and push pin on white with clipping path.

They might only be 6 but they will eat you alive if you don’t know what you’re doing. You have to know what lesson you’re giving, what games you’ll play, what songs you’ll sing and you have to have all your materials walking in the door.
If you’re new to teaching, make a lesson plan and follow it.
Also, have lots of activities ready. They have zero attention span so changing lots is the key.
3. Have a routine.
Try to structure your classes the same so that the students know what to expect. Have a proper introduction, main class and conclusion.
Introduction is probably the most challenging. How do you get them to sit down, stay quiet and listen? You can try a few chants;
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My personal favourite is “what sound does sh make? sh sh sh”
Once they’re sitting quietly, do your hello song and things like day, date weather, basic things to get them concentrating.. There are loads of Hello songs on youtube. Choose two or three so that they don’t get bored singing the same song every day. Make sure to have actions so that they have something to do.  I sing the theme tune to Happy Days for days of the week and although they claim to hate it, they can all sing it.
4. Be familiar with what is expected in terms of discipline.
Korea is so sensitive when it comes to disciplining children.  Every school should have guidelines on what to do if a child is unruly. Whatever you do, follow up on threats, don’t make idle promises. If you give them three warnings, outline in advance what the consequences will be and sometimes positive reinforcement works. For example, I have a little boy who is a bit energetic in class. At first, I went for being cross with him but after a while I literally showered him with love. Every little thing he did well, I praised him to the high heavens. Now he’s one of my best. Doesn’t always work, but something to think about.
5. Always shake it up a bit.
Every few weeks, do something different. Sing a new hello song or introduce new chants, make up new games or whatever. It keeps the students interested and keeps you from getting bored.
6. Games will save you……..so will props
Students LOVE to play games. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy and anything you call a game is a game.
Some games I use;
Matching game (flashcards)
Find the card (flashcards)
Spell the word ( board and a marker race)
Ball games like Donkey
Fly swatters (beating the words that I call out)
Hangman
Scrabble letter games
Musical words (dance around until the music stops and then find the word I call out)
Sorting games
Dice games (throw a 6 means name 6 words of a category)
Props are also a great way of gaining interest in what you’re doing. Just putting flashcards in a container and making a big fuss of opening it is all they need to pay attention.
7. Knowing that your plan will always go out the window when you step into the classroom.
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No matter how great you are, something always happens that throws your plan off. A child gets sick on the desk, pees on the floor, a fight happens, whatever. Just go with the flow in the most organised fashion possible and if all goes to all, every child LOVES to draw a picture!
If you have any questions about anything, just let me know!
* All opinions are mine. I’m in no way an expert on teaching, these are just some things I’ve learned!

1st week of the new term.

This isn’t my first new school term. I’ve been teaching here  long enough to know what to expect. As a kindergarten teacher, the first days of the new term bring out the best and worst in every child. It’s an adventure to say the best and in my opinion these first few weeks are the most important. It’s your chance, as a teach to get them into a good routine and good habits in the classroom and hopefully they’ll learn a bit of English along the way.  Students are generally one of three types;

1. The usual suspects– Have been in the school for several years already, possibly since they were 4 and now at 7 they’re well used to the teachers, classes, layout, expectations etc.

In some ways, these children are the hardest to teach because any bad habits or behaviors they have are almost impossible to reverse. This year, the English program focuses a lot on speaking so I spent all my free time this week making rules which we talk about every day and eventually the leader will talk about it. So far we’re only having problems with numbers 1,2, 3 and 4

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2. The new students– These are students who have already gone to kindergarten for  a year and are now at our school. Generally they are 6 years old and luckily for me they can recite their ABC’s and know what their name is etc.

3. The very new students– These are the 4’s and 5’s. These are the criers. The children who have no idea where they are, why they’re here or what’s actually going on. Sometimes, I wonder if four year old’s should even be sent to school. It is next to impossible to keep their attention, that’s if you managed to get in the door without putting the fear of God in them with your golden locks, blue eyes and white skin. Tears is a good word to describe these classes. Full of tears. And if your class is after lunch, you can expect most of them to be asleep on the desks.

This is how is looks during quiet time (i.e. no students)

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Here are some of the conversations I’ve had this week;

Me; Good morning!

Student 1…………………………………………………………………………

Me: Hello! What’s your name?

Student 2 Hello! Nice to meet you (there is hope after all)

Me; How are you?

Student 3; How are you?

Me; How are you?

Student 3; How are you?

Me; Yes, how are you?

Conversation continues in this fashion for a long while.

Me; 안녕!

Student 4; 엄마!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *TEAR TEAR SOB SOB*

Me; Hello!

Student 5; Happy!

Me; Hello! How are you?

Student; ……………………………………………..(.just strokes my arm and looks into my eyes.)

Taking a break just consists of hiding in the teacher’s room listening to the hysterical crying and sobbing.

Today, I came to school and there was a tv crew doing a program with the father of one of our students. When the students saw the activity, zero work got done.

Home time cannot come fast enough………

A day in the life of Shauna.

The alarm rings and I turn it off. The next alarm rings and I do the same. Five alarms later, I decide to get up. It’s 7.30am and the start of a whole new day. I’m up and ready, eating my breakfast by 8ish. I spend the next 30 minutes watching whatever English programme happens to be on tv at that time of the morning.  These days it’s usually Poirot or Miss. Marple. At what is supposed to be 8.30am but in reality is 8.40am , I leave my apartment and head to school. The journey takes just 20 minutes in my car, Spuddy.

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Classes start at 10.10am but the teachers are all there for 9am. I use this time to prep for the day but mostly I use it to think of little games we can play at the beginning of class.  Classes in my school are only 25 minutes long so I try to play one game with each class before doing book work. The curriculum is made for me so I know what I have to do in each class.   It’s also a good time to say hello to the children and since there’s always a drama at school, I can hear all about it during this time. I teach children from Korean age 4 to Korean age 7.  Let me describe to you the sounds you hear from the staff room in the morning.  Imagine a child still using their outdoor voice and multiply this by 50. Then throw in a crying child and two fighting children and you have a good idea of the chaos here in the morning time. To be fair, once we get over the initial “I’m at school again” shock and excitement, they calm down.

The day goes from 10.10am first class to 2.30pm all classes over. Then there’s a special 40 minute class from 2.40pm to 3.20pm and then desk warming until 5pm. My school isn’t an English kindergarten it’s a Korean one so the children all speak Korean except to me where I make them speak English. If there’s ever a way to improve your Korean, it’s work at a school like this.  I’ll never forget the first few months I worked here. My Korean was pretty basic so when a child asked me to go to the bathroom, I would have no idea what they said and would spend a long while looking them up and down trying to decide from their general posture what the matter was! Like all things in Korea, it was a learning experience.  They learned to use hand signals and I learned how to speak better Korean. With the exception of 3 teachers, the majority of teachers here don’t speak English so if I want to report an incident in the classroom or talk about a student, it’s done in Korean or Konglish.

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Since this is a day in the life, lets take my Monday. Class schedule looks like this; 7yr, Free, 6yr, 6yr, Lunch, 5yr, 4yr, Free, Special Class.

The seven-year olds are a great class to start with. We talk about the weekend, we do some book work and then they play a quiz game similar to hangman where they have to guess the letters. These days they’re actually getting really good at guessing the words. I’ve had to turn those words into sentences and today they got the sentence ‘ I had a banana and bread for breakfast” before their lives ran out.  The class is brilliant. They make up their own English and speak to each other in this unique language “Robin, this eat no don’t do that not so good” Great effort and great use of all the key sentences I use.  The class leader also disciplines them and I love to watch how the whole thing works.

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Sixes are a different story. Some of them have never learned English and some of them have not only been learning English since they were 4 but they have home tutors.  This makes for an interesting class, every class.  The dynamic is often fragile as the faster students pick on the slower ones. I start all their classes with a game that involves easy vocabulary like colours or animals to level the playing field but sometimes that doesn’t work. Today we’re talking colours and one (there’s always one) says dinosaur.  The game is over. Book time and yes there is one for everyone in the audience ( I really do say that). Best thing about sixes is that they aren’t afraid to give themselves praise.  They spend the class pointing to their work going “teacher, good job, good job”(not a question, a statement)

Lunch on a Monday is the calm before the storm. The five and four-year old classes on a Monday are the worst. The fives are so unpredictable. I never know what they’ll be like. I try singing and they look at me like I’m crazy. I try a game but they don’t get it so I go straight to book and they don’t want to do that either. So it’s a terrible waste of a class.

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Awful, shocking and now to finish the day on a low note is the four-year olds. Of the three 4-year-old classes in my school, these are the worst. The first 6 weeks, they spent every English class crying hysterically when I entered the room. I didn’t even say anything. Now it’s May and only one of them hysterically cries. He gets so upset that he’s not only crying but sobbing uncontrollably to the point of almost vomiting.  These days he’s taken out before I arrive which calms things somewhat. The other students have been bribed to not cry by the homeroom teacher. So finally the class begins. By this time it’s 1.30pm and these poor little children are so tired. We sing a song and they don’t react in any way. So we sing it again, with a little more enthusiasm and only one joins in. Enough with that, I take out the book we’re supposed to be “reading”. Except by reading , I mean looking at the pictures and learning single words and making appropriate noises. So, the frog goes rweeebbuddd and I jump up and down, which also gets no reaction. The same goes for the elephant, the cat, the snake and the fish. One child has fallen asleep. One is engrossed in the contents of her nose and the other is just staring into space.

Snack time followed by special class.  Special class today is for the 7 year olds and I only have two. We turn on the computer and the material we’re using have a special programme of interactive activities. That’s how they spend the first 15 minutes. Then t’s book time.  The book is pretty difficult for students who don’t learn English all day so it’s a slow process. Today, I want to jump out the window. The activity is a comparison of the two stories and they have to tell me the differences. Except they don’t see any so I try to hold back the frustration. Eventually, we find 3 differences and manage to write them down correctly so it’s not a completely wasted effort after all.

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The final hour of the day is spent chillaxing in the English room (above).  The children have all gone home so I take in the rare moment of silence.  This is when the weekly report gets done or any preparation is completed. But usually I catch up on whats happening around the world.

For your entertainment, this is what happens on the first day of term when no students show up to class…..https://www.facebook.com/540988015/timeline/2013#!/photo.php?v=10151324946708016

This blog is dedicated to Brian Healy and Edel Feely. The coolest followers I have. Thanks guys and keep the suggestions coming!

The Korean education system

I just had a conversation with a middle school girl.  During the course of the conversation, I asked her why she looked so tired.  She told me it was exam month and that every night she would study until 2am.  She would then get up at 6.30am and leave the house at 7.20am to walk the 40 minutes to school with her friends because it was the only free time she would have in the day.  I asked her if, after the exams, she would have time to relax and rest and she replied no because she was then going to prepare for high school. I also asked her about her hobbies and she told me that she effectively doesn’t have time for hobbies because she’s expected to study so much. 

This got me thinking to my life, in Ireland, at her age.  I would go to school from 9am to 4pm.  Go home, study for a few hours and go to bed.  I would also play music and sports and enjoy regular social activities even in the dreaded “exam month”. My parents forced upon us the belief that you don’t always have to get 100%, as long as you can stand by your work and say that you gave it your best, then that was the most important thing.

What that student described to me was the life of a regular middle school student in Korea.  Expected to study so hard for so long that she has been denied the opportunity for hobbies.  It’s not surprising that suicide is the leading cause of death among the young people in Korea.  They are simply following what society expects them to be, not what they truly are.  Korea is a country that prides itself on the academic achievements of its young people.  There is nothing wrong with this, it’s the sacrifices it makes to achieve those results that’s wrong. 

Education in Korea is a factory like machine.  Everyone does the same thing, are expected to produce the same high results and anything outside of those high results are disregarded as substandard materials. It’s not just a middle school problem.  This mindset starts as early as kindergarten.  The 7 year olds at my school are expected to complete an English exam at the end of term.  Our school is not an English academy, it’s a Korean playschool with English as a subject.  We do mock exams to prepare and it’s gotten to the point where I can only give the results to the teacher because the competition was so high among the students. It wasn’t just the competition, it was the fact that the students who got lower scores, even though they passed, would be looked down on by the higher achievers.   

What should also be considered is what the Koreans actually call “education”. Students are only encouraged to memorize and repeat.  No form of understanding or independent thought is necessary, just remember this and it’s all fine.  There is no room for creativity or critical thinking.  Twenty hours of studying wouldn’t be necessary if it was quality study that was occurring.  Native teachers will tell you that students in Korea, although they study, score very poorly on comprehension and even worse on open questions.  We should also look to the relationship between teacher and pupil in Korea.  Although students show a great ability, Korean teachers quite often don’t trust the students enough to independently answer a question.  Instead they spoon feed the answers to them.  The lack of trust in this critical relationship is what makes the learning environment uncomfortable and stressful.

A few weeks ago I watched a TED talk by Sir.Ken Richardson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9LelXa3U_I). What I took from this speech is that education systems dislocate us from our natural talents.  This happens worldwide and is not just a problem isolated to Korea. But I feel Korea could learn a lot from transforming their education system.  To say “reform” here would not help because it would be a case of same same but different.  In fact, I really wonder if transforming the education system would do anything to transform the mindset of the Korean people.  People here expect the great results and fantastic achievements because it’s what they’ve grown with, it’s the only thing they know. 

But it’s not working.  In 2012, students and young people should be encouraged to be more than what society simply expects them to be.  I saw a clip from a documentary recently on the pressures faced by high school students in Korea http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5GvkcjszLk.

I’m sure the problem of industrial like education is not Korea’s alone.  No education system is perfect.  What Korea needs to understand and appreciate though is that all students are not Einsteins.  Each has their own talent and ability and we, as a nation must start encouraging our young people to foster and develop those talents, alongside a healthy education.