Saturday, October 09, 2004

speech errors and teacher evaluations

I can recite them in my sleep at this point, the most common speech errors made by Korean speakers:

ee/ih (as in "beat" versus "bit")
dropping/adding/confusing articles
dropping/adding/confusing prepositions
years vs. ears (I often hear "three ears ago")
"ood" instead of "wood"
adding a subtle "euh" to final consonants: "oodeuh" instead of "would"

Whatever the faults of EC's methodology, the daily routine is turning us all into speech therapists... or maybe dialect coaches is a more accurate description of what we do.

In other news:

October marks my third month on split shift. I'll be changing over to block shift come November. This means I'm being evaluated, both by my students and by my Korean partner teachers. At EC, most expat teachers have only one partner, but I have two. According to F, an expat from New Zealand, it's unlikely I'll ever get any feedback about my performance. The Korean teachers are also being evaluated by the students (we expats aren't asked to evaluate anyone), as I heard from H, one of the Korean teachers. She and I talked for a couple minutes earlier in the day. She asked me what I thought of the job so far, and I told her I liked my students, liked my co-workers, but hated the schedule and didn't completely agree with the teaching methodology.

H said she also liked her students, but apparently some of them were critical of her, despite appearing before her with smiling faces. This is a heads-up for me: it means my Korean partners will have access to similar info about themselves, and probably about me as well. I'm not sure how much to care. I told H not to worry about her students' critiques; I've survived student complaints at previous jobs and know that you can't please everybody. I also know that many of these students don't know what's good for them and will therefore make skewed evaluations based on their own ignorance.

One such area of contention is the "don't ever speak Korean during class" rule, which supposedly applies both to Korean and expat teachers (it's a popular rule at most hagwons). The idea is that a class that's 100% in the target language is better than one that's, say, 90-95% in the target language. A Korean student who feels s/he has recourse to Korean might be tempted to slack off and ask the teacher questions in Korean instead of in English.

We talked about this in one of my linguistics classes back in undergrad. The fact is that, in a low-level foreign language learning environment, one can afford to sneak in a little of the learner's native language if the student is having too much trouble understanding a point (I'd be very hesitant to do this at a high level). Over-long explanations can be a time-wasting nuisance, and it simply isn't true that a student who "wrestles with a point" for a long time will have somehow "earned" and therefore "internalized" the point more thoroughly than a student who gets the information in translation. Students vary in their learning styles; no single rule applies equally to all students. There's no guarantee that struggle always produces learning.

When it comes to language, there's a basic distinction made between "acquisition" and "learning." Acquisition is more a process of absorption and osmosis; it's what a baby is doing (for example) during its first year as it builds up to finally uttering its first word. Learning is more of a conscious, or even self-conscious, process. The two aren't completely distinct; one can bleed into the other, and language acquisition continues long after infancy.

It gets hairy when you start looking at the question of second language (or "L2" as it's called) acquisition/learning. Is the L2 acquired or learned? The assumption, for a very long time, has been the latter: L2 is largely learned. This assumption has been contested over the past half-century. The rise in popularity of communicative approaches, i.e., approaches stressing oral proficiency, with minimal verbiage wasted in the student's native language (L1), is based on the comparatively recent conviction that it's better to think of L2 as being acquired, not learned. In other words, if you throw enough language at a student, as would happen in an immersion environment, then eventually something's going to stick, and stick hard.

It's an effective philosophy if you're in an SL (second language) classroom situation as opposed to an FL (foreign language) situation: an SL student must continue to speak in the target language long after stepping out of the classroom (think of ESL students in most parts of America). But this doesn't work so well in an FL environment: the notion that one can use an acquisition-centered approach with students who come to class only two hours a week (as is the case with most EC students) is absurd. This means we teachers should, if able, resort to time-honored ways to inject the most information in the least amount of time. If that means occasionally using Korean in the classroom, then so be it.

But Korean students are brainwashed by the linguistic ideology that expat teachers should never utter a word of Korean, ever. And if they do, even if it's only a sentence, then they're speaking "too much Korean." Students will complain. I've been burned by this critique before, and it's a crock of shit. My classroom is always 99-100% English. I use Korean only as a last resort. Besides, my Korean simply isn't good enough for me to offer the student long and involved explanations of grammar and vocabulary points. My usual teaching devices are cartooning and Shatneresque acting. These strategies work fine in most cases.

So I anticipate receiving my share of complaints from students who'll magnify the unimportant to make it seem important, but if tonight is any indication, I'll also get my share of compliments: I teach a giggly group of four college girls; while filling out their forms, they were all saying nice things about me in Korean.

The purpose of the evaluation-- aside from determining whether any of us is teaching badly enough to deserve being fired-- is to see whether we merit raises. Some of this is dependent on student reactions, if I'm not mistaken, but a more important factor is what our partner teachers have to say about us. As I mentioned before, not all partner teachers are comfortable with this arrangement. Technically, they are our immediate superiors (this is how EC set it up: we expats get paid more and do less, but our Korean partners at least have a bit of authority over us), but these evaluations aren't conducive to a teamwork-friendly environment, and they know it. In my mind, I've already forgiven my partner teachers for checking "no" in the "Does he always wear his lab coat?" square (no joke: there is such a square). They're only doing their job, and it's not as though I've made a secret of my resistance to the lab coat.

As I said... I probably won't hear a peep about the results of my evaluation, unless my partners decide to divulge something. I'm not expecting a raise.


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