Monday, December 31, 2012

Ave, Metro!

Mike Hurt, a.k.a. the Metropolitician, writes a post in which he embeds a YouTube video by documentarian and portraitist Juanita Hong, a Komerican living and teaching English in South Korea. Hong's short film, less than ten minutes long, explores the relationship between a standardized English test like TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) and actual oral proficiency.

What she discovers is Korea's huge, shameful, open secret: students might spend years studying for the TOEIC, and might take and re-take the test literally dozens of times, but after all that study, they neither speak English very well nor are required to use English in the office-- this despite the ad nauseam refrain that English is the gold standard for international business.

Perhaps most telling was the part of the documentary in which Hong interviewed foreign teachers about the TOEIC, only to discover that most of them had little to no idea what the test was. When Hong then asked the Korean faculty members why no foreign teachers were teaching to the test, one teacher replied that this was because the foreigners had no idea how to teach TOEIC strategy.

Upshot: none of this is about linguistic competence; it's only about how to beat a certain test, and despite all the training and strategizing and overstuffed cattle-car classrooms, success at the TOEIC still isn't guaranteed-- mainly because of those damn productive (speaking and writing) components.

Having worked at hagwons and universities, I can say that I've lived this situation. English-teaching faculty members are divided into two major camps: the Korean-speakers who will be, ironically, teaching English in Korean (probably teaching toward standardized tests), and the native English speakers who, through teaching conversation and basic writing skills, will strive to undo the damage-- done by the Korean faculty-- by teaching English through more natural, organic approaches. It's an unhealthy dynamic, and runs counter, again ironically, to any Korean business-model notions of intradepartmental shineoji (i.e., synergy).

Go visit Mike's post here and watch Juanita Hong's documentary. If you're an old Korea hand, you won't learn anything new (as I said, this sad state of affairs is an open secret), but you'll still appreciate how Hong constructs her argument, and it may be that some of the things the teachers and students say will surprise you.


1 comment:

Charles said...

Add to all that the fact that the TOEIC has little real-world relevance outside Korea. The TOEFL, at least, can help you get into a US university, but a TOEIC score is pretty much useless.

Like you said, old news, but an interesting video.

(Where the TOEIC dude says, "이게 참 그래요," though, I wouldn't have translated that as "it's really unfair." He's not talking about fairness--he's admitting that it's all a bit absurd.)