Tag Archives: ESL

Big Winners

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, my coteacher and I won 2nd place in the Korean national teaching competition at the end of last year. Last week we went to Seoul, with an entire fifth grade class in tow, to receive an award and demonstrate our concept class in front of hundreds of teachers and school administrators from around the country.

I didn’t realize just how big of a deal this competition was until we walked into the auditorium in which the ceremony and demonstrations were to take place. In fact, nobody even bothered to tell me that all of the hard work I did last year was for a competition. After the fifth time we demonstrated our concept class in front of a huge group of teachers, I asked why we were doing the same thing over and over. That’s when I learned we were heading to the semi-finals of the competition.

2013 Korean National Teaching Competition

My coteacher receiving the 2nd place award.

In the auditorium, there was a TV crew and a couple of news crews setting up on the stage an hour before the show. We set up a booth with information about our class and then sat down to watch the ceremony.

They called all of the teachers up to to the stage one-by-one. It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t going to be recognized for my hard work. I wish I could say that I didn’t mind, but the truth is that I was a little upset. As the only foreign teacher in the top ten, there was little doubt as to why I was snubbed. Despite being a little butt-hurt, I kept a smile on my face and did my best when it was our turn to perform.

After our demonstration, a man walked up to me and addressed me by name. In perfect English, he thanked me for my hard work and gave me a gift bag. I found out later that he some big shot from the Korean Ministry of Education.

Once we loaded all of the students onto the bus, I opened the gift bag. I was surprised to find a new camera – not the normal gift of snacks and hand cream.

Sony DSC-WX300 Digital Camera gift seoul Korea

It’s nice to know that somebody noticed and cared enough to let me know I was appreciated. This kind gesture made a huge difference in the way I felt about the whole event.

Until next time.


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Questions About Teaching and Visas

I received an email from Brian in Pennsylvania today. He asked some great questions about teaching in Korea. Brian is currently an undergraduate student who wants to teach biology in Korea. Though these questions are specific to Brian’s situation, the answers may be helpful to someone else.

Should I finish my bachelor’s in the USA, or should I drop everything now, and just go straight to Korea?

Do not drop out of a US university to study in Korea. A degree from a US university will be far more valuable in the US and in Korea than one from a Korean university. Despite the high rankings of Korea’s high school education system, their university rankings are surprisingly low. Here is an article with much more information.

Do I need a master’s or PhD [to teach middle or high school biology]? Can I just learn the language and teach with a bachelor’s?

The short answer here is that you cannot teach biology at a public middle or high school as a foreigner. If you become totally fluent in Korean and have a PhD, you may land a job as a subject teacher. Korean subject teachers have to take several very difficult tests to qualify to teach students (in Korean). There is an abundance of overqualified and underemployed Koreans in the workforce now, so there is no shortage of native Korean science teachers.

The only possible exception here would be teaching at an international high school. These positions are competitive, so you will need at least a master’s degree in biology, teaching experience, and a teaching license.

What are the steps in order to become a [biology] professor in Korea? Can I obtain my degrees in USA?

As I mentioned before, degrees from US universities are more desirable than from Korean universities. In order to teach biology at the university level, you will probably need a PhD. Foreigners are generally held to a higher standard than Korean professors. Even if you manage to land a job as a biology professor at a Korean university, getting tenure may be difficult. Foreign professors are generally paid less than Korean professors for the same job.

What visas are required? Is everything organized by your work?

Currently, you won’t be eligible for anything other than a student visa. Once you finish your bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible for an E-2 (English instructor) visa. You need to have an employer (sponsor) in order to apply, so they will help you. The process is a bit complicated, so here is a breakdown.

In order to live in Korea as a foreigner permanently, how does one do it?

If you’re a foreign-born Korean, then you can apply for an F-4 visa. I’m assuming that you’re not, so the process is different for you. The short answer is that you need to live and work in Korea for at least a year before you can even apply for an F-2 Long-Term Resident visa.

If you’re interested in living in Korea, but you don’t have a PhD, then becoming an English teacher is the best way to get your foot in the door. Once you arrive and earn enough points to qualify for an F-2 visa, then more doors may open for you. Unlike in the US, a qualified foreigner simply isn’t offered the same opportunities as a native Korean. Sadly, racial discrimination is part of the work culture and is completely legal in Korea.

In the mean time, Brian, I think your best bet is to at least finish your bachelor’s degree and study Korean as much as you can. The stronger your Korean ability when you arrive, the faster doors will open for you. Good luck to you!

Until next time.


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ESL Victory!

It took eight months, but I finally taught the unteachable kid!

Every day when I leave school, one of my third grade students is waiting outside for his mother. Every day, without fail, he greets me. He is a nice kid – always polite. We have the exact same conversation each time:

Student: Hello Taft Teacher. How are you?
Me: I’m good, thanks. How are you?
Student: I’m fine. Where are you going.
Me: I’m going home. See you tomorrow.
Student: Goodbye. Nice to meet you.
Me: No….it’s “good to SEE you.”
Student: Good to SEE you, too.
Me: ….no….you say “good to SEE you.”
Student: Yes. Good to SEE you too,
Me: ….Okay, goodbye.

President Bush is confused. Language, ESL

Every time we had this conversation, I felt exactly like this…

Recently, I realized that my Korean is getting good enough to explain it in Korean for him. About two weeks ago, I gave it a shot. After, I asked if he understood, and he said yes.

The following day, we had the same conversation as always. Apparently he didn’t understand my Korean, or he totally forgot about the conversation. I was frustrated, as you might imagine.

ESL, frustrating, angry baby, frustrated baby

ESL can be this frustrating every day.

Every day, for the next week or two, I explained it to him in English and Korean. I was pretty sure that it was all going in one ear and out the other, until today. After lunch, I saw him in the hall, and he spoke to me. At the end of the conversation, he said, “Okay teacher. Good to…..uhhh….SEE YOU!”

I almost cried. I finally taught something to the unteachable kid. I might even be good at this one day.

Until next time.


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The Price is Right – ESL Game

I think I found the best elementary ESL game ever. My 4th grade students are learning about American money, so I made a simple PowerPoint game based on The Price is Right. I thought that some of the kids might enjoy it, but I totally underestimated just how much they would freak over this game. I also had no clue how fun it would be for me.

It’s simple – I show the whole class an item, each team guesses the price, they write their guess on a hand-held whiteboard, and the team with the closest guess to the actual price gets a point.

ESL Game, Elementary school, Korea, fun, English

American dollars is a new concept to these kids, so it was a struggle at first to teach them how to write amounts. This was meant to be 70 cents.

It took one or two turns for the kids to get a handle on the game. Then, they went nuts! The teams usually collude or openly share answers during other games, but they were deadly serious about keeping their guess a secret from the other teams.

I gave each team 30 seconds to make a guess each round. I had a great time walking around and eavesdropping on the teams. Some of the teams surprised me by giving intelligent reasons for their guesses. Others were so far off I couldn’t help but laugh.

When I showed a large Domino’s pizza, I heard: “Only fifteen dollars? Americans are rich. They only eat expensive pizza. How many dollars is 60,000 won?” (That’s $55…so they lost that round).

ESL Game, Elementary school, Korea, fun, English

This team was guessing the price of a Gap t-shirt. They lost, too.

This game was great for two reasons. First, it forced them to use English – I made each team read their guess aloud. Secondly, some of the kids who don’t excel in English were good at guessing prices. A few of the super-shy kids came out of their shells for a while.

ESL Game, Elementary school, Korea, fun, English

The only time the class got quiet during this game was before I revealed the real price of each item.

So, if you’re a teacher (ESL or otherwise) on the lookout for a fun game, this is a great option. It could work well for any level of ESL teaching and would probably be a great game for western elementary students.

If you would like me to send you the PowerPoint, feel free contact me and I’ll send a link to download it.

Until next time.


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Teaching ESL is Difficult!

This Thursday is Chuseok, which is arguably the most important holiday in Korea. Some westerners like to think of it as Korean Thanksgiving, because it is a harvest celebration. Because of the two-day work week, I was totally confused about my schedule yesterday. At the end of the day, when I was preparing to go home, a bunch of kids showed up for an after school class for which I was totally unprepared.

When I don’t have a lesson plan, I generally go to the computer and use a great website called Barry Fun English. They have lots of great ESL games that the kids love.

ESL website, English, fun, teaching

This is the home screen for Barry Fun English. It’s a great ESL program. (Not a paid ad – my honest opinion)


Unfortunately, the computer in my classroom was dead. This isn’t the end of the world., though I decided to take advantage of the fact that the kids are excited about Chuseok.

We began comparing Chuseok and Thanksgiving. I made a column for each on the board and we listed their similarities and differences. Everything was running smoothly until I wrote “Mashed Potatoes and Gravy”.

As soon as I turned around, a hand shot up. “Teacher, what is gray-bee?”

“Well, gravy is…..”

How the hell do you explain gravy? Especially to someone without a point of reference? No computer means no pictures. They don’t all understand words like “thick” and “stock”. I was stumped. I managed to get through it, but it took some time.

So, Southerner Abroad readers, how would you explain gravy to a bunch of Korean who have no clue what you’re talking about? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Until next time.


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