Ask the English teacher living in a foreign country

Erm… As my post count attests, I’m more of a lurker than a poster, but I noticed in the “What “Ask the__” threads would you like to see?” thread that a couple posters expressed interest in a topic like this one. So I’ve obligingly crawled out of my hidey-hole.

My experience is not a typical one. While I’m techincally Korean, and have been living here for the past ten years, I was brought up in the US and still consider it my home. I’ve work in numerous English schools for the past five years, all here in Seoul. Right now I work at one of the bigger ones, the kind that has branches and franchises all over the country. I’m quitting this month and moving to Chicago. It’s been a fun … and lucrative … experience, but not something I particularly want to spend more time on.

So, fire away.

Do you have formal teaching training? Do you have a degree that’s specifically linked to “good use of English”? (English lit, linguistics)

Do you teach ESL or “English Conversation”?

Are there the big chains of McSchools like Nova, Aeon and Gaba in Korea like there are in Japan?

p.s. no hostility intended toward ‘English Conversation’ teaching. I did it myself for several years.

Have the Koreans tried to draft you?

No formal teaching training. ESL teachers in Korea who have actual ESL training (like a TESOL certificate, for example) are few and far between. The most formal training I’ve had was at the place I work at now - new teachers are required to take a week of training and then take a series of tests at the end, including a mock teaching session. That’s pretty intense; most schools don’t care as long as you have the equivalent of a BA degree.

I did get a degree in English literature, but to be honest, it doesn’t really help in teaching ESL. Although it’s probably more help than a business degree, I suppose. At the very least I feel comfortable when it comes to teaching reading comprehension and the like.

Actually, now that I think about it, I could field some of these questions as well.

Taught English conversation (‘real-world’ usage for folks who had studied or were currently studying English grammar and vocabulary in school) in rural and urban Japan for about 3-4 years altogether. No special degrees or certification, just a BA in history. Enjoyed it, liked the students, made good money.

I teach both, I suppose. With adults it’s mostly conversation - i.e., chatting in English. I’d usually use a workbook that would supply a series of easy essays on controversial subjects (and let me tell you, those essays are so poorly written that they aren’t fit to wipe your ass with - but that’s a different story). We’d just chat, and I’d correct their pronunciation and grammar mistakes. Pretty easy money.

With kids, it’s ESL. It’s more work - we actually have to prep for class - and more structured, which can be good or bad depending on your teaching style. I prefer some kind of structure; with free conversation, most of the time I have to wonder if my students are actually learning anything.

I’ve never heard of the McSchools. I think most of the Korean English schools are based here in Seoul.

I have been thinking about doing some English tutoring on the side here. Did you have lesson plans or did you just get together with the students and sort of…chat? I don’t have any training in teaching, just a bachelor’s in philosophy. Thanks!

They’re not partial to women in the Korean army, I’m afraid. :slight_smile: Plus I’m such a banana I’d probably be considered a risk to national security or something.

If it keeps you from assuring your students that a double negative is perfectly kosher, it’s doing better than the civil engineering degree one of my “native teachers” had :stuck_out_tongue: :slight_smile:

Actually, most Korean Americans who’ve gone through middle/high school in Korea have a better grasp of grammar than people who haven’t. One of our tests after training was a grammar test - most of the people from abroad failed their first one. :slight_smile:

It depends on the students, but usually with bigger groups (more than 4 students or so) it’s better to have a lesson so everyone has a chance to talk. Smaller groups or individuals are usually ok for free conversation, unless their level is really low. For some groups we’d pick a news topic or bring in an article to discuss together, and this would usually lead to side topics that ate up the hour pretty quickly. Some students are shy about talking at first, so for the first few lessons you may need to always have a few topics ready to get people talking.

Heh, a banana. I learned the expression as being a Twinkie.

My questions:
How quick are the Koreans to learn English? Has teaching been a joy, or has it been a nightmare? Have you found it rewarding?
Do you make a living wage?
We have a TEFL certification course available here in Boston. If I were to go through that and get certified, would that increase my chances of finding a job in Korea, or don’t the schools care about that sort of thing one way or the other?

and two additional questions which don’t have to do with teaching itself. Please feel free not to answer these if you don’t want to:

  1. Why did you quit?
  2. When you say “technically a Korean”, do you mean that you’re an ethnic Korean who speaks Korean as a second language?

I’m interested in this thread, because if I hadn’t gotten married and settled down after the army, I probably would have wound up teaching English in Korea myself. I don’t regret my decision a bit, but man I do miss Korea. Especially Seoul

Do you need a university (four-year) degree to teach English as a second language? Will any four-year degree do?

I have occasionally thought of going over to Japan and teaching English, but all the websites I’ve looked at stress that you need a university degree, and I only have an electronics technologist’s three-year diploma. This is in spite of the stories I keep hearing of English teachers who have degrees in, say, math, and can’t actually teach English at all…

Sorry about the delayed replies - it’s been a busy weekend. :slight_smile:

Children pick it up amazingly fast. At the place I currently work at, we’ve had kids move up 2, 3 levels in the course of a year. Considering that’s moving from simple stories written in present tense about birds flying home to longer stories using various tenses about murder mysteries and historical events, that’s quite some progress.
Adults are harder. Apart from the fact that they obviously have a slower learning rate, they are usually too afraid of making mistakes. Plus, unless they have a clear incentive (eg, they’re moving to the US soon, they have a foriegn girl/boyfriend) they also tend to get lazy.
As for the nightmare part, apart from the typical nightmares all teachers have to deal with (bitchy parents, unruly kids) the biggest problem I’ve had is with the administration part of English schools. Most of them are just out there to get rich and don’t really know anything about English and/or education. Plus, they’re mostly Korean, which makes for some unpleasant cultural clashes between the admin and the teaching staff.

I’ll post more later - must go to dinner.

That’s a good question, and one which I can’t answer. The degree requirement is for the visa, rather than the job itself, though many schools have their own requirements. You could ask at the nearest Japanese embassy/consulate, and just tell them “I have a degree from School X. Is that good enough for a company to sponsor me for a Jinbun-chishiki / Kokusai-gyoumu* visa?” Or you could talk to a school there and ask them if your degree qualifies. To the best of my knowledge, they’re not actually that picky about where you went to school, they just don’t want people coming over straight out of high school, or for companies to use it as a loophole to hire cheap factory labor.

*Specialist in Humanities / Interntional Service visa, which is the standard visa for English teachers. It covers just about any work that requires someone who can speak a foreign language.

You could also look into a Working Holiday visa, since I believe Canada and Japan have an agreement worked out. The consulate would have details on age and degree requirements, though I think they’re less stringent than the Jinbun-etc. visa.

Also, there’s the wink-wink, nudge-nudge approach. A lot of teachers first go on a 90-day tourist visa and get a job with a school that will then begin applying to sponsor a work visa for them. When the work visa is ready, they make a quick trip to Korea or Guam to pick it up at the local Japanese consulate, then come back to begin working officially. It’s illegal and if you’re caught you’ll be barred from entering Japan again for several years, but it’s a low priority for immigration and everyone pretty much gives it a nod and a wink. The school knows of your status, obviously, but don’t go blabbing it to everyone. And when the customs guy at the airport looks at your new work visa and asks what you were doing during your previous three months in Japan, don’t smile and say “teaching!” like one dope I knew. Bzzt. Wrong answer, back on the plane and try again in five years.

I live with my parents (like any good little unmarried Korean girl) so I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question. Since I don’t have to pay living costs, with what I’m earning right now I can afford to live rather decadently and still have some left over for savings.

My coworkers live by themselves (or with roommates), and they are making enough to pay for living costs in Seoul with enough left over to have fun and pay off their college debts at the same time. And they earn less than I do. The place I work at has an hourly wage of 25-30 USD, which is pretty high for a large-scale language institution. Some places have salaries instead, which tend to be lower overall, but they usually pay for your plane ticket and give you a place to stay.

Tutoring usually pays 30-50 USD an hour, depending on the neighborhood and kind of tutoring.

TEFL will definitely give you an edge if you’re looking for a job in the public sector, but the Korean mentality puts more value on superficial things. Case in point: at one school, they had two candidates for a teaching position - a Berkerley graduate who said she wanted to be a teacher in the future, and an experienced ESL teacher with a TESOL certificate. The latter was of Arab descent. The school chose the first teacher. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the director is a racist; it’s more that Korean people, in general, are racist and having a teacher who is not white nor Korean would definitely make many parents and students uneasy.

I’m moving to Chicago this September to start my MA at UChicago, which is why I’m quitting this month. It was never my intention to continue this work for very long. I enjoy teaching up to a certain extent, but to be perfectly honest the main reason I teach English in Korea is because it pays extremely well.

And yes to #2. I was born in Korea, but I went to the US when I was 6 months old and lived there till I was 13. My family moved to Korea 11 years ago. When it comes to speaking, I’m pretty much fluent in both English and Korean, but even after all these years I still feel more comfortable with English.

I’m sure I’ll miss it after I leave, but at this point I cannot WAIT to get out of here. So many things about Korea really piss me off, but that’s another story. :slight_smile:

A little more ranting about the nightmarish part of teaching English here, if I may -

I’ve already mentioned cultural clashes between the admin and the foreign teachers. For example, if the directors ask the teachers to do something a little extra, like stay an extra 30 minutes and help kids out with their homework, or come in a bit early and make a recording of the text we’ll be teaching, the teachers expect to be paid overtime, while the admin considers it a kind of obligation, all a part of being good teachers. At my school, we’ve had arguments over teachers sitting on desks during class (“It’s unprofessional!” cry the directors. “YOU try being on your feet for 3 hours straight!” snarl the teachers) as well as dress code (“The students won’t respect you as much!” “They don’t notice stuff like that - it’s only YOU guys that do!”). The list goes on.

I HATE these clashes, because I inevitably end up stuck in the middle. The admin expect me to be on their side because I’m Korean. They play the “damn foreigners, Koreans have to look out for each other” card. At times like those, I honestly want to sever my veins and drain all the Korean blood from my body, if it meant I could stop being Korean. The teachers, on the other hand, assume I’m on their side because I, after all, am a teacher as well. Which I am, most of the time, but sometimes the directors do have a point. Regarding the whole dress code issue - Korean students do pay a LOT of attention to how their teachers look. They are much more ready to respect a teacher in a suit than a teacher in jeans. It’s wrong, but that’s just how it is.

Then again, some directors are just dicks who do everything they can to try and take advantage of their teachers. I’ve heard of schools that fire their teachers on flimsy pretexts just before their contract expires, so they won’t have to pay severance fees. The teachers are pretty much screwed if this happens - Koreans aren’t really open to foreigners complaining about their employers. Fortunately, these incidents are few and far between.

I just want to say that this isn’t illegal in Korea. This is pretty much how everyone gets their E-2 visa here - come here on a tourist visa, then do a “visa run” to China or Japan. FYI. :slight_smile:

I taught ESL for 14 years in Europe. It sounds like you work at Berliz, and if you do, my deepest sympathies. They are notorious for being one of the worst places to work as a teacher.

As it has been a long time since I taught, I have a few questions:

  1. Are British textbooks still predominant in ESL schools? I know when I was teaching, trying to find an American ESL textbook was almost impossible.

  2. Do students prefer American or British teachers? (Most of the Germans I taught preferred having an American teacher as they were all travelling to the USA or doing business there. Also, in my experience, American teachers were usually a lot more fun in the classroom - although there were a few exceptions.)

  3. The Internet must be the biggest blessing an ESL teacher could have ever hoped to have. It was not around when I was teaching. Do you use the Internet in class, or use it to get supplementary materials?