Monday, November 10, 2014

"The truth and falsity of native speaking instructors"

On November 1, the Segye Ilbo published the following article at its website:
[Kim Hyun-ju's everyday talk talk] Do you know 'Quincy Black'?
The truth and falsity of native speaking instructors

The foreign English instructor who spread a video of sex with a Korean high school girl known in online communities and social networking services as 'Quincy Black' was sentenced to jail. According to police, English instructor C (29, American) was arrested and prosecuted for videoing sex with A (then 15), who he met on the internet, in his lodgings at the education center he worked at and distributing the video.

C used three cameras that he had installed in his lodgings in advance as well as a handheld camera to record the sexual activity from various angles and afterwards saved the file on his computer and a memory stick.

He had entered Korea in May of 2009 on an E2 conversation instruction visa and worked as an English instructor at an education center in Daejeon before leaving for China in October of 2010. After this he was put on Interpol's wanted list and last October he was arrested by police in Armenia.

Immediately after being informed of his arrest, the Ministry of Justice began the extradition process and he was extradited to Korea in January of this year.

Incidents due to cultural differences occur repeatedly

Recently universities which have hired native speaking instructors to take charge of foreign language education, such as English conversation, have had deep worries. It's not just the difficulties that come with looking for dozens of native speaking instructors to hire each semester, it's also that it's not easy to strictly screen their qualifications. As well, the fact is that every year incidents caused by cultural differences occur repeatedly.

According to a business in the relevant industry, native speaking instructors are hired in the short term for one semester, or in the longer term on a one-year contract in the position of 'instructor.' Because the contract should be for one year, there are also not a few instructors who suddenly return to their home countries in the middle of the semester or who finish teaching and then from the next day leave for a vacation. Because of this there are almost no native speaking teachers who give their students time to appeal their marks or consult with them.

'August 3, 10:00 - My sex toy.'

Not only this, but disputes over qualifications are endless. At a university in Busan an English instructor who entered the country on a tourist visa was caught teaching. At that time, following the disturbance, the local immigration office carried out an investigation into local universities.

As well, it's not just university instructors, but there was also an incident involving a native speaking instructor affiliated with a hagwon who was booked without detention by police for chasing after women and videoing them, focusing on their legs and buttocks. Videoing in public places such as subways, over a period of two weeks he took a staggering 306 videos of the lower halves of women's bodies.

An expert pointed out that, "Because English conversation instructors who teach in hagwons could also apply to work at universities at any time, there is a need for a management system to verify their qualifications."

◆ Verifying native speaking teacher's morality isn't easy

Despite such disputes over qualifications that are occurring both in and out of universities, for universities a personnel management system that can verify their qualifications and guarantee the quality of education is almost non-existent. Most universities hire by placing ads on native speaking instructor hiring websites or through introductions from friends. Depending on the situation, they will try to scout people who have a good reputation in area elementary or middle schools or hagwons. At that time, more than experience, 'verification of qualifications' such as the instructor's morality or job performance is given more weight.

An official from a national university outside Seoul said, "By choosing people with a good reputation among foreigners who are already teaching in another place, you can reduce the risk." "Choose someone with at least a Bachelors Degree and TESOL (English teacher certificate)." He added, "To prevent scandalous incidents with female students, choose female instructors."

However universities are frustrated because they have no other method than to use a passport in place of a background check into native speaking instructors' degree, qualifications or criminal record. It's no different with instructors who have been confirmed to have taught at schools or hagwons. This is because there is no way to confirm via their passport whether they have committed crimes in their home country.

◆ Things to consider when hiring native speaking instructors

Representatives of regular schools or hagwons perceive two categories of foreign instructors. There are those whose priority is earning money to travel, and a great many of the foreign instructors outside Seoul belong in this category. It is hard to find instructors who find teaching meaningful, as well as those with ability to teach.

To young people from Canada and the US, particularly those without jobs, Korea is a very attractive country.  With the rapid increase in English hagwons and the sharp rise in demand for native speaking instructors, the knowledge that they can easily earn money while lacking qualifications has spread.

A representative from the business advised, "You must look at things like what qualifications they have, what their character is like, and what their attitude toward work is." "What and how they teach is good to inquire after as well."

Reporter Kim Hyun-ju
If you think this article is written by someone who needed to fill some space online who dug up a four-month-old story ('Quincy Black' being sentenced to prison) and decided to write a 'foreign teachers are bad' article based on her own faulty knowledge and tried to hide this by citing unnamed sources, you're probably right. Just how lazy was our author? She couldn't even spell 'Quincy Black's name correctly in the title, writing '흑퀀시' (instead of heuk [black] kuinsi, the headline says heuk kwonsi), which is just plain lazy. Plus, she writes in the third-last paragraph that "Representatives of regular schools or hagwons perceive two categories of foreign instructors," but then only describes one such category. She also writes some howlers, such as saying that universities scout talent from area elementary schools and hagwons, or that "universities are frustrated because they have no other method than to use a passport in place of a background check." She also, in that sentence (in the original article), mistranslates 여권 as 'visa' rather than passport.

The final photo is recycled from a July 9, 2006 Segye Ilbo article written by a reader (who lived not far from me, and who claimed native speaking teachers usually make 4-5 million won per month) titled "It’s urgent that measures be prepared for unqualified native speaking English teachers." I have no idea where the other photos come from, but judging from the collection of either screen shots from the videos or photos from his room seen in the photo below, they may not be from 'Quincy Black's videos at all. (The photo is from the Daejeon city journal, and shows Daejeon Dong-gu council's probe into the videos in November 2010.)

It's 'nice' to see that the 'foreign English teachers are a problem' trope is still an attractive one for journalists in a hurry.

(Thanks to Ami for help with the translation.)


godspace said...

I have two master's degrees and an F-5 and I can't even get a job at a university because they recently put laws into effect requiring 2 years teaching experience at uni level to even pass the initial application process. They got rid of the points system, apparently. Despite the fact that master's students aren't always allowed to have TA positions in their grad work, or can be hired at community college level if their field isn't applicable. Now, guess who's having trouble finding teachers? Yeah, put a hiring freeze on instructors and see how fast pay raises become an issue, along with attrition rates. This article is just plain stupid. Korea enrages me, and I'm glad I'll be leaving soon.

4e9c7fba-6954-11e4-baf7-8f3feece48b5 said...

So what is that first photo censoring? I'm baffled.

Ben said...

The "native speaker" project as it was conceived of in the 90s was supposed somehow to acquire (through osmosis almost if you read some of the early theories) the “natives’” English ability and thereby to advance Korea's financial well-being and its global status.

The enthusiasm with which the most clichéd version of what critical applied linguists decried as “Native Speakerism,” was embraced “by Koreans for their own purposes” is rarely discussed.

Yet it bears repeating that the entire country “play[ed] an active role in the circulation of the ideology of the native English speaker as the ideal teacher [with both] the government and its citizens actively subscrib[ing] and contribut[ing] to the further circulation of the ideology.”

It was Koreans students (not supercilious native speakers) who mocked their Korean English teachers for pronouncing words like “shopping” as “show-ping” and Korean education officials who fired them for it.

It was Korean parents who demanded that Korean teachers sounded like “native English speakers” because of Korean “experts” who kept telling them that mimicking the pronunciation of native speakers was so essential.

It was the Korean government (not Anglo-American imperialists) who took the pronunciation of the word “orange” so seriously that plans were put in place to alter its traditional Korean spelling (as well as the traditional spellings of other Korean words) in order “for Koreans to pronounce English words like native speakers”.

And it was the Korean president who set about plans "to hire 23,000 new English teachers by 2013 and inject some four trillion won (US$4.2 billion) into English education over the next five years.".

Ben said...

The belief that English ability was all that was required to amass global wealth and status was frequently reinforced by the Korean president and his team who would go out of their way to tell Koreans that countries "using English are richer than other nations” and that “like it or not, national competitiveness is directly related to English.” And yet, not surprisingly, the whole misguided project failed miserably.

Collectively Koreans have spent billions of dollars trying to acquire English -- more than anyone in the world. “One would expect that spending so much time and money on English language should make Koreans highly proficient in English,” explains the Samsung Economic Research Institute’s report on the “Economics of English,” nevertheless, the report continues, that simply is “[n]ot so.” An oft cited article by a Korean academic, entitled “‘English fever’ in South Korea," tells the same story of “‘high-cost and low efficiency’ in the English education of Koreans.” Indeed, when it comes to English education in Korea, the tale of failure, disappointment, and the sufferings of the Korean people (especially of the children) is all too well known.

King Baeksu said...

Well, there are two basic problems with TEFL in Korea, the way I see it:

1. The problem is not so much the pronunciation of Korean English teachers as it is the dominant approach of "teach to the test" and teacher-centered "learning" on the southern half of the Peninsula. In contrast, see here for how English is taught in the provincial North:

2. The great majority of so-called native English "teachers" brought over to work in both the public and private sectors have little actual training or experience; at the moment I am teaching in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the scene here is vastly more professional and cosmopolitan. I seriously doubt 90% of first-time native English "teachers" in South Korea would even get an interview chance in this part of the world, let alone secure actual positions.

It's all fine and well to critique "Western imperialism," but until South Korea gets serious about actually teaching English to its citizenry, 'tis but a side issue in my opinion.

Chris Jenks said...

@ King Baeksu - The way Korea approaches ELT does not take away from the fact that "Western" imperialistic forces exist in Korea. It's not a side issue, but central to why Koreans believe English must be acquired.

Chris Jenks said...


Your orange example is very interesting and certainly warrants further thought about the state of ELT in Korea. One should not, however, forget that imperial (and colonial) forces create social structures that shape the perceptions, actions, and practices of a nation/region (cf. Hong Kong). Yes, Korean students may mock their Korean English teachers, and thus actively take part in native speakerism, but why does this discourse exist in the first place?

King Baeksu said...

"Yes, Korean students may mock their Korean English teachers, and thus actively take part in native speakerism, but why does this discourse exist in the first place?"

Most Korean students I spoke with at my last university job in Korea said their Korean English-language professors were boring as fuck. I asked them what percentage of the time their Korean professors talked during class when "teaching EFL" and the average was 70-80% of the time, much of it in Korean to boot.

And at my last interview at a Korean university in Busan, one of the Korean professors on the hiring committee started an argument with me after I made the obvious statement that "good English is clear." She insisted at length that that was a wrong-headed claim and that "good English is ambiguous." George Orwell and Strunk & White would have had quite the chuckle at that.

These people have not idea what the fuck they're doing.

Chris Jenks said...

Dayum, sorry to hear about your unfortunate interview experience. Yes, I agree, many people should not be in the profession. It's a shame that Korean teachers are still talking their asses off in class... Could be a result of their insecurities with the language, or for some, a way to show off their excellent English.

Ben said...

What is less known is that it could have worked out just fine – in fact, had already worked out in the case of Peace Corps English teachers that taught in Korea throughout the 70s.

That model was so successful and the experience so significant that it overshot its mark of just providing English educators and many of these early foreign English teachers went on to become scholars, businesspeople and diplomats with lifelong interests in the country and its people. The list of former Peace Corps English teachers in Korea who went on to forge important connections with the country throughout their careers is impressive – the most visible example being Kathleen Stevens, US ambassador to Korea 2008-2011. In ’75-’77, when she was working as a native speaker in south Chungcheong, Stevens was known to her Korean students as Sim Eungyeong (심은경).

Embracing the “ambassador” model for native speakers was not an idea lost on quick thinking Koreans. An opinion piece in the Jeju Ilbo, for example, wisely advocates for a “new way” of seeing native speakers “as more than simply ‘foreigners who teach English,’ but as lifelong ‘ambassadors’” to the country. The author concludes by saying that “on Jeju-do, the buds of the ‘second Sim Eun-gyeongs’ are blooming” if only Koreans are willing to tend to them.

Chris Jenks said...

Thanks for the reply Ben. Yes, things were better back then when teachers appeared to have more of an interest in (contributing to) Korean society/culture. I feel this is less so now, but perhaps it's partly because there are a lot more teachers. The Korean government can, and should, do more to improve the ways in which teachers get recruited, hired, and managed...

King Baeksu said...

"The Korean government can, and should, do more to improve the ways in which teachers get recruited, hired, and managed."

You mean like more meaningless hoops to jump through to secure a visa -- except requiring actual qualifications to teach, of course?

Yeah, sure, we all know how well that's going to work.

In the meantime, let's throw some more red meat at the minjok and distract them with tales of evil, misbehaving foreigners sullying this pure and innocent land.

King Baeksu said...

Oh, and only the naive or disingenuous would deny that the Peace Corps program was itself implicated in numerous ways with the aforementioned "'Western' imperialistic forces [that] exist in Korea."

Chris Jenks said...

Hoops, yes, but not necessarily (or exclusively) ones that deal with visa issue. Employment contracts can, for example, require teachers to enroll in workshops/classes/seminars on, say TESOL, Korean language and culture, etc.

Good point re the Peace Corps (and any other previous 'visitor' / teacher), though it doesn't change the initial observation...

King Baeksu said...

"Employment contracts can, for example, require teachers to enroll in workshops/classes/seminars on, say TESOL, Korean language and culture, etc."

But that would cost money and cut in on Wonjangnim's weekly anma budget.

Like I said, they can either A) hire real, professional teachers or B) shut the fuck up and stop their endless whingeing.

King Baeksu said...

BTW, at my present school in Saudi Arabia, which is in the private sector, we are given at least two weeks of paid professional development over the course of the year, and last week an outside consultant with thirty-five years in the field came in for two days and conducted a TEFL workshop for which we were paid as well.

How often does that kind of thing happen in South Korea, especially at private language schools?

As for management, our Head Teacher is an Egyptian with an MA in Education from the US; the Principal is a Syrian with an MA in TESOL from Temple's Tokyo campus, and the HR Director is from Jordan. Our IT Specialist is Indian, various support staff are Pakistani, and the actual teachers are from the UK, South Africa and the US, most of them with MAs and years of prior teaching experience. There are also a number of Egyptians who have been Fulbright Teachers in the US and who teach some classes on the basics of English grammar and reading (they all speak better English than just about every Korean English-language professor I have ever met). And, of course, the students themselves are all Saudis.

Like I said, a vastly more professional and cosmopolitain scene here. (Can anyone, for example, imagine Koreans allowing non-Koreans into the upper echelons of management?). And the students actually like to talk in English and are pretty much fluent by the time we're done with them. Imagine that!

Chris Jenks said...

yes, a far cry from the current situation in Korea

King Baeksu said...

Finally, in terms of job performance, all teachers are regularly observed by outside assessors who are, it goes without saying, qualified professionals. None of this Mickey Mouse bothering with student evaluations as the sole means by which native teachers are assessed in the classroom (pretty much standard practice at all Korean universities, for example).

It is well understood by management here that young learners barely out of high school are not educational experts and therefore are not qualified to judge our performance in the classroom. In Korea, on the other hand, most Korean professors are simply too lazy to observe and assess native instructors' classes themselves, and too cheap to pay outsider experts to do the job for them. So the whims of 19-year-old Korean students with no outside experience of the world can make or break the careers of native English-language instructors in Korea; either that, or student evaluations can be used as a weapon against native English instructors whom Korean management find in sufficiently docile or obsequious. Just mind your "place" and don't get too "upiity," y'all!

The bottom line is that the bottom line is all that most Koreans really care about, although ethnic pride and defensive nationalism often come in a very close second. The results of such a mindset are plain as day to anyone with their eyes open.

Chris Jenks said...

I agree with this 100%:

"...high school are not educational experts and therefore are not qualified to judge our performance in the classroom."

I would also add that undergraduates are also not qualified to give such evaluations.

Mind you, what you describe is how most US (and UK) universities conduct evaluations. Doesn't make it right, say saying...

King Baeksu said...

At least at most US and UK universities, students and professors are generally operating within a mutually shared Western paradigm.

When Korean undergraduates who have been educated under Korean-style teacher-centered learning their whole lives first encounter Western-style student-centered learning, it is often a shock and they have little frame of reference within which to judge or assess the latter. So they often apply teacher-centered learning standards to student-centered methods, which is sort of like judging a beer according to the standards of wine-tasting.

In a word, it's madness. But like I said, these evaluations are mostly used as a political instrument of control, with educational concerns quite secondary.

Ben said...

I’m not aware of any incidents where the Peace Corps in Korea were ever “implicated” in any alleged Western imperialist plots. There was the infamous postcard incident in Nigeria (1961), but I’m not aware of any similar accusations in Korea.

The Peace Corps volunteers in Korea were remarkably cognizant of their role and its relations to geopolitics. The Peace Corps Korea Newsletter “Yoboseyo!” from the winter of ’68 captures an interesting exchange between two English teachers Charles Goldberg and Bruce Cummings.

Cummings takes measure of Goldberg’s claim that the US is bent on “world domination” and speaks about the “cynics” who see the Peace Corps as an “outgrowth[] of the new emphasis on the ‘total’ picture of combat” sent in like the “Special Forces” so as “not to win battles only to lose the political spoils”. But says “it is mythical to think of our foreign policy as either ‘a quest for world domination,’ or wholly removed from that goal and solely humanitarian; [rather it is a] complex admixture of political, economic, and humanitarian goals”.

Cummings concludes his essay by reflecting on the future legacy of the Peace Corps Volunteers in Korea and wonders aloud whether the Peace Corps volunteers will one day “be in positions to encourage and effect policies quite different from the present policies of the U.S.” or whether “[w]ith careers and livelihoods at stake… will we settle down in the ‘real’ world our critics speak of?”

I think the record makes clear that many Peace Corps English teachers in Korea did go on to effect the kind of change they were hoping for in relations between the US and Korea. In 2012, Cummings mentions his experience in Korea as a transformative one: “I did go to South Korea in the Peace Corps [and it was that] experience that led me to devote my scholarship to Korea”. Goldberg felt the same way.

Ben said...

The JoongAng Daily has a good article here about the "Friends of Korea," a large group of "former Peace Corps volunteers and their families revisiting the country following an invitation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs".

King Baeksu said...

The Peace Corps program in South Korea ended in 1981, in a completely different era that bears little relation to today's hyperconnected, globalized world.

What Korea needs now is not "cultural ambassadors" who may or may not have the skills to teach English, but rather professional NETs who know what they're doing in the classroom, and who are actually respected and given classroom autonomy by their Korean colleagues. If they happen to be effective "cultural ambassadors" to boot, that is merely gravy.

For the moment, however, it would seem that the ROK's idea of "cultural ambassadorship" in the EFL classroom amounts to little more than importing thousands dancing monkeys and prancing clowns from overseas. They like it that way because happy-go-lucky monkeys and clowns are easily controlled -- as opposed to seasoned professionals who see through all the bullshit and aren't afraid to say so.

Ben said...

As I was saying, the task of providing Korean students with good foreign English teachers has never been that difficult. They did it with the Peace Corps and they did it again in 1992 with the Fullbright program for English teachers in Korea that was managed by Horace H. Underwood, scion of the Underwood family in Korea. (True, as Underwood explains, about 40% of the foreign teachers had to find new homestay arrangements “because of sexual harassment on the part of the school or homestay family,". but all-in-all the program was a success.)

As Underwood puts it: “Start with good people, train them well, pay attention, what's not to work?".

What was "not to work" was the birth of a political movement where it became popular to say that there was something inherently bad about the native speakers and therefore it wasn’t possible to find “good people”. Or, if it was possible to find them, it was very difficult and would require multiple verification procedures including blood and urine tests for HIV and drugs.

The same year a statement from the the Gyeonggi-do branch of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union also came out with a similar complaint about the very nature of native speakers. The union blamed two incidents of sexual assaults against Korean students by Korean teachers on “unchecked native speakers” whose "relatively free attitudes about sex" meant that assaults “could potentially occur at any time”. Politicians also claimed that “native speaking teachers are especially likely to be potential child molesters" backing union claims that sexual assaults “could potentially occur at any time” when native speakers were about.

Underwood points out that when the Korean government approached him on how to replicate the success of the Fullbright program with the English Program in Korea (EPIK) it was clear they were going to get everything wrong. “They just don't get it," remarked Underwood, "the political will to come up with the resources is not there" but they were going to go ahead and try to do it on the cheap anyway.

This approach suited the government just fine as all they needed was a dog and pony show to distract the Korean parents who’d been promised that a “native speaker in every school” would make “[e]ven just a graduate from high school . . . able to conduct a conversation in English”.

They just needed the natives to entertain the kids for the time being. Hopefully the natives would screw things up themselves and the whole mess could be blamed on them.

King Baeksu said...

Let's just get to the heart of the matter: Far too many Koreans just don't play well with non-Koreans. It's really that simple.

godspace said...

@ King Baeksu,

Perhaps your interview combatant was referring to this paper topic:

Kevin Jang said...

I get the whole sense based on the comments here that the South Korean education scene for higher education(in colleges and universities) is largely very discriminatory and biased in its own perceptions of how English should be taught. I have heard enough from many others teaching in hagwons and public schools alike that the native English speaking teacher is largely ornamental in presence compared to the "real" Korean English teacher or professor, and that accounts for the relative paucity of native speaking teachers of English in the executive committee of most universities, schools or even hagwons. The most unsurprising thing is that South Koreans still insist on being taught by someone who is white, in other words, Caucasian, and you see that proliferating around in various hagwons to the point that darker-skinned people such as Hispanic Americans, African Americans, or even other Asians who grew up in the west and are educated in the west, find it difficulty in getting a job teaching English in Korea although their first language is English.