Tips for Teaching English in Korea: For Tutors and Teachers of Korean Students


Teaching English in Korea

Teaching English in Korea has been a rewarding job for many westerners. Of course, where you actually teach whether in popular urban areas like Seoul or Busan or less well known areas such as Incheon and Daegu could have an impact on your overall experience but  the popular consensus seems to be that South Korea offers some of the best teaching gigs in all of Asia. The perks which include free apartment, round trip airfare and generous compensation packages are not all that bad and indeed could be a lot worse. 

If you are embarking on a job teaching English to Korean students in Korea there a few tricks of the trade you need to know. The first is that you have to be willing to be a bit of an entertainer, comedian and actor in addition to being a language instructor. If you cannot entertain your students, you will not be a successful teacher in Korea. There is definitely an implicit expectation that you will entertain – especially if you are American.

Do you have to know how to speak Korean to help a Korean student learn English? No, not really. If that was so then you would have to know how to speak just about every single language in the world in order to teach someone from the country where that language is spoken English and that is not the case.

Of course, if you are teaching Korean students as a classroom teacher in Korea, it might be helpful if indeed you can speak the language to some extent. Also, it does not hurt to be culturally up to date. For example, have you ever heard of this word “K-Pop”? If you haven’t and you are embarking on teaching English in Korea, you may want to get busy figuring out what that means.

One thing you should be sensitive to is that in Korea, saving face is very important and people don’t like to singled out. This is true for both adults and children. If you are teaching in a school you will find for example that students are slow to volunteer to speak in English unless of course they go to the hagwon where they get extra help with their skills in which case they would exude more confidence. What is a hagwon? It is an English academy and many Korean students go to Hagwons after school in order to work on their English.

So what are the rules for teaching English to Korean students?

Teaching English in Korea
Korean Spring: Teaching English in Korea

The rules for teaching English in Korea to Korean Students are not that different from teaching students in other parts of Asia or the world for that matter.

First of all, you need to plan well. Hardly ever will you be unprepared and have a successful class when teaching Korean students (or any student for that matter).

Keep your lessons fun and interesting by incorporating a lot of activities and games in your lessons. Be sure that these activities and games are relevant to the lesson you taught and not just some random game or lesson as the students are pretty clever and can figure out that you haven’t really got a plan. And try a lot of different things. Use different media. Keep surprising them with all the varieties of materials you throw at them.

Don’t stay rooted to your desk. Keep things moving and flowing and keep a high energy level in the classroom.

Get the students to speak. This is really the key. If you are the one who is speaking most of the time, then the students are not getting to practice their English and in the end, it is about speaking English, isn’t it? So the students need to speak and they need to speak as much as possible.

Do a lot of work on pronunciation. Obviously English and Korean could not be any different as far as linguistic structure goes. So English pronunciation is challenging for Korean students both adults and children and you have to focus a lot on pronunciation exercises. Focus on the phonetic alphabet as a foundation but don’t just focus on that for the whole class as students get bored very quickly.

Give a lot of praise even for the smallest effort and accomplishment because Koreans are known to be very shy when it comes to speaking English. This is true regardless of the age of the students. So help build their confidence by praising them a lot. But don’t go so overboard that you come off as insincere, obviously.

Finally, try to find other classroom management techniques other than yelling and giving out candy. Usually if you have a well thought out lesson with tons of activities the students won’t be so hard to manage.



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