Tuesday, 2 December 2008

How come ALL (english-speaking) bloggers on Korea are English teachers???

I found a website referencing all blogs in English related to Korea. It's called The Korean Blog List. I suppose lots of people are already aware of this site and so this news might not be so useful to all potential readers of my blog, BUT since it's new to ME (I'm not spending nights surfing those) I thought I would share the information and add a comment or two about something else.

First things first. Congrats to the creator of this site!
But then, something troubles me.
This website says they add blogs if mote than 50% of it is written in English...Hmm...What about, say, JUST 50%. No more, no less, like here for example. Would I deserve the honour to be added to this listing? Hmm...and what if I wrote an additional sentence (or word?) JUST for the english posts? For sure that would make it like 50.01% in English, ie. more than the 50% limit, right?

So. That was my first comment. But hold on, my SECOND comment is going to be much more interesting(I guarantee it).
It's actually related to this Korean blog list website.
I'm glad somebody took the time to create such a website. It allows you to have a very interesting view of some of the people who live in Korea.

I know, it's only about English speakers who happen to write blogs, and therefore it's skewed from the start as a representative sample(I'm actually serious here), but who cares? It's still amazing to see that almost all these bloggers share a common characteristic : THEY TEACH ENGLISH IN KOREA. Yep. English. If you happen to read this and live in Korea, you know what I'm talking about, but what about the ones who do not know the horrible truth? Hmm? Did anybody think about these poor souls living somewhere outside Korea? I can't even start imagining it...

So, to come back to my point.

It's something I had always suspected, but after taking a look at half a dozen blogs (and regularly checking more), this was easily confirmed. All the guys and gals' blogs were teaching English in Korea in language institutes, schools, or universities.

Now, please understand that when I say "teaching English in Korea", I don't actually mean they are certified "teachers", even if some are. It should be understood that these bloggers are (usually) native English speakers (it helps to be white if you want to get an English teaching position in Korea), preferably from the US (other accents are not so positively viewed over here) and, for many of them, without any particular experience in teaching English as a Foreign Language.

It is quite extraordinary to observe that in most cases, if you come to live in Korea and are a native speaker of English, you are 90% likely to "end up" teaching English in Korea. It certainly means something, right?
I mean, I know I can't compare situations easily, but let's say I have a look at blogs written in English by bloggers living in Europe, in non-english speaking countries(all but the UK and Ireland), I don't expect them all to be teaching English, and I'm pretty sure I would be right.

So what does that tell us? That it's cool to teach English in Korea? Or that English teachers in Korea are killing/deporting the bloggers who are not like them, and therefore preventing the development of blogs by other professions?... The last possibility sounds interesting, but it's more likely that it's linked to some Korean characteristic rather than our blogger-friends' murdurous instincts.

Koreans are obsessed with education. They see it as a way to climb up the ladder of success and social class, and they are ready to literally ruin themselves so that their kids can get the best education they can afford. And it starts from very very young ages. I suppose Koreans are right to see education in a positive light, who wouldn't?, but because it is a real obsession, it means competition is extremely harsh.

Because of this very competitive environment, Koreans have set up in place a whole range of filters to select only "the best", and one of these filters towards getting a good job is one's fluency in English. As a result, every Korean is brainwashed from early childhood into thinking he/she cannot live without English, and they spend tremendous amounts of time learning it. They don't always succeed, granted, but consequently this obsession means demand for native English teachers is extremely high and that any native speaker of English with a basic education can become an "English Teacher" in Korea. Maybe not in a university or in a good language institute, that's possible, but for sure he/she will be able to find a teaching position rather easily with a decent salary. For someone who's just looking for some experience abroad, in an exotic country, that's more than enough for a while.

Actually, I say native speaker, but since "native English speaker" is synonymous with "white face" in Korea, it means loads of non-natives are in teaching positions in loads of language schools. Certainly not the best ones, for sure, but introduced as natives anyway. That's a total sham.
I'm not imagining things, all the people I know who are "white" (you can call them "Caucasian" if you wish) have been teaching English in one of these institutes posing as native speakers. For information, among these people you had people from Poland, Bulgaria, Belgium, Uzbekistan, Russia, Scandinavian countries, France, Brazil...

For those who wonder, I'm not criticizing the teachers mentioned here, or their level of English, everybody needs money to live, but the whole process in general and the schools in particular. The institutes that employ them usually know they are not natives, but since they advertise native teachers they have to find people who fit the image of the native english speaker in Koreans' heads, ie. whites. And we know that learning a language from natives costs/earns more money than not, therefore it is a total sham.

That's really a problem in Korea, because the Korean government wants to press people into learning even more English. At some point, they had even planned to have math classes in high school taught in English. I mean, how absurd is that? Does anybody imagine Uk/US students taking a math class in French? It would be a nightmare for most(all!). Anybody thinks it's a bad comparison? Let me know why.

Is English important in our globalized world?
Sure it is.
Does it mean every Koreans should feel obliged to learn English till they drop?
Why not?
Very simple. In practice, most Koreans will simply not have the need to speak fluent English throughout their life. If they go abroad, then they will be able handle most situations through the use of broken english, sign language, smiles, tries and errors, and other creative methods. But for their day to day activities and job, very few of them will need to speak good English on a regular basis. The reality on the ground is that some people fluent in English take care of business activities in English, and the rest take care of the daily company routine. Nothing surprising about that.

Trying to persuade Koreans that all of them need to work hard on their English for their own good is not simply counter productive but a total fantasy, because English and Korean languages are too far apart to have people learn each other languages easily. Any English speaker who's tried to learn Korean would confirm.

In any case, this is not the only reason why 99% or so english speaking bloggers about Korea are English teachers. Another reason must have something to do with the immigration policy of the government. It's certainly relatively easy to get a teaching visa, but not so to exert another activity if you're not 'sponsored' by a Korean company.

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