[Education]English Education Needs to Start at Earlier Ages
By Kang Shin-who
The English frenzy in Korea has produced many popular teachers who are good at helping students get higher scores in English tests. A famous former English instructor says some of these ``star teachers'' are misleading English learners.
Ahn Young-sop, 62, a professor at Myungji University and also well-known for his best seller, ``Doctor Ahn's TOEIC'' said popular English instructors teaching skills of how to pick answers on English tests will do little to the development of English education here.
``There are many popular teachers who have standardized patterns of questions of English certificate tests such as TOEIC and TOEFL and crammed some skills into students,'' Ahn said in an interview with The Korea Times.
``Those instructors are making English learners `well-trained machines' to solve tests. Students taught by these teachers cannot efficiently communicate in the real world,'' he added.
Ahn also pointed out problems of TOEIC and TOEFL that select test questions from a bank of examples. ``Test takers can simply memorize some patterns of questions even for a speaking section. For example, there is a speaking test question example; `Which do you prefer between A or B?' then students can practice to get familiar with a formalized format like `I prefer A because...','' he said.
He said that English test should provide creative questions and get out of the ``question bank'' system. ``I assume that those test makers won't give up the system because they are in collusion with cram schools. Especially, many cram schools in southern Seoul can make a lot of money only by teaching know-how to solve examples of stored questions,'' he said.
He also suggested that applications for English tests should be restricted to one or two times a year. ``I don't believe we can improve English skills in a short period. We need at least six months to see an improvement in English ability. However, many take those tests every month by learning simple skills to choose the right answers,'' he said.
As for English reform plan scheduled by Lee Myung-bak's administration, the professor said that the plan needs a more systematic and comprehensive approach.
``The new government is focusing on English speaking skills. If we want to speak English fluently, we need to start to learn English earlier. First, the government should introduce well-organized programs for preschoolers,'' he said. ``Also, the government needs to learn good programs from many countries who succeed in English education.''
Ahn also mentioned the importance of media for better English education. ``There should be more cable channels and TV programs for English education and the government needs to use English language newspapers more strategically,'' he said.
Regarding the new employment plan of 23,000 English teachers for English-only classes, the professor expressed concern. Eligible applicants for the program are those who have completed English education courses including the Teaching of English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), obtained masters or higher degrees in English-speaking countries, or have teaching licenses.
``TESOL licenses have nothing to do with fluent English speaking skills. Those who have high English abilities like simultaneous interpreters could qualify for TEE teachers,'' he said. ``Also, I doubt whether the special group teachers can cooperate well with regular teachers.''
Lastly, the professor stressed that Korea should adopt English as an official language. ``Japan opened its port to foreign countries in 1854 before Korea, driving Japan to develop fast. Today, English is very essential for global competitiveness. Adopting English as an official language is challenging us to opt for `a second opening.' At this time, I hope we can do this earlier than Japan,'' he said.
Prof. Ahn gained his bachelors degree in liberal studies from the University of the State of New York and a Ph.D. from MIT. He was a reporter for The Korea Times between 1974 and 1982 and taught English at major private language institutions for more than 15 years. He also worked as an interpreter for former Prime Minister Goh Kun and has published several English studying books.