By Peter DeMarco
Is it possible that Korea will no longer hire native English teachers in the near future? Most would laugh at the idea. Today there are at least 23,000 foreigners teaching English here and the numbers keep rising.
However, in his book English Next, commissioned by the British Council, renowned linguist and researcher David Graddol says that native-speaker norms and native speakers themselves are becoming irrelevant.
As English becomes an international language used for business and tourism, the reasons for learning English change along with it. Unless a Korean is going to live or study in an English-speaking foreign country, it is more probable that they’ll speak English with a Chinese or Japanese person than an American or Brit.
Another trend is that people who speak English as a second or foreign language are quickly outnumbering native speakers. English has become a world language, a lingua franca owned by every country.
This past weekend over 1,500 educators from 20 countries traveled to Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul for the 18th annual KOTESOL or Korea Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, International Conference, which this year included the Pan-Asia Conference. Although many topics were discussed, the focus was on English language education in the changing global context.
Improving English language teaching in Korea
KOTESOL is a not-for-profit foundation that was founded in 1992 to promote scholarship, disseminate information, and facilitate cross-cultural understanding among persons concerned with the teaching and learning of English in Korea. Its membership consists of both foreign and Korean English language teachers.
This year’s conference had more than a dozen world-renowned speakers and 140 presenters who spoke on the future direction of the profession and provided insight, techniques, and theories that contribute to professional development.
A call for increased training
Conference members also agreed the most important quality of 21st century English teachers is their skill set, not the country they come from. Yet you can still find Korean parents who would prefer to put their child in a class with an untrained native speaker than a certified Korean teacher of English.
“Until the public perception that all you need in order to teach English is to be a native speaker is reversed, this will not change,” said Dr. David Nunan, Academic President of Anaheim University and an invited speaker at the conference.
He went on to say “It is up to us as teachers to argue the case for English as a profession, to demonstrate that well trained non-native speakers of English with good English skills and appropriate training are just as effective, if not more effective than Native English teachers.”
Lack of English teaching jobs for Koreans
Recently the Korean government endorsed a program that will create robot English teachers to alleviate the lack of English teachers. One of the invited speakers to the conference, Dr. Andrew Finch, associate professor of English Education at Kyungpook National University disagrees emphatically with this move, “There is no shortage of teachers. The shortage is in the number of jobs. The country is full of highly-qualified Korean teachers of English who can’t find work.”
The test which prospective English teachers have to pass in order to work in the public school system is highly competitive and the openings are few. This is not the case for native English teachers who are in high-demand and are seen as the gold standard in Korea.
One policy change Dr. Finch suggests is to lower the class size, on a par with Europe. But he says most importantly, “let’s make sure that English teachers in Korea – foreign or Korean – are qualified to teach.”