So... the old question is getting asked again, at Asian Correspondent about whether Native Teachers are actually needed or not (this time in the context of Hong Kong and Singapore). A YonHap news editorial from a few days ago discusses a new English test being developed by the Korean Education Ministry.
It fails to answer the question, "How will this test not be subject to the same phenomenon other English tests experience, where hagwons teaching that test appear, and drive up the price of education?"
Yet the motivation for creating this test is to make it so that students don't feel compelled to go to hagwons that teach to the test: "The new test is judged to be desirable as it aims to reduce students' financial burdens for private tutoring and it will have writing and speaking tests."
The editorial suggests making the test easier, or even pass-fail, to help ease the competition and pressure...
rendering the test useless as a measure of English ability.
In point form, then, because I'm tired of this conversation, and avoid it when I can. I could talk for twenty minutes on each of these, but instead I'm just going to throw them out there as food for thought:
Good teachers are more important than native or non-native teachers.
Native or not native teachers is a false dichotomy: different types are better in different situations, different types of classes, and especially for different ages.
Materials designed to be used by the least-qualified sector of the English teaching population are insulting to the good teachers, as are other manifestations of such low expectations.
People tend to live down to low expectations, if that's all you offer them, after a while, don't they?
It's all in how they're used, not in their skin color... but we all know that, too, don't we?
A "native accent" is only something people should be concerned about at medium levels and up.
Idioms and idiom usage are overrated English skills, and in and of themselves, not worth the extra cost and stress of bringing in and dealing with native teachers. Idiom and Idiom usage should be quite low on the list of priorities for things to be taught.
Koreans should be exposed to a variety of English speakers' accents to improve their listening (bring in some Egyptian English teachers, I say)
Non-Koreans who speak English well are great at teaching some aspects of English, because they had to go through the learning process themselves. Any good English training program should see significant contributions from native and non-native speakers.
Good native teachers. Lots of native teachers. Native teachers at the low end of the pay scale. Choose two of those three.
There are highly qualified native English teachers in Nigeria, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, and other places, who would be excellent teachers in Korea. Many of them probably take much lower salaries than first world (usually white) Native English teachers. The idea has been toyed with... if those teachers are not acceptable to parents, then there are other issues at work than just the desire for a "qualified native" teacher, and that discourse is a smokescreen for what's really going on.
If having white faces on the poster is what it's about, then we're dealing with issues of prestige. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, so long as we're calling a spade a spade, and in the same way you can't convince that gal that she's just as qualified for the job with or without a nose job, and that her handbag is no better or worse than another custom made handbag without the Louis Vuitton logo on it, you'll never convince her that the school with white people pressing play and pause isn't actually any better than the school with Korean people pressing play and pause. And if that's the case, the cheapest white face (unqualified? You can't tell that from a photo... until the hongdae paparazzi put some shit on the internet) will do, just like a low-end rolex is still a rolex.
My clue that it IS about prestige and aspiration, more than practical considerations: If it were about practical considerations, there would be almost as many Japanese and Chinese hagwons as English hagwons, and there would also be Arabic, Russian, Spanish, French, and German hagwons here and there.
What many Koreans get wrong about English education, or how many of my Korean students seem to want their English classes to work:
English is not like a driver's license, where you get your license and you don't have to worry about it again... but too many Koreans treat it that way. It's more like fitness, where you can go to the gym and get in shape, but once you achieve that sixpack, if you repsond by reverting to couch-potato ways, you'll go back to your couch-potato build. Koreans who stop studying and using English once they hit 900 will never speak English well. .... and they don't want to. English is a 'spec' for them.
('spec' - Konglish for credentials and qualifications of the kind that are listed on a resume - kind of like the 'specs' you check on the box of the computer you're thinking of buying, to check out its speed, storage, power, etc.. The fact the Konglish word is 'specs' is telling, if you ask me.)
[Update: oh by the way] If English is a spec, all that high-minded stuff about language as access to a different culture, and a different way of thinking, is moot. Just get your English teaching robot and heave away.
English is also not like other subjects in school, where you can close the book and shut off that part of your brain until the beginning of the next class, but too many Koreans treat it that way, and avoid English (other than the delightful nonsense of Kpop lyrics and advertising catch-phrases) as much as possible until it's time to open the textbook again. This will never work for learning a language. If a language is segmented and segregated from the rest of one's life, it won't "take."
The advice I give to people who ask:
If you go overseas, avoid hanging out with other Koreans in your class, and stay the hell out of Koreatown.
Speak English at home with your family. Start with an hour once a week, and as you get used to that, expand.
Turn off the subtitles. (Also: you absorb more English from watching one episode of a show ten times, than from watching ten different episodes.)
Read books a little below your actual reading level, instead of above: reading above your actual reading level is slow and frustrating. Reading a little below your level is fast, fun, and confidence-building.