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Korean Students
Most institutes we work with cater to a combination of three specific markets: kindergarten, upper elementary, and high school/middle school students. At most schools, the upper elementary students (aged 8-12) make up the majority of the clientele.

Children are generally enthusiastic and outgoing. They respond very well to games and cooperative learning activities. The stereotype of obedient and attentive rows of pupils repeating after the teacher is, thankfully, a thing of the past. Younger Korean children can, however, be rambunctious. While rarely overtly naughty, a strong classroom presence is important with the little ones.

Reid Wilson, a Footprints teacher in a rural area of Korea writes to say, "the percentage of wonderfully respectful and well-behaved students to those that are completely the opposite is about 50-50.

One thing that I was surprised to encounter is that in a traditional Confucianism society/culture, I expected that more students would respect people of authority and those of elder status. However, this seems to apply more to Koreans than to foreigners. About half of the students are quite rude and unruly towards foreign teachers. This might have something to do with the language barrier and testing the limits of what they can get away with, but I believe most children know what is right from what is wrong (generally). Fifty percent of the students I encountered are really interested in learning English and they treat you well. The other half of students don’t want to be there, and therefore are quite rude, disruptive, and uncooperative in the classroom." Reid goes on to say that "kids will be kids regardless of the location. There will be those that are great to teach, and those who you would rather not have to see on a daily basis. Either way, the kids will teach you something about yourself. Good luck.".

Be prepared when you enter the classroom. Remember always that you are a teacher first and that students respond best out of respect. Plan well, control your classes, motivate your students and many of the challenges will take care of themselves.
korean young girl
Kindergarten and Pre-School Students
Kindergarten programs are becoming more and more popular in Korea. Ten years ago it was almost unheard of to send children off to English kindergarten; however, many Korean parents now view it as essential. Most language institutes now run some sort of kindergarten program and, if they don't run one now, they are probably thinking about opening one.

Many applicants are nervous about teaching kindergarten and consider kindy the equivalent to babysitting. You may not be surprised to learn that these students are the ones that often learn the most. If a lesson is well-planned and involves a variety of activities (none lasting more than 10 minutes for young children) you will be amazed what you can achieve in a kindy classroom.

Note that, in Korea, age is counted age differently from everywhere else. When a baby is born, Koreans count him or her as one year old immediately. In addition, Koreans count themselves one year older every January 1. So, according to Koreans, a baby born in December, 2003 is already two years old in January, 2004. The result of this is that everyone is really between one and two years younger than their "Korean age." This is of little importance in most circumstances; however, there can be surprises when talking about young children. Some Koreans refer to non-Korean age as "American age." Kindergarten children are between the ages of four and six (non-Korean age!).
korean students and teacher
Elementary Aged Students
When I was in Korea, my favorite classes were always those with upper-elementary students. Most of them are enthusiastic, boys and girls participate equally, and they make genuine efforts to communicate as often as they possibly can. Happily, this group (aged 8-12) makes up the bulk of the students at most language schools. Most of these children will be able to read at a basic level and, if they've been attending for more than six months or so, will be able to communicate many surprisingly complicated ideas.

English classes begin in grade four in Korean public schools, so most of the students in the upper elementary age-range will know some English vocabulary, even if they are just starting at the private institute. They will probably also have learned to read in English by the end of grade 4, even if they have never been to a private language school before. English textbooks and workbooks, often designed and produced in Korea by the franchise system with which the school is affiliated, are normally used as the core texts. The quality of these texts varies widely and is generally dependent upon how many editions of the same text have already been published in Korea (and thus had a chance to be used and corrected by teachers). One of my favorite lessons in my first Korean teaching post was, as the students' workbook boldly exclaimed, Strong, Stronger, and Strongerest!

Some schools also use American and/or British texts that are familiar to experienced English teachers of young learners. Bear in mind that selling books is one of the ways that both the individual school and the franchise head office make money. More advanced students may also be using graded readers, which are stories or novels that have been simplified for language learners.

Children in this age range tend to be a little less self-conscious than Western children. Games and activities that Canadian or American ten and eleven-year olds would tell you "sucked" are often well received by Koreans the same age. Both boys and girls are very competitive and enjoy any kind of competitive game, especially if boys are pitted against girls.
korea - middle school students -uniforms
Teenage Students
Many applicants who haven't taught in Korea before express an interest in teaching adolescents. Unless people have already taught in Korea, It is easier for most of them to imagine themselves dealing with adolescents rather than with younger children. Contrary to what one might think, classes with Korean 13-16 year-olds can be VERY dull and challenging to teach. Korean parents tend to give quite a lot license to pre-adolescents. However, by the time young people head off to high school, the pressures of familial expectations (often unrealistically high) and social conformity (often impractical for learning) begin to weigh heavily upon them and they become much more self-conscious and disconnected from the real world. Sometimes they are quite simply worn out by the time they reach the English class at 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. Anyone who has taught in Korea can tell you about teenagers falling asleep in class and how all of a student's have to be consulted before anything resembling an opinion can be offered. This makes a lot of the usual pre-intermediate and intermediate fluency-based English lessons fall flat.
University Aged Students
Adult Students
As anyone who lives in Canada, the U.S., Australia, or New Zealand can tell you, large numbers of Koreans have been emigrating to, or temporarily working in, these countries over the past few decades. When a Korean executive is posted abroad, or when Koreans emigrate, they usually have little choice but to send their children to local English-language schools. After a few years of regularly attending an English school, Korean children can produce unaccented natural English that must be the envy of their parents. When the executive and his (almost always his) family return to Korea, or when the emigration project turns sour (it's easier to make money quickly in Korea than in most other places!), the children are often sent to language institutes to keep up their English.

These students are usually fun to teach. They are often just like studious English native-speaking children and the range of activities and materials that teachers can use is much broader than with regular Korean children. There are some schools that specialize in returnees; however these schools almost always require a B. Ed. and a few years' teaching experience. In institutes that don't specialize in returnees but have one or two classes of them, the most experienced and/or most qualified foreign teacher usually gets to teach them.


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