Friday, September 28, 2012

Analyzing research on native-speaking English teachers in Korea

Sorry for the lack of posts of late. The grad school work load finally kicked in, and I've been up to my ears in papers, projects, presentations, volunteering (required for one of my classes), and articles. One of my assignments is to read and review several published, peer-reviewed articles on a topic of my choosing. As there were no such articles on my first choice (native speaking English teachers in rural Kyrgyzstan), I went with a topic for which there is indeed published literature: native speaking English teachers in South Korea. Unfortunately, the three articles that I've analyzed thus far are nothing short of abysmal. Normally I wouldn't waste your time with information on things I've read and then rated as crap, but given that a lot of my readers  either are or have been native speaking English teachers in South Korea, I figured some of you might be interested.

The first article (and the best of the bunch so far), Globalization and native English speakers in English Program in Korea (EPIK) by Mihyon Jeon proposed to examine the perceived legitimacy of the native-speaking English teachers hired by EPIK. Jeon sought to examine the views that both the native-speaking teachers held of their legitimacy as teachers in South Korea, as well as the views that their Korean counterparts held of them, by attending an EPIK conference (at which several native-speaking teachers presented), as well as by conducting one-on-one interviews with several teachers (Korean and native speakers) and EPIK coordinators. The following four conclusions were reached:

1. While the Korean government places emphasis on the importance of the native English speaking teachers hired by EPIK, Korean English teachers and students often do not view EPIK’s native speaking English teachers as important. 

2. Korean teachers often did not have either time or desire to work closely with the native speaking teachers.

3. Native speaking teachers did not feel that they had been fully integrated into the school curriculum, resulting in feelings of isolation and marginalization.

4. Native speaking teachers felt as though they were valued for their "entertainment value" (with several teachers describing themselves as "performing monkeys"), as opposed to their work as educators.

5. Classroom management problems presented a great difficulty to EPIK teachers, as students did not consider them to be real teachers, and therefore did not respond to them as such.

The sample size for this study met the minimum threshold for being considered generalizable in terms of the number of native English speaking EPIK employees; however, the number of Koreans sampled did not meet the criteria for generalizability.

The second, and certainly the most absurd of the three articles, was Global fatigue: Transnational markets, linguistic capital, and Korean-American male English teachers in South Korea by Songpae Cho. The purpose of this article was to examine the reasons why Korean-American males move to South Korea for the purpose of teaching English, to examine their perceptions of their value in South Korea, and to examine the views that South Koreans hold of them.

The "study" (if you can call it that) featured a series of interviews conducted by the author with his coworkers, an individual that he "met in the elevator" and another whom he described as "an Apgujeong matron" - hardly a representative sample by any stretch of the imagination. The results of this study were as follows:

1. Korean-American males come to South Korea "on a whim" often with no teaching experience. (I'd say the same can be said of most native-speaking English teachers in South Korea, although like this article, I have no actual research to back up my statement.)

2. Korean-American males remain in South Korea longer than their female counterparts due to their perceived desirability in the Korean patriarchal society. Cho basically says that Korean-American males are more valued sexually in Korea than in the US due to their elite status as American English speakers, and the fact that Korean males are at the top of the food chain in Korea (while they’re emasculated in American culture). 

3. Koreans are suspicious of Korean-American male English teachers, wondering if perhaps they did something wrong in the United States, leading them to seek work overseas. (As far as I can tell, the only person who expressed this view was the aforementioned "Apgujeong matron.")

4. Koreans think that Korean-Americans do not speak English as well as white Americans.

5. Korean-American males become anxious both about staying in Korea (due to the above two reasons) and about returning to the United States, due to “the fear of getting older and becoming less marketable in the U.S.” 

I think my favorite part of this article was its repeated use of the term "English prostitute." One of Cho's interviewees described himself as feeling rather like an "English prostitute" - and then Cho went on to use this analogy several more times in the paper, even though doing so was totally unnecessary. 

The third article, The novice, the native, and the nature of language teacher expertise by Ji-eun Shin and David Kellogg, was the only article to involve a statistical study. Unfortunately, out of the thousands of native and non-native English teachers on the Korean peninsula, the study focused on one native and three non-native English speaking teachers. If you need a minimum of one percent of the population (in this case the native English teacher and non-native English teacher populations) to achieve generalizability, what is even the point of conducting research that is so far below the generalizability threshold that it's not even funny? When you consider that a lot of work actually went into this pointless study, the mind boggles. 

The purpose of this article was to quantitatively analyze and compare the teaching talk of native English speaking teachers and non-native English speaking teachers, as well as to compare the amount of English spoken by students in classes taught by native and non-native English teachers. The one native speaking English teacher chosen for this study had neither studied education nor worked as a teacher prior to coming to Korea at the beginning of the study. In contrast, the three Korean English teachers chosen all had education degrees and two to five years teaching experience. One of the three Korean teachers was also Ji-eun Shin, one of the authors of this study.

Fourteen classes over a six month period were recorded, transcribed, and statistically analyzed to look for various things such as number of times each teacher spoke, complexity of their utterances, grammatical structure/correctness, and amount of English/Korean spoken by students in class. Well, in this one native speaking English teacher's class, Korean was spoken more, she spoke English less, and she had more grammatical errors than her Korean counterparts. The authors then attempt to generalize their results, because obviously this shows that Koreans are better English teachers than native speakers! Dude, really? Have you seen your sample size?

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