ESL South Korea

Types of Korean Students

Kindergarten

With the education craze in Korea, kids are usually exposed to English at a very early age and this means they are often sent to expensive English kindergartens that employ foreigners.  Often times these kids are taught lists of English words and easy repetitive sentences, even before they’ve properly mastered conversational Korean!

If you teach at a Hagwon with morning classes, you can be sure you will teach Kindergarten classes.  Kindergarten students are aged 5-7 Korean age, this makes them approximately 4-6 in International age.
These little guys have seriously short attention spans and trying to impress them with your extensive knowledge of English grammar will simply not work.  Since these students are very young, getting them interested in English and engaged with the language in any way possible, is the main objective.  If you’re teaching Kindergarten without the aid of a Korean teacher, you should always try to keep the students busy. There are of course no grammar lessons, text books and conversation practice.  So you will have to rely on interesting and entertaining activities.  This is done through fun activities. 
And the stress is on ‘fun‘.  Games, songs, chanting, dancing, running, singing, flash-cards, colouring and making funny noises while pulling funny faces.  These are all activities that I employed in my first year as a Kindergarten teacher, and it worked just fine.

So move aside any goals that you might have as to what parts of the language you want these young students to acquire within such and such a month.  Your progress will not be measured in how much language your students can use, but by how much fun they had!

Elementary School

If you land a job as a public school teacher, chances are good that you’ll end up teaching Elementary School.  The demand for teachers in this age group is high, though the official curriculum is fairly low key and little stress is placed on students’ advancement.

The aim of the Korean Elementary school English curriculum is too get young learners interested in the language.  As such, their progress is normally not formally graded and English as a subject usually play an insignificant role in their final mark.

You will soon enough recognize that there may be a huge gap in different learners’ English ability.  You might have third of fourth graders that have been in English Kindergartens and can speak full sentences and even complete writing and reading exercises.  In the same class you might have a student from a more disadvantaged background not having been able to attend the expensive extra-curricular programs or English hagwons, who can barely write the alphabet and cannot read English at all.

This gap between different learners is most clearly seen in Elementary school and often poses a significant problem for teachers who have to try and come up with activities and lessons that very low level students can cope with, but keeps higher level students interested.  This is not an insurmountable problem and teachers normally approach it by finding a intermediate level and giving individual attention to weaker students.

Games play an important role in the education of these young learners.  Your co-teachers will expect you to come up with games and fun activities, and again the internet will come to the rescue.  ESL sites with games and ideas abound, see the links section of this site.

Elementary school children have longer attention spans than Kindergarten kids, but still require a lot of energy to keep engaged and entertained.  The upside is that Elementary school kids are at an age where they are usually not shy to use and try bits and pieces of new language.  Many teachers agree that Elementary school students are the most engaging with the language and still without the shyness they will develop once they reach puberty.

Middle School

Once students enter 7th grade (Or 1st grade Middle School in the Korean system), the fun part of their education is suddenly over and they are faced with ever increasing hours of study and a list of afterschool hagwons that seem to grow longer and longer.  On average Korean children study 3 hours longer per day than their American counterparts and it is during middle school that this becomes most visible.  Middle school is preparation for High school and High school is preparation for the dreaded University entrance exam.