Tag Archives: English

Dick Fisted

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I met a Canadian teacher a couple of weeks ago. He’s only been on the country for three months. It was showing because I had to teach him a couple of things regarding Korean table manners, which really made me wonder about his handlers. They really should’ve taught him better or he could’ve been more observant.

My friends and I were talking with him when the subject of the HIV test came up. In South Korea, in order to be issued a visa to teach English, a foreigner must have a criminal background check as well as an AIDS test. Now, I don’t mind the criminal background check. In fact, I believe it should be par for the course for any instructor in any country to have a criminal background check. The HIV test however is a tad insidious.

The requirement was put into law a few years ago at a time when Korea had a rash of high profile criminal cases involving Korean teachers taking advantage of their students and either getting light sentences or being reshuffled back into the system. It was also a time when suspicion against foreign men specifically was being encouraged by a hate group who pushed stories to online outlets and TV networks which were more than happy to propagate them. The media would show stories villainizing male English teachers. Curiously, they tend to ignore female English teachers.

Lawmakers responded by making the HIV test a requirement, ignoring the fact that there were no credible stories about foreign English instructors spreading HIV, and that the law does not address the actual problem of leniency towards actual Korean criminals. Failing the HIV test would prevent foreigners from working in the country. It’s a xenophobic law which suggests that foreigners harbor HIV and doesn’t consider the possibility of foreigners catching HIV from a Korean partner. UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon, who happens to be Korean himself, urged the government to end the tests, calling it a violation of human rights. But the government ignored him, and the tests remain as a requirement for foreign English teachers to this day.

What’s funny is that it being a requirement for English teachers, that in itself reflects on its origins: the suspicion against male English teachers. It is not required for any other work visas, even for entertainment visas, which in many countries have been the avenue to which prostitutes enter. Korean men have also been frequenting South East Asian countries and have relations with prostitutes themselves. There are establishments in these countries that are geared solely towards Korean clientele, and yet no one is checking Korean men for HIV after coming back from their business trips.

Given this background for the law and the test, it was a mixture of amusement and sadness when the English teacher I met said that he too had to take the test, but instead of being annoyed or outraged at the requirement as well as the presumption that foreigners bring HIV to the country, he was rather nonchalant about the whole thing. He said that his handlers explained to him that it was a requirement for health insurance purposes.

Now, I don’t know how much time he spent considering this explanation. But there are so many holes in that excuse that it doesn’t take much to disprove. Are they testing for HIV so they could pay for the instructor’s expenses? If they fail and they are not allowed into the country (only about 20+ countries do this), doesn’t that show discrimination? And if they are testing for insurance purposes, how about testing other medical conditions, something without a stigma, perhaps diabetes or asthma?

Attitudes towards foreign men have slightly improved in recent months. Travel shows dominate network television, and foreign men speaking in Korean now appear in Korean talk television. This new trend has people forgetting that just a couple years ago, the fear of the foreigner scourge has been put into law, and that it continues to be a requirement to this day. And while things are currently better, it will only take one or two high-profile stories before the media sparks another moral panic. The Korean National Police Agency just recently announced a cracking down on crimes committed by foreigners by “forming voluntary crime-prevention groups” in response to an increase in foreigner-committed crimes by 5000 a year. In my opinion, this is small when considering the increase of the foreign population in the country. But I read that action as empowering local hate groups and vigilantism, and I suspect that like before, it is a misguided response to an altogether different problem.

Now, someone please explain to that naïve teacher why the HIV test is a bad thing.

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Quick Boring Post About Editors

It goes without saying publishers need to invest on good editors.  They are almost as vital as the writers themselves. Being in Korea, I notice that editing English text seems to be more of a discretionary afterthought; that is if it’s even considered at all. It’s really a shame that a country that is so invested in learning English, people aren’t really concerned with being accurate in applying the English they paid good money to learn. It’s the reason why Koreans can sometimes be just as bad as a lot of Asian countries in misappropriating the English language (www.engrish.com/).

Editors are vital not only in ensuring grammatical accuracy but also in making sure that contents are appropriate, non-offensive, and sensical (a term which a good editor will catch as not being a “real word”). I’ve been studying Korean and using this book which was published in the country. I imagine it’s designed for foreigners who wish to learn the language in the hopes of interacting with Koreans and perhaps visiting the country. Instead, it gave me an insight into the writer’s xenophobia, lack of sensitivity and outdated grasp of reality.

Horrible

Why would the writer want North Korea to go bankrupt? Doesn’t he/she realize that the country has millions of people, presumably former countrymen, starving? How about the rather casual use of cancer in a language training material? Classy! You also don’t catch cancer like the flu. Your body develops it. As for the bit about Salman Rushdie, I hoped that the book was written in 1989, but sadly, it was written long after Rushdie came out of hiding. Also, why would a news organization report that a writer, who is in fear of assassination, is still in hiding? Who is this news for? Terrorists?

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This last bit turned me off the most.  The book was written by university professors… educators. And yet their jingoism reeks off the page. The Americans are not colonists in South Korea. They are partners. They have just as much to gain from being here as the South Koreans. How could such a sentence be of any help to the American wishing to learn Korean?

Korean publishers as well as anyone in Korean media using the English language, please hire editors. Hire editors and pay them well.

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Naughty Nudes English Class

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I was talking to someone who teaches English here in South Korea. She teaches adults; late twenties to early fifties. I’m amazed at how she describes these adult ESL classes, with some students being petulant and difficult, and teachers needing to “handle naughty students.”

Naughty? Petulant? How exactly do you “handle” an adult in class? I was really surprised because the behavior being described to me sounds more like something out of an elementary or middle school class, not from a room full of adults who by now I assume have developed a fair bit of empathy (not just for the other students in class but also for the instructor who’s just trying to get it through the hour). I have taught before. I taught children and adults alike and I found that the few times I taught a small class of adults, it was actually enjoyable. It’s never the stressful hell I hear from teachers.

But what cause this behavior among grown adults? In university, I’ve never witnessed a situation where someone in class was being difficult. I imagine if that was the case, other students would police the class because they are there to learn as well. I’ve taken Korean classes in the country before. While the room is filled with western students, if someone was being difficult, it wasn’t to the extent that it would case stress to the instructor. It would often be someone needing more assistance, not someone being disruptive. What I hear from adult ESL teachers is sometimes surprising (and in one case, a student abusing another student).

Is it the whole I’m-older-and-I-get-to-talk-down-to-whomever culture? Is it the feeling of privilege that comes from paying for someone to be in a room? (You’re here to entertain us.) Is it students acting out due to stress? Is it bad teaching?

ESL is big business in the country. And unfortunately, Native English teachers are sometimes given the role of babysitting the nation’s children instead of teaching them English. But who can blame young children? Sometimes the foreign face in the room is the first one they’ve ever seen in their life, and they don’t know how to act, much less treat them as authority figures or instructors. But how do you explain babysitting some adults?

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