Monday, December 9, 2013

After Immersion (Comparing Korean classes) by Sam

Comparing Korean classes in Perth and South Korea:

So you’ve been learning Korean with Ebony in Perth for a while; you’re comfortable with her teaching style, you can understand when she speaks to you in Korean, you know all your classmates and are comfortable learning with them. Why should you travel to South Korea, where you don’t know what to expect, it’s a big scary place, and, worst of all, you’ll have to speak Korean to actual KOREANS who are also STRANGERS?

Even though I had been to South Korea before I went for the immersion course in October this year, meaning I was a bit more familiar with the city, I felt that way. It’s a big step to take, travelling to the country to learn in a completely foreign and (mostly) overwhelming environment, where you have new classmates, the teachers speak only Korean, and you are expected to speak back.

But having been and come back, I can only say if you are brave enough to take that step it’s definitely worth it. Learning in Korea is very different to learning in Perth, not necessarily due to different teaching styles, but because the exposure you get to speaking, listening, and learning by doing is impossible to access in Perth.

The 2013 immersion students were a group of around eight and we were all extremely nervous as we arrived, especially about the written test we had to take before we could be placed in to a class and - even more nerve wracking - individual spoken interview.

But after we took the test, mainly focussed on vocabs and grammar we had already learnt in Perth, and the first of us went for her interview and came back, we realised there was nothing to be afraid of. We knew the words, we could speak, and they could understand us. From there the fear was (mostly) gone and we just had fun, getting to know our Japanese and Chinese classmates and our teacher (Level 3 – 박승희) while reviewing grammar we already knew but learning it much more in-depth than we could in Perth.

Don’t get me wrong – Ebony’s classes are fantastic, and it’s a testament to her that we were able to slide comfortably into Level 3 (one of us even went up to Level 4). Our listening skills were constantly complimented upon and even our speaking in some instances. That and the fact we knew all the grammar, and could hold our own in conversations with classmates and the teacher, shows that Ebony’s classes are a solid foundation for further learning.

But classes in Korea are on a whole different level. For starters, there’s more time. Three hour classes run from 10am through to 1pm with a fifteen minute break. Each lesson covers one grammar point, sometimes two. But it means that the one grammar point is covered really well, and you have to use the vocab and grammar in your sentences from that day on, meaning you get practical experience from day 1. 

But the best thing about learning Korean in South Korea – for me, anyway, - was the fact it was so much more speaking orientated than in Perth. In class with Ebony, I find I am a lot more self-conscious speaking Korean beyond reading simple sentences and saying words, but being in South Korea and having no choice but to speak gave me the extra push to get over my fears and just speak. 

At the start of every class, our teacher would ask us what we had done the night before, what we ate, who we went with, why we went there, what we did, what time we got up etc, and we had to respond. This helped us improve our ability to think on our feet and reply quickly, without having mental blanks and freak outs, and also assisted us to begin thinking internally in Korean. 

When introducing a topic our teacher would begin by asking us questions, warming us up to the subject eg. what kind of food we liked, what kind of man/woman, which places we had been travelling, where we wanted to go, why, etc, which required constant speaking in Korean. We also had to read out everything in our text books and work books aloud when asked, taking turns, and had group exercises where we had to converse naturally with our classmates.

Homework each night took about 30 minutes to 1 hour, sometimes involving memorising vocabs for tests, of which we had a lot (maybe one every two or three days). But they were on the topics we had covered already and were by that time comfortable using, due to repetition of rules and exceptions, practical use and in-depth explanation of concepts, vocab and when you would use the particular grammar and why.

I felt like I improved so much in just the short time I was there (10 classes) and made some amazing friends – speaking only in Korean to our Japanese classmates – that the experience was one of the best I’ve ever had. 

(But don’t forget the fun sightseeing trips, excursion to Insadong, dinners with Korean friends, lunches with classmates, end-of-class dinner with teacher/classmates, trip to Busan, and SHOPPING!)
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