Saturday, November 28, 2015

Testimonial from a student in 2014

Studying with Ebony Bae and my Sogang University experience

Hi everyone, my name is Will Ho and I am a former student who studied with Ebony Bae in 2014.
To give you a bit of background as to why I'm studying Korean, in 2014, I decided to travel to Seoul, South Korea because I simply had very little knowledge about the place and was curious about the history and traditional culture. I was already a little interested in K-pop, and had just begun to watch Running Man so naturally I became interested in the language. Having previously experienced the difficulty of not being able to communicate with the locals while traveling to other parts of Asia, I thought it would be a good idea to study Korean before going to Korea

I actually began studying at the Central Institute of Technology (formerly TAFE), taking a Korean Beginner's Short Course in late 2013. I want to briefly talk about my experience studying at CIT as comparison for those of you who are deciding between that and Ebony's course. The CIT course is very heavily structured such that most of your learning is based on sentences/phrases and dialogue from the textbook provided. It is also based on the formal/respectful form of the Korean language rather than the casual/respectful form. The course also covers history, which is important when learning about another country's culture but when you are only attending class once a week for only 2+ hours, it feels like time better spent elsewhere. There is limited vocabulary and grammar taught through the course, most of which you basically pick up from the textbook. Lastly, there is no homework and therefore no assessment of how you are progressing as an individual.

Unfortunately, I was not impressed with the CIT course and started studying with Ebony in 2014 from Modules 1 to 4. The content covered by Ebony in Modules 1 to 4 is similar to Sogang's materials including majority of the grammar points found in levels 2A and 2B. Her style of teaching is both fun and engaging, and as a result the students get to enjoy the learning environment in a immersive way. She works hard in class to ensure everyone is learning to their full potential but also outside of class with the homework provided. I can't stress how important it is to do the homework before class. Not only does it mean more time to practice speaking in class, it also helps Ebony focus her attention on areas where students need improvement. I recall coming to class a few times, where she would touch on some grammar or vocabulary she taught in a previous lesson only because a number of people made the same mistake, so she could ensure we understood. From this, I can tell Ebony has a real passion for teaching, and also helping her students to learn and grow. Another example is when Ebony held additional classes to cover material she deemed to be important, but was simply unable to cover in the normal progression of the course. As such, I learned a lot more than I did when I studied at CIT, even though the CIT course provided more learning hours per course. I also know that I learned a lot because of my placement test result and feedback from teachers at Sogang University.
In February 2015, I attended Sogang University's Korean Language Regular Morning Course - 200 hours, which ran for just under 3 months. Prior to starting class, you could choose to sit a placement test, which would help Sogang's teachers determine your level of proficiency in the language and place you in the correct class. I decided it was important to sit this test because I was paying for this course and there was no way I was going to repeat level 1 (on the basis Ebony had already taught us this). The test comprises of a written component and an interview. I was confident about the written component because all the homework I did prepared me for this, but it was my speaking I was more concerned about. To my surprise, I managed to get into Level 2 at Sogang and when I actually started the course I realised how much of the grammar I already knew. In fact my teachers at Sogang told me they were surprised how much I knew based on my writing and didn't believe me when I told them I had only studied for 54 hours with Ebony. But they said that the reason for putting me in level 2 was mostly because of my speaking ability, or lack of.

Ebony said this was normal for most of her students who went on to study at Sogang. This is in no way a fault of Ebony's, as she chooses to limit the students she accepts for each class to ensure each student gets enough practice, but the reality is, each lesson only runs for 2 hours. In fact when I signed up for Module 1, I could only join from lesson 4 because the classes were already full and allowing me to join would take away from everyone's learning experience. We also don't get anywhere near as much exposure as a student who is studying at Sogang for 200 hours (4 hours a day, 5 days a week) or intensively through any other course, let alone the exposure to everyday life in Korea.

To give you an idea, Sogang's Korean Language Course begins at 9am and finishes at 1pm, 5 days a week. It is broken down into a hour of writing, followed by 2 hours of speaking and a hour of reading/listening (which alternate each day). After class there is homework and lots of it, and everyday students are expected to review the grammar and vocabulary required for that days lesson beforehand. Even though we have writing and reading/listening classes, we spend roughly 75-80% of the 4 hour day speaking. On top of this, Sogang offers an optional free classes which are created specifically for people who want to improve on their pronunciation. This is why I was comfortable starting at level 2 because it meant I could focus on improving my speaking and not have to do too much to learn to grammar as I had already learned majority of it while studying with Ebony. I was also fortunate enough to have an awesome speaking teacher (you get one for each area of learning), who was like Ebony, really invested in her students' learning and was both fun and engaging to learn from. I guess I was also fortunate to have great classmates, which made my time memorable. After class we would often go out together and because this was my second time to Seoul, I did less touristy things and mainly enjoyed my time being able to hang out with my friends.
After finishing my semester at Sogang, I stayed for another month to do some more exploring of the city, the things I might have missed on my first trip there in 2014, to enjoy the food and conveniences of Seoul, and to spend as much time as possible with the new friends I had made there. I came back to Perth with a new found confidence and better ability not only in speaking Korean but understanding what is said. All this, thanks to the teachers at Sogang for their efforts, but more importantly thanks to Ebony for building the foundations of my understanding of the Korean language so I could have such a fulfilling experience. I hope that hearing about my experience encourages future students to study with Ebony and even explore the opportunity to study at Sogang.

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