On Teaching English In South Korea

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Filipino professors attending a meeting of the AFEK

Most universities here in South Korea (and other Asian countries) prefer to recruit English teachers from countries where English is the native language. That is a matter of policy but it does not follow that the best English teachers are the ones coming from those countries… they could be somewhere else just waiting to be given an opportunity to prove their mettle in ESL teaching.

There are a few tertiary institutions in this country employing teachers from the Philippines to teach English. These are the universities who believe that teaching English is not a monopoly of the teachers labeled as “native speakers” coming from the following countries: USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland. I have also written an article about the Filipinos and their romance with the English language. I also discussed in the same article a little bit about the thesis that ACCENT  is getting in the way of INTELLIGIBILITY and COMPREHENSIBILITY. I am planning to explore the topic further in future articles.

If the statistics gathered in 2013 by the AFEK (Association of Filipino Professors in Korea) is accurate then there are more or less 100  teachers from the Philippines in this  part of the Korean peninsula. Reportedly, there are more in elementary and  secondary schools and academies (hagwon). This, the organization (AFEK) came to know, when they launched in May, 2017 the program “Skills Enhancement for Filipino Teachers Teaching English in Korea.” Several of the attendees were Filipino women married to South Koreans and are employed as English teachers.  The Philippine Embassy in Seoul, however, doesn’t have any official record that could give the exact number of Filipinos teaching in the basic education schools and academies here.

Filipino professors are not limited to teaching English subjects only. They are E-1 visa holders and are allowed to teach content subjects depending on their fields of specialization.

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The writer and his TOEIC students

E-2 visa holders are allowed by the Ministry of Education here to teach strictly English subjects only. One advantage of hiring Filipino professors, because theirs is E-1 visa, is they can be asked to teach content subjects related to their fields especially if the curriculum requires that the content subjects should be taught in English. Currently, in the university where this writer is teaching,  three teachers from the Philippines, are also teaching, aside from English subjects, content subjects in the university’s Graduate School.

I wouldn’t say that Filipino professors in universities in South Korea are lucky to have been hired. Why? They have to go through the proverbial eye of the needle to have a chance of getting hired. They applied alongside teachers who are native speakers of English who have the upper hand, not because of their qualifications and pedagogical skills, but because of their geographical roots.

Most of the Filipino professors here are PhD degree holders. The minimum requirement FOR THEM  is Master’s. Surprisingly, some native speakers of English, are allowed to teach in universities here even if they don’t have Master’s.

To the universities who opened the opportunity for Filipino professors and hired them, the applicants needed to prove that they are as equally-capable as their counterparts from the native English-speaking regions of the world. When they got hired, it was because they are qualified and have proven that they have what it takes to be English teachers. It wasn’t luck.

Filipino teachers are trained in the Philippines to both know what to teach and know how to teach what they know.

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The writer with a fellow-Filipino professor and some students

Modesty aside, the Philippines have a very good education curriculum implemented through the Commission on Higher Education which closely monitors  TEIs (Teacher Education Institutions) to ensure strict compliance. Thus,  Education graduates from the Philippines can be relied upon not only in terms of the knowledge, skills, attitude and values in their field of specialization but also in pedagogy and in research. Filipino teachers are good in both instruction and research.

One of the best features of “teacher training” in the Philippines is teachers are made to understand that the most important stakeholder in a school is the STUDENT, not the TEACHER. Filipino teachers adhere to the philosophy that the teaching-learning process  should be student-centered.

One reason, if not the main and only reason,  most universities in Asian countries (like South Korea, Japan and China) prefer to hire teachers from those seven countries is ACCENT.

The Filipinos are good in English with the said language being the official medium of instruction in the Philippines from kindergarten to college – even in the graduate school. Filipinos, at an early age, write and speak English. They hear and read it everywhere. It is also the the official language of communication in the Philippines.  All business and government transactions are done in English. The country also has the 3rd largest group of English speakers in the world. Their accent is not bad. Philippines wouldn’t be the BPO/Call Center capital of the world if so. But notwithstanding all the aforementioned, still the said universities prefer native English speakers and not include Filipino teachers in their lists of preference.

But there are two things that would make hiring a Filipino teacher a wise investment – two things far more important than ACCENT… their PASSION for teaching and COMPASSION for the learners.

It is easy to train the tongue to mimic somebody’s way of creating vowel and consonant sounds and diphthongs but it is so hard to convince a teacher  to be passionate  with the job and to be compassionate with the students…. especially if he/she is not really trained to be one and was only forced to accept the teaching job for lack of better options.

 

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