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. And whether that policy reaped dividends and made the students in those countries better at English or ripped those countries of their precious dollars is an interesting topic for discourse.
There are a few tertiary institutions in this country employing teachers from the Philippines to teach English. These are the universities that 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 Association of Filipino Professors in Korea (AFEK) is accurate then there are more or less 100 teachers from the Philippines in this part of the Korean peninsula. That could still be the same number as of 2022. Reportedly, there are more in elementary and secondary schools and academies (hagwon). This 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.
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 Masters. Surprisingly, some native speakers of English, are allowed to teach in universities here even if they don’t have Masters.
To the universities that 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.
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. When they need to, Filipino teachers know how to 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 at English with the said language being the official medium of instruction in the Philippines from kindergarten to college – even in graduate school. Filipinos, at an early age, write and speak English. They hear and read it everywhere. It is also 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. It’s neutral, to say the least. This is the reason why the Philippines is one of the leading countries for BPO. But notwithstanding all the aforementioned, still the said universities prefer native English speakers and do not include Filipino teachers in their lists of preferences.
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 learn to mimic somebody’s way of creating vowel and consonant sounds and diphthongs but it is hard for teachers to be passionate about the job and compassionate with the students…. especially if they are not really trained to be one and were only forced to accept the teaching job for lack of better options.
(2nd of 3 parts)
I started mingling with real Korean people – real men and women and not fictional characters. I dined with them, drank their wine and beer, ate their kimchi and their delicious dishes, and spoke (a little) of their language.
I witnessed their way of life and even adopted some parts of it. I saw what’s inside their houses, their theatres, their bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. I have entered their museums, strolled in their parks, and hiked in their mountains.
Through daily encounters with my Korean students, colleagues, and friends, I was also able to probe into their character. I confirmed that just like what I saw in their dramas, South Koreans fall in love, get angry, feel sad and happy, and suffer from anxiety and stress. In short, just like me or any average human being from any part of the world, they also ride the roller coaster of emotions. They do have strengths and weaknesses too. They are not faultless… like me. Anyway, nobody is. They also have fears and uncertainties. But just like me and anyone else, they have dreams and ambitions. They have plans and a vision of a good life in the future for themselves and their families.
I discovered more. I found out that their prosperity is not a myth. Those things I saw in Korean dramas and movies that indicate how progressive and modernized their country is are not fictitious. Their provinces, cities, and towns are effectively interconnected by impressive highway systems that how I wish we could also have in my country of origin. How I wish that our telecom companies could provide us with internet connectivity as fast as South Korea’s.
With everything that I have seen and experienced, I could not help but compare this country to mine. I could not help but be envious of the South Koreans for what they have accomplished as a nation. As I stayed here longer, my “How I wish!” list grew longer. How I wish that in my country, packages could be left in front of our doors, even for days, not fearing that somebody would steal them. How I wish we could also send to prison our politicians who would be found guilty of wrongdoings without fearing that when a political ally would become the next president they would be granted a pardon. How I wish we would take research as seriously and meticulously as the Koreans do.
Whatever metrics I used for the comparison, it was a mismatch with this country always ending up on top after all the comparative analyses I performed except for this – my country has a younger population where the median age is less than 26 years. For this country, it’s more than 40 years. I will no longer be citing other statistics like those of life expectancy, GDP, and international ranking of universities. South Korea’s numbers are far more superior to my country’s.
In addition, South Korean students perform better in Math and Science as compared to the youth of my country. If there is any consolation though, I and my countrymen scored higher in English proficiency.
But does it matter if we in our country are better at English? Does it make my country better than South Korea? The answer is obvious – NO. There is no direct correlation between a country’s English proficiency and its economic performance. If there is, then why does this country, as of 2020, rank as the world’s 10th biggest economy while mine barely made it to the list of newly-industrialized countries?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not putting my country down while I am seemingly extolling South Korea. I love the country where I was born and I am proud to be its citizen. I am just wondering how come this country has gone this far leaving my native land way behind in the race to prosperity and stability.
My desire to figure that out led me to read more about the history of this country. In the process, I discovered certain uncanny similarities between our historical experiences. Both South Korea and my native land are colonized nations and earned independence after the second world war. Both countries embraced the democratic form of government thereafter. Additionally, just like in my country, the development of democracy here in South Korea was interrupted by military takeovers, and what a coincidence that martial law in our countries was declared both in 1972. Was it also a coincidence that powerful military leaders in both countries were removed via popular revolt in the mid 1980s?
Unfortunately, the similarities in the historical development of this nation and mine stop there. We took different paths in building our nations from the ashes of colonization, the second world war, and military juntas.
(1st of 3 parts)
South Korea entered my consciousness through Hallyu – a term that when translated to English means Korean Wave. And yes, when that cultural wave reached our shores, South Korean dramas, movies, and music drowned the country’s airwaves. Local magazines and the entertainment sections of newspapers regularly featured K-pop artists and other Korean TV and movie personalities. Before long, other aspects of Korean culture – food, fashion, lifestyle, and what have you – started to deeply influence me and my countrymen.
Before the Korean Wave came, I knew not much about South Korea. I remember checking the encyclopedia for information about the Korean war when I took World History when I was a college student. It was only then that I found out that my country was one of those which sent troops to help this country to ward off the Communist invasion from north of its borders.
Just imagine how dreadful a picture of the war-torn Korean peninsula the things that I read created in my mind. It was horrible, to say the least. The death and destruction were too much to bear.
But before I graduated, I had another chance to check the encyclopedia for more information about South Korea when the country hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics. Because of the said sporting event, South Korea was all over the news. That triggered my curiosity thus I checked the encyclopedia to once again read something about the said nation.
I saw a country different from what those pages about the Korean war presented to me. I found out that the nation called “Land of the Morning Calm” rebounded from the horrors of the Korean war and eventually became very progressive. Then I wondered at that time and asked – “What did the South Koreans do that enabled them to, like the legendary Phoenix, rise from the ashes of a horrendous war at that time and even became only the second country in Asia to host the world’s biggest sporting event?”
As years passed, I learned more and more about South Korea, not only through traditional media but more from the Internet (which became more accessible than when I was in college). I got to see more and more Korean dramas. It made me, just like many of my countrymen, want to visit the country so bad. I wanted to visit the places in the country that I got to see only on TV programs and movies. I wanted to try soju and maekju and when the two are combined – somaek. I wanted to taste kimchi and eat Korean dishes prepared and served by Koreans. I wanted to try bibimbap, pyo haejangguk, and kalguksu served with plenty of banchan in a restaurant in South Korea, not in a Korean restaurant in my native land. I wanted to meet real Korean people. In short, I wanted to have an authentic Korean experience. I personally call that my “Korean dream.”
That urge became stronger when I enrolled in the program Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). South Korea was mentioned by the program coordinator as one of the countries considered as premiere destination for ESL teachers. Thus, since teaching overseas is an option in the career path I set for myself, I thought that if I would teach abroad, why not in South Korea? My “Korea dream” suddenly expanded – I no longer just wanted to have an authentic Korean cultural experience but to live and work in this country.
Then I did what I had to do for that “Korean dream” to come true. I left no stone unturned.
My persistence and hard work eventually paid off. My wish was granted. I was given the opportunity to live that dream when a university hired me as a teacher. So, off to South Korea, I flew.
As soon as I exited Gimhae Airport, I started having that authentic Korean experience. The early spring weather giving me an icy cold welcome got it going.
As days and weeks passed, I gradually immersed myself into the country’s culture. I was no longer just watching the people of this land from the television set, the silver screen, and the World Wide Web. It’s no longer a Korean drama I was watching but it’s real Korean life I was experiencing… from reel to real. I got what I wanted.