Printer Friendly

Good teachers know where to scratch when learners feel itchy: Korean learners' views of native-speaking teachers of English.

Cross-border education has been growing dramatically in both English-speaking countries and non-native English-speaking countries. While more and more students, particularly from Asian countries such as Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan choose to study in English-speaking countries, many native English speakers go to Asian countries to teach English. In this context, cross-cultural misunderstanding and cultural bias between English language learners and native-speaking teachers of English are becoming major issues. This article focuses on 12 Korean adult learners' views about native-speaking teachers of English working in Korea. Korean learners' expectations and needs regarding English language learning and teaching are explored through the investigation and analysis of the learners' views. It aims to provide educators both in non-English and English-speaking countries, including Australia, with insights to inform the development of effective learning and teaching environments not only for Korean students, but also for those in similar cultural contexts.


There has been a growth in the number of students who leave their home country to study English or get higher degrees in English-speaking countries over the past decades. They usually stay in English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) until obtaining International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores required by the institutions they plan to attend, or reaching certain English proficiency levels they aim at. According to the OECD (2004), the four leading English-speaking countries that receive international students are the USA, the UK, Australia and Canada. In 2001, they collectively accounted for 54 per cent of all overseas students in the OECD countries. A large number of international students in those four English-speaking countries come from Asia. Seventy per cent of all Asian students abroad study in the USA, the UK and Australia on a full-fee paying basis.

Korea is one of the main sources of overseas students seeking advanced degrees in English-speaking countries (Country Commercial Guide, 2002). The number of Korean students studying in English-speaking countries, such as the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, has increased significantly since the mid-1970s when the Korean economy started to grow with the development of heavy industry and chemical production. The USA has been the destination for a majority of Korean students since the 1970s. As US visa requirements are becoming stricter and education costs higher, however, the Country Commercial Guide (2002) reports that Koreans have been diverting to other destinations: in 1999, to Japan (12 746 Korean students), to Australia (9526) and to China/Hong Kong (9204). Australia is becoming a major overseas study destination for Korean students.

On the other hand, a number of native English speakers (NESs) have gone to Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, and Taiwan to teach English (Singh, Kell, & Pandian, 2002). The NESs employed as English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers in Korea are from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Ireland (MOE&HRD, 2002). However, most NESs working in Korea have degrees irrelevant to English teaching, and some of them have no teaching experience (Kim, 2001; Min, 1998). In this active situation of cross-border education, it is important to pay attention to what expectations and beliefs foreign students bring into English-speaking countries, what students in their home countries expect from their native-speaking teachers of English (NSTEs), and what students in English-speaking countries or their home countries need in their learning.

Armitage (1999) argues that there are very few Australians with a fundamental understanding of Korea and Koreans, although an increasing number of Korean students choose to study in Australia each year. In spite of sending a number of Australia-born NSTEs to Asian countries, Australia also seems to have few studies on the quality of NSTEs. Furthermore, Ellis (2002) states that Australia has paid less attention to the issue of NSTEs in preference to non-native speaking teachers of English (NNSTEs) while this has been a heated debate in ELT worldwide.

A survey of NSTEs was conducted by Kontra in 1993 with 116 Hungarian students and 58 Hungarian teachers, followed by Barratt in 1996 with 100 Chinese students and 54 Chinese teachers (Barratt & Kontra, 2000). The focus of the survey was these teachers' and students' positive and negative experiences with NSTEs. Their general positive comments about NSTEs included native language authenticity, a positive personality, and learning about English-speaking culture. On the other hand, their negative comments in general included a lack of teaching experience, unfamiliarity with learners' language and the host culture and educational system. Particularly, Chinese participants commented on the NSTEs' irresponsibility with respect to teaching and their unawareness of learners' needs. Another survey study of 69 US EFL teachers in Korea investigated their motivation, attitudes, cross-cultural adaptation strategies and educational backgrounds (Kim, 2001). The findings of the survey suggested that US EFL teachers lacked information and knowledge of Korean culture, and their attitudes and motivations for teaching did not meet with Korean learners' needs. The survey showed that none of them had any teaching qualification. The two surveys imply that teaching experiences may be improved if NESs who plan to go to host countries find out what learners value and expect from them.

This paper draws upon doctoral research which examined the experiences and perceptions of 12 Korean adult learners regarding English language learning and teaching. Similarly to the above surveys, the main focus of this paper is the views of these learners about NSTEs working at primary and secondary schools, language schools, or universities in Korea. Most NSTEs were from English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, the USA and Ireland. This paper aims to provide guidance for NESs, including Australia-born NESs, planning to teach in Korea as well as in contexts similar to Korea, helping them understand their learners' needs and expectations. Identification of Korean learners' views about NSTEs may also assist EFL educators both in the host countries and English-speaking countries, including Australia, to design and develop their EFL teacher education programs and ELICOS which meet with learners' needs and expectations.

Qualifications of native-speaking teachers of English

While an increasing number of Asian students go to English-speaking countries, a growing number of NESs are coming to Asian countries (such as Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) to teach English in language centres, primary and secondary schools, and universities. Some NESs may be qualified to teach English and sensitive to different cultures and languages, but many appear to be unqualified. Whether English is better taught by NESs is a perennial question.
 It is possible to teach in Korea even without a university degree.
 Certainly, the old sheepskin helps land the plum jobs and will
 certainly make the government look more favourably on your work
 visa application, but there are hundreds of people working legally
 (often on a student visa while studying some aspect of the culture)
 and not-so-legally. Even with more foreigners going over to teach
 these days, I would still recommend even non-grads give it a try.
 Even if nothing pans out with any of Seoul's 300-plus schools (hard
 to imagine), there's always Pusan, Taegu, Inchon, Kwangju, Taejon,
 Kyonggu, Chollanamdo, Kyungsannbukdo and Kyungsanamdo--all cities
 of over one million with dozens of English schools each. (Wharton,
 1992, p. 71)

This quotation from a travel guide book designed to encourage any NESs to go to Korea and teach English, even those without undergraduate qualifications, suggests that qualified NSTEs in Korea are in short supply. As mentioned previously, a survey of 69 native American EFL teachers teaching across Korea showed that none of them were qualified (Kim, 2001).

Over the past few years, despite steps by the Korean government to tighten up regulations against NSTEs without working visas, NSTEs still teach English with no teaching experience or qualification. Min (1998), the director of one of the biggest language schools in Korea, argues that many of the present NSTEs are recruited only because they are native speakers, regardless of their educational backgrounds. According to Singh et al. (2002), English language teaching (ELT) operators in Bali get several enquiries every day from unqualified people who want to teach English and this is an insult for ELT professionals who spend enormous time on their studies:
 People wander in off the beach in their shorts and thongs to ask
 for a job teaching English. Professional ELT providers say, 'What
 are your English language teaching qualifications? None? Why don't
 you wander down to the hospital and see if you can get a job as a
 doctor?' (p. 185)

However, there are some factors that contribute to an increase in the number of unqualified NSTEs working in Korea, with a subsequent drop in qualify of EFL teachers. One factor is the learners' preference for NESs in general. For example, many Koreans want to learn English from NESs because of their 'authenticity': 'authentic pronunciation, wide-ranging knowledge of vocabulary, and critical information about usage' (Barratt & Kontra, 2000, p. 20). Korean learners, particularly at a high level of English proficiency, want to learn about English-speaking cultures, and English ways of thinking and negotiating, which Korean schools only superficially teach.

Another factor that drops quality of EFL teachers is that many Korean schools usually hire EFL teachers on the basis of their easy access and cost effectiveness using the single criterion of the teachers' English language background rather than their teaching experiences or qualification (Min, 1998). This convention needs to be reconsidered as 'cheap' teachers can result in 'cheap' outcomes.

In addition to the problem of unqualified NSTEs, another issue raised is NSTEs' monolingual status. Widdowson (1992) worries about NESs' self-satisfaction with security in their native language, assuming that everybody wants to speak English and they do not need to learn other languages or even other cultures. This might contribute to NESs and NSTEs isolating themselves from other cultures and English language learners. Lo Bianco (cited in Burgess, 2004, p. 1) warns that:
 People make a big mistake if they think the power of English in
 the world means we don't have to learn another language. There
 are two big disadvantages in this era of globalisation: not
 knowing English if you're not a native English speaker, and
 being monolingual if you are an English speaker.

Native and non-native speakers of English

Gupta (2001, p. 366) defines a native speaker of a language as 'one who acquired the language in infancy, before any other language was acquired'. This does not mean that all native speakers have an inbuilt ability to reach high standards of English, or know how to teach the language. The issue of NSTEs over NNSTEs has been debated by many authors (Barratt & Kontra, 2000; Ellis, 2002; Medgyes, 1992; Phillipson, 1992; Rampton, 1990; Widdowson, 1992, 1994). Evidence indicates the prestigious status of NSTEs over NNSTEs (Amin, 1997; Ellis, 2002; Phillipson, 1992; Tang, 1997; Widdowson, 1992). Medgyes (1992) argues, however, the usefulness of setting up two separate categories because 'what is a weakness on one side of the coin is an asset on the other' (p. 346). According to Ellis (2002) and Widdowson (1992, 1994), the strength of NSTEs lies in their extensive experience as English language users, while NNSTEs in their experience as English language learners. It has been argued that advantages of NSTEs include their native command of English and authenticity. On the other hand, the assets of NNSTEs could include their linguistic and cultural similarity to the learners, their awareness of the learners' needs and difficulties in learning English, and their familiarity with learners' learning context (Ellis, 2002; Medgyes, 1992; Phillipson, 1992; Tang, 1997). These assets imply that NNSTEs can know where and how to scratch when their learners feel itchy because they share learning experiences similar to their learners. In particular, a study conducted by Ellis (2002) about the experience and insights of three NNSTEs in Australia suggests how rich and powerful their experiences are in facilitating learners' English language learning.

The native and non-native dichotomy, focusing on English proficiency, assumes that all NESs have a natural ability with Standard English, and that the version that non-native English speakers (NNESs) speak is 'non-standard'. Widdowson (1994, p. 384) claims that:
 Real proficiency is when you are able to take possession of the
 language, turn it to your advantage, and make it real for you.
 This is what mastery means. So in a way, proficiency only comes
 with nonconformity, when you can take the initiative and strike
 out on your own.

There is no central authority in English language speaking. As Gupta argues (2001, p. 367), Standard English is a learned skill, and a skill in which there is not always an absolute agreement'. In the situation where some NESs believe that they use Standard English while other NESs do not, how can 'standard' or 'non-standard English' be identified? Standard English seems to be an arbitrary concept created by Anglo-centric ideas and focused only on a narrow version of either US or UK English. According to Widdowson (1994), the majority of native speakers speak non-standard English and need to be taught the standard form at school. Standard English is claimed by a minority of people who have the power to impose it:
 Standard English is an entry condition and the custodians of it
 the gatekeepers. You can, of course, persist in your non-standard
 ways if you choose, but then do not be surprised to find yourself
 marginalised, perpetually kept out on the periphery (Widdowson,
 1994, p. 381)

The native and non-native dichotomy appears to imply that English should be taught in English and by NSTEs because they speak Standard English which is superior to NNSTEs' English. Further, it seems to be also assumed that NSTEs teach better and have a broader knowledge of the world. The assumption is that NNSTEs cannot reach the standard. Implicit in the dichotomy is support for the maintenance of Standard English stemming from Anglophone nations and their speakers as ideal models.

The quality of teaching is not determined by the teacher's English proficiency alone, although English proficiency is one of the factors that facilitates learning and teaching. What constitutes quality teaching may involve many factors: teaching experience, teacher beliefs, the match between teaching beliefs and learner needs, broad understanding of learning and teaching contexts and characteristics of learners, etc. The focus should shift from, 'Who is better, native or non-native?'. One is not automatically superior to the other. Rather, the focus needs to be on, 'Who knows and can teach what?' and 'Who can reach what?'. Instead of pointless debate about native and non-native distinctions, attention needs to be concentrated on how all language teachers can be helped to create effective educational environments where learning and teaching are focused on learner needs and interests, and the development of cross-cultural understanding.

Korean learners

It may be generally assumed that learners in a culture share the same learning experience, styles, and characteristics. However, there are a number of variables that impact on learners' beliefs, views, and learning styles, such as proficiency level, learning experience, age, social status, educational level, gender, etc. Such variables contribute to the complexity of learning processes and create learner differences.

In recognition of the complexity and flexibility of culture and the individual learner differences within a culture, the characteristics of Korean learners in this paper are identified in a broad cultural frame. This provides an understanding of general characteristics of Korean learners as well as a basis for understanding the roots of individual Korean learner differences.

Impact of Confucianism on Korean learners

Korea has been changed by influences of foreign forces throughout Korean history: Buddhism and Confucianism from China (37 BC-1910), Japanisation during Japanese colonisation (1910-1945), and Americanism in the 20th century until present. Despite such changes, within the tensions and contradictions between traditional values and modern individualism and commercialism, Confucian principles, in particular, continue to play an important role as a foundation of educational philosophy and practice in Korean society.

Confucianism puts a high emphasis on 'propriety, etiquette or ceremony, knowledge and trust' (Peterson, 1997, p. 144). It is believed that these values can be obtained through education and one can become perfect through learning and gaining knowledge. Education is believed to be achievable by everyone if he or she wants to achieve, regardless of ability. Such a belief puts enormous emphasis on effort and will power to succeed in academic achievement and life. Therefore, success is perceived to stem from controllable factors such as effort, will power and study methods, while failure is a result of lack of effort and willpower rather than personal inability. The view of ability is flexible, fixable and controllable. Ability can be obtained from hard work and effort (Salili, 2001). The Korean educational system has been established on the basis of these beliefs, which has generally led to extreme dedication, high motivation and hard work to gain good education and high literacy rates.

Education functions as a means to success in Korea. In traditional times, government officials, role models of success, enjoyed many social and economic privileges. Education was the key to passing examinations in order to become officials. That is, good education was a ticket to attaining higher socioeconomic status (Ho, Peng &Chan, 2001; Salili, Chiu, & Hong, 2001) and it remains so today. Therefore, any hardship or suffering associated with learning should be tolerated to reach a prestigious social status. Rewards come later. Personal enjoyment, interests, or enrichment from learning play little part in decision making. Due to the high value placed on educational achievement in Korea, students in general are well motivated to succeed in school, and learn to survive in the fiercely competitive examinations.

Confucianism places importance on loyalty and obedience toward parents and teachers, which is defined as 'filial piety' by Salili, Fu, Tong and Tabatabai (2001, p. 129). The teachers' role is to pass correct (absolute) knowledge onto their students. Teachers expect to be respected as authority figures and unquestioned about their knowledge (Ellis, 1994; Ho et al., 2001). They are considered as 'a master-educator of superior self-cultivation' (Ho et al., 2001, p. 42). They are supposed to be role models with dignity for their students.

On the other hand, students are expected to be obedient, humble, respectful and hard working. Decision making regarding study tends to be externally from the pressure from parents, peers and examination results rather than by student inner direction (Ho et al., 2001). Due to this passive role of the students, it is likely to be assumed by Western (1) teachers that the students from the Confucian heritage cultures (CHCs) are silent, spoon-fed recipients rather than active, responsive seekers or generators of new knowledge. In short, the general passive and silent learning attitude of students from CHCs seems to be basically from role definition: the teachers deliver knowledge, and the students receive.

Characteristics of Korean learners

Song (1994) identifies common factors affecting Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese students' low interaction in the English as a second language (ESL) classroom, such as a habit of translation (i.e., they tend to formulate what they want to say first in their own language and then translate it into English), lack of discussion skills, dependence on teachers for opportunities to talk, fear of making mistakes (i.e., to 'save face'), and a lack of confidence in spoken English. Song also argues that for Asian learners, the main determinants that impact their participation in learning are affective factors, such as anxiety, empathy, self-esteem, and motivation which are related to psychological and personal factors.

A study carried out by Reid (1987) identified ESL learners' perceptual learning style preferences. In the study, ESL learners (including Korean learners) preferred total physical involvement with a learning situation and 'hands-on learning' such as building models or doing laboratory experiments (p. 89), while showing a negative response to group learning. In particular, Korean learners were the most visual in their learning style preferences in the study. Another study of learning styles of English learners conducted by Park (1997, 2002) found similar results to Reid's. In Park's study, Korean learners preferred more structured and formal styles of learning than informal ones, and were also proven to be visual learners. The findings of the study recommended the use of visual materials such as real objects, pictures, charts, maps, graphs, computer graphics, and semantic maps as well as writing the lecture content on the blackboard. This study also indicated Korean learners' negative preference for group learning. Park attributed this to Korean learners' unfamiliarity with small group activities due to grammar and exam-oriented school practices in Korea, and their individualism or competitive spirit due to the competitive nature of the Korean education.

Reflecting the common characteristics of Asian students, Korean learners tend to exhibit a lack of general conversation skills, fear of making mistakes, dependence on and respect for teachers, and a lack of presentation, debate and speech skills. Such characteristics usually result from many years of formal instruction-based education in Korea (Kong, 1996). Due to this experience, Korean learners are sometimes frustrated by lessons which do not focus on the formal aspects of the target language.

Like other Asian learners, Korean learners tend to forgo opportunities to be actively involved in class activities, in particular if these activities are led by a dominant group or person in the class. A characteristic of Korean students is that they are not voluntary speakers. They tend to speak only after being invited by the teacher. They are likely to be passive in their learning if the teacher does not give them a chance to speak, and does not show (but not necessarily express) encouragement, affection, or compassion towards them--for example, by offering learners assistance and consultations after class, and showing patience, and understanding of learning difficulties. In this respect, Korean learners tend to value the teacher's touch of humanity more than the teacher's knowledge.

In respect to memorising and understanding, Chinese students use repetition both to create a deep impression and to develop understanding by discovering new meaning (Watkins & Biggs, 2001). Chinese students view understanding as a long-term process that requires considerable mental effort, and repetition is seen as a route to such understanding (Biggs, 2001). Korean learners share these views. Koreans tend to develop their understanding through a process of memorisation and repetition. They believe, in general, that memorisation and repetition are the ways to obtain knowledge, and are crucial processes of learning.

Savignon and Wang (2003) argue that Taiwanese learners are very good at explaining the rules of English but are often unable to use English for communication like learners in other EFL contexts. Korean learners are no exception. They do not usually know how to use English words appropriately despite many years of learning experiences, such as memorisation of vocabulary, study of grammatical structure and translation of reading paragraphs. They do not have a natural and spontaneous sense of English use (Lee, 2001). Koreans know that their ways of learning and teaching English do not support the acquisition of the skills required in real communication. Korean learners often say that English education in Korea focuses too much on 'exam English'. Like the Taiwanese EFL students, Korean learners often experience failure in obtaining communicative skins in English and want to learn 'real English'. In other words, they prefer communicative activities where they actively 'use' English (Han, 2005).

Before proceeding to the focus of this article, some relevant literatures have been reviewed to provide an understanding and complexity of the issues which frame the study. Qualifications of NSTEs have been questioned and native and non-native dichotomy has been problematised. This has been formulated to identify the issues integral to effective teaching practices. General characteristics of Korean learners have been identified to provide background about their views, preferences, expectations and needs regarding their learning.

The study of adult Korean learners' views


A variety of data gathering tools were used in the study. A questionnaire was used to gather background information about the learners including 11 items such as age, gender, occupation, level of education, period of having learned English, places where English was studied, previous learning experience, English proficiency, purpose for learning English, important aspects of English skills and willingness to participate.

Semi-structured interviews were also carried out. The interviews were guided by the topics of the learners' present classes, their previous English learning experiences, their beliefs about English learning and teaching, their opinions about effective English learning and teaching environments, their views of NSTEs and their present purposes for learning English. The interview questions were open-ended rather than interrogative yes-no based, which gave the participants the opportunity to talk about their experience, beliefs and views.

Learner journals were developed as 'important introspective tools' (Nunan, 1989, 1992). Further, the reliability of participants' information provided in the interviews could be examined by comparison with what they wrote in the journals. The focus topics in the journals were what happened in respect to teaching procedures, teaching content, materials, discussion topics, games and other classroom activities, what aspects of the class they liked, what aspects of the class could be improved if any, and anything in particular they could remember about the class.

The personal notes were used as a supplementary tool to help reflect the interview situations in the process of transcribing the taped data. Further, in the process of analysis, what was written in the notes was compared with the transcribed interview data and the journals. The identification of similar patterns or themes comparing among the three sources was intended to make the collected data more reliable.


Long-term English learning does not necessarily mean a good command of spoken and written English, particularly in the Korean context, because English education at formal schools (2) is exam-oriented. However, Korean learners recognise the problem of exam-focused teaching practices and are highly motivated to learn 'real English' through other routes outside formal school settings. It was assumed, therefore, that the learners with long-term and varied learning experiences outside formal schools would be highly motivated for English learning as 'language learning experts' and thereby important informants for the study.

On the basis of this assumption, five females and seven males were selected for the study. On average, they had had more than ten years of English learning experience, had experienced a variety of English learning approaches, and were highly motivated learners. They were aged from 20 to 45, and were either university students or employees in business or industry (e.g., computer programmer, office workers, CEO, chef and receptionist). Seven participants were undergraduates, three postgraduates, and two secondary school graduates. All of them had language school experience in Korea besides English learning at their formal schools, and six had overseas study experience. Other learning routes they had gone through were self-directed study, private tutoring, and the Internet. During the data collection, they were attending a Korean EFL teacher's, or a NSTE's, class outside the formal school settings, such as in a private language school, or in the English improvement programs arranged by their companies for the purpose of professional development.

Procedures of data collection

After the development of the data gathering tools, a pilot study was conducted with three Korean learners studying for a TESOL Masters degree at Monash University in Australia. The intentions of the pilot study were to test whether the interview topics and the questionnaire were well constructed for the purpose of the study, and to learn necessary techniques for the interviews and administration of the questionnaire, which would also help organise plans and procedures for data gathering in appropriate ways. Through the lessons from the pilot study, the questionnaire was translated into Korean, and the interview topics were reorganised in a simpler way.

Data were collected over a period of nine months (December 2001-August 2002). Research sites were selected on the basis of availability of Korean adult EFL learners who had long-term and varied learning experiences with high learning motivation. The sites chosen were a language school, a car company, an electric company and a hotel, which had different contexts from formal schools in that they focused more on 'real English'. The 12 participants were selected by recommendation of their classroom teachers and with their consent. They were then provided with a questionnaire and each of them was contacted to set up an interview time and a venue. At a mutually suitable time and venue, a semi-structured interview was carried out with each participant for about one and a half hours or more on the basis of a series of discussion topics. All the interviews were conducted in Korean for the participants' convenience and recorded. As an aid to heightening the self-reflective role of the researcher, notes were taken immediately after each interview. The journals were kept by the participants for a period covering five subsequent sessions of EFL learning after their interview.

All the interview data were transcribed in Korean. The journals were also written in Korean according to the participants' wishes. The data obtained through the interviews, notes and journals were classified and synthesised according to different themes or patterns and then translated into English for analysis.

Korean learners' views about NSTEs

The general views of all the learners about NSTEs were distinctly negative. Typically, the learners felt that, compared with Korean EFL teachers, NSTEs lacked an understanding of Korean culture, language, educational context and learners' needs, interests and preferences. From the learners' perspective, NSTEs appeared unable or unwilling to develop interpersonal relationships with learners, and lacked the qualities of a good teacher, including sincerity, enthusiasm and responsibility. Some learners' comments illustrate NSTEs' insensitivity to Korean culture, educational context and learners:
 First of all, their (NSTEs) culture is different. Korean EFL
 teachers understand what I am going to say before I answer
 through nun-chi (3) but foreign teachers tend to make me tense
 without understanding why I am quiet when asked to answer ...
 NSTEs are impolite. They think they are the best. I feel a bit
 annoyed. They tend to ignore our culture ... They tend to think
 that even though Korean culture is regarded as great, Koreans
 are beneath them. I had such an impression when our class went out
 for drinking with our NSTE. I felt a bit annoyed. (Seo-Jong,
 interview March 22, 2002)

 I had a meal with a NSTE once. After a meal in a restaurant, he
 paid only for himself and left. It was shocking. The teacher was
 old enough to be respected. (You-Kyu, interview February 25, 2002)

 Although I have a Master's degree, my English is still poor. I have
 reading skills but no speaking and listening skills of which I'm
 ashamed, because we haven't learned English in the way we can
 improve our spoken skills. Korean teachers understand such a
 situation ... Native teachers don't know why we have low
 English-speaking skills despite our age and university study.
 (Joo-Seok, interview March 4, 2002)

One participant commented that NSTEs were not as much concerned about learners' difficulties in learning English as Korean teachers, and that the NSTEs' poor knowledge of Korean language and culture could be disadvantageous for elementary English language learners:
 I think that learning English from NSTEs (from an elementary
 level) is very dangerous. When I say something with my poor
 English, we never know whether NSTEs understand 100 per cent. They
 do not speak Korean. It is good for them to speak in English in
 class but, before the class, I think that they should have basic
 knowledge of Korean culture. If I learned English in a language
 centre, I would learn from Korean EFL teachers who studied enough
 about English teaching, then, if I want to keep learning, I would
 learn from NSTEs. However, I would not learn from NSTEs from the
 beginning. (Sue-Ee, interview February 25, 2002)

One of the major characteristics of Korean culture can be represented as 'uye-ri', which is a cultural concept that means a feeling of friendship, trust, warmth and faithfulness. Uye-ri is considered to be an essential basis for developing interpersonal human relationships. Therefore, pragmatic Westerners are likely to be considered 'cold' by Koreans because their relationships seem contractual and calculating. This idea is related to one of the reasons why Korean learners, in particular with low English proficiency, prefer Korean teachers of English rather than NSTEs. Korean learners tend to think that Korean teachers are more humanistic and patient because they have uye-ri. In a NSTE class, high-level learners can overcome misunderstanding arising from cultural differences between them and the teacher through communication. In elementary level classes, however, communication can easily break down because of the learners' limited English and the teacher's poor knowledge of the Korean language and unawareness of uye-ri or nun-chi. Clarification and explanation of the misunderstanding between the learners and the NSTE cannot be achieved. Moreover, the learners are more likely to be blamed for the misunderstanding. In this sense, Korean learners with low proficiency feel comfortable with Korean EFL teachers.

As reviewed earlier, in Korea, teaching is regarded as an honourable mission to carry out rather than simply a job. In relation to teaching, the learners' view was that NSTEs did not have the qualities of a teacher who could be respected, and did not make any effort to achieve good quality teaching. Some of the learners expressed strong opinions:
 Some NSTEs have a quality as a teacher but others do not make any
 effort for the class. In the university, I learned English from
 native English-speaking professors and priests. They were
 excellent. Maybe I am used to those teachers. NSTEs [without the
 quality as a teacher] just kill time with no preparation for the
 class. Their attitudes are light, insincere and they like Korean
 girls, especially in the case of male teachers. (Ji-Kyoung,
 interview March 30, 2002)

 I think that they [NSTEs] easily earn money without effort. First
 of all, they seem not to have sincerity, most of them. They tend
 to lack the attitude and manner as a teacher. We Koreans respect
 teachers although they are just private tutors. However, foreign
 teachers seem not to understand such culture and tend to think
 that teaching is just a job for a living. (Na-You, interview April
 1, 2002)

 I think it's very necessary for the language school to train
 native teachers properly in Korean ways ... I came to think the
 native teachers might just want to work for money to travel
 around. (Hyo-Sook, interview March 6, 2002)

The participants in this study did not seem to view NESs as quality teachers or to 'prefer' them to Korean EFL teachers, although Korean learners in general seem to prefer NESs. Korean learners want to learn 'real English' based on native-like pronunciation, spontaneity in language use without hesitations, and knowledge of English-speaking cultures, which NESs can help them achieve (Barratt & Kontra, 2000). In this respect, they prefer NESs. However, this does not necessarily mean that they see NESs as quality teachers. The participants' negative views about NSTEs may have resulted from their fundamental image of teachers. When the participants viewed NESs through the frame of teachers as role models, NESs as teachers did not appear to match with their image of teachers. The participants valued the NESs' authenticity, but not their quality as teachers.

One participant with a high level of proficiency commented on the importance of NESs' authenticity, the main reason for him to learn English from a NES.
 I learn some feeling. I feel about native speakers ... I learn
 the way they speak. I learn with what logic they speak, with what
 ideas they communicate with us, and how their ways of
 communicating are different from ours. Understanding all of these
 is important. What if I still speak English in Korean ways in other
 countries? ... What is the best way to maximise benefit out of the
 present limited learning environment in Korea? ... Rather than
 learning more words or sentences because I can do it by myself, it
 might be more important to learn something I can't learn by
 myself, such as how native speakers feel, how they interpret the
 world, and how they communicate ... Korean schools don't teach
 such things to us. (Hyun-Joon, interview May 6, 2002)

Hyun-Joon appeared to already acknowledge advantages and disadvantages of NESs and Korean EFL teachers through his long-term and varied learning experiences. He had already been through 'trial and error' processes and discovered his own learning styles and preferences. Therefore, he knew what he should learn in the class and from his teacher to achieve his learning goals.

The overall views of the participants were that effective teaching was built on warm and trusting relationships between teachers and learners, teachers' awareness of learners' first language, culture, and educational context, and teachers who regard teaching as a mission, not as a job and who are enthusiastic and responsible. Generally, the participants' views about NSTEs seem to be closely linked to what they had heard, seen, experienced, learned and believed in their cultural context. Their views appear to be very much related to Confucian teachings. As reviewed previously, Confucianism puts a strong emphasis on teachers' role as authority figures and as 'master-educator[s] of superior self-cultivation' (Ho et al., 2001, p. 42). Teachers' knowledge is expected to be unquestioned and unchallenged by their students. Confucianism emphasises a relationship between teacher and student: loyalty and obedience; care and respect. In order to be respected authority figures, teachers are meant to be role models for their students and carry out their teaching as a mission. In this study, the participants seemed to expect dignity, responsibility and care from their teachers. Despite cultural, social, economic and educational changes throughout Korean history, Confucian teachings still influence Koreans' consciousness, and their everyday life and language use. The participants in this study tend to have brought their

own beliefs, learning styles and attitudes based on Confucianism to the class, and judged the quality of the teaching accordingly.

Another factor contributing to the participants' negative views of NSTEs appeared to be the perception that NSTEs had a 'take-it-for-granted' attitude, as reflected in their lack of effort to learn or understand their learners' language and culture. This seemingly lackadaisical attitude in turn precipitated misunderstandings that NSTEs are arrogant, ignorant and indifferent about other cultures, and prone to ethnocentric bias.

However, the participants' views about NSTEs seemed to be limited in some ways. Their views were formed in a situation where they lacked knowledge of NSTEs' culture, just as many foreigners without knowledge of the CHCs tend to assume that in these cultures, teaching is strict, unvarying, authoritarian, expository and grammar-focused, and that classrooms are fierce and overcrowded, and learners are passive, silent, and uncritical (Biggs, 2001; Biggs & Watkins, 2001).

Directions for effective learning and teaching of English

When language learners come to class, they bring their own beliefs, views of the world, learning habits and styles, and expectations, on the basis of which they make their own judgements about the quality of teaching. Cortazzi (1990) suggests that regarding the content of lessons and learning and teaching methods, both teachers and learners have expectations which 'derive primarily from often hidden assumptions embedded in participants' cultural backgrounds and/or stem from general orientations towards learning resulting from previous educational experiences' (p. 54). Samovar and Porter (2003, p. 43) also argue that:
 Your behaviours are a manifestation of what you have learned, and
 they are largely influenced by your culture. These cultural
 influences affect your ways of perceiving and acting; they contain
 the societal experiences and values that are passed from generation
 to generation.

Always present is the strong influence of culture which might have substantial differences between people even in a cultural group. Culture underpins learners' judgements and perceptions of teachers and teaching styles. Such judgements and perceptions might be subjective, incorrect and misleading, causing cultural misunderstanding, bias and prejudice such as 'the unfair and prejudicial stereotypes of the inscrutable Asian or of the frank and rude Westerner' (Scollon & Scollon, 2001, p. 2). NSTEs, who presume that their own teaching styles and preferences are universally applicable in any cultural contexts, may impose their culture-centric ideas on their learners, resulting in cultural tension and ineffective learning. In the class where a NSTE ignores their learners' first language and culture, learners are likely to be subjected to their teacher's language and culture, despite a possibility of their inappropriateness to learners' culture. Such learning environments may convey the impression that the teacher's culture is superior and that all others are by implication inferior. Unilateral imposition of one culture upon another may be a shortcut to bias and prejudice.

In an English language class, in particular, to understand each other and convey complex ideas, it is essential for both learners and the NSTE to be culturally sensitive and responsive to each other's culture. Learners who do not know their teachers' culture may be frustrated by the inappropriateness and misunderstanding of the teachers' talk and behaviour. The NSTEs who do not know their learners' culture and language would also not be able to effectively facilitate and reinforce their learners' learning, and would be likely to overlook the learners' needs and interests. Bahloul (1994) stresses that particularly EFL teachers going into a foreign education system need to be sensitive to the local customs and habits, and learners' values, and to understand the home teaching situation as a step to a successful teaching experience. This is also a way to initiate the learners into understanding their teachers and the target language culture. Without shared communication systems and shared knowledge of cultural values, it is very difficult for both learners and a NSTE in a classroom to fully understand each other.

As the title of this paper suggests, good teachers know where to scratch when learners feel itchy. However, knowing where to scratch is not simply a technical skill. It requires cultural sense through which the teacher can understand the cultural context of learners and learn 'how' to scratch in culturally appropriate and effective ways. In the situation where many Korean students choose Australia as their overseas study destination, while Australia-born NESs go to Korea to teach English, hopefully this article could provide Australian educators with an opportunity to understand the needs and expectations of students from Korea and other countries in similar cultural contexts.


second language teaching

cultural differences

second language learning

cross cultural studies

cultural awareness

international education


Amin, N. (1997). Race and the identity of the normative ESL teacher. In B. Norton (Ed.), Teaching issues: The identity of the nonnative ESL teacher, TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 580-583.

Armitage, L. (1999). Factors affecting the adjustment of Koreans studying in Australia. Master thesis, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia. Retrieved from program_activities/ed_akf_thesis.pdf

Bahloul, M. (1994). The need for a cross-cultural approach to teaching EFL. TESOL Journal, 3(4), 4-6.

Barratt, L. & Koutra, E. (2000). Native English-speaking teachers in cultures other than their own. TESOL Journal, 9(3), 19-23.

Biggs, J. B. (2001). Teaching across cultures. In F. Salili, C. Y. Chiu, & Y. Y. Hong (Eds.), Student motivation: The culture and context of learning (pp. 293-308). NY: Kluwer Academic and Plenum Publishers.

Biggs, J. B. & Watkins, D. A. (2001). Insights into teaching the Chinese learner. In D. A. Watkins, & J. B. Biggs (Eds.), Teaching the Chinese learner: Psychological and pedagogical perspectives (pp. 277-300). Hong Kong: CERC and ACER Press.

Burgess, R. (2004, April 15). Australia must attune to Asia's voice. The Guardian Weekly.

Cortazzi, M. (1990). Cultural and educational expectations in the language classroom. In B. Harrison (Ed.), Culture and the language classroom (pp. 54-65). Hong Kong: Modern English Publications and the British Council.

Country Commercial Guide. (2002). Korea country commercial guide FY 2002. Retrieved January 6, 2003, from

Ellis, G. (1994). The appropriateness of the communicative approach in Vietnam: An interview study in intercultural communication. Master of Education thesis, LaTrobe University, Melbourne.

Ellis, L. (2002). Teaching from experience: A new perspective on the non-native teacher in adult ESL. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, 25(1), 71-107.

Gupta, A. F. (2001). Realism and imagination in the teaching of English. World Englishes, 20(3), 365-381.

Han, S.-A. (2005). Effective environments for English language learning and teaching in Korea: A study of adult EFL learners' perceptions. Doctor of Education thesis, Monash Umversity, Australia.

Ho, Y. F. D., Peng, S. Q., & Chan, S. F. F. (2001). Authority and learning in Confucian-heritage education: A relational methodological analysis. In C.Y. Chiu, F. Salili, & Y. Y. Hong (Eds.), Multiple competencies and self-regulated learning: Implications for multicultural education. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Kim, Y.-S. (2001). A survey Study of US EFL teachers in Korea. Paper presented at the 9th Korea TESOL International Conference, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Korea.

Kong, N.-H. (1996). The communicative approach to Korean college English. English Teaching, 51(1), 97-118.

Lee, J.-A. (2001). Korean speakers. In M. Swan, & B. Smith (Eds.), Learner English: A teacher's guide to interference and other problems (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who's worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4), 340-349.

Min, B.-C. (1998). A study of the attitudes of Korean adults toward technology-assisted instruction in English-language programs. Doctor of Education thesis, Northern Illinois University, Illinois.

MOE&HRD (Ministry of Education & Human Resources Development). (2002). Education in Korea 2002. Seoul: MOE&HRD. Retrieved September 26, 2002, from

Nunan, D. (1989). Understanding language classrooms: A guide for teacher initiated action. London: Prentice Hall International.

Nunan, D. (1992). Research methods in language learning. NY: Cambridge University Press.

OECD. (2004). Internationalisation of Higher Education. Retrieved January 31, 2005, from

Park, C. (1997). Learning style preferences of Korean, Mexican, Armenian-American, and Anglo students in secondary schools. National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Bulletin, 81(585), 103.

Park, C. (2002). Crosscultural differences in learning styles of secondary English learners. Bilingual Research Journal, 26(2), 443-459.

Peterson, M. (1997). Confucianism. In J. H. Koo, & A. C. Nahm (Eds.), An introduction to Korean culture. Seoul: Hollym.

Phillipson, R. (1992). ELT: The native speaker's burden? ELT Journal, 46(1), 12-18.

Rampton, M. B. H. (1990). Displacing the 'native speaker': Expertise, affiliation, and inheritance. ELT Journal, 44(2), 97-101.

Reid, J. (1987). The learning style preferences of ESL students. TESOL Quarterly, 21(1), 87-111.

Salili, F. (2001). Teacher-student interaction: Attribution implications and effectiveness of teachers' evaluative feedback. In D. A. Watkins, & J. B. Biggs (Eds.), Teaching the Chinese learner: Psychological and pedagogical perspectives. Hong Kong: CERC and ACER Press.

Salili, F., Chiu, C. Y., & Hong, Y. Y. (2001). The culture and context of learning. In F. Salili, C. Y. Chiu, & Y. Y. Hong (Eds.), Student motivation: The culture and context of learning. NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publisher.

Salili, F., Fu, H., Tong, Y., & Tabatabai, D. (2001). Motivation and self-regulation: A cross-cultural comparison of the effect of culture and context of learning on student motivation and self-regulation. In C. Y. Chiu, F. Salili, & Y. Y. Hong (Eds.), Multiple competencies and self-regulated learning: Implications for multicultural education. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Samovar, L. A. & Porter, R. E. (2003). Intercultural Communication: A reader (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Savignon, S. & Wang, C. (2003). Communicative language teaching in EFL contexts: Learner attitudes and perceptions. IRAL, 41(3), 223-249.

Scollon, R. & Scollon, S. W. (2001). Intercultural communication: A discourse approach (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.

Singh, M., Kell, P., & Pandian, A. (2002). Appropriating English: Innovation in the global business of English language teaching. NY: Peter Lang.

Song, M.-J. (1994). A study on common factors affecting Asian students' English oral interaction. English Teaching, 49, 191-219.

Tang, C. (1997). On the power and status of normative ESL teachers. In B. Norton (Ed.), Teaching issues: The identity of the nonnative ESL teacher, TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 577-580.

Watkins, D. A. & Biggs, J. B. (2001). The paradox of the Chinese learner and beyond. In D. A. Watkins, & J. B. Biggs (Eds.), Teaching the Chinese learner: Psychological and pedagogical perspectives (pp. 3-23). Hong Kong: CERC and ACER Press.

Wharton, J. (Ed.). (1992). English in Asia: Teaching tactics for the classrooms of Japan, Korea, Taiwan. Woodside, NY: The Global Press.

Widdowson, H. G. (1992). ELT and EL teachers: Matters arising. ELT Journal, 46(4), 333-339.

Widdowson, H. G. (1994). The ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 28(2), 377-389.


(1) The author argues that 'Westerners' and 'Asians' or 'Easterners' are relative terms, which can not be distinctively identified, particularly in the context where borders of cultures and nations are becoming blurred by active global mobility and interconnectivity.

(2) Formal schools include primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities under the control of the Ministry of Education.

(3) 'Nun-chi' is a Korean cultural concept which means an ability or a sensitivity to understand what is going on in a situation without being told.

Song-Ae Hart is conducting postdoctoral research in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, Vic 3800.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Australian Council for Educational Research
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Han, Song-Ae
Publication:Australian Journal of Education
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Aug 1, 2005
Previous Article:You don't bring me flowers any more: a fresh look at the vexed issue of teacher status.
Next Article:'Silly, soft and otherwise suspect': doctoral education as risky business.

Related Articles
Error correction practices of Polish and American teachers. (Linguistics).
Beliefs about language learning: Indonesian learners' perspectives, and some implications for classroom practices.
Effective practices and principles to support English language learners in the early childhood classroom.
International TESOL training and EFL contexts: the cultural disillusionment factor.
Integrated holistic approach to poetry instruction.
Adult ESL learners and professional career.
Promoting language acquisitions: technology and English language learners.
Helping linguistic minorities read independently.
Ways to help ELLs: ESL teachers as consultants.
Elena's passion: ESL learning as TESOL method.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters