An earlier version of this story appeared in THE KOREA TIMES on Thursday, May 14, 2015.
When students love a subject, they don’t study it for the grade but for the joy of it. They immerse themselves in that subject and never stop studying it. And they become good at it.
Students don’t study for tests. They cram for them. A couple of weeks before the test, they attend a review session where the teacher spotlights what the test will cover, then they look at nothing else until the test. They memorize facts and figures they’ll never look at again. Even if they make a perfect score, they’ll soon forget everything they’ve crammed into their heads, because they endured the test only for the grade.
You never study anything you love that way because you know it takes time, work, patience, and a high tolerance for frustration to really learn it the way you want to. You know that you won’t gain mastery of a subject unless you love it with all of your heart, but even then you still won’t find it easy. Such is the way of any craft or discipline that is worthy of you.
And so it is with English.
Cultivating and inspiring a love for English in Korean children begins with the necessary task of having them learn the Roman alphabet by heart so they can start forming words with the letters, then teaching them just enough grammar so they can understand short easy-to-read passages in English. The next step is introducing them to the mechanics of writing simple sentences, sentences they can read to themselves and understand and then show to their friends so they can read them too.
It’s not enough for students to love English only for itself, for the language alone won’t keep them interested. They must have fun with it. As they get better with English, children will look for American comic books, not so they can improve their English, but for the prospect of having fun. It’s the fun, after all, that lures them into reading the comic books, and because of the fun, they become better readers without even knowing it.
Twenty years from now – in 2035 – today’s children will be in their mid-to-late twenties and they will have finished or will soon finish university and will be taking their places in society. The world then will be more intertwined and complicated than it is now. Scientific discovery will be greater. By comparison, the sleekest smart phones and tablets of today will be awkward and slow next to the devices people will use then.
What we know for sure is that English will be the world language and that citizens from every nation will have to be intelligently literate in English, not merely fluent. The Koreans of that era will have to be masters of English as much as their contemporaries from Harvard and Oxford will be.
Every student in Korea has a smart phone or a smart tablet, or both, and since their devices are a constant temptation from their classwork, teachers would do well to find ways of letting the students practice their English – even in the early grades – with the help of their devices.
At the Korea Times website, the editors continue to create new possibilities they never dreamed of before they started the site. In addition to posting the news articles and opinion pieces the newspaper has published since its beginning in 1950, the website has video and voice features, an online dictionary, plus it archives all the articles from past editions.
For students of all ages and levels, there is the NIE Times (Newspaper in Education) which is a gateway to the mastery of English. To keep its young readers interested in English and informed about what’s happening in the nation and the world, the NIE Times is always adding stories and lessons to keep children interested in continuing their studies with English.