I hope everyone is having a great day. In today’s post I am going to bring up a topic that has recently (OK, almost a year ago) been the cause of much debate and frustration in South Korea – especially among some in the expat community.
The topic relates to an article (available here) which appeared in one of South Korea’s English language newspapers – The Korea Times.
In the article the author (Choi Shi-yong) tries to explain the differences between foreigners and Koreans in an attempt “to promote cultural awareness.”
Sadly, all the article really served to do was anger and frustrate many of those who read it (as can be seen in the comments box situated at the bottom of the article on The Korea Times’ website).
In this post I am going to give you my take on the article – in point form.
- First, I do not think the author deliberately set out to hurt people. I truly think he just didn’t have the linguistic ability to write a well structured or well considered article on this topic.
- Second, as an English teacher I can easily see where the author’s word choices (e.g. too and so) have been used inappropriately (this article makes it very clear what happens to the tone of the writing by using these words), thus inadvertently positioning one party in a negative light, while positioning the other party in a positive light.
- Third, the author (again, I think/hope, inadvertently) only mentions positive things about his own culture, sadly forgetting to mention any positives about the various cultures of the “foreigners” living in South Korea.
- Fourth, the author has arguably tried to be too expressive with his writing, and as such, creates a tone that places his culture above everyone else’s. I would suggest that his choice of words (and phrasing) may not be suitable for this type of article. However, I feel this is as a result of him being a non-native English speaker, and not due to any ill intent.
- Fifth, the author seems to misunderstand his friend’s anecdote. I think he took his friend’s words literally instead of taking them as a joke or as a way of embellishing a story.
Why did I just mention all of this? To give some tips on teaching – of course!
First off, I think this article serves as a reminder of the dangers of making sweeping statements, especially regarding groups of people or entire cultures. (Do all foreigners drink beer too slowly? One night out in Itaewon will prove this generalization is not true.)
Second, I think this article is a great tool for teaching writing and culture. Personally, I have used it with several of my students and classes as a way of showing how the words too and so actually work. I have also used it to discuss different genres and styles of writing (e.g. is this article an opinion piece or a persuasive argument?), to begin discussions on various elements of culture, and to teach about irony, humor, and storytelling (Do British people really walk around punching elderly people? Or was his friend’s story misunderstood and taken literally?).
And third, as a teacher I really try to teach my students how to think critically. I strive to ensure that they develop the skills required to critique and evaluate someone’s ideas and arguments. I believe this article can be used to help our students develop this valuable skill.
So, why not use it to address and question cultural identity, stereotypes, cultural norms, and the notions of understanding and tolerance? Why not dissect it to separate fact from fiction?
Instead of being upset with this writer for producing a seemingly biased article, I think the EFL teachers in South Korea can benefit from this article and use it to our students’ advantage.
One way this can be done is by using this article to help us prevent our learners from making the same mistakes as the author in question made. And to me, that can only be a good thing.
On this topic, if you are interested in teaching culture in your classroom, check out my lecture on Culture & Language to learn more about this topic (That goes for you too Mr. Choi).
Anyway, to conclude I’d like to say that we probably can’t accuse the writer Choi Shi-yong of being malicious, however we can probably accuse him of producing a poorly devised and poorly crafted article. (Although, to be honest, if I wrote as well as him in a second language I would be really happy – I would probably just choose less provocative topics to write about.)
Have a great day,
Keep English Real!