Monday, June 30, 2014

Cruising along the Han River/Bike rentals and Yeouinaru Han River Park

I went to a favorite place in Seoul, the riverside park at Yeouinaru, on Saturday to enjoy some quiet time by the water and to try out Seoul's bike rental program. Despite having been to the park a few times previously, I'd never rented a bike there. Riding along the riverside bike path piqued my interest, so away I went. 

The bikes aren't particularly sporty, but they do nicely for a ride on a summer day. I jumped on, pedaled to the bike lane, and headed east. I ended up riding as far as Dongjak station, some 4km away, before turning back. Here are some photos I took.

Old Red. Looking northwest.

Looking northwest, near Dongjak Station.

If you want to go...

Renting a bike is easy: Bring a form of photo ID for a "deposit" and 3,000 won to the window and any bike on the lot is yours for an hour. If you want to go longer, it's 1000 won for every 15 minutes past the hour. I found the rental center by asking for directions once I get on the park; upon getting outside Yeouinaru Station,, walk toward the CU convenience store and restaurant. Keep walking for a minute or so. The rental center has a tent covering the bikes and shed-like area to pay at.

Also, Yeouinaru is just one of many places where people can rent bikes in Seoul. Some places even rent bikes for free. See this site for more information!

Bonus material:

After a good hour's ride, I returned Old Red and set off in search of a tree to sit and read under. When I got up 75 minutes later, I came across this Bookmobile here:

A mobile library--Good idea! I didn't see too many people reading in the park, but still, I liked seeing this.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Remember to thank your bus driver

Koreans tend to thank the driver whenever they step off the bus. Any bus. The bus could have gone a mile or it could have gone from Seoul to Mokpo, but the response would be the same: Thank you, thank you, and thank you. Everyone says it. I picked up the habit right away. These guys deserve the credit.*

There's a bit of culture for you. I can wait to thank my bus driver--I'm writing this on the iPad--when we pull into the Dong (East) Seoul Bus Terminal because he drove this Kia bus like a sports car. I mean it. Touring never gets boring here.

Semi-obligatory note on "guys": In nearly three years, I've yet to see a female bus driver, local or otherwise.

[I originally wrote this post a couple weeks ago, but the point stands.]

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why I enjoy speaking tests / Dissolving the tension

Simple: I get to say “Good morning/afternoon, ___, how are you today?” to every student. I always greet classes with “Good ____, how are you?” but that doesn’t give everyone a chance to respond because the loud voices drown out the quiet ones. But asking the question one-on-one means I get to say hello to the students I can’t always say hello to. It allows us a warm-up chat before the speaking assessment begins. It’s been my experience that Korean students to get visibly nervous before speaking tests, so perhaps my asking “How are you today?” allows the students a gentle chance to focus their minds on speaking in English as well. “How are you?” is a question they know well, so they can start off knowing they’re off and running.

“How are you today?” gets asked for another reason: I want to show the students I care about them and am curious about what’s on their minds. People tend to perk up when others are interested in them; taking an interest in students can help their well-being. School can be a lonely place and I've endeavored to make it a little better with every lesson I do. It’s easy for the students to get lost in the crowd and get ignored—indeed, I struggle with names and faces at times, but thankfully, with the student roster in front of me, I can use the student’s name, smile, and begin the conversation. I've no way of proving it aside from first-hand observation, but these quick conversations help set the students up for success in their speaking assessments.

*See Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People for more on this subject. It’s a book I’d recommend for anyone who’d like to better talk with and understand people.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

#Onething: "Nice to see you!"

#Onething comes from Anne Hendler's informative blog about teaching English. She wrote of how we should take time "to pay attention to what happens in a day, reflect on it, and share it." Here's something from today's classes:

I walked into the a class of 3rd grade middle school girls and amid the chorus of enthusiastic greetings, one girl called out, "It's nice to see you!" I smiled and said, "You too!" 

It was indeed nice to see her and the rest of the class. Better still was how she remembered to say "Nice to see you!" instead of the usual "Nice to meet you!" She remembered that in English, we say "Nice to see you" to someone we've met previously. Many Korean learns of English have trouble with this distinction, so I was pleased at her remembering what to do.* I've been mentioning the difference between "See you" and "Meet you" for some time now, but it's still sinking in. The co-teachers have also been explaining this difference to the students, but as the saying goes, "Old habits die hard." English is full of quirks, so it's difficult to blame the students for not knowing the things native speakers or experts know.

Carry on, everyone.

*This is because the Korean equivalent expression doesn't change. (As far as I know.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lesson from KOTESOL / "What did he say?" A quick way to boost class participation

A quick way to boost class participation

I had the good fortune to meet the man behind the excellent ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections blog at the recent national KOTESOL conference in Daegu. He gave an energetic workshop called “You’re Doing It Wrong. Maybe.” In it, he brought up many of the oft-repeated “Don’ts” of teaching English and asked us in the audience to consider why they were wrong--or perhaps not so wrong

One such thing was “echoing.” That is, repeating back all or part of a student’s speech, either for confirmation or to broadcasting to the class. It looks something like this:

“Hi Billy, what did you do last weekend?”
“I went to Seoul and went shopping.”
“You went to Seoul and went shopping. How was it?”

I happen to echo my students frequently, so this part of the workshop caught my ear. What is good and bad about echoing?

On the one hand, we noted that native English speakers tend to use echoing in conversation. We’ll repeat part of the sentence as a question, we’ll repeat a word or phrase, or we’ll take a word and something like, “I see. Go on,” to keep the conversation going. Part of what English Language Teaching (ELT) entails is showing how native speakers talk to each other, so it is authentic. Echoing also allows speakers to clarify things the other person said. Again, it's common among native speakers. 

Yet, it has its drawbacks. For one, constant echoing can get annoying and repetitious. Sometimes I have felt like the stereotypical old man talking down to a little kid in a classroom. Also, students can tune it out. Consider that if I am echoing Billy the student, I’m probably training the students to listen to me instead of Billy. The students will ignore whatever Billy says and will wait for me to repeat it, which is not so good. I admit that this does happen in my experience.

One thing to do is instead of echoing Billy, we can ask the class, “What did he say?” Mr. Griffin and some of the attendees suggested doing so. This does three things: It shows that students’ speech is important, it keeps the class on track by acting as a short listening exercise, and it allows the class to participate by repeating what Billy said. Moreover, when the class (or an individual student) speaks, it can allow for speaking in full sentences, ie "He said he went to Seoul," and thus acts as an summary exercise.

It’s never been my habit to ask the class, “What did he say?” in the past. But when we were discussing it at the workshop, I thought, yes, this could work, and resolved to change how I interacted with the students. I’d downplay the echoing and introduce “What did he say?” as a way of keeping the class on track. And the question is working! I started asking “What did he say?” first thing on Monday morning, and it is indeed boosting class participation. I’m speaking less and the students are speaking a bit more. Of course, I am not asking "What did he say?" all of the time--just some of the time. Like anything it, would get stale if I did it at every opportunity. Still, it's quick and effective. My coteachers have even picked up on the question and have begun asking it themselves. I haven't asked the students to respond in full sentences or not. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. We can teach that when the time comes. For now, I'm happy to have learned something new and effective in class.

Thank you to the teachers in the room who mentioned this excellent little strategy! I’m afraid I don’t know all of your names, but what you said is making a difference in my classes. Thank you, Mr. Griffin, for giving a fun workshop. It was light on the jargon, yet it had substance and it inspired plenty of conversation. Again, it was good to meet you. Here's hoping we meet again.


ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections - Quality teaching site from a man with over a decade of experience. 

KOTESOL - Korean Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages: A professional group of English teachers in Korea. It includes hagwon, EPIK, and university teachers. Korean English teachers are also welcome!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Teaching the kids how to rumble / Guitar Fridays

We were at lunch around six weeks ago when Ms Lee the coteacher asked me if I could help teach guitar to the students during the Friday "club activities."* She’s a guitar player herself and had started teaching the students when the semester began in March. I normally use Friday afternoons to prepare for the next week’s classes, but I jumped at the chance because it meant more time to play guitar and a chance to share some music with the students.* I asked about the skill levels. "Mostly beginners," she said. She added a second later, “So, is it okay?” Of course it was! When could I start? As it turned out, I could start that very day. The clock on the wall said half past noon. Club activities would begin at two o'clock, which meant that there was enough time to run home, grab the guitar, and get back to school. I did just that. 

We got going at two o’clock. I quickly saw that the students were indeed beginners. They were busying themselves with awkwardly moving between open chords, finding their fingering and their rhythm. The boys and girls (five total) clearly wanted to get playing, but they needed help with chords and rhythm first.  Lee and I ran through the standard open chords to warm up. The students followed along. They did their best to keep up with us. 

The only way to learn guitar is to play it, but an even better way is to learn from actual songs because they provide a context for learning. In the case of helping the students learn the chords elementary chords D, A, and G major, Ms. Lee led the students through "Reflection" [회상] by the Korean group rock group Sanulrim [산울림] because it rides on an easygoing D-A-D-G chord progression. I didn't know the song before she played it, but I instantly took to it. The students had been practicing the song before, but they were still struggling with the steady rhythm and the changes.  

Lee also asked me if I had anything to teach the kids. Immediately, Link Wray's classic 1958 instrumental "Rumble" came to mind: If the kids were going to learn basic chords, they should learn them from the classics. Moreover, “Rumble,” while an instrumental, represented a key piece of musical (and American) history. It brought the power chord to the masses.

I got to work on teaching the song. Lee herself didn't know know the song, so I jumped to that great music resource, Youtube, and found someone's "video" of it. We listened. Heads nodded. I demonstrated the famous D-D-E and D-D-A riffs a few times. Everyone caught on. Now, as any guitarist would know, "Rumble" has a tricky B7 chord followed by a descending E scale run. The E scale isn't difficult to play, but it takes practice to get right. The B7 though...after 14 years of playing, it’s still a hard chord to get right! Still, we gamely ran through the song. I knew something was clicking because Ms. Lee and one of the boys in the group latched right on to that descending scale run and wouldn't stop playing it. Repetition’s one key to learning. Guitar and English have that in common: The only way to get better is to practice, practice, and practice.

And from there, we jammed. We jammed on “Rumble,” we jammed on “Reflection,” and we jammed on exchanging our music. I learned a cool Korean number; they picked up a classic American one.


*Teachers, take note: If there is any way whatsoever that you can contribute something to your school’s various programs, do so. It will benefit you for several reasons:
  •         You’re an integral part of the community.
  •          You’re not just there to teach. Commitment to work and considering work as family mean plenty over here.
  •          You get more time to do stuff you enjoy.

* Every Friday afternoon, the students get two or three hours away from regular classes to pursue extra-curricular things like music and board games.

* I'll have to post some stuff on Sanulrim, for their first three LPs are quality fusions of 60s pop and 70s rock jams.


Sanulrim - Reflection

Link Wray - Rumble

The Ramones - Rock 'n' Roll High School

Belated farewell to Christal

Better late than never on this one:

Christal finished her contract and headed off to begin her next journey. She certainly made the most of her time in Korea: Every time we met felt like the first time because she was always on the road. She had boundless energy for seeing this country. She worked overtime and taught the kids well.

We miss you!