Problems facing Korean learners in the ESL classroom Students of English as a foreign


Students of English as a foreign language can possibly face a multitude of problems, many of which will be of the same nature for all nationalities. However, different countries will each throw up their own set of specific problems for learners.

Having taught all ages/ class sizes and for all purposes in Korea, I have noticed and begun the process of resolving at least, several country specific problems.

In Korea, as indeed with many Asian countries, the primary problem arises with beginner learners, of a different alphabet. Learning English must begin first with letter recognition which is entirely different from that of their own language. Although many sounds are similar, the English alphabet does introduce a number of letters unheard of in the Korean alphabet. As will be discussed later, this raises considerable problems for pronunciation.

Secondly, Korean students face a problem with English grammar. Sentence structure for example is entirely different to the Korean language in which the subject and the object are reversed and the verb always comes at the end of the sentence. Korean students will often speak of 'English studying' rather than 'studying English'. The Korea language also completely omits pronouns. Students therefore find it difficult to grasp and remember the use of pronouns.

Pronunciation poses a particularly serious problem for many adult learners of Korean. Where these days, English is being taught at a much younger age and as far as possible students are given access to a foreign teacher, older English learners often have great difficulties in forming certain letters and sounds. The most problematic sounds being the distinction between l and r, p and f, v and b. Students find these sounds difficult both to form and to recognize in listening. Pronunciation problems often arise from the standard of English teaching in most Korean schools. Although these days the situation is changing, Korean English education was traditionally focused on grammar and vocabulary learning. Foreign teachers in Korea will unanimously say that students and indeed teachers appear to know English grammar very well but are usually incapably of having even a basic conversation. Students need to be persuasively coaxed to speak English and to learn that communication in English does not always have to be through using perfect grammar and vocabulary. Usually students, particularly in Korean public schools, will be reluctant to speak up in class. Students are shy about speaking, especially when it involves giving personal opinions etc and will be frightened about making a mistake rather than focusing on simply being understood.

The students' motivation for learning can also pose a problem in Korea. In private academies for example, where students may be of a higher standard, they have usually been coerced into extra study by their parents. The students will often go to several different private academies and can often show little enthusiasm or energy to participate actively in class. Similarly, many adult learners are forced to study English through career pressures. Where this can be a motivating factor, it also becomes a burden to the learner, with too much hanging on their rapid progress. Adult learners, particularly beginners, can quickly become stressed at the prospect of learning English and begin study on a negative footing. Despite these difficulties, there are also many positive national peculiarities, which make teaching and I believe learning English as a second language in Korea an immensely rewarding experience.