A Comparison of Korean, Czech and Greek Second Language Learning Systems

| March 31, 2002
Title
A Comparison of Korean, Czech and Greek Second Language Learning Systems

Keywords: No Keyword

Authors
Barry Kristou

Bio Data
The author obtained his Ma. in Education in Cyprus, and is now working for the Greek Education department. He spent 6 years in Korea and three years in the Czech republic working in High Schools.

Abstract
There is a two-tiered system of second language teaching in Greece. At the base level there is the government school system, whereby students receive between three and four lessons in English each week. These lessons exclude conversation and are centered on grammar, writing and listening skills. Schools use textbooks chosen by the Ministry of Education. A second tiered education unique to this country is the “Frontesterio,” or private school. These schools teach a variety of subjects, with schools usually specializing in one field only. It is said there are 7,600 Frontesterio in this country with its population of 12 million. The schools operate from 2 p.m. till 10 p.m. daily and teach elementary through to proficiency levels. Frontesterio may use one of two systems, either the USA Michigan based system or the UK Cambridge Examinations. A locally developed exam, the PALSO test for levels through basic, elementary, to standard and higher levels are taught.

[private]

Greece.
There is a two-tiered system of second language teaching in Greece. At the base level there is the government school system, whereby students receive between three and four lessons in English each week. These lessons exclude conversation and are centered on grammar, writing and listening skills. Schools use textbooks chosen by the Ministry of Education. A second tiered education unique to this country is the “Frontesterio,” or private school. These schools teach a variety of subjects, with schools usually specializing in one field only. It is said there are 7,600 Frontesterio in this country with its population of 12 million. The schools operate from 2 p.m. till 10 p.m. daily and teach elementary through to proficiency levels. Frontesterio may use one of two systems, either the USA Michigan based system or the UK Cambridge Examinations. A locally developed exam, the PALSO test for levels through basic, elementary, to standard and higher levels are taught.

With all these systems, all areas ranging from oral communication, writing, grammar, comprehension and listening are tested. Native English speakers generally teach from Supplementary materials, whilst the Greek teacher uses Primary materials. Students will attend up to 5 or 6 lessons weekly at these institutions. The PALSO organization, licensed by the Government, overseas the standards of schools and such issues as student fees. Being a European Union nation, Greece tends to only employ native English speakers from countries within the E.U. especially Great Britain.

Whilst government schools use rote learning, Frontesterio tend to apply all modern methodologies. Teacher centered classrooms are dominant in government schools. Materials are primarily developed by Cambridge University or one of the two Greek based publishing houses, namely Efstathiadis or Grivas publishers. Books are specifically developed for the Greek students with themes of Greek content to stimulate the student. Contextualized chapters are the emphasis. This takes Bowens theory (1972) one step further. Bowen’s primary argument was that learners gain control when focusing on form but lose it once they focus on the meaning of the message. The Greek system focuses on picture contrasts primarily, followed by sound contrast. Students’ supplementary materials are well prepared specifically for the Greek student with topics of interest to all.
Oral testing in the Cambridge and PALSO exams will usually rage from 10 to 20 minutes depending upon the level of the student. Random topics are asked, with the exception of the Palso exams whereby students present a one minute prepared topic at the beginning, this merely being to calm nerves.

The Czech Republic.
Conversely, the Czech Republic has basically one system, the Government school system. In it’s early stages of democracy, the Czech Republic has few private schools, though they are appearing in Prague and Brno more frequently. The government school system allows each school to develop or choose its teaching materials. Examinations are school based and the final “maturita” year are oral exams. Hence strong emphasis is placed on pronunciation of the English language, so native English speakers abound in this country. Sadly, the quality is somewhat in question, with local wages being but a fraction of western salaries, hence the level of teaching can not be said to be as of yet, ‘professional.’ A Czech student will typically receive three to four lessons a week in English, one usually presented by a native English speaker. This lesson will probably come from primary textbook materials, as supplementary materials are generally non-existent.

However, in the final year of high school, a Czech student studying English will receive a double lesson (2 x 45 minutes) of an English communication lesson. The topic will be those that that school has decided will be in the final examination. Each school chooses its topics from a list provided by the Ministry of Education.
Czech students have difficulty pronouncing “th” words, so emphasis is often placed on attempting to correct this problem. Czech students will usually replace a “th” sound with a “d” sound. Native Teachers of English will generally not concentrate on the quality of pronunciation however, but concentrate on quality and quantity or reproduced materials. The grading system, (unlike Greece which breaks down oral communication into various components which are assessed individually,) is merely an A,B,C, or D system, based on nothing more than objective and subjective feeling by the examiners. The oral exam is of 15 minutes duration and covers two separate topics randomly selected 15 minutes before the test.

Korea.
Korea has both the Government school system and the Private school (hogwon) system. Government school system. Elementary schools. Teachers will give two lessons a week to these students. Schools can choose from a variety of textbooks. Reading, listening, TPR, chants and videos and games make up the basis of the lesson. The percentage of spoken English in a lesson is very high, running at anywhere from 75 to 90% English. Recent Government pronouncements have ordered that at least one lesson in English be 100% English per week. Whilst admirable in theory, logically it is impossible.

Teaching emphasis is placed on student centered teaching with group or pair work the norm. Classrooms are generally designed to facilitate a friendly atmosphere, utilizing the Affective system. However, some teachers are unfamiliar with specific teaching methodology and know not of the reason for providing a warm, friendly and reassuring class atmosphere. Students will present simple answers, for their vocabulary level is deemed by the Ministry of Education to be satisfactory at around 150 to 500 words, depending upon the year of study.

Middle schools.
Students will have three – four lessons a week, from a Korean English teacher whose major at University was English. Unfortunately, an English lesson is from a text book chosen by the school from a series of books submitted by the Korean Education department, often containing phrases and sentences that have little or no relevant meaning, or at times that bear no relationship to what can be heard in an English speaking country. The lesson load is unrealistically demanding and leaves little or no time for the teacher to practice pronunciation skills with the students. However, Korean teachers are becoming quire adept at Evaluating and Adapting materials. (see McDonough & Shaw 1993)

However, recent changes in Government policy have seen schools introduce an Oral test. Unfortunately schools have little or no idea how to conduct such a test, and little or no idea how to grade such students. This is partly because class sizes of 40 students must be assessed in one forty five-minute period, thus limiting the test to about 45 seconds per student. Advances can be expected in this particular area.

Emphasis is still primarily on the written exam and the listening exam. Following Korea’s entry into IMF controlled financial conditions, the once populous government native English teacher population of some 1200 native English teachers employed specifically to teach in Middle schools, has been removed wholus bolus from the middle school system leaving classes devoid of native English speakers. (Cf. the opinions opined by professor Pak et al. herein)

High schools do not have spoken English as a topic, so no mention will be made of this. A few exceptions exist in special High Schools whose students are selected as the ‘cri¨me de la cri¨me’ of society to study at that school. There, minimal emphasis is placed on pronunciation teaching. This questionable policy is confirmed when one realizes that in first year university learning oral English is a must (most institutions) yet students who have gone from Elementary school English to Middle School English then suffer a three year hiatus before returning to the study of English. The hiatus is too long for fluent continuity.

The Private school system (hogwon) is a booming industry. These institutions range from the professionally organized school to the fly by night schools. Government control, whilst existing, is generally insufficient. Nevertheless, both TOEIC, TOEFL and TEPS courses are widely taught, with preparation for these exams. Unlike the Government school system, private schools are blessed with an abundance of Native English speakers as teachers. Unfortunately, these teachers are the unqualified class two teachers aforementioned, who can do little more than hold conversation lessons without providing a basic understanding to the students of the principles of second language learning, let alone pronunciation skills.

Of greater concern to many people both in and out of Korea, especially at government level, is the amount of ill will that these private schools (Hogwons) breed with native English teachers who come to work for them. Horror stories abound from native English teachers who encounter problems such as receiving no pay at all, no accommodation or substandard accommodation, no holidays, no severance pay, no sick leave, despite the written contractual promises.

The Internet is rife with stories of horror. This is not to say all stories are true, for they present but one side of the coin, however, the situation clearly calls for swift and effective government intervention to clean up an industry that is causing Korea to receive constant negative press. Such steps to clean up the industry, as is seen in Greece, is to set up a watchdog, either as an autonomous or semiautonomous authority, manned by both Korean professional educators and native English educators who can police effectively complaints and indeed raise the standard of an industry that desperately needs raising.[/private]

Category: Quarterly Journal