Foreigners in Korea Can’t Teach Grammar, or Anything of Substance

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Foreigners in Korea can’t teach anything of substance?

Foreigners in Korea Can’t Teach Anything Besides Conversation

Over my decade or so in Korea, I’ve heard the same thing from Koreans so, so, so many times. It goes a little something like this, “You’re a foreigner! You can’t possibly teach grammar, or anything besides conversation for that matter.”

One Example of this Nonsense

It happened to me at my old university when I was teaching at a camp, where I was teaching TOIEC Listening. I wasn’t teaching conversation, or general listening, or writing, or movie English, or any kind of fluffy “easy” stuff. I was actually teaching TOIEC listening–from a TOIEC preparation book, in Korean. The goal was to prepare students for an actual TOIEC test.

And yet, one of the Korean teachers at the camp still gave me the line about how it’s more fun for foreigners to teach because we get to teach “fun” stuff and Koreans have to teach grammar. Foreigners in Korea can’t teach grammar, you know? Except, at that camp, the foreigners were teaching the same content as the Koreans, which makes this line all the more ridiculous. The foreigners were just teaching it through English, and the Koreans were teaching it through Korean. It made me so angry that I just had to walk away before I exploded.


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I’m Actually Kind of a Grammar Star, Thank You Very Much

I don’t want to be all crazy and arrogant, but I’m actually an extremely well qualified English teacher- CELTA/DELTA, blah blah. I’ve taught some of the highest level students in Korea with some quite serious textbooks for some quite serious classes and been able to do it well.

Grammar questions don’t throw me off. TOIEC preparation: sure. TOEFL: no problem. Academic writing: love it. Presentations and interviews: okay. Present future continuous vs future perfect: no problem. All past tenses together at the same time: bring it on. 1st vs 2nd vs 3rd conditionals at the same time: fun!

The Irony: It’s All About Context

I would argue that foreigners, who are knowledgeable about grammar, and most importantly, how to explain it well are actually better grammar teachers than most of the local English as a second language teachers out there.

Note: I’m not talking about a clueless newbie, fresh off the plane who is often quite ignorant about the intricacies of English grammar (I was certainly clueless those first few years). I’m talking about people who actually know their stuff.

Where a native speaker can excel at teaching grammar is in context. Grammar or vocabulary teaching, removed from a context in which students can use it is utterly forgettable and almost totally useless (Korean teachers often teach grammar in this way, strangely, which is why students who get to university often don’t even have a grasp on the very basics of English grammar.


I mean seriously, my 3rd and 4th year English major students at a major university in Korea’s second biggest city don’t know when to use the P.P., and when to use the simple past. WTF have they been learning all these years is what it leaves me thinking. Anyway, a rant for another post).

You NEED a context and native speakers of English intuitively know what will work well and what won’t. Those complicated nit-picky details? I just know if it’s right, or not. Second language speakers: they may know a rule, but it won’t be intuitive. Most of the experienced foreign English teachers I know would never dream of conducting a lesson without a context, but Koreans-well, it’s kind of considered more of an option I think, based on what I’ve heard from my students.

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