Monday, November 21, 2005

The End of HifromSeoul

The convergence of several strands of my life right now has made me decide to finish HifromSeoul. This blog was a labor of love for me, and I'm proud of most of it. There were a few times when I probably used language that I would now avoid for professional reasons. I've also certainly grown up over the past year. On the other hand, I can't think of any other bloggers who've compiled a list of such interesting historical and cultural places--almost all photoblogged--as I have in my "Best of HifromSeoul" page. I'm proud of having been the first foreigner, apparently, to post pictures of the museum that was once the home of South Korea's first president. Few, if any foreigners, have written as lovingly as I have of Gyeonbokgung, Doseonsa, the Gwanghwamun intersection, or any of the other many interesting places in this marvelous sea of humanity that I have photographed and listed on my "BestofHifromSeoul" page. I am pleased and honored to see that, for example, when people google "Myongdong Cathedral," or the "Kansong Art Museum," my blog comes up. I suspect that the fact that Blogger is owned by Google probably helps things out, of course.

So, HifromSeoul is finished, but the constants remain: the love and support of my family and friends, their interest in me, and my interest in Seoul, South Korea. And there are more of both friends and family, too, now, than there were a year ago. That being said, the older I grow the more old friends mean to me, even if they always meant a lot.

And I have not forgotten them. Those who wish may keep in touch with me by reading my new blog. In fact, I suggest they start right here, with the first post, entitled New Beginnings.

I am not going to delete this blog, nor will I move it to the new site, which I am paying for. In the not-so-distant future, the little people who used free webspace on companies like Google will still be read, perhaps, while those who paid for their domain names may be forgotten with the expiration of their URL's. Who knows, if Blogger decided to offer some of the features that Wordpress does, like the popular categories feature, perhaps I'll move back to Blogger again. Of course, I will continue to run my main site,

Good-bye, and thank you all for reading, commenting, and encouraging me. I hope to you at the new blog!


Hanmail has recently changed their system. As of a few days ago, I have not been able to email anybody with a .hanmail email account. However, you can still email me! When I email, the email always comes back, with Hanmail suggesting that because my IP doesn't match that of my email provider (the University of Toronto), it's "bogus." Please complain to Hanmail so that they can fix the problem.

UPDATE: I've just posted my last update to this blog. However, if you wish me to contact you in print, just leave a comment on this post. I have the comments configured to send me an email every time someone comments, so I will know when you comment. I will reply here.

An Employment Update

As of March 1st, ladies and gentlemen, yours truly will be an instructor at a university. You'll find out more in another place--and I will introduce that new place to you shortly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Thanks to Mike of Korea-Bound, and to all of you, I just celebrated my 20,000th hit.

Monday, November 14, 2005



If you are so inclined, please take a look at the link, and note any problems viewing the site that you may experience. Constructive criticism is welcome. Please write your feedback in the comments section of this post, here, and mention your browser and monitor specifications. Thank you!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Oxford Teacher Development Day

Today I attended the Oxford Teacher Development Day at Hanyang University. The fifth annual "Oxford Day" featured Michael Swan and Dr. Henry Widdowson, both world-renowned scholars and authors. Nalin Bahuguna also presented Oxford's Person to Person series. Since I had already attended his presentation at the KOTESOL conference, I chose instead to go on what turned out to be a fruitless errand regarding my cellphone.

Michael Swan's talk, like the third edition of his new book, Practical English Usage, was concerned with the issue of helping teachers help students with "real language problems." Mr. (or is it Dr.?) Swan outlined a number of points, but I felt the best was the one regarding inappropriate sentence exercises. Some good examples:
Birds fly high.
Students were to put the verb into the past tense. But neither sentence corresponds to real English usage. When do we say "Birds fly high"? Many birds fly low, and some don't fly at all.
The oxen are stepping on my feet
was a more humorous example! To be true, that sentence requires that more than one ox are stepping on both my feet. I suppose for very young children it might be suitable for producing laughter.

Mr. Swan dabbled a bit in grammarian history when he touched on the prescriptive/descriptive debate. For example, a grammarian in the eighteenth century by the name of Robert Baker had said people should never say "less people." This rule was accepted by the brothers Fowler for their famous text on proper English usage. It was fortunate for both King Alfred and Shakespeare's Shylock that they used the phrase in question before Baker's birth! These examples were used to show that many "rules" of English usage were invented by elites as prescriptions, not descriptions.

What I really enjoyed most, however, about Mr. Swan's talk, was his opening story of his days as an Oxford student. To help make ends meet, he used to give tours to foreigners. After some time, he found his way to a unit that taught English to foreigners. In response to his query "Have you got a job?" he was told to come back the following Monday. It turned out that one of the depatment's teachers had run off to Scotland with one of the students. The young Mr. Swan was in the right place at the right time. Like me, his first year of English teaching to speakers of other languages was not without its typical first-year "learning opportunities." But, he persevered and improved, and by collecting their questions on file cards he eventually built up a significant database, which he turned into his most famous book.

I chatted briefly with Mr. Swan. He is absolutely delightful and down-to-earth. When he asked me what I did, I told him I was teaching children and adults. He immediately said that his son has had experience as an English teacher in Taiwan, and proceeded to chat with me about teaching very young children.

Dr. Widdowson's talk was fascinating, not least because he was very cautious about the whole-sale acceptance of the current dominant approach: Communicative English teaching. Emphasizing that he was not "recommending," merely "pointing out," he argued that authentic language does not have to be taught all the time in the classroom. For example, here is a snippet of authentic text from one of the major corpora:
"Scalpel - clamp - swab."
This is the language of the operating room. The context of the speaker and listeners provides all the necessary information, reducing the need for, and prominence of, spoken communication. The amount of language required is inversely proportional to the amount of context shared. Another example makes the point in a humorous way:
My mother took hers off at a garden party in front of the vicar.
Dr. Widdowson, a red-skinned man with a penchant for innuendo and laughter was obviously having a great time, and so did we in the audience! What, exactly, was the object denoted by "hers"?! As he pointed out, it could be almost any article of clothing. Again, the context makes the meaning clear, not the language.

Dr. Widdowson emphasized that such language, apart from context and the understanding of the purpose of the language, cannot be the model for instruction: "authentic language needs to be authenticated."

Another interesting point Dr. Widdowson made was that "authentic language" can actually be incredibly difficult for foreign language learners. Consider this example:
Bibbing tipplers who booze-cruise across the Channel in search of revelry and wassail could be in for a rought ride. Itchy-footed quaffers and pre-Christmas holiday-makers are being warned not to travel to France, where widespread disruption continues despite the lifting of the blockade on trapped British lorry drivers.
Now, for even many advanced learners, this text would be very problematic, and even very discouraging, he argued. There are all kinds of alliterative devices, archaisms, and euphemisms being employed to create ironic and humourous effects, which would naturally be lost on many EFL readers.

Actually, I think a text like that would be quite appropriate in small doses. The problem, of course, is that dissection would likely kill the humour. On the other hand, I think advanced students, depending on their level and interests, should be introduced to difficult, authentic texts.

Asking a very brave and unfashionable question, Dr. Widdowson said, rhetorically, "What was wrong with the old structural methods?--They used inauthentic language," for example,
This is a man. He is John Brown; he is Mr. Brown. He is sitting in his chair. This is a woman. She is Mary Brown; she is Mrs. Brown. She is standing by the table. Mr. Brown has a book in his hand.
Dr. Widdowson responded that while this language might be inauthentically used here, the language itself is appropriate to EFL students in certain levels, since "learners appropriate language for themselves." However, in terms of the Korean EFL experience, I think that, perhaps, more learners have to be pushed to appropriate English for themselves. But that's a topic for another time.

As for the so-called inauthentic, "boring" language, consider the following:
This is a man. He is John Brown; he is Mr. Brown. He is sitting in a chair. This is a woman. She is not Mrs. Brown. She is standing by a table. Mr. Brown has a look in his eye.
Wow! The language elements and structures are all the same, but the second example is a highly amusing and gripping little piece of fiction.

To sum up Dr. Widdowson's position: learning is a process of gradual authentication. True authentication occurs when the context of speaker and learner is shared, the the purpose of the speaker understood. Language as used is not identical with language as learned. Speaking personally, my own position would be that there is room for both "authentic," and the so-called "inauthentic" types of language, but Dr. Widdowson raises some valuable concerns about some people's tendency to uncritically accept the dominant approach du jour.

In a way, both of these presentations undercut and complimented each other. Intentional or otherwise, the juxtaposition of these two events at this year's Oxford Day was highly stimulating.

A question and answer session with both authors followed the final presentation. The questions came from the registration webpage that was used to sign up for the event, and were directed to both authors. I thought this was an excellent stroke on the part of the organizers. The Q & A was not too long, and was far from boring. Michael Swan had a little tip for teaching listening and speaking that I liked. He said a sentence to us, and asked us to quickly say how many words he said. He did this several times, pointing out that we should use sentences with unstressed syllables (like the word "a," pronounced often as the so-called "schwa"). The immediate point of the exercise relates to listening, but later those listening skills will translate into better speaking skills, too. I'm going to try this out on both my children and adults. In a way, I was sad that there wasn't more of the nuts-and-bolts variety of teaching questions, especially because Mr. Swan had such a significant stock of experience to draw on.

So that was my third Oxford event this year, counting both the iBT presentation last month, and the KOTESOL conference. It was definitely worth my time, and I will go again next year, although I do hope that there will be no conflict with Cambridge Day next year, the only negative thing I can say about this year's Oxford Day.

Besides listening to interesting and stimulating presentations, I really enjoyed the humility of all three speakers, who took time to chat with me. I also capitalized on the 20% off sale and booksigning event following the presentations. Perhaps one might point out that it was the publishers who capitalized on me, but it was a win-win situation: the fact is that both books will help me in my teaching. Books are to the teacher like tools to a mechanic, as my dad likes to say.

UPDATE: EFL Geek's post on the event is now up. Of course, I recommend it, as opposed to merely "pointing towards" it!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

What Happens When I Keep My Children Back

I'm often amazed by the improvement that happens after I "fail" my kids. My hagwon uses a system of numbers and colors to organize its curriculum. So, for instance, a kid in 3 Red would ordinarily progress to 3 Green after his two month term finishes. Sometimes, although rarely, we put a kid up a whole level, not just a color level. Conversely, every month I hold at least one kid from each class at the same level. It depends on the child's ability, of course. In my 3pm MWF class I have six students; three of them I taught before, two of them last term. They weren't ready to move up, so I kept them back. In the girl's case, she lacked focus. Her writing, although beautiful, was much too slow. But most importantly, her listening comprehension was far behind the others. The two boys were both inattentive. One of them, the one I had last term, was actually quite bright, but he just didn't want to pay attention.

Anyway, this term, that class is wonderful. The little girl is now Speedy Gonzalez when she's writing (and it's still neat!). Shee Eun has improved a lot already at listening and speaking; I've helped by directing some of the more difficult questions to her fairly consistently. I love being able to gently push a student like this. It only works if the student herself is ready. My little friend, Tae Young, a real cutie prone to making loud, strange noises, has improved a lot, too, both at speaking and writing. I've always known he was bright; his only problem was a serious lack of attentiveness last term. Finally, there's Ha Yeon, the only question mark at the moment. He's routinely late, so he always misses the start of the lesson. But there's some improvement there, too.

In a way, I feel kind of badly about expecting such little people to be serious about their study. But I don't think I'm a monster, nor do I think I'm unreasonable. Still, children don't have much time to be children in this country, what with all the after-school schools they go to. I try to keep this in mind when I'm teaching them.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

An In-Between Post

I've made the decision to change jobs, but have yet to hear from any institutions (the first two that I've applied to have closing application dates on this Friday). Chae Young and I will be married in December, but in the meantime we're both exhausted. She is also not well. I have yet to receive my transcripts from the University of Toronto. My school assigned me to a different class from my old adult students, which was unfortunate for me, since I was getting quite fond of them. I hope the new teacher feels welcomed there. I also registered a domain name, but the domain and hosting company,, apparently wants me to fax or email my Visa card to them, despite the fact that I entered all the payment details already when I purchased the domain name through their site. I do hope it is Netfirms, and not some spamming company. Has anyone had any experience to speak of with them? I think it's exceptionally odd that they (if it was they), made this request.

Tomorrow promises to be busy. I will be delivering reference letters that arrived (with thanks to Dr. Park, my boss, Mr. Fullarton, and to the chair of my own department, Dr. Reilly.

I've been having some of the best times of my life in the last several months, so I guess that a little down time would hardly be unexpected in the present circumstances. And I do have to admit that I am well supported by my family, and by my friends, especially, Brian (I miss you, old buddy!), Ian, Rob, and cousin Jen & Lyle.

Tomorrow is another day...

Good night!

UPDATE: I just called Netfirms, and didn't have to provide any other information other than why I was signing up through the US site. No problem! I also left a message for the UofT transcript center. One down, several to go...

UPDATE (Nov. 3rd), UofT assures me that the transcripts have been mailed out. Very good. And on another happy note, both Chae Young and I were feeling rested and better when we woke up at seven this morning. Every morning when I wake up I am conscious that I am blessed (in a strictly non-religious sense, of course), by her presence. I just hope that my dear lady will have a decent day. She has a long, gruelling work week, plus an hour's commute each way on a packed subway and bus.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Countries I've Been To

Create Your Own Map of Visited Countries

Via EFL Geek, who doesn't think he's traveled sufficiently. As an aside, some of the best traveled people I've met have been Korean elementary teachers. Quite a few of my students past and present have been to many more countries than I have. By the way, don't forget to see that bit of red in the middle of the map; I've been there twice.

Speaking of maps, readers might recall my earlier post on Taiwan about Google Maps' listing Taiwan as a province of China. As reported by the BBC, Google has sinced fixed the problem.