Professor William Davis
When I was a boy, I always wanted to be a better basketball player. So I lived for basketball. I dreamed about being on the free throw line with 1 second left and I had two shots to win the game. I watched NBA basketball on TV. I copied other basketball players.< Copyright © The Gachon Herald All rights reserved >
I think learning English isn’t much different. If you live to improve in English, you will improve. You have to improve, but you must focus on English.
One day I was studying English educational terms and I came across a term known as “The Communicative Approach to Language Learning.” Basically, it means that you learn English by speaking English. So if you’re one of those people that chooses to learn English by studying solo with your head buried in a book, I’m here to tell you that I think it’s not the best way.
Of course, by speaking English you will make mistakes. I know there’s a shyness among some of my Korean students and they don’t want others to hear them speak the wrong way, but you need to find out where your weaknesses are. You also need to learn the short cuts and the slang that natives speakers use. So learn, make a mistake, and learn some more. Sooner or later, you’re not making many mistakes. You may even start to correct other people in your free-talking group.
In my opinion, the best way is to find a group of three or four like-minded people. Find three or four friends who also want to level-up in English and put your meeting in a nice atmosphere – meet in a coffee shop or in a classroom and bring some snacks and make it fun. Maybe you can find a native teacher to come, too.
Find people with a variety of experiences. Get people from different places. If there are students in the dorm, they’re probably looking for something to do for an hour or two every day. Maybe you could get one member from each province in Korea.
You can take advantage of learning tools we have on campus. I think the biggest free tool on campus is the Global Zone. You can go and listen to a variety of teachers in the free-talking sessions. There’s individual tutoring, too! Each teacher has his or her own style. Each teacher has a different tip about English learning.
Another thing would be to try your best to use every service that your classroom teacher provides. I offer students access to our class assignments through my Facebook Page. I give them my e-mail and my phone number. They do a nice job of accessing different study tools that I provide. We also chat sometimes about homework or just life in general. We also exchange text messages. It’s helpful for them and it's helpful for me, too.
If you want to get off campus, I know there are plenty of language exchange cafes, especially around Gangnam. Sometimes this situation works out really well and you meet some great people and it clicks. Sometimes it doesn’t work out at all, but it’s usually just a small investment like a cup of coffee and a small fee to meet some people who may become long-term friends.
In the classroom, I love to get students talking with lists of questions. Question lists are great. You learn new vocabulary. You learn new things about your classmates and it’s fun. I love it! My favorite question list site is provided by the ITESL-Japan web site. You can do a google search for “ITESL-J Conversation Questions” and you’ll find all kinds of free lists. You can print one and make copies for the members of your study group.
I’m also a big fan of the SLE series of books by Pagoda Academy. I like them because they are Korea specific. They have cool activities, question lists and good dialogues to practice. Recently I did some SLE activities with students in the Global Zone. In one activity, we had 6 girls and 6 guys. We got some general information about each person and we were a matchmaking service trying to find the 12 people their best partner. We laughed and enjoyed a good time speaking.
In another activity, there were two photos of the same items and you have to say where the items are. For example: “In Picture A, the clock is next to the computer mouse. But in picture B, the clock is on the glass table.” You could go to a bookstore and browse through the books – SLE comes in 9 books the last time I checked, from Level 1A to Level 3C - find a book that might fit your group’s level the best.
You might also go to places where English speakers hang out. I had a group of students when I was a professor at another university and this group of kids all got jobs as waiters and waitresses at the same restaurant in Itaewon during one break between semesters for about two months. They had each other for moral support, they made some money, and they came back with a much better command of spoken English. It was a win-win situation. One of them later got a job on the American army base at Yongsan because of that time she spent learning English on the job, and she’s still there.
I think studying abroad can also be a good experience. But a warning: Make sure you go with an attitude to improve your English rather than just finding other Korean friends and hanging out in a Korean community. I’ve heard of instances where that has happened which, in my opinion is a waste of your time overseas. I actually think working holidays in Canada, America, England or Australia force you to use the language, which in the end is a good thing. Making foreign friends can be so exciting!
There’s a group of “regulars” who come to the Global Zone free speaking sessions quite often. They are my friends and they are among the best speakers on campus because they invest their free time learning English and having fun. It’s a pleasure to listen to them.
So find your own best way to jump-start your life as an English speaker and don’t ever turn back, don’t ever give up and don’t ever doubt yourself. You will succeed.