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Sunday, 27 January 2013


One of life's little pleasures . . . is fresh hummus (from the International Food Store in Itaewon, Seoul).

Oh, so delicious!

(And healthy!)

(With cucumbers and lavash (naan) . . . no comments about the dishes, please, as I didn't choose the patterns.)

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Academy Minibook Project

Our English Academy recently had every class above beginner level put together a minibook.  The students wrote stories or other short pieces which were then bound together with a spiral binder by a print shop.  Each student got a copy of the class minibook.

That was step 1.

Step 2, which started today, is to review all of those minibooks for noteworthy writings, which will be put together into a book of approximately 100 pages that the academy will fund and provide to each student.

A small "editorial" group of 4 higher-level students (5th-7th grades) met today, Saturday, to review the minibooks and complete the selection process.

This is a first-time endeavor for the academy, and, as such, it is a work in progress, but the plan is to have the foreign teachers (we have 4) motivate the selected students to edit and type their texts/stories. (Some of the pieces have been typed, some not; learning the English keyboard, as you may understand, is different from learning English, and we seldom require typed assignments).

Those students who improve their texts will email them to the academy, and next Saturday the student editors will meet again and work on editing the pieces on school computers.

That's the current plan.

We are focusing on making it a student-centered project, and so far that is what has happened.

South Korea's New President

There is an interesting article about Park Geun-hye, South Korea's incoming President, on today's Washington Post website:

Friday, 25 January 2013

Is It True?

Have a read:

Thursday, 24 January 2013

A Few More Videos

Explanation:  Since I have a variety of classes--which means different texts and therefore different thematic areas--and since a number of those classes are in rooms equipped with audio/visual equipment, I am constantly on the lookout for videos that can enhance learning activities, stimulate discussion, and/or simply add variety.

End explanation.

Here are the latest videos I have shown:

Samsung washing machine advertisement:

Belgium Television Channel Advertisement:

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Gun Control

The U.S. is reeling from violent gun attacks, and President Obama has recently put into place a number of executive actions that include a push for further scientific study of the 'cause' of these killings.

Alas, there is no 'cause', as much as the American public would like to find one.

Yet, I believe, there has been--for a long time--an established argument relating to the desensitization of people who are exposed to multiple episodes of violence.

The theory goes that if you watch thousands of acts of violence over a long period of time, then you are more likely to resort to violence in a stressful situation.  (A disturbing example is the movie A Clockwork Orange.)

One of the things that many foreigners like about South Korea is the lack of crime and violence here.  It is not unusual to see an 8-year-old child walking alone to school, or to see an elderly woman walking out of a bank with a cash-filled envelope.

Yet I see the developing signs of aggressive behavior in some of my elementary-school students (stereotypically male).  Many of them play violent video games, and they play-act the games in our school.  One student (3rd grade) told me that his favorite movie is the series Resident Evil, this from a boy who has shown up in class with bandages on his face from fighting.

So many students spend their time before or between classes playing cell phone games.  Every day I see clusters of students--5 or 6 kids--huddled around one student, watching him/her play a game.

Gone are the social exchanges.  Absent are the shared daily events.

Most students don't study during these times, or even do missing homework.

 . . . Ok, back to gun control.

Do people think that violent video games contribute to violent behavior?

Yes, they most likely do.

What can be done about it?

Probably nothing.

Unfortunately, that suggests a scary future.

Breakfast Soup

A lot of Koreans eat soup for breakfast (usually with rice and kimchi), and that is what I am doing today, making 청국장 or "cheong guk jang", which is a traditional fermented soybean paste soup.

A lot of my students tell me they don't like it, due largely to the fact that it smells something like old socks.

If you can get past the smell, however, you might enjoy the unique taste.  It's also quite healthy!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

EFL Game: Last Letter, First letter

Last fall I posted about some of the activities that I do at the end of my classes when everything else has been wrapped up yet we have a few minutes left before the bell rings.

For some reason, however, I forgot to mention the "last letter, first letter" game.  It's one of my favorite short activities, in part because it can start/stop almost instantly.

I say, "Ok, first letter, last letter.  Today we are doing animals.  My animal is elephant."

"Elephant" ends with a "t", so the first student has to say an animal that begins with the letter "t".

I've taught most classes that a popular food in Korea, 참치, means "tuna" in English, so that often pops up.

"Tuna" ends with "a", so the next student might say "anaconda".

And so on.

Usually we do either food or animals, but I have branched out into sports, verbs, and countries.

Doing countries can be a bit tricky, however, as I was reminded that a lot of countries end with the letter "a", so it's easy to get wrapped up in a vicious cycle: America, Afganistan, Nambia, Algeria, Argentina . . .

It's a good activity for listening, thinking about country names in English, and responding (hopefully quickly--there's peer pressure involved).

Videos to Watch

If you haven't seen these funny videos, then you should watch them:

Dragon Baby:

Iron Baby:

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Class Review Game

On Friday I told two different classes--two different levels--that we were going to play a question and answer game.

First I divided them into teams, either pairs or threes.

Then I gave each team a piece of paper and explained that they had to write 3 questions from our textbook (in this case "Let's Go"), units 1-6.

So, for example, "Let's Go 2" questions could be:

     *What does he have?
     *Where is the stove?
     *What does she want?

There was some uncertainty, as is only natural, since this was a completely new game for them, but they were eager to participate (perhaps because I don't do many games in class).

It took 10 minutes or so for them to look at the text and find and write their questions.  In the meantime I circulated and offered advice.

Finally, each team was ready and they took turns asking each other questions.

There was some spirited debate about whether some questions and answers were good, which is part of the point of the game, so things came off well.

I think I need to do more activities like this in my classes.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Venus Flytrap Video

My middle school class is doing a short unit on plants, and for variety I showed them this short video.

BBC nature photography rocks!

Watch it:

Making Pictures

Several of my classes this week (I have 3 that use the same beginner's book) were given the assignment, mirroring a page in their text, of drawing a picture and then constructing sentences based on the picture.

The assigned picture was of a room in their home (here almost always an apartment).  They were to draw the pieces of furniture in the room.  So, living room = sofa, tv, chair, etc.

The sentences we were practicing followed the format "There is a sofa next to the window." (Target language = prepositions: in, on, under, by, next to, in front of, behind).

Normally I do not do pictures in class, as they take up too much time.  However, once in a while, for variety and because the students enjoy it and because they might think I am not a total slavemaster, I relax and allow them a bit of creative spirit (ha ha . . .).

Anyway, once I got them started on the pictures, one student looked up at me and asked/queried, "Kimchi refrigerator?"

I didn't quite understand, so I replied, "Spelling?"

The student gave a small shake of his head and responded, "Picture, ok?"

Ah!  He was asking if he could put a kimchi refrigerator into his picture.

I laughed and said, "Yes, ok.  In America, no.  In Korea, yes.  It's ok."

A refrigerator was part of the book vocabulary, but kimchi refrigerators are unique to Korea, so he was being both correct and polite in asking if he could include one in his picture.

Kimchi refrigerators are special appliaances meant to store kimchi long-term  in the house.  In the old days, or maybe I should say 'traditionally', kimchi was stored in clay vessels, and it actually still happens a fair bit today.

(The Korean star, Psy (of "Gangnam Style" fame), has advertised modern kimchi refrigerators.)

Anyway, the brief episode served to remind me that I am indeed a teacher of English in Korea, for where else would I be asked by a student if including a kimchi refrigerator in a picture was ok?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Back to the English Academy

Korean students are out on their winter vacations.  In fact, they are pretty much done with the school year.

The new school year begins in March, and there are only a few school days between now and then, so, for example, in their diaries many students are referring to themselves as already being in the next grade.

Some students are moving up from elementary to middle school, and they are really not happy about that, as it is a huge transition in Korean students' lives, mostly with respect to the workload, tests, and expectations.

A few students have told me about noteworthy accomplishments, such as high scores on school exams. One student received an honors award at a university debate camp.  Another had a conversation with me before class--which she initiated--about her plans for the weekend; it is very nice to hear some of these kids progress so much with their English skills.

(Those of you who are native speakers of English, and not English teachers, likely do not understand how screwed up the English language is--it is crazy and complicated and strange and oh-so-hard . . . I am so happy that I was born into it and did not have to try and learn it.  This is all to say that when a student of mine can have a near-perfect five minute conversation with me, that is a wonderful accomplishment for the student.)

Our academy is going to have level tests for all of the students next week, and I am curious to see how some of them do.  After that, we will decide on new classes, books, etc.

This is going to be a busy month!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Jeju Tour Recommendations

Anyone touring the southeast area of Jeju should check into the services offered by Jejueco (available in English, Korean, and/or Russian).

Their new lodging facility (not a hotel . . . more like mini-condos) is very nice, and comes with its own tangerine grove.  The bathrooms in the apartments are cold, as is the lobby, but the rooms are warm as they can be heated two ways: by ondol (the Korean underfloor heating system) and by electronically-controlled heated air.  They have a kitchenette, and the lobby has PC's.

Check out the website and pics at:

Victor, our Russian-born guide, was very nice; he drove our 6-party (bi-lingual) group around in a van to smaller sites perhaps not seen by larger tour groups.  Some of the rides were naturally boring, but, in the end, we were pleased with what we were able to see and experience, and with the freedom we had to wander.

In sum, we felt that we wanted to live at the facility, keep eating the Jeju lunches at the restaurants that Victor directed us to, and simply relax for the few days that we had.

Busan Tour Recommendations

I strongly suggest that anyone interested in touring Busan utilize the hop-on/hop-off city bus tour

It's relatively cheap (about $10 for 1 ride, though you can do 2 in the same day for that price), efficient (the buses run as scheduled), and comfortable.

One drawback: on Christmas day I had to sit on top of a double-decker bus (uncovered) and nearly froze.  Note: most of the buses are different in make, so if you get off of one that is a double-decker you will probable get back on one that is a regular-style bus.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Busan: Jagalchi Fish Market

One of the places that I was keen to visit in Busan was the big fish market, called Jagalchi.  It turned out to be spread along one street.  Though there is a main building, it houses mostly a collection of small independent sushi stalls/eateries.  The weather was quite cold, but it was interesting to wander around the area . . .

Busan: Tall Buildings and Bridges

Before I went to Jeju island last week I visited Busan (Pusan), which is Korea's 2nd largest city.  I took the KTX, or bullet train, there from Suwon (in the greater Seoul area), a trip of about 3 hours.

Busan is located on the southeast coast of Korea, and is a busy shipping port, a popular summer beach attraction, and, by most accounts, a more laid back alternative to the hustle and bustle of Seoul.

This was my first visit, and one of the things that I found interesting and appealing was the contrast between the mix of old and new.

Here are some pics of high-rise apartment buildings/offices and bridges . . .

(Note: most of these pics were taken from a moving bus, so they may not be the best quality, but they'll give you an idea of parts of the city.)

Jeju: Seafood Soup and More

When we arrived for a tour of the Korean island of Jeju, the first thing we did--straight off of the plane--was to take a taxi to a recommended seafood restaurant.

"We have to go there," one of my Korean friends said, "it's supposed to be the best."

And, indeed, it was crowded,

all of the tables filled up with people sitting asian-style on the floor.  We soon joined them and ordered the special: seafood soup.  It wasn't not just any seafood soup, but rather a larger cooking pot piled high with, well, seafood.

If you don't like to know where your food comes from or how it is prepared, then you probably wouldn't  enjoy being served this soup.

Once the burner under the pot was turned on the cooking got started, and then . . .

. . . it was ready to eat.

After lunch, we took a taxi to a few tourist sites.  We walked by, but didn't enter, this one:

I don't know if it's a "real" tourist site or just a "wanna be" . . . there are a lot of museums in this part (SE) of Jeju that I have the same question about, and we didn't really have the chance to visit any of them.  I was surprised to see a "Ripley's Believe It or Not" museum on a corner, even though it was next to a Starbuck's.

We visited a "real" beach (there didn't seem to be many in this part of the island, but then we weren't thinking much about beaches, what with the cold weather) and saw our first "harubangs" or protection/fertility statues, for which the island is famous (in addition to tangerines/oranges)).


Happy New Year!:)