All Korean university students have studied English for a long time they entered university. It is no exaggeration to say that they have studied English for more than 10 years. However, in the real world, many of them still have difficulty speaking, or writing English and even answering simple questions, such as ‘How are you?’ and ‘What’s up?’. A lot of this difficulty comes from not understanding ‘practical English’.
|▲ Even though a lot of Korean univerity students have studied more than 10 years, most of them have difficulty answering this simple question.|
To find out what Korean university students thoughts about practical English and their everyday English skills, the Dankook Herald (DKH) conducted a survey targeting them. According to the survey, two thirds of our respondents have been studying English for more than 10 years. However, even though the majority of respondents have studied English since elementary school, almost 80% stated they were not confident with their English speaking and writing skills in. Only 10% think that they’re good at it, although most of the respondents consider themselves good English readers. This means that most students might not have studied the practical use of English and the results of the survey prove this point. Most university students have to earn high English scores in exams, like TOEIC, but more than half of the respondents said that studying for these tests is not helpful for improving their practical English skills.
The DKH interviewed Natalie Hallemans, a Professor in the School of General Education at Dankook University (DKU) about this topic. First, we asked her opinion of Korean university students’ ability in English. She said that these days most of them, including Dankookians (Students of DKU), are better at English than before.
Since her answer contrasts with the results of the survey, we inquired about why they lack confidence in speaking and writing English. She suggested that the problem is the fear of using English. She stated that many of them are afraid of making mistakes in their pronunciation or grammar, which is not the appropriate attitude when learning a second language and you need to try without fear of making mistakes, because the only way to learn is to try.
Therefore, the DKH asked her to elaborate on ways to improve practical English. Professor Hallemans suggested the two most important. The first one is practicing not only for the tests, such as TOEIC or the Korean SAT, because those are realities in Korea and you have no choice, but you should also seek out opportunities to actually use English. “If you memorize all these difficult words and grammar rules but yet never use them, it will be no use to you and you’ll finally hate learning English,” she mentioned. Secondly, you have to try hard to control your fear of speaking and writing English. She stated, “You have to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, on purpose, to overcome your fear”.
There are many solutions for overcoming your fears of speaking, such as studying abroad or taking English speaking classes in private institutes, both of which are expensive. However, these are not your only solutions. There are other opportunities to improve your practical English abilities for free. First, you can find foreign friends for language exchange through online websites or smartphone applications. For instance, there is website called ‘conversationexchange.com’. Through this site, you match with language exchange partners and have conversations with English native speakers by e-mail or KakaoTalk, and you can also take the time to meet each other in person. According to many reviews, you are likely to meet weird people through this website. Moreover, you can make foreign friends through the smartphone application called ‘HelloTalk’. These tools are for language exchanges, meaning you would also be expected to teach a little bit of Korean in English, which is a far better way to get used to using English rather than just studying for tests.
Next, it’s also possible to meet English native speakers offline. Almost all universities have language exchange programs. Specifically, at DKU, there is a program called ‘Global Village’. Dankookians can have a class with English native speakers and hang out with them. The impressive aspect of this program is that you will gain two credits without worrying about the score.
Third, making study groups for English is also a rather effective way to improve your practical English skills. There are many English language websites that provide lesson plans that study group can use to work on. the DKH recommends ‘breakingnewsenglish.com’. At this site, you can choose the level the level of difficulty for these activities for your study group, from beginner to advanced. The content of the website lessons is from actual news, so you can acquire some contemporary expressions that are used in English speaking countries.
If study groups are not for you, the DKH highly recommends using social media sites for practical English study. YouTube channels, such as ‘Oliver ssam’ or ‘Aran TV’, provide useful information for English language learners. They point out common mistakes, for example many Korean students have learnt that ‘should’ and ‘have to’ basically have the same meaning, however these channels explain the further nuances of the use of both words and their implied meaning based on the knowledge of native speakers.
In addition, the Asian Debate Institute (ADI) at Chung-Ang University might be a useful and challenging way to assess your logical and social English skills. ADI offers various lectures about British Parliament-style debate in English and a lot of university students join from diverse Asian countries. Moreover, you’ll have a chance to take part in the debate, which is also an effective way to improve your public speaking and writing skills.
Professor Hallemans closed the interview with words of advice: ‘use it or lose it’; which implies that having opportunities for using English and overcoming your fear of failure is the best solution. Now that you know these 5 useful ways for practical English skills; such as taking part in the free language exchange communities offered both on and offline, where to find content for study groups, and where to get tips from native speaker on social media, as well as how to get involved in an English language debate program, when a foreign friend asks “What’s up?” you will be able to respond with confidence, “Oh just chilling at home”, without any fear of saying the wrong thing.
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