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Korean Students Unhappy with English Classes

Angry student

photo credit: sizumaru cc

Almost 70% of Korean high school students are unhappy with their English lessons, according to the results of a new survey.

They typically say that what they are being taught is not what they need to learn and that they are leaving school without the essential tools to engage in the international sphere.

The study asked almost 1,000 students about their English lessons and the results are surprising for the schools, but perhaps not so surprising for well trained English teachers.

The main complaint was the dominance of grammar in their lessons. Almost 60% of students felt they were given too much grammar when what they felt they needed to learn instead was how to speak and communicate efficiently.

Perhaps for this reason a huge 84% of students felt that they needed to attend private English schools to help improve their English (and by extension, their career prospects).

Key Results

  • 58% said grammar dominated the lesson; only 20% felt it was what they wanted
  • overall, 70% of students were unhappy with their English lessons
  • 44% wanted speaking to take precedence in the classroom followed by: grammar (20%), vocab (13%), listening & reading (11% each), and writing (2%)

The study was carried out amongst 990 students by a teacher at Dongduk Girls’ Middle School in southern Seoul. It has been published by Chung-Ang University’s Research Institute of Korean Education.


Teaching grammar is an easy way out for teachers. There are (generally speaking) right and wrong answers and for a lazy or uncertain teacher it’s far easier to give the class a bunch of grammar exercises (a la Murphy) to complete rather than actually create a useful lesson where the emphasis is on communication in real life circumstances.

Especially for teachers whose English is not perhaps of a high standard, grammar keeps them away from awkward questions and those areas of the language where only a native or at least very good English speaker can help.

Like many countries, Korea relies on old fashioned teaching methods and in effect is putting the brakes on creativity in the classroom and ability outside the classroom.

A Korean graduate who can reel off a fault-free list of irregular verbs and conjugations is never going to be as useful in the international marketplace as a Korean graduate who can actually engage in a real conversation with foreigners, albeit with grammatical errors!

Useful Links

Needs Analysis‏‎ for TEFL – how to find out exactly what you need to teach your students

Teaching English in South Korea – what it’s like teaching in Korea

Communicative Language Teaching‏‎ – about teaching useful English to students

Korea Herald – more on this story

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