Learning vs Knowing, a rant

Teaching English for the past six months has forced me to re-evaluate what it means to learn something. And I don’t mean just know it, I mean really learn it – to know something inside and out, backwards and forwards, and, to a lesser extent, sideways and byways. I can’t count the number of students I have who can ace a mulitple choice test but can barely say anything past “hello” and “how are you.” That’s like building a house just to sleep in the garage (speaking of which, Mom, can you clean that out, cuz when I come home I’m gonna need a place to crash). Making matters worse is that many parents don’t seem to mind that despite months of instruction and countless tuition bills later, their kids still can’t form simplest of phrases. As long as the right bubbles are filled on the right tests, they’re happy.

With the odds seemingly stacked against actual learning and in favor of simple knowing, I was excited to come across a story about Park Chang-seok, a professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul and the founding chairman of the new English Newspapers in Education Society of Korea who is pushing for a comprehensive approach to English instruction. From the Korean Herald:

“Korean students are used to multiple-choice English tests and they have been preparing for these types of examinations in their classes,” he noted. “But these new essay-type questions, where test takers are required to work on a critical essay in a short amount of time, are turning out to be a challenge for a lot of students.”

“Korean students don’t have practice in preparing for essay writing in these English proficiency tests. When TOEFL started the essay-writing section, average scores for students taking these tests began to drop noticeably,” according to the professor…

Park minced no words when asked to describe the quality of English-language education in Korean public schools. “It’s really near the bottom. And this is not my own opinion. There have been a number of studies and surveys comparing English-language aptitude among students from different countries,” he said.

Just as a person can’t expect to make a gourmet meal without following a recipe, parents and instructors can’t expect to help students learn English without a plan and solid cirriculum. Perhaps it would be wise to take a page from the 19th-century German writer and philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who once said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough we must do.”

Full Article

Related Listening: “When Mute Tongues Can Speak” – The Posies


4 responses to “Learning vs Knowing, a rant

  1. from one teacher to another, I say, Amen!

  2. speaking as one teacher to another, I say, amen!

  3. Actually, I think that was Yoda, not Goethe, and it went like this:
    “Enough, knowing is not; apply we must. Enough, willing is not; do, we must.”

    I might be wrong though.

    In my intro to TESL I think they called the difference language learning vs. language acquisition — acquisition means you can USE it (without stopping and thinking for five minutes).

    Again, I might be wrong, though.

  4. Hey.

    I think Roboseyo is right on both counts.

    I just wanted to say that this is a nice post. I read it last week but am just now getting around to commenting. I agree with what you’re saying – fully – but I’ve just recently started to see how deep an issue this in Korea, and to Korean teachers. I’ve spent the past 10 years (!) teaching English to young university students who complain about the school system (standardized tests, rote memorization, shitty textbooks, dry teachers and no creative thinking) – and they blame this system for their lack of proficiency. Fair enough.

    But I’ve just recently started working at a teacher trainer programme in Seoul (teaching Korean high school teachers) and *they* are a bitter and aggrieved group of people, let me tell you. THEY blame the government for forcing them to teach a certain way and for not providing realistic learning environments (prescribed textbooks, unrealistic time schedules, huge classes, angry parents, rude students and inflexible curricula, just to name a few). It’s depressing. I try not to get bogged down in the politics but, honestly, it makes me wonder at how anyone here has *ever* learned to speak English(y) fluently. It’s hard.

    Maybe I should start quoting Yoda to them: “Do or do not… there is no try.”

    Anyhoo. Cheers. Still loving your blog.

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