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Teaching English in East Asia: 10 Year Anniversary


 The New Year marks our (my wife and me) 10th anniversary of leaving South Korea, where we both taught English at Sookmyung Women's University.  I taught in the TESOL certification program for in-service and pre-service English language teachers and she taught in the General English Program for undergraduate students.  Except for my summer job in 2011, we haven't been taught English in East Asia since December 2005.

What has changed in the last 10 years?

Although I haven't taught English in Japan and South Korea for 10 years, which is double the amount of years I taught in those countries, I have been keeping up to date through research and social media.  The research has helped me better understand the English language policies of both countries, but social media has been more informative regarding the cultural and professional experiences of English language teachers.

Social Media

By the start of 2006, most social media platforms did not exist or were in their infancy. 
In March 2006, Twitter was founded but not widely used until 2007.  In September 2006, Facebook was opened to the public.  Reddit was founded in 2005, but not widely used until 2008.

In the absence of these sites, blogging was a more popular form of sharing experiences.  I discovered blogs in 2004, but I didn't get around to blogging until 2006, when this blog began as one of several blogs for professional purposes.

In 2010, when I chose my research topic for my PhD dissertation, I started looking at blogs written by other English language teachers, primarily in Japan and South Korea, and discovered that these two countries were coincidentally the two blogging hotspots for English language teachers.  I've been doing my best to keep track of these blogs here.

Now with Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and many more social media outlets, English language teachers have many ways to share their experiences.  Some teachers have expanded beyond simple blogging and microblogging, spending a lot of time and effort to create podcasts and YouTube channels about themselves, their profession, and/or the host cultures.  I will be sharing my list of these podcasts and YouTube channels later.  My point is that most of these did not exist 10 years ago.

English Language Policies of Japan and South Korea

Both countries spend a lot of money on employing English language teaching assistants in their government programs, JET (Japan) and EPIK (Korea).  Over the past ten years, many current and former teachers in these programs were fearing the closure of these programs, which has not happened. 

What is happening is that demand and salaries for English language teachers have not really increased as explained in Waegukin's blog concerning the Korean context.  BusanKevin also shares a similar perspective on this stagnation in Japan in his podcast episode about teaching adults in Japan.  However, teaching adults in Japan is affected less by the English language policies and more by the private sector.

The apparent golden era of teaching English in those countries seem to have passed, at least for those starting a career in English language teaching.  I haven't heard so much about teaching in Japanese and Korean higher education programs.

For better or worse

Social media has made it easier for English language teachers to connect and share their cultural and professional experiences, which may help teachers adjust and/or teach better.  However, the financial incentives have been stagnant or lowered.  What I'm seeing in the research literature and some blogs such as TEFL Equity Advocates is that many students and perhaps the society in general is viewing the native English speaker through a more critical lens.  This is great news for non-native English speaking teachers. My hope is that English language learners in Japan and South Korea become more savvy about who teaches them English. I believe this is happening in Japan already and is starting to happen in Korea as some schools are demanding more qualifications from their prospective teachers.

What about education technology?

How is the edtech industry reforming or "disrupting" English language teaching in Japan and South Korea?  I haven't paid close enough attention to it, but though my casual reading through blogs and viewing of videos, it doesn't seem to have revolutionized much after 10 years.  Perhaps I'll look into this a bit more for my next posting.  If you teach English in Japan or Korea, have you seen education technology dramatically change what goes on in the classroom over the past 10 years? 

Do I miss it?

Yes, of course I miss teaching English in Japan and South Korea.  What keeps me from going back is my family and friends in the United States, since they are the ones who lured us away.  Both my wife and I would love to go back to visit (perhaps as visiting faculty) but we feel that we have done the full-time teaching experience in Japan and Korea and that has made our years between 1998 and 2005 incredibly memorable.

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