Table of Contents
Communicative Language Teaching
Educational Policy Changes and the Korean Traditional Classroom
Communicative Language Teaching and the Korean Confucius Mindset
The difficulties of implementing Communicative Language Teaching
The Push Towards Communicative Language Teaching and its Impact on the Korean Classroom
As the world moves towards globalization and ties are built between different countries, English has been pushed into the forefront with a widespread perception developing that it should be considered a Global Language (Nunan, 2003:589), with it playing a significant role in promoting international exchange; acquiring scientific and technological expertise; fostering economic progress and participating in international competition (Ross 1992). This has in turn led to East Asian governments believing that it is essential to increase the number of people in their population who can communicate efficiently in English (Littlewood, 2007:243). This push towards competent English communication has caused a change in educational policies in countries such as Korea encouraging teachers to adapt a more communicative approach to their teaching methodology.
This paper will review through the aims of communicative teaching, examining the roles of both the teacher and the learner as well as the significant traits of the communicative classroom. It will examine the recent changes in educational policy within Korea looking at its move towards communicative language teaching and the impact which this has had on the traditional Korean classroom. It will briefly look at how communicative language teaching and the Korean Confucius mindset relate. Finally it will examine the difficulties that teachers face when implementing a communicative approach and the implications that this approach will have.
Communicative Language Teaching
Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) made its initial appearance in the early 1970s (Li 1998:678) as a reaction against the theoretical assumptions underlying Situational Language Teaching it was decided that there was a need for language teaching to focus not just on the mastery of grammatical structures but also on communicative proficiency (Richards & Rodgers 2006). In its approach to language learning CLT presumes that less attention needs to be spent on the discussion of grammatical rules and more focus spent on the learners language competence (Brown 2001). The learning theory underlying CLT is humanistic in nature (Hu 2002: 95) and can be summarized by three key assumptions, these are: activities that involve real communication promote learning; activities in which language is used for carrying out meaningful tasks promotes learning and finally language that is meaningful to the learner supports the learning process (Richards & Rodgers 2006). Due to CLT’s emphasis on the process of communication rather than the mastery of language forms the roles of both the learner and teacher have dramatically changed from what they were in a traditional classroom (Richards & Rodgers 2006). This has led to the learner becoming more of a negotiator - between the self, the learning process and the object of learning,(Breen & Candlin 1980:110) and with the teacher becoming both facilitator between the participants in the classroom and an interdependent participant within the learning-teaching group (Breen & Candlin 1980:99). CLT has also brought about a change in the learning environment where learners are provided with optimum interactional parameters (Holliday 1994: 54), that allow them to interact with each other developing communicative skills that can be applied to “real-life” situations. These learning environments should allow the student to feel secure, unthreatened and non defensive (Li 1998:679).
However, in most cases the promise of an optimal language learning environment are sometimes hard to obtain. Communicative Language teaching as with all Western approaches towards education is based upon the Socratic method of teaching which has dialogue at it’s center (Scollon 1994). Having a strong Confucius background the Korean concept of education has been greatly influenced by Confucian thinking (Hu 2002 :96). Confucius regarded education as a means for individuals to develop intellectually and cultivate moral qualities (Hu 2002:97). This regard for education has in turn effected the students preconceptions of what should be expected within the classroom leading to an incompatibility with the precepts of CLT. As well as the Confucius background hampering the successful implementation of CLT within the Korean classroom there are other factors which have hindered its successful implementation. Firstly for many students the motivation towards English is to pass standardized tests that tend to focus more on grammar rather than communicative competence; secondly the aim of students being communicatively competent can seem distant and not necessary especially in Korea where English is not used for every day communication; and finally many students lack exposure to authentic speech which can make language learning seem abstract and not necessary (Li 1998: 680).
Educational Policy Changes and the Korean Traditional Classroom
Before the change of educational policy in 1995, English education within Korea utilized the “Grammar-Translation Approach” (Nunan 2003:601). This approach towards English education required students to focus more on the understanding of grammatical rules with emphasis being placed on sentence accuracy. Instruction took place solely in Korean with very little authentic language being used through out the class (Richards & Rodgers 2006). Rather than being a facilitator of learning which is highly encouraged within the communicative classroom, the teacher is more of a “controller” taking control of the class and of any activities that are taking place (Harmer 2003).
With a change in attitude towards English, the Korean Government realized that in order for Korea to play an active role in economic and political activities on the international level the Korean population would need to be able to communicate in English effectively, this in turn caused a number of policy changes resulting in students being introduced to English at a younger age (Li 1998: 681). As well as reducing the age that students learn English in the public school system the Ministry of Education in Korea decided that “the grammatical syllabus does not help much to develop learners ’ communicative competence ” (Development Committee, 1992, p. 66), which in turn caused a move away from the traditional grammatical approach to that of a communicative approach. With the publication of The Sixth National Curriculum for Middle Schools and The Sixth National Curriculum for High Schools it was hoped that both the audio-lingual methods found within the middle school classroom and the grammatical translation methods found within the high school classrooms would be replaced by the CLT approach (Li 1998: 682). With the implementation of this policy and the change that it had on school curriculums a new goal for English teaching through out the Korean education system was written up stating that the goal of English teaching is “to develop the learners’ communicative competence in English through meaningful drills and communicative activities, such as games, with the aid of audio-visual equipment” (Development Committee 1992, p. 180)
As with a lot of governmental policy, decisions were made with out consulting the “people in the field” which resulted in a mis-match between government ideals and what teachers were willing to apply. This has in turn resulted in the slow implementation of CLT through out all levels of education and even though the Korean government has been encouraging a move towards CLT teachers appear to be slow in adopting and implementing such an approach stating difficulties from large class sizes, to differences in students English level and the lack of teacher proficiency (Kim 2004) Nevertheless it is not only these cited problems which have effected the implementation of CLT, but also cultural factors that are peculiar to Korea (Kim 2004).
As well as a clash of culture and the differences between the CLT approach and the approaches used within the Korean classroom there is also a sense of “unfriendliness” towards English within the school culture. One of the main ideals of the Korean Ministry of Education is that students should be able to transfer what they have learnt from within the classroom to outside the class so that the knowledge and skills that students acquire can be reinforced and retained (Kim 2004). However these ideals have been difficult to acquire as teachers tend to be reluctant to speak in English when they are outside the confines of the classroom making the language seem irrelevant and discouraging students to utilize their language skills. Historical and socio-political implications have also played a role in this “unfriendliness” with many older Koreans relating English to Americanization and as a result viewing it suspiciously (Kim 2004).
Communicative Language Teaching and the Korean Confucius mindset:
As mentioned CLT clashes with the Confucius mindset found within the Korean classroom both in terms of the role of the teacher and learner and what is expected from education. As with many countries, Korea has a number of peculiarities which are unique to it and one of these peculiarities which is in constant conflict with the Western ideals of individualism is Koreas inclination towards collectivism. (Kim 2004). Unlike individualism which favors the individual, collectivism focuses on the community, society or nation. This inclination towards collectivism in Korea has had a profound affect on the Korean educational system in turn effecting the implementation of educational policies which focus on the needs of the individual (Kim 2004). Table 1, shows some of the salient features of collectivism and individualism (please note that these features can be observed in Korea, Japan, China and other Asian Countries)