Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why can't some English teachers spell?

Somewhere in some comments section somewhere, some English teacher talking about Korean kids' attitudes toward learning English wrote:
obsticles
Is that like a popsicle that the obstetrician gives you? (I thought of a more chilling example of obstetrician + popsicle, but the collective shudder that would have erupted from my female readers might have triggered a seismic event.)

I'm not asking this question as an attack or with any kind of hidden agenda, and I apologize for singling out this one person, as his is merely the most recent example of this, the one that prompted this post.

Rather, I'm asking because I'm genuinely curious. Is English education in Asia attracting not just people with a love of education — which presumably would also include a devotion to spelling — but others with little more than a tertiary concern for the pedagogical arts? Are English teachers in Korea no different from other college-educated Anglophones these days and have simply not had good spelling drilled into their impressionable minds when they were young? Am I simply being too pedantic?

I addressed this before with the infamous Shelton Bumgartner, a traveling minstrel camped out in an English classroom who fancied himself a journalist (which to me is another field where good spelling should reign supreme). I myself became infamous for chiding him on it:
Perhaps I am a journalistic snob, but a writer who dismisses pathologically bad spelling regularly foisted on the public by simply saying he or she “never made any claim to being a spelling expert,” is undeserving of the title of “writer.”

Spelling is not a specialty of writing, like cardiology is to medicine. It is part and parcel of the writing package, more like being able to park is to driving. How much would we tolerate it if drivers just left their cars in the middle of traffic, telling people who complain that, “I never made any claim to being a parking expert.”

Well, outside of Seoul it would not be tolerated!
So what are the reasons? Is it important? Is Kushibo simply a smug superyuh sombitch who should see a proctologist about having the stick up his arse removed?

UPDATE:
In response to Matt's legitimate complaint that I appeared to be smearing all English teachers, I have changed the title from the deliberately hyperbolic "Why can't English teachers spell?" to "Why can't some English teachers spell?" As I said in the comments section, I know lots of current and former English teachers in Korea (and Japan) who are good spellers and excellent wordsmiths; I'm only referring in this post to those who aren't, and the title should reflect that distinction. But considering the occupation they have chosen, that number should be few to none, but it does seem that the bad spellers are rather conspicuous, perhaps because of their stated occupation.

* And I should note that I'm making a distinction between typos and bad spelling. A typo is where you misspell a word you know how to spell, but I'm defining bad spelling as not knowing how to spell a word one uses online, on paper, or in conversation.

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21 comments:

  1. You just have to realize that many Americans or "native English speakers" from other countries are not that good at English (their own language!). If you've ever worked in a large company in the US and interacted with people who are presumably college-educated, you'd be very shocked. Case in point- I work with a girl who graduated from a "state university" (yeah, I know..State universities~) and she constantly says "broked" even after I keep correcting her. And she was raised in the US. Also, a lot of those English teachers in Asia you refer to probably don't have a genuine interest in teaching or languages in general, but rather just want to get away from their home countries or have a fetish for Asians (ok, that sounded cynical, but sadly true).

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  2. Some or all of what you're saying may be true, but I want to get into the nuts and bolts of why. Did they stop giving spelling tests? No more spelling bees? Is phonics responsible?

    I have noticed people at my current university who can't spell well, but not a lot. I'd hate that I'm spending x amount of years and so many thousands of dollars to graduate from a place with mental lightweights (though there are some).

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  3. I should add that I'm not really that old, a Gen-Xer who began formal schooling (kindergarten on up) in the 1970s and graduating from college in the 1990s.

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  4. "Did they stop giving spelling tests?"

    In many schools, yes. Spelling tests are given at my schoolk, but spelling is not emphasized since it is not directly tested on the annual achievement tests and since spelling is not an indirect indicator of future scores for younger students.

    No more spelling bees?

    Not at my school and probably not at most others. Spelling is viewed as requiring a lot of memorization, a skill derided in US schools.

    Is phonics responsible?

    Maybe. Phonics got shoved aside in the late 70s in favor of the Whole Language movement. President Bush threw wads of federal money at a phonics-oriented program called Reading First. Phonics is now back in the curriculum, but good teachers do not rely on phonics alone. Rather we teach phonics as one strategy for figuring out words.

    NCLB's mandatory state achievement tests have squeezed writing out of the curriculum since the skill is not assessed. Moan all you want about teaching to the test, but if our school or our district doesn't meet the minimum passing percentage, we are put on probation. Two more years of failing to meet the rising required percentage (81% this, rise to 87% next year and reach 100% in 2013), and the federal government can take over our school, firing and hiring as they please. And did I mention that all limited-English proficient students in the US 12 months or longer must PASS both reading and math.

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  5. Sonagi wrote:
    schoolk

    Aren't you glad I included my disclaimer about typos? :)

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  6. Wow. Check out the anti-American gangbang this comment section turned into. In fact, if you ever want to change Monster Island, I'd go with Anti-American Gangbang.

    You should see the errors on the apology letters I get from my students. They write them in Korean! Don't they know their own language? Or the text messages I get from my friends! Why do the hangulize English words? Why? Didn't they study at an excellent Korean university?

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  7. Matt wrote:
    Wow. Check out the anti-American gangbang this comment section turned into. In fact, if you ever want to change Monster Island, I'd go with Anti-American Gangbang.

    Of all the things you could have gone with, you went with "anti-American"? And not just me, but two of my most loyal readers, too?

    I think criticizing a general trend in America that I believe to be detrimental makes me a fine American, Matt.

    I think the only thing really deserving of would be criticism that I am smearing all English teachers, which on second read I think I did unfairly. I know lots of current and former English teachers in Korea (and Japan) who are good spellers and excellent wordsmiths; I'm only referring in this post to those who aren't, but considering the profession, that should be few to none.

    Now, I don't know if you're aware, but I'm really holding back right now, because I think calling someone anti-American — particularly when that someone is me — is one of the most egregious and abominable things to do in a blog comments section. Far worse than being called an apologist or a sock army general or whatever I am this week.

    A grave insult to question my love for my country. I'm dead serious.

    But I'm going to just breathe in deep a few times and calm down.

    You should see the errors on the apology letters I get from my students. They write them in Korean! Don't they know their own language? Or the text messages I get from my friends! Why do the hangulize English words? Why? Didn't they study at an excellent Korean university?

    An excellent retort. My first question would be: Are they Korean teachers?

    Most Korean teachers I know — both in the US and in Korea — are very meticulous about Korean spelling and grammar. Downright awe-inspiring.

    As for the Koreans who don't spell properly, I think it's fair to divide them into two categories: those who choose not to and those who don't know how. IOW, voluntary bad spellers (VBSs) and ignorant bad spellers (IBSs).

    VBSs are people who have grown up thinking it's cute or funny to write things in "wrong" Korean, and/or do so because it's quicker (though sometimes it's longer). Some of them are writing in quasi-saturi. It's an affectation. And I agree, it can be annoying. But it's common, especially in text messages, email, and chatting.

    The IBSs, on the other hand, are people who may have been VBSs for so long that their bad habits pushed out their good knowledge. The person writes an apology letter with bad spelling is probably an IBS. Yeah, they should be embarrassed.

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  8. Of all the things you could have gone with, you went with "anti-American"? And not just me, but two of my most loyal readers, too?

    Read over the first few comments again and then tell me there isn't any anti-American sentiment.

    Now, I don't know if you're aware, but I'm really holding back right now, because I think calling someone anti-American — particularly when that someone is me — is one of the most egregious and abominable things to do in a blog comments section. Far worse than being called an apologist or a sock army general or whatever I am this week.

    A grave insult to question my love for my country. I'm dead serious.

    But I'm going to just breathe in deep a few times and calm down.


    Boo-freakin-hoo. How many times have YOU slandered or libeled foreign English teachers? You've done it at least once today. It's not so funny being called something you're not, is it? Now you know how I feel when I pick up a copy of the Chosun Ilbo. Remember that the next time you call out "Waaaaaahgugins." I'm...dead...serious.

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  9. Matt wrote:
    Read over the first few comments again and then tell me there isn't any anti-American sentiment.

    Well I didn't mention Americans until you did. Sonagi talked about Americans because she's a teacher in America. And LastNameKim talked about "Americans or native English speakers."

    Yes, we've all been critical, but we're also all Americans and we have a concern about things that happen in America. That's hardly "anti-American."

    Boo-freakin-hoo. How many times have YOU slandered or libeled foreign English teachers?

    How many times have I? I have never said "Matt at the baseball blog" is such-and-such. I have made critical comments about people who do certain things, but I haven't slandered or libeled foreign English teachers.

    There are many such people among my friends and among people I've dated, which is meaningless in and of itself, but I work with them on bridge projects to help expand opportunities and reduce stress for that particular demographic, and I've been doing so since even before the last economic crisis hit. I've spent time, treasure, sweat, and brownie points on helping out people who most in the K-blogs would have been calling stupid and not worth my time. In fact, my crusade against the stupidity exhibited by some English teachers stems from my drive to prevent such things from recurring over and over again.

    But my criticisms of, say, pot-smoking English teachers is only about those English teachers who smoke pot. It has nothing to do with those who don't. If you are taking my criticism of such people to say that all are in the boat, a bushel full of bad apples, then you are grossly misinterpreting what I'm saying.

    You've done it at least once today. It's not so funny being called something you're not, is it? Now you know how I feel when I pick up a copy of the Chosun Ilbo.

    Dude, I'm a foreign national, too. I'm an American and I have to deal with whatever crap is dished out. In fact, if I have more invested in Korea, I may even have more to lose if a xenophobic backlash really were to come. (Not that I think something extreme like that is coming where, say, foreign nationals are no longer able to own property.)

    Remember that the next time you call out "Waaaaaahgugins." I'm...dead...serious.

    Dude, I did not call you one. Though it could be broadly applied to many situations, I've been rather specific when I used it. Like, say, someone who thinks that whatever bad thing has happened to them is happening because they're a foreigner.

    I am NOT saying all/most 외국인 are WAAAAAHgugins. Far from it. I hope most aren't. And you never struck me as one either.

    I don't care for these articles by Intern Choe. In fact, I may even try to meet with her to calmly and dispassionately tell her what is wrong with her articles (the lack of a balance when opposing viewpoints are absent, plus the reliance on substance-less material). That's a different tack, but that doesn't make me unconcerned about the plight of those in the same demographic as the ones she's criticizing.

    Anyway, if you feel I've done wrong by you or by English teachers, feel free to call me out on it, but please be specific. Generalities are very hard to defend against, respond to, or use as learning points to improve one's own behavior.

    I know I have a reputation as an E2 hater or something, even though anyone who knows me in real life — and with whom I've discussed these issues in depth many times — would laugh at such a description. I think a lot of it stems from me conspicuously refusing to validate feelings of persecution, which I do because it's often just feeding a victim mentality and the interpretation of events or their overall meaning is often flat-out cognitive distortion.

    I care. I care enough to tell some people they're being precious little lotus blossoms.

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  10. Why can't English teachers spell?

    "because they went to school. they didn't study, they just WENT."

    =P

    reijene is very happy kushibo's still blogging. ^^

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  11. Anyway, if you feel I've done wrong by you or by English teachers, feel free to call me out on it, but please be specific.

    What's the title of this post? Is that specific enough? How about the times you've written that NSET's should "shut the fuck up"? Is that specific enough?

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  12. The title of this post (originally "Why can't English teachers spell?") was deliberately a little hyperbolic. In fact, maybe I'll change it, as I did already acknowledge that it may unfairly smear all English teachers.

    But let's say I took that weird Korea Times cartoonist, noted that his primitive drawing style is part of an overall — but not universal — trend, and I highlighted his cartoon with the headline, "Why can't cartoonists draw?" Would I be smearing all cartoonists? Should they all be up in arms? Would doing that make me anti-American or anti-French?

    I guess what I'm saying is that while you make a few very valid points, you're also going overboard with what it all means. Specifically, when I'm talking about people who do a certain thing, I'm not talking about all the people in that demographic.

    And that's the case with the STFU cases I could find. I wasn't saying English teachers should STFU. I was saying that people who are going to whine that English teachers are unfairly being quarantined or something should STFU. Those who should STFU are not all teachers and it would include others like Metropolitician — especially Metropolitician — who is not an English teacher at all!

    I was mocking a certain segment of whiney, histrionic complainers who were turning a public health response into a persecution narrative. Those are the ones I said STFU to. So if you think I'm saying STFU to all English teachers, then you are saying all English teachers are whiney and histrionic and have a persecution narrative.

    I certainly don't believe that to be the case.

    These are all the other cases where "shut the" appear together on my site. Did I say this elsewhere? Link, por favor.

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  13. Wow..how did this simple "tough love" post by Kushibo blow up into some "anti-American" discussion? I think the basic message here is that many Native English speakers (although, I've found more Americans can't spell well rather than say, British or Kiwis I've known) don't read enough. Moreover, I think there is a trend in media to "let slang go" in its incorrect form. How many times have you heard people use [did it good] vs [did it well] type of phrases?? I hear this ALL the time in media and it bugs the crap out of me. It's also considered 'un-cool' to correct people with their spelling or grammar, so the errors go on and on. Also, this may not be PC to say, but I feel that many of my friends who have these spelling errors are the ones who grew up around non-native English speakers. THAT, coupled with this omnipresence of urban slang in the media results in...bad spelling, bad grammar. And Matt, sometimes there needs to be tough love, whether it's against Americans or not. Just a quick note, the honors English and honors Composition courses in my high school were at least 80% Asian (mostly Korean) even though the school must have been only 15% Asian. What's wrong with that picture?

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  14. Oh, by the way, talking about spelling bees....When I was going to elementary school, we had monthly spelling bees. I kid you not...the winner was ALWAYS one of three kids...all Korean. This was in a predominately white school in O.C. I think my class only had 3 Koreans in it. Three Koreans who grew up in families where mostly Korean was spoken....win the English spelling bees? Maybe because the other kids didn't read as much is my guess...and comic books don't really count (although I did read my share of comic books).

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  15. I think I just got suckered into making amends for bashing English teachers when my original post made it clear I was praising a good lot of them:

    Is English education in Asia attracting not just people with a love of education — which presumably would also include a devotion to spelling — but others with little more than a tertiary concern for the pedagogical arts?

    Clearly I'm stating that a good portion of English teachers are "people with a love of education."

    Are English teachers in Korea no different from other college-educated Anglophones these days and have simply not had good spelling drilled into their impressionable minds when they were young?

    Here, too, I'm saying that if there is a problem, it might not be with English teachers specifically but with English speakers in general.

    Am I simply being too pedantic?

    And I even offered up that the problem is I.

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  16. I will be the negative one then. I know a large portion of Kushibo's readers are former or current English teachers, so he has to be careful. But since I'm just a reader on here, I can honestly say the many English teachers I have known didn't really seem to care about education. They usually fell into it because they had nothing else to do after they graduated from college. One of my majors in college was linguistics, so I really was able to interact with students who loved language and education. But even out of all those linguistics majors I knew, only a handful really wanted to become language teachers with their degrees. So, to sum it up, what I'm trying to say is, I think most English teachers don't have a true love for teaching. However, I will say that, for those who do go into English teaching, many do try to be enthusiastic about it and eventually try to do a good job. If I'm completely off the mark here, I apologize to those who are serious about it...but for those out there who are guilty as charged..you know who you are.

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  17. I respect what you're saying, LastNameKim, and I can appreciate where Matt is coming from.

    What you are saying may be true, but like you said, it's not true for all. Maybe we can put teachers into three broad categories: those who come with an academic background or experience to do the job out of the box, those who lack such background or experience but are willing to work hard to do a good job, and those who — whether they start in category 2 or not — just end up going through the motions, just treating it as a means to get money and/or work fewer hours than in a job back home and then do whatever else it is they do.

    There are actually few in category 1, and most of the people I personally know are in category 2. And they try hard to be good teachers. But I know a good number of people who are in category 3 or fell into category 3.

    Falling into category 3 is not always the fault of the teacher; often the hagwon or school shares some of the blame because of the conditions or attitude. Lately, I think, the narratives in the K-blogs are making some people throw up their hands and say, "Why should I give a sh¡t?" and they end up in category 3.

    I actually think that raising the bar would work to increase the number of category-1's and category-2's, as well as provide the impetus for category-2's to stay as category-2's (instead of becoming 3's) or even to rise up to category-1's.

    But while that may mean holding teachers to higher standards (the job-hunting standards for Korean teachers are far more stringent than for NSETs, except for Koreans in hagwons, I believe), hagwons and schools need to be held to higher standards in terms of employment and contracts, and this is something that the authorities have been working hard on.

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  18. Kushibo,

    Thanks for the clarification. I was beginning to get a bit ticked off by some of your comments (sorry, I can't remember specific examples) and it seemed to me that you were indeed calling all 외국인 WAAAHGukins.

    I really appreciate your last comment and tend to agree - I've seen about the same proportions of the categories mentioned - and hope to upgrade from a 2 to a 1 in the future myself.

    Sorry about the late post, but my HD died literally in the middle of posting a response to your WAAAHGukin comments in an older message.

    One last thing on the topic of spelling and grammar:

    Kushibo: "...the problem is I."

    ?

    Meant to be cute, yes? ;)

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  19. I have asked this same question. I currently teach English in Korea and have met many other teachers that not only spell poorly, but can't put together grammatically correct sentences. My students typically spell better. The conclusion I have reached is, yes, they don't care much about teaching. They're in Korea for a good time, to extend the care-free college lifestyle just a bit longer, and to postpone settling into a "real" job. I find this embarrassing, especially because learning English really is an important, serious thing for many Koreans. The job should also be treated as such.

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  20. Not going to lie, I am not great at spelling at all. English is my second language but I speak fluently. Since I know my faults I use the good old dictionary! and check my spelling.

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  21. I'm entering this arena a bit late, but what the hell, I believe what I have to say might be valid in some shape or form. I believe all "educated", native English speaking people make mistakes in spelling, grammer etc., from time to time. How much is "time to time"? It shouldn't really matter as long as it's not a complete abomination. It's fairly common for novelists/writers of English to be terrible at spelling and grammer. This is why they have editors to clean up the work. Some of these people make great money writing! Yes, most can't spell and their grammer may be atrocious (spelling?), but they can write like a MoFo. I feel it's unrealistic to expect an "English teacher" to not make mistakes when using his/her native language. As humans, we all make mistakes.

    Given the multiple scenarios that any NET might find themselves in when teaching English in Korea, sometimes ambition and drive are just not present. You can have all the drive and motivation completely sucked out of you in a moments notice. This will cause more than just spelling errors and bad grammer. Using NET's teaching English in Korea might not be the best example in criticizing(spelling?) errors in English.

    I also see the spell check options on PC programs as a culprit for bad spelling. It's like the calculator with "maths". Your basic skills get lost fairly quickly.

    I have been teaching English in Korea for about 10 months. I am not an "educator" by trade, but I give it my all, every day. If I am writing something on the board, "in a whim", I sometimes make spelling errors or will look at a word and think, "did I spell that correctly?"

    I agree that there is no excuse for not running a spell check when writing anything on a PC. But when people are responding on a blog site, etc., I feel it should not be viewed as incompetance, but rather human nature or many other factors that could be in play.

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