Shut the Door on Your Way Out

ONE of the things new foreign workers in Korea (and even those who have been here for years) are told is “Korea has four seasons!” False. It has two seasons. Insanely, road-meltingly hot, and proper, freeze-the-balls-off-a-brass-monkey cold. No inbetweens. One day you notice you don’t need to turn on the heating anymore, and that night you wake up sweating because winter has turned into summer in the blink of an eye, and the heating money you are saving will simply be spent on six fans pointed directly at you to prevent a nuclear meltdown in your head. It gets cold here, and it gets hot here. Seriously. I love hearing new North Americans who arrive in the country, and proudly declare that in Pie Town, New Mexico, the mercury regularly goes above 40°C, so they will be fine in Korea. Bullplop. In the States people only stand outside to move from Burger King to their car, and in both locations air conditioning or heating mean that even the frailest vegan with a gluten allergy will be able to survive. In principle at least, Korean people have luxuries such as heating and air conditioning. However, much like bicycles and the internet, they don’t really understand how to make the most of them.

It is February here (and where you are, come to think of it), and so we are at the tail end of a grim, six month winter which has brought suffering and thoughts of the wrong parts of England. On the island where I live, there hasn’t been enough snow to settle this year, but other parts of Korea have had plenty. Last night in Gyeongju, some university students attending an orientation were crushed to death when the roof of the made-of-yoghurt-pots building they were in collapsed under the weight of snow. Soon winter will be over, and we can look forward to six months of sweaty, chafey trousers that have to be whipped off as soon as you get home from work so you can open the freezer and put your gonads in there. The weather here really is tough. I often think that Koreans are so physically hardy because all the weak ones died out centuries ago. Koreans don’t need to drink water, and they are immune to heat. Maybe this is why they have a blasé attitude to the correct use of heating and air conditioning. Standard practice for the few weeks a year when the use of such luxuries is permitted is as follows:

1. Turn on heating and set to 18°C (that should be nice and toasty).

Turn on air conditioning and set to 27°C (I see no problems with that).

2. Open all doors and windows.

Really. Sometimes the windows are opened to “change the air”, possibly also to avoid similar symptoms to the much-feared fan death. Another favourite is for students to enter and exit a room at random, leaving the door wide open. This is followed by cleverly waiting until you sigh and get up to close it yourself, and then opening it once more to look inside the room, before running off and leaving it wide open.

I don’t know why this happens. But it’s about as pleasant as having fleas in your socks. Similar things happen with air conditioning, on the day’s you’re allowed to use it. Some days all the schools in a province will be having a “power saving time”, so at 2pm (pretty much the hottest time of the day) someone will come into your classroom to turn off the air conditioning for thirty minutes. I’m not sure how much power is saved during that half hour, but I do know it renders that time useless as there is no way anyone will concentrate on studying a foreign language when their legs are fused to a plastic chair.

Last winter the water pipes in one of my schools froze, so toilets couldn’t be flushed. Bear in mind that the school toilets are mostly the ones where you squat like a dog or a Frenchman. The inability to flush these quickly results in the kind of communal fecal termite hills that make one long for the sanitary conditions of an Eritrean village.

You should see the corridors in Korean schools. They are basically the outside but with a roof. Open windows and doors are spread throughout, meaning whatever grim weather is out there is also in here. The only solution is to dress for either the Sudan or a Siberian gulag every time you walk to a classroom. Last summer I got a ticking off from one of my

That's not cool.

That’s not cool.

supervisors for walking to school in shorts and flip flops. But I mean, what am I supposed to do? If I wear trousers and socks and walk more than three metres in that kind of weather, I end up looking like a Christmas gammon in a plastic wrapper that’s been left on a windowsill.

It’s not just the schools which are completely hopeless against the weather. Koreans are famous for putting buildings up incredibly quickly, but it can’t be denied that such a pace may not always produce buildings of the highest quality (see “teenage fatalities” above). In my previous apartment the kitchen area was separated from the bedroom area by a sliding door, and had an outside wall. One winter’s morning I got up and started pouring coffee into my cup… and the cup broke. The cup had become so cold in the kitchen overnight that the shock of hot water cracked it into pieces.

So next time I meet a new arrival from Ham Lake, Minnesota, and he tells me how cold it gets back home when he’s driving between the diabetes clinic and Dunkin’ Donuts, I shall ask him if he has ever gone to wash his hands indoors and his skin has stayed stuck to the taps. Because if not, he’s in for a shock of the fecal termite mound kind.

How to Enjoy Korean Life as an ESL Teacher

1. Everyday tips

-Find a balance between Korean friends/colleagues and your Western friends.

-Likewise, find a balance between embracing Korean food and culture, but also make time to enjoy familiar things (as much as is available, anyway).

-Take care of your health. It is easy enough to eat well in Korea, especially if you have a lot of rice and vegetables as your staple meals. Make time to exercise a few times a week, if you don’t already. And get enough sleep. It is easy to get worn out in Korea because of the amount of things going on all the time. This is especially true when you are starting out here, what with all the people you are meeting, new activities you are trying, meals you are attending and so on.

-Try not to get sucked in to the community of people who waste their time moaning about Korea. Many of these can be found on the forum at There are many good things that you can learn about Korean life by joining in on the forums on, but don’t fall into the temptation of wasting your time complaining about life here. Negativity breeds negativity. Stick to positive people and positive experiences. Make your time in Korea fantastic. It is in your hands.

2. What (South) Korea is:

-A fascinating mix of traditional and modern. One mountain I used to go hiking on had a man living in a cave on the mountain. He was a shamanist monk who mostly lived off the land, drinking and washing in streams, burning wood for heat and so on. This in the same country which leads the world in technology like Samsung Galaxy smartphones and 3D TVs. In Korea you can visit a centuries old Buddhist temple in the morning and go to a cat cafe in the afternoon.

-A democracy.

-A developed country. The 2013 United Nations Human Development Report ranked South Korea as the world’s 12th most developed country, ahead of countries such as Denmark,, Singapore, France, Italy, Finland, the U.K. and South Africa 1. However, you will occasionally see attitudes or behavior which make you think of a developing country. Remember the whole country was virtually destroyed by civil war 60 years ago, and the economy has grown six-fold since 1980 (and twelve-fold since 1970). That incredible speed of economic growth is so fast that certain attitudes and behavior have not caught up yet. But they are making progress.

3. What Korea isn’t:

-Korea isn’t a Western country. It contains many elements such as democracy, capitalism and Western style culture, but at its heart it is a Far Eastern country. It is fair to say that Korea is Westernized, but not Western.

-Korea isn’t a world-class vacation destination for Westerners. Korea has a lot of beautiful and fascinating places to visit, but in most Westerners’ eyes it isn’t top of the list for beaches, mountains, food, or architecture. Accept this and appreciate Korea for what it is- a fascinating, vibrant, friendly nation with a very good quality of life for Western English teachers.

-Korea isn’t Japan/China/Thailand/your country. However, look on the bright side. Korea is cheaper than Japan, and easier to save money in. Korean ESL salaries are on the whole better than in China or Thailand, in many cases more than double. It may not have the familiar comforts of home, but that is part of the challenge and reward of coming here. Many Korean ESL veterans try teaching in other countries and end up coming back to Korea because they miss the friendliness, ease of travel, comfortable working conditions, disposable income, trustworthy public school employers, and many other things.

4. Ten Challenges for Westerners in Korea

1.) Every Korean person will ask you if spicy food is OK (there is a myth in Korea that Western people are unable to eat anything spicier than a potato, despite our love for spicy food from India, Mexico etc.)

2.) When subway trains (and buses/elevators/lifts) stop, many people try to get on before the previous people have got off.

3.) Schedules are very flexible and liable to change at a moment’s notice compared to Western life. You will learn at very short notice that you have to teach a lesson with nothing prepared, go to a staff dinner in five minutes when you had planned to catch up on TV, go to the gym or call your parents, or submit lesson plans or some kind of essay by the end of the day without any prior notice.

4.) Things will also be cancelled at the drop of a hat, so be prepared for the Sports Day or hiking trip to be replaced with six lessons on a rainy Monday.

5.) To a certain extent, you will always be treated like a foreigner no matter how long you stay here or how integrated you become. This is hard for us to take as Westerners, due to the way we absorb people from other cultures into our countries. But look on the bright side- in many cases you will get away with doing a lot less difficult work than your Korean colleagues.

6.) Some Korean teachers and students will not value English, regardless of how good a teacher you are or how good your lessons are. But be encouraged- many students are very keen to learn English and a lot of teachers want to improve their English by talking to you.

7.) Older people will cut in line (queue-jump) at places like bus terminals. This is incredibly frustrating when you have 90 seconds to buy your ticket, go to the bathroom and board your bus, but it will happen and there is nothing you can do. Older people get away with much more in Korea than they would in Western countries, due to the Confucian traditions which put a lot of value on age.

8.) This is (still) a very homogenized country in terms of culture, race, architecture, language etc. In terms of race and culture it is changing as more and more foreign people and influences enter the country, but be prepared- this is no London or New York.

9.) Korean people of all ages may talk about their dislike for Japan, and this is currently most closely associated with Dokdo, a tiny group of islands over which both countries claim sovereignty (but historically they do belong to Korea). It can be very frustrating and tiresome for foreigners, especially those with a love for Japan, but view it in context. Korea has been regularly invaded and colonized by Japan over the centuries; the Japanese tried to eliminate Korean culture even to the extent that Korean people were made to speak Japanese and have Japanese names, and for most of the bad things Japan did to Korea, it has not only failed to apologize but also actively denies some events (such as the slavery of “comfort women”). This is as offensive to Koreans as Holocaust denial is to Western people. When you hear about Dokdo once a week, sympathize with Koreans and understand that it is about more than just the tiny islands. Love Japan, but understand why it is hard for Koreans to do so.

10.) Some days your school lunch will be a tray full of things you hate.

5. Ten Great Things About Teaching English in Korea

1.) You will have so many stories to tell, good and bad.

2.) Lots of opportunities to enjoy exercise and the outdoors. Koreans of all ages love exercise, whether it is hiking, volleyball, tennis, whatever.

3.) For a lot of things, especially services, Korea isfairly cheap by Western standards. Korean salaries tend to be lower than in Western countries, which means things like taxis, buses, restaurants, and even some medical or dental treatments are cheaper than back home.

4.) You can save a large chunk of your salary (so long as you don’t drink too much imported alcohol or go to too many expensive restaurants, clubs etc.)

5.) You appreciate certain things back home a lot more, plus you learn cultural elements that you wish were in your own country.

6.) Korea has low (but not no) crime. Violent crime is very low by Western standards.

7.) Fast internet and plenty of time to enjoy it.

8.) Koreans love sharing. You will get so many free snacks, rice cakes, beers, ice creams…

9.) Lots of great places to travel during vacation time, both in Korea and nearby countries like Japan, China, The Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam…

10.) It looks impressive on your Resume/CV.

Reference: List of Countries by Human Development Index.

The Main Differences Between Korean and Western Culture

1. The Eastern Group Mentality vs. The Western Individual Mentality

 As a general rule, it can be said that Koreans (and Far-East Asians in general) are more group-oriented than Westerners who tend to be more individual-oriented. This can be simplified to:

A Westerner does what he/she needs

A Korean does what the group needs

Of course this is a big generalization, but it fits well with what you will experience every day in Korea.

This can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you will (sometimes) be expected to give up your time and energy when you would rather not, for example being asked to attend staff dinners, school trips at weekends, (occasional) extra responsibilities during work time. But on the other hand, you will find people giving up their time and energy to help you with things, whether it is changing apartment,, arranging banking stuff, medical things etc. more than people back home might. So in reality there are good and bad things with both cultures. The most important thing is to be prepared for the Korean way of doing things.

2. Sickness and absence

It is very common for Korean people to come to work even when they are sick, if only to rest at their desk. This is part of the culture of showing diligence and dedication.

It is also the norm to go to hospital for most conditions, even a common cold.

3. Personal space (or lack of it)

South Korea is crowded. Of countries with a population over ten million, South Korea has the third highest population density (not population) in the world (higher than Japan or India) 1. In other words, in a small space, there are a lot of people. Because of this, Koreans are very used to standing, walking, eating, working, commuting etc. close to other people.

Note too that Koreans are much more likely to touch each other (and you) on the hand, arm, and if you are sitting down together, leg (men included). This is a sign of familiarity, friendship, closeness, or trust.

4. Personal questions and information

Be prepared that many Korean people who have just met you may ask you how old you are, and whether you are married. If you are unmarried and above a certain age (maybe late 20s), you may then be asked why you aren’t married. Korea still has many elements of a traditional and conservative society, and so getting married and starting a family is basically expected of everyone. These days a typical Korean man might be married by his early thirties, and a Korean woman by her late twenties. This isn’t so different to Western culture. But unmarried couples in Korea very rarely live together (at least not openly).

Korean people will often ask you questions like “Where are you going?”, or over the phone “What are you doing?” or “Who are you with?”. These questions might seem too direct or personal to Western people, but they are normal to Koreans.

Things like your annual medical check (required by employment law) will almost certainly be sent directly to your school. However, if you visit a doctor by yourself (and most doctors in Korea will be able to say at least medical conditions in English), the information shouldn’t go any further.

5. Direct way of speaking

Koreans are often more direct in their way of talking, for example they might say “Your nose is very big!” or “Why are you fat?”. This isn’t considered so rude to Korean people.

You may receive advice even if you don’t ask for it. “You should get a haircut!”/”You need to lose weight!”/”Your class is very boring!”. This is just part of the closeness of Korean culture. Interpersonal barriers are much smaller in many ways.

6. Food and drink

Korean food is fairly diverse and you are bound to find lots of dishes you enjoy. Most Korean meals will revolve around a main protein (either fish, meat, egg or tofu) along with various side dishes (such as kimchi), a soup and a serving of rice. Koreans generally do not have starters/appetizers and puddings/desserts in the same way as Westerners, although if you are craving cake or ice cream you can get it elsewhere.

As a general rule Korean food has a lot of spicy and sour flavors. It’s actually not as hot as other countries’ foods (such as an Indian curry). The sour flavors can take some getting used to (as an example, it took me about two years to finally like kimchi.)

Koreans do not tend to have alcohol without food, except in some bars. Most dinners with your school will include a lot of beer and soju (a clear Korean alcohol made from sweet potatoes). If you do not drink alcohol it is no problem, but be prepared that a lot of people will want you to drink something they poured for you. You can get around this by pretending to sip, replacing soju with water, or simply saying thanks but no thanks. Note that in many bars you can only order drinks if you order a plate of food (such as a fruit salad, fried chicken etc.).

If you are vegetarian (or in particular a vegan), be aware that some dishes which seem to have no meat/fish (such as many soups) actually contain some meat/fish stock or small pieces of meat/seafood.


1 Population Density.

Why English is Hard for Korean People

1. Pronunciation

1.) Korean words generally follow a pattern of consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel, for example “Sprite” is pronounced “suh-puh-rah-ee-tuh”.

2.) Many (or most) Korean students have been taught (or picked up) the wrong pronunciation of many English sounds. This is due partly to Korean pronunciation carrying over into their English, and partly due to a lack of knowledge of correct English pronunciation.

Main examples:

- “ch”, “sh”, “g” sound at the end of words- lunchee, watchee, washee, Georgee Bushee

-”th” sound- senk you (not thank you), wiz (not with)

-”r”/”l” sounds- classic problem for Far East Asians speaking English- rater (later)

-”z” sound- doesn’t exist in Korean. Usually replaced with a “g”- joo (zoo), jee/jed (zee/zed)

-”f” sound- doesn’t exist in Korean. Usually replaced with a “p”- pacebook (Facebook), or “f”- hurenchee hurai (French fries)

-”i”/”ee” sound- Korean only really has one “ee” (이) sound, whereas English has a short “i” and long “ee” sound. So Koreans struggle with e.g. hit/heat; lid/lead…

-short and long ”oo” sound- in the same way, Korean only really has one “oo” (우) sound whereas English has distinctly short and long sounds, e.g. good (short sound) and food (long sound).

2. Grammar

1.) Articles (“A/An/Some” and “The”)

Actually English articles are extremely difficult for English language learners, especially Far-Eastern language speakers. There are many exceptions in the use of “a/an” and “the”. Even very advanced English learners frequently make mistakes when using these articles. Korean doesn’t really have articles (although they do say “some” as in “some people”).

2.) Plurals

1. Korean does have a plural form. BUT they use it much less than English speakers.

2. Koreans drop as much from spoken language as possible, whereas in English we do not. So the English sentence “The students are going home” is often said as “Student house go” in Korean. In that sentence you don’t know how many students there are, one or several or many. So when Koreans speak English, they often speak in the same way.

3.) Verb conjugation (inflection)

1. In English we conjugate verbs in many ways, including depending on the subject (I go, he goes…) This is particularly true of irregular verbs (I am, you are, he is…)

2. In Korean, verbs are not conjugated differently depending on the subject (I/You/He/She etc.). Although, Korean does have a way of changing the form if you need to use “honorifics” (the way of speaking politely to strangers, people older than you or more senior than you etc.)

4.) Auxillary verbs

Auxillary verbs are verbs which add function or meaning. For example “Do you want some coffee?”or “I could go there tomorrow”. These are very easy for us to use, but explaining and translating these is very complicated as they don’t exist in the same way in Korean (Korean expresses could/should/might etc. by changing the verb itself).

3. Vocabulary

1.) Korean misuse of English words. Many words have been picked up by Korean but taken on a slightly (or completely) different meaning. This leads to confusion for English learners in Korea.

- e.g.: “meeting”: in Korean this has more of a meaning of “social meeting” (a date or friends meeting) than the “work meeting” we tend to mean.

2.) In some cases words do not translate directly, or one Korean word means several things in English (or one English word means several things in Korean).

- e.g.1: One Korean word, two English words:

“expect”: In Korean, there is one word which means both “expect” and “look forward to” (기대하다). So when Koreans say in English that they are looking forward to something, they usually say they are “expecting” it.

-e.g.2: One English word, two (actually more) Korean words:

“old”: In English we can say “an old man” and “an old car”, but in Korean, different words for old are used for each example.

3.) As a general rule, translating nouns (window, student, cloud) between English and Korean is pretty easy, but translating verbs (decide, fight) and adjectives (bored, old) is more difficult.

4. Accents

1.) There are so many different English accents. Even within your own country, people speak English differently depending on where they are from. Imagine the difficulty for a Korean student trying to understand English accents of speakers from all over the world.

2.) If you don’t have an American accent, you may find Koreans can’t understand you when you spell a word. For example, British pronunciation of “r” sounds like “i” to Koreans.

5. Writing

1.) Korean doesn’t have upper-case (capital) and lower-case (small) letters, so Koreans often misuse them when writing English. What’s more, as some letters are different between upper-case and lower-case (e.g. A and a), some lower-level students only know one variety or use a mixture (foR ExaMplE wrITinG likE THis).

2.) Some letters which are instantly recognisable to English native speakers are easily misused by Korean students (for example lower-case “n” and “h”, or “i” and “j”).

6. Phonetics

1.) English is a relatively phonetic language. In other words, if you know the alphabet, you can read words you haven’t seen before and have a good chance of pronouncing them correctly. Unfortunately for English learners, a large percentage of English words are not pronounced the way they are written. This is due to words losing their original pronunciation over the centuries, and the fact that many words come from other languages and keep their original (or similar) spelling.

2.) Some words with similar spellings can have completely different pronunciation.

Consider the suffix -ough: cough; rough; dough; through; thorough

7. Pragmatics

1.) Pragmatics is when context contributes to meaning. In other words, the same words have a different meaning depending on when, where, how and to whom you say them. This can be one of the hardest things for language learners.

2.) Example: “Is that your dog?” can mean several things.

“Is that your dog?” (as opposed to another dog)

“Is that your dog?” (or someone else’s)

Consider too that saying “Is that your dog?” can mean “Please take your dog away” or “What a beautiful dog!”. It can be difficult to deduce what people are really saying, even when you understand the words. This is not such a problem in our own language, but in a foreign language it can be challenging.

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How to Learn Korean Effectively

This is the transcript and printed information of a lecture I gave about how to learn Korean effectively. I hope it will be helpful for you.

1. Why bother learning Korean?

1.) You’re here a long time. Some people might say “Korean isn’t a major international language. When I leave Korea, I won’t need to speak Korean again.” This is probably true. However, you are here for a long time. At least a year. That’s a long time to get by with just body language and asking Korean people who speak English to help you all the time. I know many Westerners who have been here a number of years and still speak almost no Korean.

2.) Have a great experience. A high percentage (maybe 75%) of Westerners who come to Korea to teach English never learn Korean beyond set phrases (such as ordering food or drink) and a collection of random vocabulary words. This is enough to survive, of course. But don’t you want to do more than survive? Don’t you want to have a rich, exciting, varied experience where you can get to know anyone in a country, not just the ones who are good at English?

3.) Bridge the gap. Only speaking English contributes to the “Them and Us” divide which exists for many foreigners living here. Feeling isolated in the country you live in won’t make you feel happy or comfortable.

4.) Get closer. Speaking Korean, even just a little bit and badly, is a brilliant way to make friends and get closer to the people you see every day.

5.) Not much English. So much Korean. You will spend only a minority of your time in the English classroom. The rest of the time you are in an environment in which Korean is the language almost everyone is speaking.

2. Effective ways to learn Korean

01) Learner type- Some people learn best by studying with others and attending classes. Others prefer studying alone. There are obviously pros and cons with both. If you study with others it can be a good way to stay motivated and to get help from teachers and other learners. But you might not stay at the same level as the other learners, or you might want to study at different times to them. Learning alone can be extremely effective so long as you can stay disciplined and motivated. A combination of both styles might be best.

02) Find the right resources- When I first came to Korea in 2008, it was hard to find a good learning resource. Many of the textbooks and learning CDs taught expressions and language that were unnatural. But these days Korean is growing in popularity as a language of study, so the amount of learning resources available is growing. But this presents a new problem. Which one to use?

If you choose to invest in Korean learning books or CDs, don’t fall into the trap of thinking if you buy something you will definitely study it! Be honest with yourself. Will you really study those textbooks you are about to buy?If not, I would recommend using the following free websites.They have everything you need to start making fast progress in Korean, and won’t cost you a penny.

- If you are just starting out, and even if you aren’t, I would strongly recommend using this site. It has free lessons right the way from absolute beginner all the way up to quite advanced levels, so there is something for everyone. I use this site every week and still review grammar lessons that I have studied a hundred times.

- A great free website for learning vocabulary fast is. This is a site where you study vocabulary by seeing (and making) clever pictures or words to make things stick in your memory.

- This excellent site allows you to write a journal (or any sentences) in the language you are studying, and have it corrected by native speakers. The site works as a community in which you can also correct learners of your language. Learn Korean and make friends.

A combination of (for grammar), (for vocabulary) plus (for things you want to know and practise) will give you an excellent base for your Korean study.

03.) Learn the right things- Remember that if language is a house, vocabulary is the bricks and grammar is the mortar that holds it all together. Be sure to work on both equally. If you just learn long vocabulary lists, you will miss out on building your sentence making ability.

Be choosy about what you spend your time learning. Think about what you need for your everyday job, life, shopping, socializing, traveling, and so on. Also, be careful who you get your Korean from. Some Koreans are well-meaning and want to help you learn their language, but if they try to tell you that a particular word is such-and-such-word in English, beware that they may not know exactly what that English word means. This has happened to me many times. I learnt the wrong meaning of a Korean word because the English word I was told was the wrong one. Try to find a Korean who is very good at English, at least at the beginning.

04.) Variety is the spice of life- This is especially true when it comes to the effort of learning a foreign language. Try to focus on a different element of study each week, to prevent boredom and to stop you feeling like quitting. Personally I like to spend one week memorizing vocabulary, then one week studying grammar, then one week doing a lot of reading, then one week doing writing practice, and so on. This keeps my mind feeling fresh and my studies always seem more interesting.

05.) Repeat, repeat, and repeat again- Unless you have an amazing memory, it’s usually not enough to study something just once and remember all of it. For this reason it’s good to go over things lots of times. In particular, a language like Korean can be difficult to memorize for English native speakers because there are so few words with similarities.

06.) Make time for learning- With all the things you will be doing, it can seem hard to make time for learning Korean. But there are a few things you can do to ensure you are making progress in your Korean language skills no matter how busy you are:

- Set aside a regular time for learning. This can be twenty minutes in the morning every day before you start your lessons, or two evenings a week when you put in a solid couple of hours study. Try to stick to these times and make them a non-negotiable part of your week. Don’t let them be dropped for other, less important things, like TV or Facebook.

- “Bonus hours”: Think of all the things you do during your day which don’t require a huge amount of concentration. For example, brushing your teeth, washing dishes, preparing meals, commuting to work, some types of exercise (e.g. treadmill or hiking), doing laundry, ironing, cleaning your apartment, and so on. These times add up to many hours a week. So use those times to learn Korean. When I am doing these activities, I listen to Korean lessons (from which I have downloaded and put on my phone or MP3 player. You can easily add 8 or 10 hours of Korean study to your week without even changing your routine or becoming more busy.

- You will have a lot of free hours at work during a year in Korea. Use these well, don’t waste them all on Facebook or the internet. Try to practice speaking Korean with your co-workers or students. Don’t be shy, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. They are the best way of getting corrections and remembering them. Korean people love it when you speak their language, no matter how badly.

07.) Keep going- Learning a language is a huge task, especially Korean due to the lack of similarities with English. It can seem daunting and impossible. But think of it like eating an elephant. You can’t do it all in one go. You have to do a little bit whenever possible, and as time goes by your progress will add up.

08.) Korean language learning hacks-

-A good way to get good at Korean numbers is to read car license plates. Every Korean license plate has a number between 1 and 9999. Read every license plate you see using Korean, and soon you will be very good at numbers.

- Write Korean study notes on paper/post-it notes and stick it all over your apartment. Good places are above your kitchen sink, on your fridge, above your desk, next to your bed, on the back of your front door, and next to your bathroom mirror. It will look a little strange at first, but after six months you will be amazed at how much you have memorized just by seeing it every day.

- As you go through your day, try to say in Korean what you are doing (for example “I have to brush my teeth, I’m going to work, I’m at the supermarket etc.). If you don’t know how to say a particular thing, find out from a Korean and then try to memorize it. The more you say these things, the better they will stick in your memory.

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Short Lesson 7: “Borrow” and “Lend”

Hi guys!

Do you know the difference between “borrow” and “lend”?

Borrow: to take something for some time.
Lend: to give something for some time.


Can I borrow your book? = Can you lend me your book?
He borrowed my bike. = I lent him my bike.
She wants to borrow your pen. = She wants you to lend her your pen.

Many people get confused between “borrow” and “lend”. The main mistake is saying “borrow”instead of “lend”.
Here are some examples:

Please borrow me your car (X)
Please lend me your car (O)

He borrowed me some money (X)
He lent me some money (O)

Borrow him your chair (X)
Lend him your chair (O)

If this lesson was helpful, please share! Thanks!

Advanced Season 1, Lesson 6: Economic Problems!

Hi everyone!

Today’s advanced lesson is a reading lesson.

Please start by reading the paragraph below.

These days, people all over the world are feeling the effects of the world’s financial crisis. Things started to get bad in  the late 2000′s, and to this day people are still struggling.

There are many signs of this economic downturn. For example, many people have lost their jobs, and new jobs aren’t being created as quickly as they used to be. Another sign of the problems is people have less disposable income than they used to, due to things like more expensive food, housing and transport; and a lack of pay increases in recent years.

How can we cope with this situation? There are many things that we can do.

-First of all, it’s important to get used to spending less money. We should look at where our money goes, and decide whether there are measures we can take to reduce our expenditure.
-Secondly, we should plan for a rainy day. Even if we have an income right now, there is no guarantee that our jobs will be safe in the future. Therefore, it is important to accumulate savings if at all possible. 
-Thirdly, try to have a back-up plan. If you do lose your job or home, what will you do? Do you have other sources of income or another place to live?

Above all, it’s important to stay positive and to remember that this is a natural cycle. Economies get better and worse as time goes by. Things will no doubt improve in the future.

Let’s look at some of the key words and expressions from this lesson:

-financial crisis: the period of time when the world’s economy has been bad
-economic downturn: A period of time when the economy gets worse
-disposable income: Part of your salary which you don’t spend on essential items like food or housing.
-expenditure: The money you spend.
-plan for a rainy day: Be prepared for a difficult tim in the future, such as not having enough money.
-accumulate: Gather/Build up.
-back-up plan: A plan for if things don’t go well.

Now, let’s read the paragraph again:

These days, people all over the world are feeling the effects of the world’s financial crisis. Things started to get bad in  the late 2000′s, and to this day people are still struggling.

There are many signs of this economic downturn. For example, many people have lost their jobs, and new jobs aren’t being created as quickly as they used to be. Another sign of the problems is people have less disposable income than they used to, due to things like more expensive food, housing and transport; and a lack of pay increases in recent years.

How can we cope with this situation? There are many things that we can do.

-First of all, it’s important to get used to spending less money. We should look at where our money goes, and decide whether there are measures we can take to reduce our expenditure
-Secondly, we should plan for a rainy day. Even if we have an income right now, there is no guarantee that our jobs will be safe in the future. Therefore, it is important to accumulate savings if at all possible. 
-Thirdly, try to have a back-up plan. If you do lose your job or home, what will you do? Do you have other sources of income or another place to live?

Above all, it’s important to stay positive and to remember that this is a natural cycle. Economies get better and worse as time goes by. Things will no doubt improve in the future.

Was this lesson helpful? Please share it on Facebook!

Teaching English in South Korea

Hi guys!

In this blog post I’d like to say a little bit about the job I do, which is teaching English in South Korea.

At this point I’m in my fourth year of doing this job, which has been three years in one city (Geochang) and now six months (and counting) on Geoje Island.

Why Korea?

- Korea is a well-developed country, the world’s 15th largest economy and combines a fascinating history and abundance of tradition with some of the world’s most advanced technology.
- Opportunities for English teachers abound, with jobs available in countless schools, academies, colleges and universities.

The Day to Day

Imagine teaching these kids!

Imagine teaching these kids!

- I currently teach English at two elementary schools on Geoje Island, which is Korea’s second largest island and lies to the South East of the mainland.
- I live in a small studio apartment in a city called Gohyeon, which is part of Geoje City, population 219,000 (source: Wikipedia).
- There are plenty of activities available for my free time, such as mountain hiking, exercising at the gym, studying Korean (anywhere) and meeting friends in local restaurants and bars.

The Good and The Bad

A foreigner’s life in Korea has a number of pros and cons.

- The chance to help Korean people improve their English skills, and to teach about Western culture in a place where it isn’t always understood.
- Interesting landscape with easy access to mountains, the sea, big cities, and sites of interest such as temples.
- The chance to learn the Korean language, which has kept me busy for three and a half years and counting.
- Plenty of free time compared to working in England.
- The opportunity (and privilege) of working in a foreign country.
- Korea is close to many other interesting countries, in particular Japan and China, which can easily be reached on vacation.

- Having to live thousands of miles from family, friends, and familiar culture, language, food and so on.
- Some Korean people look down on Westerners, especially at young men who may seem to be mainly interested in partying.
- Cultural differences can be hard to adapt to. For example, schedules in Korea are much more prone to change at short notice than in the West. And your “free time” is much more open to interpretation here!
- At times I still struggle to understand what is going on!

Sometimes Korea makes me feel like this.

Sometimes Korea makes me feel like this.

The Future

I feel that I have made Korea my second home. I miss England every day, but I certainly feel comfortable living in Korea. If I stay here for a number of more years, I hope that I can have the opportunity to teach in a university. I enjoy teaching children but I would be interested in teaching higher level English to university students.

Have you been to Korea? Are you living in a foreign country? Leave a message!

Dynamic Desk Organizers!

Hey guys!

Today let’s look at a trend that’s becoming popular all over the world- Dynamic Desk Organizers!

We all need to keep our desk tidy. But do you ever get tired of the same old pencil case or organizer?

Today’s Vocabulary:

tidy (adj.): things are neat, not messy
dynamic (adj.): energetic, changing, different from normal
inspiration (noun): something that gives you ideas
Do It Yourself (DIY) (noun/adj.): something you can make yourself

organizer (U.S. English)
organiser (U.K. English)

How about these ideas for some inspiration?

1. Pitta Bread Pencil Case (from

This pencil case looks delicious! (Photo credit:

This pencil case looks delicious! (Photo credit:


It looks good enough to eat! (Photo credit:

It looks good enough to eat! (Photo credit:
















2. Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Lego Pen Pot (from


Adults and children alike can enjoy Lego! (Photo credit:

Adults and children alike can enjoy Lego! (Photo credit:












You can make it yourself! You need a glass jar, some yellow paint, and a black pen. (Photo credit:

1. You can make it yourself! You need a glass jar, some yellow paint, and a black pen. (Photo credit:




Pour the yellow paint into the jar. (Photo credit:

2. Pour the yellow paint into the jar. (Photo credit:









3. Shake the paint inside the jar. (Photo credit:

3. Shake the paint inside the jar. (Photo credit:









4. Draw a face, and it's finished! (Photo credit:

4. Draw a face, and it’s finished! (Photo credit:










Cardboard Animals for Your Desk (from

Cardboard Rhino Pen Holder (photo credit:

Cardboard Rhino Pen Holder (photo credit:










Cardboard Giraffe Lamp (Photo credit:

Cardboard Giraffe Lamp (Photo credit:










Cardboard Elephant Speakers (Photo credit:

Cardboard Elephant Speakers (Photo credit:










Cardboard Deer Clock

Cardboard Deer Clock



What do you think of these dynamic desk organizers? Do you have any good ideas for making interesting desk organizers at home? Please leave a comment!

How to Pass the Cambridge First Certificate Exam (FCE)

What is the Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE)?
This is a certificate run by the University of Cambridge. It is for people who would like to demonstrate that their English proficiency is at an upper-intermediate level. It is one of the best known and most well-renowned English language certificates, and is accepted as proof of English proficiency by thousands of universities, companies, governments and others throughout the world. Attaining this certificate can lead to much better opportunities in education and employment. Due to the international recognition afforded by the certificate, attaining it can even allow you the chance to live and work or study in other regions or countries, thanks to the importance of English as the global language.
The Exam Format
The Cambridge First Certificate in English (hereafter referred to as FCE) consists of five papers:
- Paper 1: Reading (1 hour)
- Paper 2: Writing (1 hour 20 mins)
- Paper 3: Use of English (45 mins)
- Paper 4: Listening (approximately 40 mins)
- Paper 5: Speaking (14 mins)
Papers 1-4 are taken on the same day. Paper 5 (Speaking) is taken at some point during a “window”, that is, a period of several days around the main exam date.
Each paper is worth 20% of the total mark. In other words each paper carries equal importance.How to pass the Cambridge FCE exam 2
Should I Take the FCE Exam?
The FCE exam is a serious test of English ability, aimed at upper-intermediate English speakers, and should not be taken lightly. There is nothing more discouraging than attempting an exam in which you don’t know any of the answers, and finding the time limits far too short for your current level. It is a reasonable expectation that any English learner choosing to take the FCE should have at least two years of part time English study completed before taking the exam. English learners who have spent time living in an English speaking country might be ready within 6 months to a year, depending on their progress. In this teacher’s experience, mother-tongue speakers of European languages are able to achieve English competence in about half the time and effort taken by mother-tongue speakers of non-European languages, such as students from the Far East or Middle East. The reasons are obvious enough, in that languages from the same families have so many similarities. A French student learning English can enjoy around 15,000 cognates between French and English, whereas a Japanese student will have to make do with a few hundred English loan words they have come across in their own language.
Of course, every English learner is different. But these rough guidelines are to save you time and money in the long run, and to ensure you only take the exam once you have a good chance of passing. Attempting the exam before you are ready might have negative consequences, in that a bad exam experience can damage confidence and put learners off future studies.
In any case, if you are confident in your English abilities, the FCE exam can give you a goal to aim at and be an excellent motivator for taking your English to the next level.
Preparing for the FCE Exam
It is good to prepare for each paper of the exam as a separate challenge, due to the specific skills each requires. Here we will look at what exactly to expect in the exam, and how best to get ready for each type of question.
Paper 1: Reading
1 hour
3 parts (30 questions total)
Each text is 550-700 words.
Part 1: Multiple choice.
8 questions.
Each question has four answers to choose from (A, B, C or D).
2 marks per question.
In this section you will read a section of text 550-700 words long, and then answer 8 multiple choice questions on the text. The text could be from any of a number of sources, for example a newspaper, a novel, a diary extract or a letter. 
Part 2: Gapped text.
7 questions.
8 possible answers (sentences A-H) to fit into 7 possible gaps.
2 marks per correct answer.
In this section you will read 550-700 words of text with seven gaps. Each gap requires one of eight sentences provided to you. You must choose which sentence should go where. As before, the text could be from any of a number of sources (novel, newspaper, magazine etc.).
Part 3: Multiple matching.
15 questions.
1 mark per correct answer.
In this section, you will read 550-700 words in one section or several short sections. This will be divided into sections A-E. You will then have 15 questions to answer. For each question you must answer which section of the text is being referred to. 
Since each of the three parts carries about the same number of marks (16, 14 and 15), you should divide your time roughly equally. So 20 minutes per part.
20 minutes is actually quite a short time to do each section. The biggest pitfall here is spending too long reading the text and trying to understand every word. The chances are the text is slightly too difficult for you to understand every single word and meaning. It is too easy to waste a lot of your time trying to do so, and then having insufficient time to actually answer the questions. A much better technique is to actually start by reading the questions. Then, scan read the text looking for key words that might link to the answers. If you have time you can read the text fully at the end, checking whether you still feel your answers apply.
How to pass the Cambridge FCE examHow to prepare for the reading paper: It is a good idea to get used to reading English text quickly. Try not to get into the habit of staring at words you don’t understand. If you don’t know a particular word, keep on reading. The chances are you can guess the meaning based on the words around it. Medium length newspaper or magazine articles are often about 550-700 words long, so they are a good place to practise your reading skills. Try to read the article in about 5 minutes and then try to describe (in English) what the article is about. This can seem very challenging at first, but it is this speed of understanding that you will need to reach in order to pass the reading section.
If you do practice papers from previous years, be sure to do the reading section within the specified time limits. Be strict with yourself with regards to timing, as during the exam you will have strict time limits. Reading at speed can be quite demanding. You may find your concentration fades quickly. But you should get into the habit of being able to read English at high speeds for an hour at a time, as that is the time you will have to read for during the exam. You can build up by starting with 10 minutes at a time, then 20, all the way up to an hour at a time.
Paper 2: Writing
1 hour 20 minutes
2 parts (1 compulsory question and 1 question chosen from a selection of 5)
Part 1: 
You will be given a piece of text (up to 160 words in length) to read. Using information from this text, you will write a letter or email of 120-150 words. 
In this letter or email you will need to do one or more of the following:
- apologise
- compare
- describe
- explain
- express opinions
- justify
- persuade
- recommend
As an example, you might be given a description of a terrible holiday experience had by a customer of your travel agency company. You will be required to write a letter to the customer, apologising for the bad experience, explaining what went wrong, and telling the customer what you will do to make things better.
Part 2:
In part 2 you must choose one of five questions to answer. 
These consist of:
Questions 2-4: Write one of an article, an essay, a letter, a report, a review or a story.
Question 5: Choose one of two questions (A or B). These are based on two set reading texts.
The set texts are the same from the beginning of 2012 until the end of 2013. They are as follows:
- William Thackery: Vanity Fair (Black Cat or any edition)
Mary Stewart: This Rough Magic (OUP)
In part 2 you must write 120-180 words.
The writing paper is worth 20% of your total mark. Part 1 and Part 2 carry equal marks. Since the paper duration is 1 hour and 20 minutes, you should spend about 40 minutes on each question.
How to prepare for the writing paper: You will need to get used to writing English (by hand) very quickly. For each question you will need to spend a few minutes reading the information and question you have been given. You should also spend a few minutes planning your answer. Once you start writing you do not want to have to go back to the start because you have structured your answer wrong.
With the writing section you can actually prepare quite a lot beforehand. 
Part 1:
Since you know that part 1 will be a letter or email, you can research standard language to start and end the communication. Expressions like “Dear Sir/Madam” and “Yours faithfully” or “Best regards” are certain to be useful. You can also memorise certain standard expressions found in letters and emails, such as “I am writing to inform you that…” or “I am writing to apologise about…”. Other useful expressions include “If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me”, “I am sorry to hear that you had a bad experience” and “I hope that this information is useful to you”. At least 10-20% of your 120-150 words in part 1 can be perfect English if you take the time to memorise useful written communication expressions.
Another good way to prepare for part 1 is to do practice exam papers from previous years. These are available from the Cambridge ESOL website and other sites. Remember to adhere to time limits strictly, since you will need to be able to do so during the exam.
It can be difficult to mark the work you have done since there are no exact “right” answers in a writing question of this nature. A good way to gauge your standard is to use a website like Lang-8, where you can have your work checked and corrected by an English native speaker. By doing this you can look at the mistakes you made, and then learn the correct or appropriate expressions or spellings.
Part 2:How to pass the Cambridge FCE exam 3
You should prepare in a similar way to part 1. However, if you wish to you can work on question 5 which is based on the set texts. If so, you should read one (or both) of the texts in the months or weeks leading up to the exam. The more time you can spend reading these texts, the better prepared you will be to answer any question on them. Since you can only answer a question on one of the texts, it is a good idea to choose just one of the texts and focus on that rather than spreading your time thinly between two books. To give yourself a good chance of being able to write about the text, it is a good idea to make one or two mind maps of the text. For example, you could draw a mind map which contained sections for each of the main characters in the book, and what key things happen to them, along with their connections to other characters. This will allow you to quickly remember key information about the characters when you are answering an exam question. Another good method would be to draw a chain of events which happen in the book. A series of 10 or 12 events is likely to be a good summary of the text which is also easy enough to remember. Then practice writing (within the set time of 40 minutes) different essays of 120-180 words. You should imagine what kind of question topics are likely to come up, such as key characters, main events and ongoing themes, and write about those. 
Paper 3: Use of English
45 minutes
4 parts (42 questions total)
This section tests your knowledge and ability to use English vocabulary and grammar appropriately.
Part 1: Multiple choice cloze.
12 questions.
1 mark per correct answer.
In this section you will read a section of text which has 12 gaps. For each gap you must choose the most suitable word from four possible answers. Each answer will be a word with a similar meaning (for example: but, however, yet, although). 
Part 2: Open cloze.
12 questions.
1 mark per correct answer.
In this section you will read a section of text which has 12 gaps. You need to decide what word would fit into each gap. There are no hints or multiple choice answers for this part. For example: It’s a hot day ___ I feel cold. Answer: but
Part 3: Word formation.
10 questions.
1 mark per correct answer.
In this section you will read text with 10 gaps. Each gap requires you to insert an appropriate word based on a prompt.
For example: 
Germany is also famous for the _________ of quality cars. 
Prompt: PRODUCE. 
Answer: production
Part 4: Key word transformations.
8 questions.
Up to 2 marks per correct answer.
In this section, you will be given 8 sentences for read. For each sentence, you must rephrase it using a given word. Use between two and five words.
For example:
Mr.Jones was too hungry to think.
Word to use: THAT
Rephrased sentence given: Mr.Jones was _____________ he couldn’t think.
Possible answer: Mr.Jones was so tired that he couldn’t think.
This paper is worth 20% of your overall mark and must be completed within 45 minutes. You should aim to spend about 12 minutes on each of part 1 and part 2; 10 minutes on part 3 and 8 minutes on part 4. 
How to pass the Cambridge FCE exam 4How to prepare for the Use of English paper: This is a challenging paper which will test your understanding of the subtle differences between words like “but” and “although”, and your ability to build English sentences correctly. The best way to prepare for this paper is to do as many practice papers as possible, and then to study the answers and learn why they are correct. Each paper tests similar elements of your understanding, so you can improve your mark considerably by learning the type of question you are likely to encounter.
Paper 4: Listening
40 minutes
4 parts (30 questions)
This section will test your ability to listen to natural speed English and pick up meaning, detail, topic, mood and so on.
Part 1: Multiple choice
8 questions.
1 mark for each correct answer.
You will hear 8 short recordings of about 30 seconds each. For each recording you must answer a question by choosing an answer from A, B and C. 
Part 2: Sentence completion
10 questions.
1 mark for each correct answer.
In this section you will hear a 3 minute monologue or conversation. You must listen carefully and answer 10 questions. These questions are sentences related to the recording you have heard, and require you to fill in a gap.
Part 3: Multiple matching
5 questions.
1 mark for each correct answer.
In this section you will be presented with six written statements. You must listen to five recordings of 30 seconds each, and match each recording to the statement that best describes it.
Part 4: Multiple choice
7 questions.
1 mark per correct answer.
Listen to a 3 minute monologue or conversation, and answer 7 multiple choice (A, B or C) questions related to the recording. 
How to prepare for the listening paper: Exam technique is very important in the listening paper. The biggest mistake listeners tend to make is trying to remember the meaning of a word or sentence they have heard, and missing the rest of a recording. You should allow the recording to flow through your mind as you listen, and do not worry if you miss a bit or don’t understand everything. The recording will almost certainly contain words or phrases you have never heard before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t answer the questions correctly.
To prepare for the listening test effectively, try to listen to as much naturally spoken English as possible. This can be from TV, radio, past exam papers and so on. Try to ensure you hear a variety of accents. In particular British and American accents should both be familiar to you. 
In this paper you don’t need to worry much about the time limit as the recordings will be played at a speed you cannot control. So the most important thing is just to concentrate on what you hear and write your answers. It is worth turning your head (and ear) towards the speakers which play the recording. This may seem unusual but when you are trying to concentrate on a difficult recording of a foreign language, it can help you pick up detail better.
Paper 5: Speaking
14 minutes per pair of candidates.
4 parts.
You will take this paper with one other candidate and two examiners. One examiner will ask you questions and talk with you, and the other examiner will listen to you and mark your performance.
Part 1: Interview
3 minutes.
Your examiner will ask you questions about yourself and you answer with appropriate information. You might have to describe things like past experiences, personal preferences, plans for the future and so on. 
Part 2: Long turn
1 minute per candidate.
You will be given a pair of photographs with questions about them. You will speak for a minute about the photographs. This might be expressing your opinion, describing differences and so on.
Part 3: Collaborative taskHow to pass the Cambridge FCE exam 5
3 minutes.
You and the the other candidate are given some pictures and asked to make a decision together. You must give your opinion, discuss it with your partner and attempt to reach a decision together. 
Part 4: Discussion
4 minutes.
This part involves more discussion with the other candidate about the pictures in part 3. You must express further opinions and give your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with your partner. 
How to prepare for the speaking paper: Many students are very comfortable with other English skills but lack confidence in speaking. Therefore it is essential that you have had enough speaking practice. If you have the opportunity to speak to other people in English, whether native speakers or other learners, talk to them as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when you are speaking. Fluency comes by making mistakes and learning from them. If you have English speaking friends, try to chat with them on Skype. Spend time expressing what you like and dislike, and tell them your views on certain things in order to get used to expressing opinions. Even if you don’t have someone to chat to, you can still practise speaking on your own. Try to speak everyday. Another good technique is to make YouTube videos of yourself. If you are posting them on YouTube you will have a lot of motivation to do your best and to improve your English speaking.