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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

바보 English in the Classroom – Volume 3

It’s difficult enough for students to learn English in this country. Despite the thousands of private schools, classes in public schools and native English speakers brought here to teach, learning English is compounded by several factors.  One  problem contributing is the use of poor English in public. One needn’t search far to find examples in Korea of English with bad spelling, poor grammar, nonsensical structure and incorrect word usage.  And worse, it’s not limited to casual speaking or writing but can be found on official government documents and publications,  highway signs, store and TV advertising and product merchandising.  Any native English speaker can quickly spot it, but for those learning the language, it’s difficult to discern proper English from improper. It’s no wonder that faced with a mountain of bad English, Koreans might sometimes mimic, learn from and incorporate it into their daily usage, thus perpetuating the errors.

One place where English should always be absolutely 100% correct is in the classroom. It seems counter intuitive to teach English with a book that is  inaccurate or inappropriate and yet numerous companies create, distribute and sell  books, bags, pencil cases and other classroom material with English that ranges from mildly incorrect to atrocious to downright offensive. And in the classroom, the learners are the ones least likely to be able to determine which English is good and which isn’t.

And with that, below is the 3rd installment of “바보 English in the Classroom”, a collection of English that is marketed and sold to young learners (and often their parents) who have no idea they are getting a product that flies in the face of the stated intent of education.  Volume 1 of 바보 English can be found here and and volume 2 of 바보 English is here. Some of those old ones are hilarious.

simple missing article

The missing article ‘a’ should preceed ‘lovely girl’ here and seems like a simple error. But it’s probably the most common mistake in all the English I ever grade and this just (wrongly) validates for students that it’s correct. It gives me headache.

tell me or say to me

The verb “tell” followed by the indirect object “me” would be proper English. “Say to me” might also be correct although say is usually used for reporting what someone else said. Please say me you’ll hire a editor?

she feels always

Again, a single letter seems like a simple error, and should be “She feels” as the correct 3rd person verb form.  And again, this small error is one that is very common and this pencil case make  it seem OK.  It make me happy.

The verb is a verb.

And that’s quite profound.  Almost spiritual. And yet completely useless as a circular definition.

When smile life seems so low?

Context clues tell me a little about what the writer wants to convey, but this is a perfect example of when someone opened a dictionary and simply copied words without regard for structure.  What the hell is “smile life” anyway?


Although my camera focus was horrible, so is the spelling.

Would it have been too much trouble to look up a famous actress and properly spell her name. So a letter that gives Koreans so much trouble is casually thrown in where it shouldn’t belong, thus propagating the error in eternity – or at least as long as this pencil case holds up.


I saved the best (worst) for last, with multiple errors

This one has errors in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling verb tense, sentence structure and….oh screw it. Pop quiz tomorrow at 9am on this one.

Korea, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  If you really want to get serious about teaching your citizens English, do yourselves a huge favor and edit the stuff you produce.  I’ve been here seven years and can speak, read and write some Korean. But I would never presume to make my Korean writing public without a native Korean to proofread it for fear of it being incorrect. Without someone checking my work I would be afraid that I would a) make myself look foolish and b) potentially fail to communicate what I wanted my readers to understand or c) turn off my readers with my bad language.   But somehow, it’s perfectly fine in this land to market products to early learners that misinform, mislead and teach them bad English.  And then everyone wonders why little Soo Young can’t seem to make proper sentences.

But that’s all fine.  I get paid the same regardless.  I’ll keep doing my best to teach the kids and I’ll continue taking your money.  And you’ll keep paying for it and buying products with poor English. This is job security.

Interestingly, it took quite a bit longer to produce Volume 3 of 바보 English simply because I didn’t see as much bad English material. While I collected the photos for volumes 1 and 2 in a few weeks of working at a hagwon, volume 3 took a few months to accumulate.  I’d like to think that’s because Korean producers of classroom material have gotten more conscientious and are now editing and proofreading their products. Sadly, however, that’s not the case. Instead, I’m find more material that has it’s origins in the west where the marketing is more tightly controlled.  My classrooms now are filled with pencil cases and bags of  Angry Birds and Disney characters.  Kids have become victims of marketing and have been corporate consumerists, but at least they aren’t being exposed to quite as much junk English.