In this blog post, I will be discussing Korean language classes on the NSLI-Y Academic Year Program (2018-2019). Seeing that these language classes are the most important part of the program, I have gotten quite a few questions about them from prospective applicants as well as finalists. Without further ado, like the version I made for my summer program experience (linked here), I will be splitting this post up into seven sections: placement, general information, textbooks, tests, break time, homework, and a reflection on my personal experience.
During the arrival orientation at the Better World building, you will have to take a placement test in order to gauge how much of the Korean language you already know. Even if you indicated that you have had no prior experience in Korean, you will have to take the test anyway. The placement is not fully definite as you are allowed to move between classes if the Korean teachers also agree with your decision to do so but more often than not, the placement test does a good enough job sorting the students into the classes that are right for them. No one during my program switched classes (even though I was close to it during the very beginning of the program). Usually, rather than switching classes, most students just end up doing extra homework or something of the sort if they feel like their placement is too difficult or not challenging enough for them.
Our placement test was a three-page test consisting of multiple-choice, fill in the blank questions (with a word bank provided), and finish-the-rest-of-this-sentence type questions. At the very end of the test, there were two short answer questions with three-part questions. This is the part of the test that you can really showcase your skills because it is a chance to use vocabulary and grammar points that were not suitable for the rest of the test as the answers for those questions are more concrete.
The second part of the placement test was the verbal interview which was done in front of the two of our would-be Korean teachers (mine being one of them). The interview will only be a few minutes (no more than 5 minutes) and they will start off by asking pretty simple questions and then see how far you can advance from there. Their job is not to trip you up but to figure out which class would be the best fit for you.
I was placed in 3반 (Third Class) which was considered the advanced class. I had two other classmates (Jacquelyn and Josh) so we made up the smallest of the three classes. We were by no means advanced level speakers but because of the makeup of the other two classes, it was just easier to refer to our class as the advanced class. We were really just intermediate speakers. I entered the class at an intermediate low level while the others were most likely around an intermediate mid-level.
The normal schedule for our Korean classes was three times a week: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. We had three hours of class from 2 to 5 pm but on Thursdays, we would have an extra hour of class until 6 pm.
What we did during class highly depended on what textbook we were using as it seemed that our teacher liked to keep the routine of the class fresh by changing it ever so often. During some sections of the class, we would study about 2 grammar points with some listening/reading/speaking practice sprinkled in for good measure every class period. However, then sometimes, we would learn all the grammar points for a chapter on one day and allow for practice of those points the following class period with more of the main focus being the practice of other skills. Additionally, as the vocabulary in our textbooks increased in difficulty, we would spend class periods going over vocabulary together and eventually we also introduced proverbs. (Yes, you heard that right. We would study about 3 proverbs a week during the last half of the program.) We would also give presentations every Thursday class usually about a topic that related to the theme of our current textbook chapter but sometimes it was more random. This was something we did from the very beginning of the program which really helped me with both my Korean writing and speaking skills–most importantly, it helped me to reinforce the things we learned in class. (By the end of the program, the other two classes also started to incorporate presentations into their class curriculum as well.)
Our class instruction was supplemented by the Ewha Korean (이화 한국어) language textbooks which include audio mp3 files for listening practice. We also used the matching workbooks for each textbook for homework. The series of these textbooks go up to book 6. The first three books are split up into two separate textbooks (1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 2-2, 3-1, and 3-2) while the last three books are just stand-alone (4, 5, and 6). My class started on textbook 2-2 and we were able to finish book 5 by the end of the program (So we were able to finish 5 books in total!) I believe that most classes were able to get through at least 3 and almost 4 books by the end. Just something I thought was interesting was that after book 2-2, the textbooks are fully in Korean–no English at all. Not for vocabulary definitions or explanations for the grammar points. Of course, it is good for immersion but during class, it can prove to be a hindrance if you are unable to understand the Korean (Reason number 1 for why these books are only good in the classroom and not for on your own studying).
In addition to the Ehwa Korean textbooks, we were also given Korean Grammar in Use books which were honestly the best Korean language learning materials I have ever used. If I had to recommend something to the Korean self studiers out there, I would say get yourself this book. (They are available for about $30 on Amazon –> link here: Beg, Int, Adv.) In the future, I would like to make an updated How I Self-study Korean blog post and I will talk more about these books then!
Every class did smaller assessments differently (vocab tests, quizzes, etc) but we all had monthly examinations during the last class of each month. These tests took up about three hours out of our four hour class period. Our class would usually first have a multiple-choice reading test for around an hour and then a writing portion of the test which consisted of one short answer (300-400 characters) and then a long essay question (600-700 characters). During the writing portion of the test, our teacher would call us into another room, one by one, for a 15-minute verbal interview (OPI). The OPI is done like what is expected for the end of the program assessment in June with a roleplay, too. My class even started conducting our speaking portion of the test over the phone for the last two or three tests in order to practice speaking on the phone for the actual OPI. We would get our test results back in the form of an email about one full week after taking the test. It would include the percentages and points we received on all portions as well as our Korean speaking level (The end of the month tests were what could move your OPI level up.)
After every 50 minutes of Korean class, we would get a 10-minute break to spend however we liked. Honestly, it does not seem like a long time but the 10 minutes were always greatly needed and we were grateful for the time. When I was in high school in America, we would only get 5 minutes every 57 minutes! (And we would have to switch classes so what kind of break was that?)
When my class was at the Better World Office for the first half of the program, I would spend the breaks talking to my resident director and some of the other Better World staff. When I was at the youth center with 1반 (the beginner class), we would just chat, dance (we had some dancers on our program), and go buy and eat snacks from the convenience store. Luckily our nearest GS25 was only a 2-minute walk away from the center! Truly convenient!
For my class, my teacher would usually not collect or check our homework during every single class period. We were assigned the workbook that follows our textbook curriculum for homework every night but it would usually only be collected at the end of a chapter or two. Along with the workbook, we were also assigned writing assignments every week which usually had prompts that were similar to the topics we were discussing in class. We used these homework essays for writing practice but also for TOPIK practice (Korean proficiency test which will be taken around April). Lastly, we were assigned presentations for every Thursday class so for homework, we would have to prepare a speech and a powerpoint (or well… I usually made a powerpoint and memorized my presentation) to present in front of the class. These speeches had to be around three minutes long.
During the second half of the program, we were given take-home TOPIK practice tests to take. We would be given them on Thursday and would have the weekend to complete them. They were due Monday at the start of class.
Although we were not assigned homework for specifically memorizing vocabulary, I would make Quizlet flashcard sets for the vocabulary in each chapter as a part of my self-assigned homework. We were given the Grammar in use Korean textbooks to aid our Korean studies but we were actually never assigned homework from that book. We sometimes looked at it during class; however, it was mostly just given to us to use if we needed extra help. I used that book to take notes on every grammar point that we learned which truly helped me a lot in class.
Korean class, for me, brings about many mixed emotions. The language classes on NSLI-Y are undoubtedly the most important/highly stressed part of the program. (For good reason… this is a language learning scholarship after all!) However, because of this, I found myself hitting some of my ultimate lows (as well as highs) during class or as a result of Korean class.
Korean class was extremely fun. I loved being in an environment where, most of the time, my classmates were just as eager and passionate and ready to learn Korean as I was. They chose to be there and that kind of atmosphere can really add to one’s language learning journey. We were able to enjoy each others company while learning and goof around as well–always making jokes. There were times that I had trouble breathing from laughing so hard and times when I would momentarily stop and take in the huge smile on my face. My teacher always tried her best to explain everything to us and her passion for teaching also shined as she was always happy to answer all the curious questions we had. She was never afraid to teach us certain words or talk about certain topics no matter our skill level (which was a good thing as well as a bad thing). She always wondered how she could better teach us, better prepare us and changed how she instructed our class to fit that goal.
However, the class also proved to be extremely difficult for me. In fact, I almost moved down a level during the beginning of the program. After our first class, I felt like I could barely understand anything at all and so I walked out of the classroom in tears because I was so overwhelmed. Throughout the whole program, many of these emotions and feelings never vanished. They simply laid dormant until something would make them resurface again. I cannot even count the number of times I felt utterly stupid, worthless, and dejected during class. The number of times I had to stop myself from crying during class or the times I ran into the bathroom in order to hide from all that was happening around me.
Despite all of this, I would not have changed one single thing about my Korean class experience. I felt guilty for keeping my other classmates behind due to my inability to catch up in class so this only pushed me to study that much harder. My teacher, and classmates, and resident directors were so supportive of me that I knew that I always had people to talk to when things turned sour. They may not have realized but every hug, every proud smile, every reassuring back pat, every comforting subway ride pep talk, every understanding nod of the head, and every chat at a cafe made me get through everything and I am a better person for it all. I can say that I am proud of myself for learning so much and making such great progress. And I am so very thankful for all of those people.
Never knew how much I would miss Korean class! ❤
Thanks for reading this little (That is a joke! This is such a long post!) informative blog post about Korean language classes during the NSLI-Y Academic Year Program. Some of these things can be generalized but a lot of it also follows my own personal and tailored experience in my class so remember that each class will be different! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed~~ Till next time!
- 엠마 (Emma)