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Positives of overseas language training

13/02/13

origin: Positives of overseas language training (http://koreatimes.co.kr)

First, I would like to express my appreciation for The Korea Times. I am an avid reader and enjoy reading global and local events from a domestic viewpoint. I am an American and recent college graduate, who is a few months into his first job as an English teacher in Korea. I would like to comment on a recent editorial, "Myths on Overseas English Language Training," by Lee Chang-sup. This piece naturally caught my attention, however, I must confess that I disagree with a significant portion of it. 
I am afraid that the main points were made by focusing on the negative aspects of international language training, rather than the positives. I cannot speak from experience with regards to the Korean language per se, as I am not a speaker, but I do speak a second language, Spanish, and I do speak it fluently.
I learned the language as a student, but through my own initiative. I have read Spanish literature and poems, have watched Spanish language television and movies, and my favorite, read Spanish language newspapers. I am a huge advocate of newspaper-reading as a means to learning a second language. I visit newspaper websites from Spain and Mexico daily.
Unfortunately, my agreement ends here, because I can honestly say that through academic and leisurely training, I could not become a fluent speaker until I spent an academic year studying in Spain. Living in another country with a different native language provides something no TOEFL book can, complete immersion and firsthand experience with a native language the way natives speak. Mr. Lee stated that real language does not sound like a textbook. 
As he has written, overseas travel can be expensive, and some students do not commit to learning abroad because they surround themselves with other Korean speakers. This much is true for every culture trying to learn a new language. It takes a certain degree of social bravery to attempt stay an ocean away from home. This is not the fault of the host country, but rather the student/parents/pressure from the government to learn a new language. I feel that he failed to address the positives of overseas language training. Besides the immersion, the experience in another culture and worldliness gained has a value greater than a test score. 
Although my students are still in middle school, I encourage them to see the world outside of Korea, should the opportunity arise. If they deeply desire learning a new language fluently, that is the only true way. If they only care about a test score, then I tell them to stay at home. However, I have found that those only worried about a test score, and not personal growth, are not the most ambitious students in the first place. 
Nate Kerkhoff
Daegu, South Korea 

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