Developing teaching materials

In my former life as a professor in Canada, one of the things I was always weakest with when it came to teaching was writing class notes. I could write slides well, and explain things well, and demonstrate things well, an answer questions well, but my class notes often ended up a bit sparse, which was a common complaint from students.

As I’m now teaching English more and more, I’m finding the need for good notes is becoming stronger. Kocachic has not officially had its grand opening yet, but we are dealing with students nearly every day, and the need for good notes has hit me quite hard.

I could just use an existing book, but existing books are annoying because:

  1. No single book has what I want. If I were to provide all the information I want to my students, I would need a big array of books. (Well, I have a big array of books, but my students don’t, which leads to….)
  2. My students don’t want to buy books. They’re already shelling a lot of money for classes and don’t want to spend more.
  3. Books cannot be modified! This is both a legal problem (copyright and all that) and also a technical problem, because I don’t have the books in electronic form.

So I’ve started making my own material, just out of necessity. I went into it without much of a plan, and I’m already up to some 30 pages of notes and worksheets and stuff I’ve made.

Once I finish a couple months with a couple students, I’m hoping to have a large enough corpus of notes for them that I can release something on GitLab. The project has given me a big appreciation for the Creative Commons. Not just the set of licences with the CC name, but the community itself, the “Commons”, which is full of drawings and photos and things that I now feel very fortunate to have been able to steal for my own teaching purposes. I’m excited to get to a point where I can release something to give back to the commons.

Experience teaching at a hagwon

I finished a one-month contract at a children’s hagwon (학원), which is why I’ve been too busy to keep up-to-date on other things, like this blog.

It was a good opportunity—most particularly my first opportunity to work with and teach children full-time—and a lot of fun, as well. We’re now focused full-time on our business, which is aiming at adults and older children, but there are a lot of things that I need to digest from my time working with younger children. My boss told me during our first meeting that “someone who’s good at teaching adults isn’t necessarily good at teaching children; but someone who’s good at teaching children must be good at teaching adults”. It may be exaggerated a little bit, but I think there is a lot of truth in that.


The youngest kids I “taught” were kids in a bilingual kindergarten, starting at roughly 4 years (international age). I put “taught” in quotation marks because while there are a couple things we directly teach them, like vocabulary, mostly we guide them in play and activities. In “bilingual kindergarten”, the kids don’t have enough English proficiency to communicate naturally or fluently in English. They communicate almost entirely in Korean. The biggest things I got out of this experience, beyond how cute the kids are, are:

  • It’s important to have a system. Young kids respond well to regularity and predictability. They actually have a pretty well-established inner sense of morality of right and wrong (or, less strongly worded, a sense of what they should be doing and what they should not be doing). They don’t lie or deceive, generally speaking. If they’re misbehaving, it’s because I’ve broken the system, or given them no system at all.
  • How to communicate with someone who can’t speak English well. My Korean is not very good (more on that in a later post), but judiciously using a bit of Korean here and there helps a lot. The key word there is judiciously. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using too much Korean, at which point the kindergarten class would probably be benefiting me over the kids. The point of the class is to expose the kids to English and make them comfortable listening to it, so Korean is a last resort.

Both of these points transfer over to teaching older kids and adults in a fairly obvious way, I think. Even though older kids and adults are more flexible, more interested in novelty, more capable in English, etc., they still benefit from having predictability and can gain a little bit of comfort by having a wee bit of English—just a word or two—thrown into confusing situations.

Elementary school kids

I taught two different groups of elementary kids at two different ages. One group was very comfortable in English, almost to the point of a native English-speaking child of the same age, and the other group could use English at only an intermediate level. The two age groups were grade 1 (early elementary) and grade 3/4 (later elementary).

Kids at this age are learning how to be funny, how to be individuals, and, for lack of a better word, how to be evil. They were actually quite fun to be around, so long as I kept a system in place and let them know what was expected of them and where the line was.

They felt too strictly regimented, to me. We had a pretty heavy curriculum that we had to go through in a short period of time. The kids understood that, and blasted through the work when needed, but it’s not what they wanted to do. What they wanted to do was be silly and play games and get a lot of personal attention.

Early on with my early elementary school kids, I allowed them to write a really silly sentence, because they all thought it was hilarious and I thought it would improve their motivation. The silliest they could come up with were things like “the talking dolphin swims”, which I suppose showed a good mastery of the structure and semantics of English, but from my view showed they need some more practice at being silly.

What I got most out of this was the complete shock at just how much studying kids here do at such an early age. These kids do their regular school, plus this hagwon, plus maybe another hagwon or two, plus homework at all of them, and somehow they all cope and they all survive. Really remarkable. But they don’t get a lot of opportunity for creative work, sadly.

Middle school kids

The middle school kids were the most fun, for me, and the most rewarding. I think there are different ways of looking at education being rewarding. Teaching the youngest kids can be rewarding because you can see that they’ll eventually grow up to achieve the highest levels of English mastery, probably even with little to no accent (native-sounding pronunciation). The older kids will probably never achieve that.

However, the older kids have their own type of reward. They can be a bit moody and sullen at times, and so with the older kids, teaching them becomes a game of motivating them more than anything else. Younger kids don’t need motivation, but older kids definitely do. If they’re not motivated, they’ll check out.

I find teaching middle school kids quite similar to adults in the way that I can teach things. I can explain things to them explicitly and they’ll understand. “This is why we’re learning this”. They can understand why something’s useful and can work towards an abstract goal. Younger kids, I almost feel like I’m tricking them into learning. They understand they need to do work, and are good at following directions, but a goal years down the line may be difficult for them to conceptualize.

Before taking the job, I had watched and summarized a lot of TESOL videos, and one of the strongest points I got from those videos is that all ages of English learners are task-oriented. They don’t want to learn English for the sake of learning English: they have a need to communicate. This is something which starts fading at the middle school level, actually. The kids at this age have become so accustomed and focused on testing, that they sometimes think of English as just another test, rather than an actual skill. However, if you show them and remind them that English is actually useful for expressing yourself, they can rekindle their inner motivation.

TOPIK test experience

So I wrote my first TOPIK test yesterday. It was TOPIK II (intermediate-advanced) and I wrote it in 강완도 춘천. Even though I live in Seoul, all of the testing centres in and around Seoul get booked up pretty much immediately, so I had to go out to the countryside a bit. Not a big deal, as my wife came with me, and we had a fun time touring around the area, going to 남이선, a private island in the middle of the river, and RailPark, which was a blast!

Anyway, the timeline went something like:

Saturday night: Avoiding doing any studying to try to relax.

Sunday 11:00: Arrive at 강완도대학교 campus and find the testing centre. Realize that all of the cafés on campus seem to be closed, thwarting our plans.

11:20: Go to the testing centre while my wife goes to a café off-campus to kill time. Realize that the doors don’t open until 11:40. At least they have a giant board out front with everyone’s name and registration number so you can verify you’re in the right place and discover your room number. This would be useful if I had forgotten to bring my registration information with me.

11:40: The doors open and everyone floods in to get to the elevators first.

11:45: Find my assigned classroom and my assigned desk and realize I have nothing to do now but wait. Why was everyone so eager to get to the elevator first? So they could be the first ones to sit and do nothing? No one is talking. Hardly anyone is even studying. Most people are just zoning out doing nothing but staring into space.

12:10: The 2 invigilators come into our room and people start getting their stuff ready. I can tell a lot of the other test-takers in the room have gone through this procedure before. They know exactly what’s allowed (e.g., white-out is allowed; pens are not) and start arranging things. I go to the bathroom one last time.

12:20: The head invigilator starts going over all of the rules, mostly telling us how to fill in our names and our “even/odd” status on the Scantron sheets (I gather that there are 2 versions of the tests). She’s speaking Korean at a million miles an hour but I just pretend like I’m understanding everything she’s saying. There are a number of level 5/6s in the room who can follow and ask her questions in fairly fluent Korean, so I just follow their lead. She tells us that we’re not allowed to go to the bathroom, but in retrospect, I think she may have told us that only for the listening section, not for the entire combined listening/writing section.

12:50: A tone sounds, which I guess is supposed to tell us to get ready to do the test. Everyone sits in silence for 10 minutes, not doing anything. I don’t get it, but when I asked my wife about it afterwards, she just said “isn’t that normal?”

1:00: Another tone sounds. It’s like the starting gun at a track event. The instant the tone sounds, the experienced TOPIKers start a mad scramble to flip through the book as quickly as possible and start reading the listening questions. The TOPIK II listening section progresses quickly (I knew this going in), so you have to find any time you can to read ahead in the questions and get familiar with the possible answers. I have to go to the bathroom.

1:20: My ability to do the listening questions is almost exhausted. I mean I’m only level 3 (hopefully) and these questions are for the level 5 and 6 students. Some of them I can catch maybe 10% of what’s going on, but it doesn’t help much. Even reading the possible answers is becoming difficult. I have to go to the bathroom pretty bad now.

1:45: I’ve shifted my attention over entirely to the writing section now. I was counting on the first 2 writing questions to be gimmes because they were so easy when I did my practice test. But this time is different. The first writing question is okay, but the second one is using vocabulary I don’t know. I’m having difficulty concentrating on anything because I have to go to the bathroom so bad.

2:00: The listening section is complete and everyone’s turned their attention over to the writing section. I’m trying to sketch out what to say about the 3rd writing question (the one where you have to explain a graph with a bunch of numbers). I feel like I’m going to die.

2:10: Finally I can’t take it any more. All of my effort is on trying to keep from peeing myself. I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to go to the bathroom, but I have no choice. I stick up my hand and ask, even if it means ending my test. Turns out it is okay during the writing section. There’s a protocol you have to follow, where a guy with a metal detector follows you into the bathroom to ensure you’re not bringing any electronics in or out of the bathroom.

2:15: I can finally concentrate! I do the writing section to the best of my ability. For the final writing question, the one with 3 specific questions on a general essay topic, I focus on the first question and write everything I can think of related to that. I only get to about 200 boxes (not even close to the minimum 600) before I run out of time.

2:50: Break time. Again, most people don’t speak. Some people have friends that they talk with, but most people just sit and stare silently.

3:10: We’re back in the classroom for more instructions on the final section.

3:20: The tone sounds and the reading section begins. This went much better than expected. The nice thing about the reading section is that all of it is relevant to level 3ers, from start to finish. That’s not to say that I could follow every question, but it’s not like you get to question #15 and then say “okay the last 35 questions are not for me”. You can make an honest attempt at every question. For level 3ers, the difference mostly comes down to whether a question coincidentally uses vocabulary and grammar that you know, since most level 3ers (I assume) know a random smattering of grammar and vocabulary, so each question is mostly luck of the draw whether it’s going to be relevant for you.

4:15: I’m finished and too tired to torture myself with second-guessing the answers I made.

4:30: We can go home.

I don’t know how to feel about my performance on the test. I went into it feeling writing would be my strong point, but I feel like I butchered the writing section a bit. On the other hand, listening went better than it did in practice and reading also went better than expected. I’m about 70% confident I managed to achieve my goal of level 3.

Now I wait until November 30 to get the results….

Starting the business

We signed a lease this week for an officetel in Gangnam. We don’t take possession for another week and a half, but we’re already starting to plan out our business.

Sinea will continue teaching Korean to foreigners freelance. It’s unknown at this point how much she’ll be teaching at the officetel itself and how much will be business as usual, travelling around the city going to cafés and people’s apartments and offices. Having the officetel gives her more freedom to expand into classes instead of primarily 1-on-1, though.

I am going to teaching two branches:

  • English. There’s a lot of demand for English education, though there’s a lot of supply, as well. I have the advantage that I’ve worked as a professor and have done technical writing. I can teach academic English and can teach presentation skills, as well. Still, it’s hard to gauge how much demand is unmet considering the saturation.
  • Computing. So this is the more interesting side of things, as it’s what I’m best at and I think there may be some interest in it. Here I think there’s an opportunity to set up classes specific to both children and adults. I’ve started sketching out some curricula for app development (web and mobile), embedded and HPC.

But, before we get to the point of offering classes and accepting students, we’ve got a lot of other mundane tasks to do…like buying furniture.

Applied for Alien Registration!

Another milestone in immigrating to Korea! I’m successfully put in my application to be registered as an alien. The process moves pretty slow here, but I can’t complain too much since I know it’ll move many times slower once we try to do the reverse process in Canada. Maybe I’ve become too accustomed to the Korean frenetic need for convenience.

In any case, it took about 2 weeks to get an appointment scheduled at the immigration office. The immigration is a very confusing place, where you don’t know exactly which floor you should be on, you don’t know exactly what you need to pay for, and you don’t pay for things on the same floor that you get them at. But we got it done.

It’ll take another 3 weeks before I get my beautiful Alien Registration Card and can start living a more normal life.

In other news, we’re going to be getting an officetel soon to be starting up our own language business. The philosophy is going to be starting it slow and keeping our expectations down, but it’s hard to be down when things are moving so quickly. We’re in talks with an advertiser already!

Studying update

As an update to my ongoing studying for the TOPIK test, my new weekly routine is now as follows.


Anki is the new focus on my studying, and something I probably should have started using months (or even years) ago. I’d never used it before because I was not really keen on the drudgery of rote memorization. Anki removes a lot of the drudgery of memorization, though. I use it purely for vocabulary.

The benefit of using Anki is that it manages the administration of memorizing for you. It keeps track of which words need to be repeated soon and which words don’t need to be repeated soon, so that I don’t have to keep track of that. And, best of all, it’s not possible for some vocabulary to slip through the cracks and for me to forget about it.

I also quite like that Anki has an open specification and a good community behind it.

Language exchange

I’ve started leading an English study group at GlobalSeoulMates, which is a language café in Seoul. I also stick around after the English study group to do the Korean-English language exchange so that I can get in a bit of practice with foreigners each week. Due to holidays—going to Japan and now 추석—I have been slacking with this a bit lately.


I bought a couple new books specific to studying TOPIK II. I’ll give a proper review of them at some point, but I can’t do that yet, as I haven’t used them enough yet to determine their efficacy.

Old tests

I’ve been doing most of my studying from old TOPIK tests. I’ve started with the TOPIK I tests until I got comfortable that I could ace them. Well, the reading section is fine, but the listening section…the questions at the end I don’t think I’ll be able to consistently ace. I might have to accept that my listening will always be lagging behind my reading and writing, at least for the purposes of my test next month.

I will be starting to practice from TOPIK II old tests this month.

Visa obtained

We finally got my visa! The process actually went quite smoothly. We booked a trip to Osaka for 8 days. We’d been told beforehand that the visa would take at least 4 days to complete. It ended up taking 6 full days, possibly a little longer than usual due to the fact that there was a holiday last week in Japan (Keirō no Hi).

The consulate in Osaka does not make appointments and was only open from 9:00 to 11:30 each morning. We were a little panicked and made sure to get to the consulate right at 9:00am the morning after we arrived in Osaka, but actually it was not very busy and we were able to get everything submitted and checked over quickly by 9:45am. They kindly do a sanity check (looking over your application for about 10 minutes or so) when you hand in your application, which was good, as I’d forgotten to write my address in a couple spots.

Thankfully no delays or anything. I will keep the visa application page on the wiki up to date, but actually it was a relatively smooth process. Next step now that we’re back in Korea: registering as an alien!

일보 8월13일부터 8월19까지

Following up to this post.

8월13일 (일): 내일 문재인 대통령이 청와대에서 기자와 얘기할건다(->얘기한다). 미국에서 Joseph Dunford 질상이(->재상이) 방문해서 북한롸(->과) 한미를(->한미관계에 대해) 얘기할 수 있다. 그리고 같이 접견할 수 있다. 요즘 김종은이(->김정은도) 프럼프도 들(->둘)다 미쳐서 얘기를 많이 해야 한다. 저는 죽고 안싶어서(->싶지 않으니) 평화(를) 주세요.


8월14일 (월): 일본 발물관에서 위아부(->위안부) 전시가 열을 건다(->열릴 거다). 세계 대전전에 일본이 한국 여자를 많이 강간했지만 지금도 인정을 못(->안)한다.

8월15일 (화): 휴일ˆ인다(->이다) ㅋㅋㅋ

8월16일 (수): 어제는 광복절ˆ이었다. 저는 쉬기밖에(->쉬는 것 외에) 아무것도 안했지만 한국인들을 의해(->한국인들에게) 그 날을(->은) 많이 필요한다(->중요하다). 영국에서 축구 그단(->구단) Manchester United(도) 광복절(을) 축하한다고 Facebook에서 게시를 보냈다. 요즘 세상은 작어(아)서 영국 구단들도 국제 팬(이) 많다. 그레서 한국인 팬들을 친절히 인정한다.

8월17일 (목): 지난 화요일에 Ariana Grande(가) 한국에서 공연했다. 공연은(->이) 나빠서 VIP 표 값으로 많은 돈을 지불한 한국 팬이 속상(해)했다. 하지만 소녀시대 맴버 태연이는(->은) 인스타그램에 좋은 댓글을 남겼다. 조금 태연이가(->은) 한국을 대표새서(->해서) 실망해야 됐다.(을 표현해야 했다)

8월18일 (금): 많은 계란들이(->에) 살총(->충)를(->가)(겨졌)다. 사람이 병글을(들) 수 있어서 경부가 계란은 다 버린다고 했다. 내가 계란을 많이 좋아해서 걱정한다. 마녁(->만약)에 우유도 고민이(->문제가) 있으면 나는 굶어 적겠다(->죽겠다) ㅋㅋㅋ

일보 8월6일부터 8월12까지

Wherein I practice for my TOPIK test by attempting to read news articles and summarize them. Please critique my Korean! Following up to this post.

8월6일 (일): 오늘 김국영라고 한 한국 선수가 영국에서 달렸다. 하지만 잘못했다. 경주가 2개 했다. 한검째 경주는 조금 빨리 달리니까 다음 경주에 진보를 할 수 있었다. 두번째 경주는 준결선 입니다. 그 경줒는 더 늦게 달려서 졌다. 실망을 느꼈다고 했다. 김국영이는 제일 한국 단거리 주자 입니다.

8월7일 (월): 오늘의 기사가 별점 입니다. 저는 안맏지만도 단어를 많이 배우고 싶어서 좋다. 어려운 단어 너무 많다. 돈 말고 금전라고 왜 하니? 사전도 몇던어를 모른다. 예를 들어 “복록이 찾아온다”고 아직 똑이해를 안한다. 아마도 재수 입니다. 너무 어려워서 읽기 끝낼 수 없다 ㅋㅋㅋ. 그런데 저는 원숭이띠에 태어나고 운세가 오싹하게 정학하다. 미룬 여행 있다고 썼다. 지금은 비자 때문에 한국밖에 가야 하고 여행 약속 지연된다. 재밌다.

8월8일 (화):  한국에서 스크린 독과점 고민 있다. 정부 기관 2개 수사한다. 공정거래위원회와 문화제육관광부도 수사한다. 회사가 영화를 가지고 국장를도 가지면 고민 있다. 왜냐하면 회사는 영화가 나쁘면도 많이 상영할 수 있다. 좋은 영화만 상영하면 영화 산업이 나아지겠다.

8월9일 (수): 명사 2명이 결혼 역속 있다. 남자는 라이머라고 한 래퍼 입니다 ㅋㅋㅋㅋ. 이름이 웃겨요. 여자는 안현모라고 한 기자 입니다. 저는 둘다를 모른데 유툽에 찾아서 영어를 진짜 잘한다. 지인이 소개팅을 만들고 첫 순간부터 많이 사랑한다고 말했다. 다만 4개원전에 만나서 시내가 임신을 해야 한다고 했어요 ㅋㅋㅋ. 아무튼 빨리 결혼하면도 좋을수  있다.

8월10일 (목): 미국 배달 회사가 한국에 온다. 우버는 택시 회사로 유명하는데 사실은 음식배달도 한다. 한국에는 오래 좋은 음식배달 있어서 이상한 것 같다. 미국에는 캐나다에는 많은 삭당들이 배달을 못해서 새로운 손님들이 배달 회사들을 고마워했다. 저는 성곡하지 못된다고 예상한다.

8월11일 (금): 지난달에 30대 남자친구가 40대 여자친구를 머리에 마구 쳤다. 무기 없는데 많이 강해서 즉시 의식을 잃었다. 병원에 실려 갔다. 오늘 죽었다. 그래서 남자친구는 죄를 물었다. 요즌 한국 여자들에게는 무서운 것 같아요.

8월12일 (토): 경찰관이 휴무인 달에 여자앞에서 반바지를 내렸다. 취해서 그하지를 기억이 날 수 없다고 말했다. 2년전에 비슷히 음란행위 해서 양석 인것이 같다. 그런데 음란행위 한적 있으면 왜 술을 너무 마시니? 미치겠다.


I have decided to take TOPIK, which is the most popular test of proficiency in Korean. A TOPIK score is strictly speaking not totally necessary for me, as I’m applying for an F-6 visa which, unlike some F visas (like F-5), does not require a TOPIK score from the foreigner. And my job search is temporarily paused (more on that in another post, maybe). However, there’s no denying that a TOPIK score would still help me if I can put it on my resume in the future and, more to the point, taking the TOPIK test will help me focus my studying abilities.

I haven’t been diligent in my Korean. Since landing in Korea almost a month ago, we’ve been preoccupied with a lot of other things, and I just sort of assumed I’d start picking up more Korean in daily life. That hasn’t really happened, or at least not to any great extent, and I feel my Korean is stagnant at a high-beginner level.

I’m going to register for the next TOPIK test, which is October 22. Registration is the third week of August and the cost doesn’t seem too terrible (40 000₩ for the TOPIK II test).

I am going to be registering for TOPIK II. It’s a little beyond my abilities now, but I have two and a half months to study and my wife is a (good) Korean teacher, so I think it’s doable. My philosophy as a professor was always that you teach students at a higher level than you want them to learn at (or, equivalently, that you learn at a slightly lower level than you studied at/were taught at). I’m applying that principle to my studying for TOPIK and am studying for a TOPIK Level 4 in the hopes that I will be able to solidly achieve Level 3.

To start off with, my daily studying regimen is:

  1. Study old TOPIK tests. Sinea has already given me a 2015 (?) version of the reading portion of TOPIK I. I’ve started studying from it to ensure first of all that I’m comfortable with the format of the questions, and also that there are no vocabulary words that I’m unfamiliar with.
  2. Reading and summarizing (in Korean) news articles. TOPIK Level 4 requires being able to understand news articles (yikes) and being able to write summaries. I just tried reading a news article this morning which was, to put it mildly, humbling. I’m hoping if I can stick to my daily regimen, it will become a little easier over time.

Probably my daily regimen will change in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Code for reading a random Korean news article

Want an easy way to read a random news article? I didn’t want my corpus of training material to be biased (too much news about girl groups), so I wanted an easy way to get a totally random news article to read each day. If you’re on Linux or a Unix-like environment and have sharutils installed (required for randomly selecting a line of text) and xml2 installed (required for parsing RSS), create a text file called rss-feeds with the following text:

The command for opening up a random news feed is then firefox $(curl -s $(shuf -n 1 rss-feeds) | xml2 | fgrep link | sed -r 's/(^.*=)//' | shuf -n 1)

This way, when you’re studying from news articles, you won’t get stuck with articles from one particular newspaper or on one particular subject!