Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center: Korean (Review)

*Disclaimer: I took this course in the Summer of 1995 so things have proabably changed a lot since then.....or not.

This school is run by the military and provides language training to all branches of the armed forces. In my case, I was enrolled in the 63 week Korean course. Korean is considered a Category III language, which, in military lingo, means damn hard. Classes begin at 9am and finish around 3pm if I remember correctly. There are about 30 students per section, each section broken up into 3 classes of 10 students each, and roughly 5 or 6 teachers per section. The books at the beginning were pretty mediocre and were obviously produced by the lowest bidder. But the materials do improve as the course goes on.

This was a crash course in the language in every sense of the word. There was no stopping for anyone. If you fell too far behind, you would be put into another newbie section. Quizzes were given at the beginning of every day on material that has NOT been covered in class meaning that you had to study 80-100 words a day on your own time. Teachers would rotate every hour and this is a big point; the quality of teachers really was not consistent. My favorite was an ex ROK Colonel, who I'm sure considers the Geneva Convention to be mere suggestions (who knows how many bodies he's buried?). His primary pedagogical tools were fear and intimidation. On the other end of the spectrum, there were teachers who couldn't speak English (I think immersion only works when you are IN the country, otherwise it is just frustration) and teachers who subscribe to the 'read straight out of the book' school of teaching. I'm pretty sure that the majority of the instructors do not have a background in Korean language education. The only requirement was probably being a native speaker.

I was young at the time and in my 'I don't have to study as hard as everyone else because I'm Half Korean' phase, so I will be the first to admit that I definitely could have done more to learn the language, but even still, I thought the course was poorly organized. I really felt that the teachers didn't communicate with each other so one class was getting criticized for not knowing words that only another class was taught.

Also, there was a considerable gap in our language. After graduation, we could say integrated circuit of electricity (회로선), to establish diplomatic relations (수교하다), and landmine (지뢰), but wouldn't be able to say 'the rabbit went up the mountain' or 'no ice, please'. I guess it is understandable considering the purpose of the course, but there have been many who went to Korea afterwards and couldn't hold a normal conversation.

The main problem was that the course was pretty unorganized overall in comparison to the way other languages were taught. Rather than improve the course to increase the number of qualified linguists (enrolling 10 soldiers to get 10 linguists), they dumped as many students as they could into the course and hoped for the best (enroll 500 soldiers to get 10 linguists). This is not to say that I did not learn anything. To the contrary, I learned a lot. But I wonder how much more I could have learned if the 63 weeks were put to EFFECTIVE use.

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