Young Mi Kim

                                           NNEST of the Month

                                                     April, 2011


Young Mi Kim is a professor of English Language and Literature Department at Duksung Women’s University in Seoul, Korea. She has been teaching here since she finished her doctorate in the International and Multicultural Education department of the school of education at the University of San Francisco in 1995.  She is currently the chairperson of the English department in her university.  She has published more than 20 articles in academic journals and 13 books and textbooks for children and university students, including her forthcomingIntercultural Communication Strategies for university students.  Her academic articles written in both Korean and English concern such topics as critical reading practice for EFL readers,  strategies for effective team teaching between Korean speaking English teachers and native speaking English teachers, interdiscourse communication in an elementary English classroom, English medium instruction in higher education in Korean universities, and formation of intercultural identity in an intercultural communication course in an university based critical pedagogy course.  Her main research interest, a critical approach to language education, is not a mainstream issue in Korea.  But she hopes that her research might trigger of butterfly effect to change the whole structure of English education in Korea.

Young Mi Kim was a Fulbright scholar at the University of California in Berkeley where she studied with Claire Kramsch.  She is an executive board member of several associations including the Korean Association for the study of English Language and Linguistics, the Association of Foreign Language Education, Korea and Association of Applied Linguistics, Korea. Her e-mail address is


NNEST blog April interviewer:  Terry Michael Grayling Doyle

1. Could you tell us your background and why you decided to become an educator?

In the late 80’s in Korea, English became an important tool for social mobility especially for women, who were still treated as second class citizens. So I decided to enter the English department of my university to master English to be a good business woman. However, while I was taking the course I became interested in teaching so I decided to obtain a teacher’s certificate to be a high school English teacher. While I was doing a practicum in a middle school, in one of my courses to get teacher certification, I saw many young students were very motivated, but something was missing.  So I felt I wanted to do something for them. That was the initial seed that eventually led to my interest in studying about critical pedagogy, and especially how it is related to language education in Korea and other countries with similar language educational needs.  While I was studying for my doctorate in International and Multicultural Education at the University of San Francisco, I was introduced to the work of Paulo Freire and the field of critical pedagogy.  I was also able to study with Claire Kramsch at UC Berkeley. These experiences made me highly motivated to study language education from the perspective of critical pedagogy.

2.  In your paper entitled “English Medium Instruction in Higher Education: Does It Promote Cultural Correction or Cultural Continuity” which you published in 2008, you investigated the virtues and problems with EMI (English mediated instruction) in Korea. In particular, you asked the question of whether EMI promoted “cultural correction” (reproduction of inequitable relations of power in EMI settings)  or “cultural continuity” (opportunities for transporting students into a third space and enabling them to explore cultural diversity and to create new knowledge for themselves).  Briefly, what were you findings in this research? What do you think their significance is to the discussion of what Donaldo Macedo calls “the hegemony of English”?  What course of action would you suggest that educators in Korea and other countries of the “outer circle” take?

In Korea, there are increasing numbers of EMI courses in universities; this situation is connected to the political issue of the globalization of Korean Education. Looking at this phenomena, I wondered whether it really promotes the power of Korea through EMI as we intended or whether we are forced to play into the hegemony of English and whether we as English educators become messengers who reproduce the inequitable relations of power, which I call “cultural correction”, through the use of EMI. In the paper you mention, I conclude that in the class I focused on for this research there were more cases of “cultural correction” than of “cultural continuity” which provides opportunities for students to transport themselves into a third space enabling them to explore cultural diversity and to create new knowledge for themselves.

Examples of cultural correction that I found in my research included a tendency for the professor to fix Korean classroom discourse as if it were American classroom discourse, and the resulting reproduction of Orientalism in the local educational setting. Cases of cultural continuity included the use of comparison to consider the cultural reality of the milieu, creating new knowledge for the local milieu, and learning as a dynamic ongoing process.

There are implications for this research in both educational policy and curriculum development in Korea.  We cannot deny that internationalization of the university in Korea is very important in the global economy and academic community. However, we have to make sure that internationalization through EMI does not further colonize students in an English educational system characterized by linguistic imperialism. Rather, in order to create cultural continuity in foreign language education though EMI there should be conscious efforts to be vigilant and a willingness to see and have a critical understanding of representation of the foreign which are perpetuated by society. As for curriculum development, in order to promote cultural continuity, a small culture approach should be used because it stimulates an equality of status among all concerned parties. For cultural continuity the ideal curriculum is a combination of forces and a complex in which people interact on an equal basis. In teacher training, EMI should be carried out by subject specialists who are trained in language education and have knowledge about the students’ backgrounds,  needs and discourses in L1, and in the local context in order to create mélange.

3.  In your most recent research you studied the Formation of Intercultural Identity of Korean university students using critical literacy”. In fact, you have published other papers on mainstream and critical (new perspective) intercultural communication.  Why is it important to study the identity formation of Korean students from elementary school to university?  What does your research say about the currently popular communicative approach to language teaching, especially in Korea and other countries of Asia?

Because of native speakerism, fluency of speaking English with standard pronunciation is often seen as a goal of English education, and critical intercultural communication skills and proficiency are ignored. Indeed, achieving native-like pronunciation is a high stakes goal for many learners of English in Korea.

Moreover, in Korea and other countries in Asia there is a focus on learning about English speaking cultures through learning English. This makes students feel these cultures are more important than their own culture. Students in Korea come to feel that they share similar historical experiences with people of the west. In order to modernize Korea based on a western concept of modernization, there is a tendency to accept western culture without any filtering; therefore, promotion of Korean culture ends up being sacrificed. However, in the glocalizationed world, a student’s identity is so important when they are creating their third world identities. The economic globalization of the world forces us to live a homogenous life style; on the other hand, to be successful as a leader in the world, one should be the same as others but very ironically also unique.

I have proposed in the paper you mention that Korean students should create their unique third culture identities through intercultural communication. For this process to be successful, students should know themselves first and understand others, too. In this way, the critical perspective could be helpful. This critical perspective is particularly needed to prevent students who study English as foreign language from being neo-colonialized through the hegemony of English. It is important for people in all countries to keep their power to protect themselves rather than being taken over by others. The critical IC approach proposed in my paper can enable students to be empowered and armed with cultural power.

The findings of this study should therefore make the local educators think about how university students learn English without sacrificing their local identities and recognize the value of the Korean local vernacular modes of teaching (Canagarajah, 2004) and of the continuing vernacularization of English in postcolonial contexts (Ramanathan, 2005).

4.  The main issues which this blog is concerned with are non-native teacher issues.Thus, we have the name “NNEST blog”. What is your view of the relationship between native speaking and non-native speaking teachers in Korea? What advice would you give somebody like me who works with MA TESOL students as a mentor, and who wants to encourage and advise these students in the best way?

Again, based on native speakerism, many people believe that fluency of speaking English with standard pronunciation is an important goal of English education. Therefore, it seems a very natural assumption to hire native speaking teachers to teach students in Korea how to speak English without a concern for the level of the class. If the students are very highly motivated adult learners, it does not matter whether or not the teacher has professional skills to motivate and teach students. However, the fallacy of native speakerism is applied every place in English education. In some classes, for example in classes for young learners who don’t have much instrumental motivation but who study English because of school or parental pressure to learn English as a foreign language, it is more important for teachers to have a professional background about teaching children as well as English competence. In this case, trained and experienced Korean English teachers should be preferred because they know more about Korean children and possess skills to motivate them. However, because of the fallacy of native speakerism, although the native speaking teacher doesn’t have these qualities, they are preferred and are often hired ahead of more qualified Korean teachers. Therefore, Korean English teachers who study abroad for MA TESOL degrees might return to Korea and be disappointed to find this kind of situation. For example, I heard of an MA TESOL student who found such discrimination by an employer from Korea who attended the job fair at the TESOL conference. Another recent MA TESOL graduate returned to Korea only to find that in all jobs he applied for “native speakers” were hired.  He has therefore decided to return to the United States to study for a doctorate.

I would advise MA TESOL graduates to be proactive by continuing to improve your professional and linguistic skills. Also, I would advise you to join together with other non-native English teacher colleagues in Korea and around the world through the internet. When you get together with other colleagues who have similar backgrounds and ideas that you have, you can find support, fellowship, and resources to continue your careers and to protect your rights. Try to use your voice to break down the fallacy of native speakerism. Of course, nowadays, many native speakers, especially those graduating recently, understand the importance of cooperation between native and non-native speakers in our field. So I would hope that there can be an emphasis on building on this cooperation. After all, we all have a lot to learn from each other.

5.  In my work as a mentor teacher for student teachers working in my ESL classes, I feel a tension between using communicative approach activities and form focused activities. In particular, my international student teachers from Korea, Japan, and Taiwan say that the communicative approach they are learning in their MA TESOL classes might not always be appropriate when they return to Korea, Japan, and Taiwan to teach.  Do you think the communicative approach is appropriate in Korea and other contexts? What do you think is the source of tension for my international student teachers? Have you encountered any problems when teachers use communicative approach activities with students in Korea?

Since the CLT method came out, it has been modified so much and actually there is no one clear direction for how to teach with the CLT approach. Rather there are multiple approaches for how to adapt this approach to indigenous teaching and learning contexts. As for the implications of CLT in Asia, in the beginning there were some misunderstanding and problems for how to use CLT because it was cultivated in a non-Asian context. One of the important aspects always mentioned about CLT is that it encourages student-centered learning. It seems very simple in the context where the CLT was cultivated, because it means simply changing the teacher’s orientation toward students. However, in a hierarchical society like Korea, there are some special relationships between students and teachers, and these socially structured relationships are supported by hierarchicalism. Therefore, it is not just a matter of changing the teacher’s self consciousness toward students and preparing lessons based on a learner centered approach.  Rather, it requires changing the whole structure of the social relationships between teachers and students, between teachers and parents, between teachers, and between parents and students. There were some conflicts about values and beliefs when CLT was first introduced in the Asian context. That is, it was not simply a change to a learner-centered way of teaching but a change for learners to have Western values and beliefs. Because Korean learners are different from western learners, adopting activities based on CLT without modification requires Korean learners to be westernized. This is not easy and not right. Although the learner centered approach was a basic reform issue in Korea when CLT was first cultivated, such a learner-centered approach seemed awkward in Korea. CLT was introduced or adapted first before a learner-centered orientation throughout all subjects was introduced. Therefore, it was not so easy to apply it to the Korean context. The struggle to implement CLT in Korea continues, and there will be a lot of struggle and negotiation to adapt CLT for Korean learners especially for those who have studied abroad. So far there have not been many suggestions for how to deal with problems in the implementation of CLT in Korea. As we all know, in Korea the teaching context, individual students, teacher’s pedagogy are slightly or more obviously different, so in order to implement the theory of the communicative approach in a positive and effective way, there shouldn’t be one fixed type of teaching and activities,  but there should be an emphasis on the development of activities which are localized for teachers’ own teaching and learners’ own learning environments.

6.  Testing is a big issue all over the world.  In the United States there is more and more emphasis on testing because it seems to be pushed by politicians who have great influence on school administrators. Classroom teachers want to resist, but we just have to go along for fear of losing our jobs. I know that in Korea and other countries in Asia, there has been a longer history of standardized testing. But also recently another problem in Korea and other Asian countries is that many universities and even employers use exams created in the United States such as the TOEFL and TOEIC. What is your opinion of testing?  Why is it so important? What are the specific problems with testing in Korea? Do you have any other thoughts about testing?

In highly competitive societies – especially in education which is the most prestigious element of society to mobilize, the easiest way to motivate students is through a TEST. And the English test is a big portion of the TEST. Think back to the success of the Audiolingual method used by the Army – if you didn’t want to die, you should learn a foreign language. Since there is a big salary gap between white collar and blue collar workers,  the best way you can be successful and rich in Korea is to get into a prestigious university. There is no better strategy to motivate students.  Students have to strive to pass the test in order to survive in this society; otherwise, they will have a hard time for their whole lives – getting married, being a good child to your parents, and being a good parent for your child. This characteristic of Korean society comes originally from Confucianism. Therefore, there is no choice but to prepare for the TEST. Although tests can motivate students to study for and pass tests successfully, it doesn’t mean that students are fully motivated to construct knowledge in critical ways for their emancipation. As Freire’s model of banking education shows, students try to analyze (actually private institutions do this for some special tests) the patterns of test and learn increasing numbers of testing strategies rather than constructing knowledge for their own needs and experiences. The audio-lingual approach wasn’t successful for real students because students are not soldiers. They can survive in life without learning a foreign language so that this approach did not provide enough motivation for students. In the same way, like the failure of the audio lingual approach in foreign language education outside of the military, the Korean context has to be changed so that students will feel motivated to construct knowledge in critical ways and useful to their real lives.

7.  You have a successful career in English language education, and also you are the mother of young daughter.  Have you decided to use your educational philosophy to teach your daughter English?

I don’t know whether I am successful or not. I have a few principles to manage myself. Although my main interest, the critical approach to language education, is not a mainstream issue in Korea because most English educators are still focused on how to teach effectively in terms of increasing English competence, I try to show my voice by publishing papers and lecturing for small change. I have some hope that it is going to trigger of butterfly effect to change the whole structure of English education in Korea.

And I am trying to apply my educational philosophy to teaching my daughter English in order to prove my pedagogy is not really separate from real teaching.  I see that many educators have some gap between theory and practice especially when they teach their children. I hope there will not be this gap with my daughter.  I will let you know in a few years when my daughter gets older.


Canagarajah, S. (2004). Subversive identities, pedagogical safe houses, and critical learning. In B. Norton & K. Toohey (Eds.), Critical pedagogies and language learning (pp. 116-137). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kim, Young Mi (2008), English medium instruction in higher education: Does it promote cultural correction or cultural continuity? English Language & Literature Teaching, 15(4)

Kim, Young Mi. (2010). Formation of Intercultural Identity of Korean university  students using critical literacy. Foreign Language Education, 17(3).

Ramanathan, V. (2005). The English-vernacular divide: Postcolonial language politics and  practice. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

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About Terry Michael Grayling

I was an ESL teacher at City College of San Francisco for 34 years. Now I live near the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene where I read a lot, am working a book on EIL issues for specifically for new MA TESOL students, and work on the NNEST of the month blog and other activities related to NNEST and EIL issues, and enjoy exercising and taking walks.

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