SoHee Kim is currently a PhD student in the Department of English Language Education at Korea University. She has taught college-level English in the USA and academic English at Gachon University in South Korea. Her teaching and research interests include the effects of media and technology in teaching and learning English and media literacy. She’s been on the editorial board of Global Education Review since 2013, has been a reader for EV Fair proposals at the TESOL convention since 2013, and a PC member for ICALT 2016.
- Could you tell us about your educational, linguistic, and professional background? Why did you choose English as your major in university? Also, what influenced your decision to pursue an MA in TESOL at San Francisco State University and then a Ph.D., which you are working on at present, at Korea University?
I have been studying English since I was 10 years old and was very excited to learn a new language. Although English was my strongest subject during school days, I’d never thought about choosing English as my major or becoming an English teacher. My undergraduate major was social science and I earned my first M.A. in engineering in Korea because I was interested in studying computer languages and systems. Computing was also another new language for me. As soon as I finished my first M.A., I decided to enter a doctoral program in the U.S.A. and attended an intensive ELP program to enhance my speaking and writing skills. At that time, I was aware of major differences between learning English in Korea and the U.S.A. and had severe culture shock. After giving up the doctoral program, I returned to Seoul and worked at the National Research Institution as a researcher. But my desire to be a proficient English speaker remained. After marriage, I had another opportunity to live in the U.S.A. with my family. Instead of attending the doctoral program in engineering related to information technology, I changed my major to English to learn language and culture. During that time, I tried to apply my previous knowledge to English education and began to develop interests in Computer Assisted Language Learning. After returning to Korea, I entered the doctoral program to become a researcher and English language teacher.
- As an NNEST working as an English teacher in Korea, what were some of the challenges and successes you experienced? What aspects of your job did you like the most?
I studied English in Korea at an early age, so I have a Korean accent when pronouncing certain words. Although some scholars argue that accent reduction is not necessary since intelligibility is more important, American standard pronunciation seems to be considered very important in Korea. However, when I teach English, I have the benefit of knowing the differences between the two languages in terms of sentence structures, expressions, and sound systems, pragmatics and the understanding of how difficult it is to learn another language. I give lectures to second language and foreign language learners which highlight these challenges and help them overcome their anxiety. I like to help them improve their English skills, share their opinions to acquire language and culture, and monitor their learning progress. These experiences also allow me to develop as a NNES teacher. I also enjoy using technology to facilitate language learning and engagement for learners.
- You have given many presentations at TESOL, CATESOL, TESOL France conferences about using computer technology and applications and also using movies for teaching English. Also, you are one of the proposal readers of the Electronic Village Fair at the TESOL Convention. Could you tell our readers more about these presentations? For less experienced readers of our blog, what recommendations do you have for starting to do presentations and working on the EV Fairs at TESOL?
In recent years I have been presenting about the effects of media and technology on online learning and the impact of social media on the autonomous learning environment. I’ve also demonstrated how using a blog can positively affect writing and speaking skills and the effective multimodal model in blended learning, and explained how to use multimodal modes on social networking for autonomous learning. These presentations are based on my teaching activities and/or my pilot studies in the classroom.
I have been one of the readers for EV Fairs proposals since 2013. We read summaries and abstracts of many proposals in a given time and vet them with evaluation criteria to meet EV Fairs presentations. EV Fairs presentations are oriented not so much on research but the presenters can apply their research principles and knowledge to their teaching methods in their demonstrations. It should not narrow windows for computer systems and promote commercial advertisement. There are other sessions of CALL-IS at the TESOL convention so with regard to the applicants’ intended goals, they can choose their preferred sections.
- Before you entered the MA TESOL program at San Francisco State University, you worked in the field of computer technology. How does this experience influence and inform the way you teach English and how English language teaching may be improved? What made you particularly interested in teaching English through using computer applications?
Yes. My previous study and work experience has helped me a lot in TESOL as a teacher and researcher. As I mentioned earlier, my educational background is in social science and engineering, so I am able to take advantage of my research and data analysis skills to help me publish articles. My main working experiences involve managing national research projects, dealing with curriculum development and building off-online learning system as an administrator and a researcher at the National Research Center in Korea. Broadly speaking, most of them are related to the CALL area, such as monitoring students, formulating curricula, and finding effective offline and online programs. I believe that computer technology offers tremendous self-learning opportunities that can lead to autonomous learning, since learning should be pleasant and learner-centered in ESL and EFL contexts. Moreover, advanced technology brings a new media learning environment that fosters cognitive processes and critical thinking so I am also interested in media effect using technology and media literacy.
- Tell us about the research you are doing for your Ph.D. What contribution do you feel it will make to the field of TESOL and in particular to the teaching of English in international contexts such as Korea?
I am writing my dissertation on the topic, “media literacy using digital storytelling with movie clips.” My research examines salient new-learning media environments to develop media literacy to decide to what extent it influences oral proficiency. I hope that my research can suggest effective media teaching and learning for English education in Korea as well as other counties.
- US-based TESOL programs have been critiqued for not meeting the needs of teachers who go on to teach internationally. (Hae Sung Yang discusses this topic in the February 2015 NNEST of the Month interview). Hae Sung points out that MA TESOL graduates, both NNESTs and NESTs, sometimes encounter some difficulty applying the western approaches and pedagogies they study in their MA TESOL classes in the United States to non-ESL settings. Based on your experiences, how true do you think this is? Is there anything that you know now that you wished you had learned as an MA TESOL student?
Western approaches might be seen to have universal value and appeal, not only in MA TESOL programs. There were many benefits as a result of my master’s program in terms of teaching approaches that I could apply to my own teaching contexts at University. Higher education teaching requires a variety of teaching ideas, from teaching activities to testing methods. Teachers always need to create new teaching methods for effective learning. I prefer to provide a learner-centered way, not instructor-centered, with lively discussion to accept and criticize different point of views and to activate learners’ engagement in the classroom, although it is quite a challenge to students and me, since a teacher usually has authority in Korea. Moreover, depending on stakeholders, teachers may have constraints on the ability to choose their own teaching ways but instead follow the fixed learning content and specific requirements. When we teach, we can face so many complicated situations, such as language proficiency, cultural issues, school requirements, and learning contexts for learners. I would say it is important to fulfill a teacher’s needs and learners’ needs with regards to the given teaching setting.
- When and how did you first become aware of NNEST-related issues? Were these issues discussed sufficiently in your MA TESOL program classes? Do you think MA TESOL programs should offer particular courses about NNEST-related issues for MA TESOL students?
It was my fifth semester at the tutoring center. One day my tutee was late, so I waited for her for a significant length of time and then realized that I was the only NNEST tutor. It was the first time I felt isolated and thought about NNEST issues. In our program, we did not have many international students compared to native students and native students often dominated discussions in the classroom. I took several courses that dealt with NNEST and NEST issues. We had discussions to recognize and understand the differences of NNEST and NEST in terms of weaknesses and strengths. I would agree that MA TESOL students would need a chance to think about this issue, because we often face it in our teaching and research.
- Many parents and also linguists are interested in home language maintenance. (In fact, I wrote my dissertation on this topic.) You have two children who have lived in California when you and your husband were graduate students there and now live with you and your husband in Paris. How do you manage your children’s education? Are they still learning Korean?
This is a very good question, since I am still trying to figure this out. We moved to California when SooMin was one year old, and Edward was born in SF. Since my husband and I were students at the time, they stayed in all-day year-around childcare centers belonging to our universities until preschool. They did not have many interactions with Koreans. Going back to that time, they did not speak any language at home, although my husband and I spoke Korean at home and tried to read Korean books. I guess that it was a fairly long silent period for both languages. As you know, it is quite challenging for both parents to study with two little children. After returning to Korea, I provided lots of Korean audio books to help them acquire Korean phonetic sounds to speak naturally and learn new words in sentences for three years. Since moving to Paris they have both been attending a bilingual elementary school, English and French. I let them speak Korean at home and encourage extensive reading every day. When our children cannot understand Korean words in sentences, we find English definitions in the English dictionary or they use Google Translate. French words also can sometimes assist them in grasping meaning. As we know from the theory of multiple intelligences, each child has a different learning talent. I believe that learning a language requires inherent talent and the amount of time that they receive authentic input is very important.
Kim, S.H. (2014). The effects of using storytelling with a Charlie Chaplin silent movie clip
on oral proficiency development. STEM Journal, 15(1), 1-20.
Kim, S.H. (2014). Developing autonomous learning or oral proficiency using digital
storytelling. Language Learning & Technology 18(2), 20-35 Retrieved from