Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Review of the Ewha Language Center

Somehow, it's already become my last full week of classes at Ewha. Next week, we have Monday off because of 광복절 (Liberation Day), then our final exam starts two days later on Wednesday, and then the program ends the following Wednesday (the 24th). The first couple of weeks of the program did feel very slow, but now I very much have the cliched feeling that time flies...

Anyway, it seemed like it's about time I follow up on my initial impressions of Ewha (and Ewha vs. Sogang), now that everything is nearly wrapped up. Having had plenty of time to settle into the groove of the ELC, I still have mostly good things to say about it - with some caveats. (Warning: This post turned out to be pretty long, so if you just want my summary/overall thoughts, skip to the last two paragraphs.)

To start with, I have a few more things to say about the Ewha textbooks as compared to the Sogang textbooks (for my earlier thoughts, see my First Impressions post). One feature I really appreciate about the Ewha textbooks is that every chapter has a page on a category of related vocab terms/expressions, e.g. expressions to do with 마음, 시간, –적, or –스럽다. I also like that writing practice is also integrated into the main textbook as well as the workbook. The dialogues for speaking practice are relevant to real life (some more so than others), and I appreciate how they provide several alternative ways of saying key expressions. They also have a page that just provides cues or an outline of the dialogue, so we can test ourselves on how well we can either remember the dialogue or make up a similar one. 

That being said, what I don’t like about the Ewha textbooks as much as the Sogang books is that there is no companion book focusing on the grammar and vocabulary. This hasn’t proved to be a serious problem for me, but the Sogang companion books (which are in English at least through level 3) do explain the subtleties of certain grammar patterns in a way that the Ewha books really fail to do (our teachers have to fill in the holes, which for the most part is adequate, but it'd be nice to have it in the books...). At the very least, I wish there was a consolidated list of vocabulary at the end of each chapter. It would also be really nice if they had definitions of the vocabulary in Korean (I don’t know if Sogang does that at the higher levels), the way they have the grammar patterns explained in Korean. To do that, they would probably have to make a companion book, otherwise that would take a lot of extra space in the main textbook. 

In addition to the main textbook and workbook, we also get handouts for practicing every new grammar pattern. On these handouts, we write down notes for different scenarios and turn them into dialogues using the new grammar. It’s a pretty useful way to drill the grammar while also practicing speaking.

The workbook is perfectly useful; I especially like how there is section for every chapter focusing on vocab usage. I think it could be useful if a dictation section were added, but you can also test your dictation skills on your own anyway, using the textbook CD and the scripts for the listening dialogues.

I like that we don’t spend time in class working on writing articles/essays; that’s for homework, which I think is appropriate. At Sogang, they have to write every day in class, which must be very useful too, but I feel we still get a reasonable amount of writing practice at Ewha via the homework assignments, and the teachers give plenty of feedback on our writing. As I mentioned above, I also like that for speaking practice, we have to make up our own dialogues using new grammar patterns, while still being able to refer to example dialogues and alternative expressions for help. We spend more than an hour on speaking in class every day, whether we are making short dialogues to drill the new grammar, or practicing the longer “말해 봅시다” dialogues. 

The articles for reading practice are appropriately challenging for our level. We have to answer reading comprehension questions, write summaries of the most important points, and also practice reading the passages aloud. The articles on Korean culture at the end of every chapter tend to be more challenging to read, but we don’t have to answer questions about them; we do discuss them in class if there is time, however.

The listening practice is also pretty effective. Compared to the Sogang CDs (at least for levels 1 and 2), the speakers on the Ewha CDs speak much more quickly, fairly similar to the average real Korean speaker (although of course they enunciate much more carefully than the average person on the street does). Speaking practice is a bit rote, but I think that cannot be escaped when learning any foreign language, and free-topic speaking practice is something that is better reserved for language-partner or tutoring sessions anyway (to make the most of the class time).

In the end, I am satisfied with my Ewha experience for the most part. My biggest disappointment was that they decided not to provide tutors for Level 3 and above. They originally said they were going to give us tutors, and we even signed up for them. But when we didn’t receive introductions for a few weeks, I finally asked my teacher and she said that not enough Ewha students were available, so levels 1 and 2 got priority. If they weren’t going to be able to provide us with tutors, they should at least have told us as soon as they realized that. The lack of a 개인 수업 is definitely a weakness compared to the Sogang program (although one-on-one tutoring is free for the lower levels, unlike the Sogang one-on-one classes). I also do have to admit that the classes at Ewha get kind of boring after a few weeks (I really started to feel this after midterms, and I wasn't the only one). It's okay when we have our peppy Monday-Wednesday-Friday teacher, but even then, we still do basically the exact same things day after day after day, just substituting in the new grammar patterns, reading passages, or whatever. Based on hearsay, I'm under the impression that Sogang tends to be a bit more interactive/engaging, but maybe the grass is always greener on the other side.

I placed into a higher level at Ewha than I’m sure I would have at Sogang, and I have really appreciated the accompanying challenges without ever feeling overwhelmed. I don’t know if my speaking would have improved much more at Sogang, but overall I am not disappointed that I chose Ewha for this summer. That being said, if I come back to study in Korea again (and I hope I do), I’m not confident I’ll choose Ewha again at first. Don't take this the wrong way - I didn't dislike Ewha. It’s just that I want to experience another program, most likely Sogang, at least for one semester.

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