Author Archives: Cole McNally

International Schools in South Korea: The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy

International schools come in many shapes and sizes in Korea. Teaching at an international school can be the experience of a lifetime or a complete nightmare, depending on the school and its management. Here are some things to be aware of when considering international schools in Korea, whether you’re a teacher looking for work or a parent looking for a good place to educate your kids.

Accreditation

Perhaps one of the most significant factors when considering an international school is accreditation. There are several ways that a school could be recognized in South Korea. The best, most trustworthy schools will obviously be accredited by a reputable board, whether Korean or foreign.

Government-approved

The biggest international schools with the strictest requirements for teachers and facilities will be international schools recognized as such by the Korean government. Officially recognized international schools have to meet government-approved standards, and teachers must be appropriately educated, licensed, and experienced in their fields of study. Real registered international schools are typically sizeable, reputable, and well-funded with their own property and facilities.

Other Accreditation Councils

Many private international schools may also have accreditations or memberships associated with various international school associations and councils that all have their own standards and requirements. Schools with these accreditations and memberships may or may not be registered as schools with the Korean government. There are too many different associations to list exhaustively here, but a few memberships and accreditation associations you might see include East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS), Korea Council of Overseas Schools (KORCOS), and Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). Also be aware that some organizations offer different levels of membership, such as full membership and associate membership. Lower levels of membership may or may not guarantee serious standards from member schools.

Whatever accreditations or councils you see a school advertising on their website, you should do your own investigation into what those associations actually mean and what their standards are. Reputable organizations have high standards and ensure that their members continue to uphold those standards to maintain membership, while other no-name associations are simply there to make things look official without really checking up on their members or guaranteeing any kind of standard.

Unaccredited

Lack of accreditation should be an immediate red flag to teachers and parents alike. A school without some kind of accreditation may be a small, perfectly well-meaning private school, but without some kind of official recognition, it may be difficult to tell. If a school you are interested in is not accredited, here are a few things you can ask to dig deeper:

  • When was the school founded? A young school may not have been open long enough to get accredited yet. Some organizations require that a school be in operation for a certain number of years to be eligible for membership or accreditation. The accreditation process may also take several years to complete. If a school has been operating for several years and has not bothered to begin some kind of accreditation process, they have probably chosen not to—likely because they don’t want to do what it takes to become accredited or they already know they won’t be approved.
  • Have they started the accreditation process? If so, how far along are they? Some unaccredited schools may say that they are still in the process of becoming accredited. This may be true, but some have been saying this for years just to sound good but actually have no intention of becoming accredited. If it’s been a long time since a school supposedly started the process and they’re still not very far along, they’re probably not really going to get accredited anytime soon.
  • Were they previously accredited? Some schools have previously been accredited but lost their accreditation or let it expire. They might even leave their framed certificate on the wall for everyone to see, knowing that nobody is actually going to look at the date. There is not really a good reason for a previously accredited school to no longer be accredited. They’ve either let their standards slip, or they’re too cheap and lazy to keep up with the renewal process. Even if they have a legitimate reason for no longer being accredited by a certain organization, they should at least be in the process of joining another.
  • Why are they unaccredited? It is possible that a small private school may be great at what they do but truly lack the means or facilities to become accredited, but most schools should have some kind of motivation to seek accreditation. Even a small private school would need a pretty convincing answer to this question to still seem legitimate in any way.

If the management of a school can’t answer the questions on this list honestly and convincingly, the school is probably not worth any more of your time or consideration.

Registration

Closely related to accreditation, a school’s registration within Korea determines a lot about the standards and requirements a school must meet. International schools registered as schools with the Korean government must follow strict requirements and guidelines like any other Korean school would have to. However, not all supposed international schools in Korea are actually registered as schools. In fact, a lot of them aren’t.

Many small international schools are only registered as hagwons or miscellaneous businesses. Although hagwons are academic in nature, they are still just businesses in the eyes of the Korean government. Hagwons are not schools, and their teachers are only required to have an E-2 visa for teaching conversational English.

Because of the relative ease of starting and running a hagwon, it is not uncommon for low-budget international schools to have conversational English classes like any other hagwon in the afternoons while having international school classes during regular school hours. Since they are only registered as hagwons, such schools can easily hire teachers that only have to get E-2 visas rather than the E-7 or F-series visas teachers would usually have at registered international schools.

Hagwon status and its academic nature give sub-par international schools the apparent legitimacy of some kind of registration and membership within the Korean hagwon association, but it still doesn’t make them real schools, even if the words international school are part of their names. To unsuspecting foreigners, hagwon registration might be enough to make a small operation seem like a legitimate school, but hagwons are actually just businesses and do not have to meet the same criteria as actual schools.

Curriculum

The more highly-accredited a school is, the stricter the curriculum requirements are likely to be. The important thing is that a school has a proper, reputable curriculum of some kind and that they stick to it properly. Different accreditation organizations have their own curriculum standards, so things will vary from school to school.

A good school will use reputable, up-to-date curricula and textbooks. Students and teachers alike will be properly equipped with the textbooks they need for each subject. The school will be able to confidently show and explain their curriculum and textbooks to prospective employees and students.

A sketchy school might not even have proper textbooks or materials. In some cases the teachers might not even have the books or materials they need and be left to come up with their own plans and materials. Particularly bad or poorly equipped schools (probably of the unaccredited hagwon flavor) may end up photocopying books and printing a hodgepodge of free worksheets off the internet rather than providing everyone with appropriate textbooks and materials. Always ask to see the curriculum and textbooks a school uses. If they can’t or won’t show you a thorough and complete curriculum with appropriate textbooks and materials for every subject, they’re probably hiding something.

Faculty and Staff

As the word international implies, an international school would typically have a lot of international teachers. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, but the point of having an international school is to teach international students in a language that they can all understand, typically English. It’s normal to have some local Korean teachers too, but many of the faculty and staff at a legitimate international school are likely to be foreigners.

More importantly, the staff at a real international school will have to meet certain requirements to be hired. To work at an official international school, faculty will typically need to be licensed teachers with master’s degrees in their fields of study to get E-7 visas. Teachers who have been in country for a while may also have F-series visas instead.

If the teachers at an international school are not licensed or are hired on E-2 visas, then the school is not registered with the government as a true international school. It is probably only registered as a hagwon at best.

Facilities

Reputable international schools will typically have their own property and buildings. They should have all or most of the equipment and facilities you’d expect at a normal school anywhere else. Small-time private schools and hagwons will often just be renting a building, or even just a floor or two of one. Really low-budget operations will have bare minimum classroom supplies and equipment. The smaller and sketchier the facilities, the more alert you should be for other red flags. Always ask for a tour, even if it has to be by video call.

Avoiding Bad Schools and Hagwons

If you’re a teacher looking for work, you should seriously consider getting hired through a recruiter to make sure you end up at a legitimate school or hagwon. Recruiters work for the benefit of teachers to ensure that they are hired by legitimate schools offering appropriate pay and benefits. And whether you’re a teacher, parent, or student, you should check out some of these review sites and blacklists for schools and hagwons to avoid:

These lists and reviews are far from exhaustive, but it’s good to at least make sure a school you’re considering isn’t on a blacklist. If you’re up for a little more digging around online, you might also consider joining a Facebook group for foreigners living in the same city. Other foreign teachers in the same city have likely at least heard about the other hagwons and schools in their area and may be able to give you specific information that you won’t find anywhere else online.

Conclusion

Depending on what you are looking for, it may not matter to you if a school is public or private, government-funded or small-time and unaccredited. After all, it is possible to get a good education from good people without fancy facilities and accreditations. That being said though, the more highly-accredited and government-regulated a school is, the easier it will be to know exactly what you’re getting into. Especially when considering small private schools, be sure to do your own due diligence and ask lots of questions to make sure they are legitimate.


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Teaching English in Korea: Bad Hagwons and How to Avoid Them

Have you ever considered teaching English in Korea? Teaching English can be a great way to travel and gain valuable work experience, but it can be a bit risky if you don’t know what to look out for while seeking employment. Signing a contract with the wrong employer can quickly turn an overseas adventure into a hagwon horror story! Hagwon life is not for everyone, so if you are considering teaching English in Korea, be sure to do your research and ask lots of questions before making any agreements.

What is a hagwon?

A hagwon (학원) is an afterschool academy where students get extra lessons and tutoring. Many hagwons specialize in one subject, such as English or math, while other hagwons offer classes on a variety of subjects all in one place. Some hagwons are independent businesses, while others, such as 눈높이, are part of a large chain of hagwons. Although hagwons are academic in nature, they are still businesses, not schools. The popularity and relative simplicity of hagwons makes them very abundant and, unfortunately, very attractive to some unsavory businessmen looking to make easy money.

Good hagwons vs bad hagwons

Bad hagwons have red flags big enough to see from space if you know what to look for. Unfortunately, most unsuspecting foreigners have no idea what to look for or what kinds of questions they should be asking when considering job offers from hagwons. Here are a few things to consider and ask questions about when applying and interviewing for hagwon work:

  • Reputation: Good hagwons have good reputations that they have earned over time. As such, they are well-trusted, have good systems and methods in place, and get plenty of business to keep things running profitably. Bad hagwons often pander to parents and bend over backwards to keep them happy and keep them paying, even if that means the hagwon has to shoot itself in the foot and mess up its own system to cram in a new student, move classes around, or send a kid to class with no textbook for several months.
  • Discipline: A good hagwon with a good reputation wants to maintain that reputation. Their work speaks for itself, and they are not afraid to discipline or expel problematic students when necessary. They do not need to pander to unreasonable parents or put up with terrible students just to keep their tuition money coming in. Bad hagwons have little or no discipline because they fear angering parents and losing students. In a bad hagwon, teachers who complain about problematic students are often given a lame excuse such as, “That’s just how it is,” or told that it’s not a problem with the hagwon, but rather with their teaching abilities.
  • Class structures and levels: Good hagwons have clear class structures and levels for students to advance through as they study and improve, and they do their best to place students correctly and stick to the system. Bad hagwons bend over backwards to cram in any new students they can get and randomly move students around between classes and levels to make room or satisfy complaints from controlling parents. Bad hagwons often end up with classes full of students on different skill levels with different textbooks (or no textbooks at all) because they wanted to make room for some new students in another class or because someone’s overcompetitive mom called and demanded that her kid move up a level.
  • Curriculum: Good hagwons have a curriculum to follow. They may use a curriculum they’ve developed themselves over the years, a series of textbooks, or a bit of both. However they choose to do things, they have a system in place and follow a logical progression of lessons and textbooks. Bad hagwons have no clear system, or, if they do have one, they don’t actually stick to it. With all the pandering and moving around, they end up with students who have multiple unfinished textbooks, the wrong textbooks for the class they are in, or no textbooks at all, creating quite a nightmare for teachers. Teachers in bad hagwons often have to teach off the cuff, change schedule with little or no prior notice, make copies of textbooks for kids who don’t have any, and spend hours creating their own tests and quizzes.
  • Facilities: Appearances are very important in Korea, so good and bad hagwons alike will do their best to look presentable to parents. Behind the scenes, however, bad hagwons’ facilities are often lacking. They may be missing simple things like a decent computer and printer for teachers to use, and the computer they do have will probably be old and slow and lack proper office software. In some cases, the entire business might be running on one cruddy old laptop! Chairs and tables may be severely worn out and falling apart. The hagwon likely won’t provide copies of textbooks for teachers to use in class. Bad hagwon owners either can’t afford to maintain their facilities, or, more likely, they simply don’t want to spend the money.
  • Pay: Pay will vary even among good hagwons, depending on things like location and what other benefits the hagwon offers. A good hagwon should typically offer somewhere around 3 to 5 million won per month. A hagwon in a smaller, cheaper city might offer a paycheck around the lower end of the spectrum, while a hagwon in a large, expensive city might offer a relatively high paycheck. Pay can also vary depending on whether or not the hagwon offers other benefits like housing and insurance. Always read the contract carefully when considering a hagwon, and, if something is not crystal clear, ask lots of questions until you know exactly what you’re getting into. Sneaky employers may describe a certain salary per year but neglect to mention anything about sick days and reserve the right to cut your pay by the hour if you miss work for any reason.
  • Teachers: Korean parents understandably want their kids to learn English from native speakers, so most of the teachers at a good English hagwon will be foreigners from places like the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and South Africa. Of course, hiring foreigners is more expensive than hiring locals, so bad hagwons may try to cut corners by rotating one or two foreign teachers through the classes while local Korean teachers fill in on the off days. It’s not bad or uncommon for a hagwon to hire some Korean teachers to help out, but if most classes are not primarily taught by foreign teachers, you might be dealing with a bad hagwon.

Hagwon and International School Combos

In your search for hagwon employment, you may come across international schools that also offer hagwon classes in the afternoon. Such institutions might be looking for someone who can teach at the international school during the school day and then teach hagwon classes in the afternoons. A setup like this may not be impossible, but such an “international school” is likely not legitimate. And even if it were a legitimate school, the number of teaching hours one person would have to put in per day is ridiculous.

If an institution claims to be an international school and a hagwon, they are likely only registered as a hagwon, not as an accredited school. In addition, the E-7 visa requirements to be a teacher at a real international school are different and more demanding than the E-2 visa requirements to be a conversational English teacher at a hagwon. If an institution is offering to hire you as an international school teacher on an E-2 visa, they’re either not an accredited school in Korea, or they’re into some shady business. Always do your research!

Hagwon Blacklists

Many people have taken it upon themselves to help out their fellow humans by sharing their hagwon horror stories online so the rest of us don’t have to suffer the same horrible fates. Unfortunately, online backlists are not nearly exhaustive, but they are still very helpful. If you’re considering a hagwon, look for their name on these popular hagwon blacklists to be safe:

Even if you don’t find a hagwon’s name on a blacklist, always do your own research and ask plenty of questions to make sure you don’t end up being the one to add them to a blacklist yourself!

If you’re still looking for more detailed information on a specific hagwon, you might also try looking for a social media group for foreigners living in the same city—Facebook pages for foreigners in Jeonju or Busan, for example. Ask around the group to see if other foreigners in the city have heard anything about the hagwon you’re considering. You might even find someone who’s worked there!

Teachers looking for work should also seriously consider getting hired through a recruiter, rather than shopping around alone and hoping they don’t get duped by a bad hagwon. Recruiters work for the benefit of foreign teachers to ensure that they are hired by legitimate schools offering appropriate pay and benefits.

Teaching English in Korea can be a fun and rewarding experience if you find a good school or hagwon to work for. Just be careful to avoid the shady characters looking to make a quick buck and ruin the experience!


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Powering Through Projects

We’ve all been in a situation where we had a lot of work to do and not enough energy to do it. Whether it’s college papers or projects at work, sometimes you just have to trudge on through and get things done for a deadline even if it kills you. Here are a few quick tips and ideas to maintain your energy levels and power through those projects like a champ.

Stay hydrated

This is a fairly obvious tip and one that a lot of gurus are already promoting, so I won’t stay on this one for long. Sometimes all you need is a glass of water to get rehydrated, and you’ll feel much more awake. If you often get too busy and forget to have a few glasses of water throughout the day, set a reminder on your phone or smartwatch to keep yourself hydrated.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

Being mindful of your circadian rhythm can make a big difference in how you feel throughout the entire day. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and try to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Make bed time non-negotiable, and do whatever you have to do to make yourself get up in the morning. If you have a hard time getting out of bed on time, Jocko Willink has some brilliant ideas for making yourself get up.

Sleep is a very deep topic to study, and everyone is unique. At the end of the day though, we all need enough sleep to stay healthy and function at our best. If you’re interested in digging deeper into the importance of sleep, I recommend the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD.

Make bed time non-negotiable, and do whatever you have to do to make yourself get up in the morning.

Eat something

If you’re the type to get intensely focused on your work, you might tend to skip meals. As tempting as it might be, don’t skip breakfast in the morning or cut corners by eating junk food like Pop-tarts or donuts. Sugary foods will only give you a temporary boost that will be gone as quick as it came. Eat healthy, and eat regularly to maintain your energy levels throughout the day.

Don’t eat anything

This point might sound like the exact opposite of what I just mentioned, but hear me out. You can still eat, but it might be a good idea to put off your meals or rearrange your schedule. We all know that feeling of lethargy and sleepiness after a big meal. The digestive process can sap a lot of energy and leave you feeling lethargic for a while, especially if you eat something heavy and unhealthy. Eat light, healthy meals that are easy to digest to avoid feeling bloated and sleepy.

If you’re already eating healthy but still feeling sleepy after your meals, consider changing up your schedule so that your meal times don’t come before or in the middle of working hours. Some people even find intermittent fasting routines helpful for avoiding eating during work hours.

And of course (as common sense hopefully tells you already) you should always consult your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet.

A change of scenery

It can be hard to stay focused in certain environments. If you’re working at home, you might be distracted by all the chores you need to get done around the house or all the mediums of entertainment at your disposal. If you’re at your work office, your coworkers might keep stepping in for small talk. Whatever distractions you face, sometimes the best way to make yourself get something done is just to do your work somewhere else where you don’t have anything else competing for your attention. Work in a place that is dedicated to productivity, such as a library or study center. Go to a café where you have nothing else to do and no friends around to talk to. Everyone has different preferences and pet peeves, so find a place that works for you and makes it easy to stay focused on the work at hand.

Get some sunlight

Sunlight plays a significant role in our sleep cycle. It’s one of the cues that helps our bodies know when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to start winding down for the day. Wake yourself up by getting some direct exposure to sunlight in the morning. If you can, do your work outside or next to an open window to allow for direct sunlight exposure. Even a quick fifteen-minute walk during lunch break can help you feel much more awake and energized after being cooped up inside all morning.

Exercise

Regular exercise can be beneficial for lots of reasons. If you have a hard time falling asleep at night, going to the gym might help exhaust you enough to fall asleep at a decent hour. If you feel groggy in the morning, an early workout can get your blood pumping and help you feel alert and energized.

In addition to your regular exercise routine, some brief physical activity when you’re feeling sleepy or lethargic during the day can help clear your head and get you reenergized. A short walk outside might help you brush off that afternoon grogginess at work. And if you’re really getting sleepy, an intense set or two of burpees or jumping jacks will wake you right up. You’ll almost never be so tired that some burpees can’t wake you up!

You’ll almost never be so tired that some burpees can’t wake you up!

Take a nap

If your schedule and environment allow, a quick power nap can give you a great energy boost to get through the rest of your day. A nap cannot replace a proper sleep schedule, but it can be a great compliment to one, or at least help you power through a temporary lack of sleep for a big project. For more information on the art of napping, I recommend this article from The Art of Manliness.

Use coffee for a temporary boost

As you may have read in this previous post about coffee, caffeine is usually not a great idea. However, it might be useful as a temporary boost in particularly demanding circumstances. If you’re going all out for a few days to finish a big project or burning the midnight oil to meet a deadline, caffeine might be useful to keep yourself going for those last few hours before you inevitably crash. Used in conjunction with a power nap, caffeine can be used for a strong temporary energy boost. Simply chug a cup of coffee and immediately crash for a brief power nap. When you wake up in twenty minutes or so, you will not only be reenergized from the nap, but the caffeine should also be kicking in for an extra boost. Caffeine is not a good long-term solution, but it can be very effective when used strategically.

Try the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo. It is designed to help you get work done in short stages or bursts of productivity followed by short periods of rest. To use the Pomodoro Technique, set a timer for twenty-five minutes. During those twenty-five minutes, get as much work done as you possibly can. When the twenty-five minutes of work is over, you get five minutes to rest and do whatever you want. After five minutes of rest, set the timer for another twenty-five minutes of work, and repeat the process as necessary. Every four cycles you’re free to take a longer fifteen- to thirty-minute break.

You might find setting a short timer and knowing that there is an end in sight very motivating. Or you might find that you just needed the timer to get yourself started and find a break completely unnecessary once you get the ball rolling. Experiment with different lengths of time to find a cycle that helps you get the most done.

Conclusion

You probably noticed that a lot of maintaining energy levels comes down to being healthy and consistent in day-to-day life. Eating healthy, sleeping on time, and exercising regularly are important to just about every aspect of life. However, there are times when even the healthiest among us have to rely on a few life hacks to power through projects in trying circumstances. Stay healthy and hack wisely!

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A Great App for Memorizing Vocabulary: Anki

If you’re one of the many people trying to learn a new language, you know how difficult it is to remember a bunch of vocabulary words. There are tons of different apps and methods out there for learning new vocabulary, but the most useful and practical memorization tool I’ve ever used is Anki.

What is Anki?

Anki is a powerful flashcard app designed to help you memorize just about anything. It can be used to make flashcards for learning a language, memorizing terms for a science test, or remembering mathematical formulae. Anki is packed with features and options that can be optimized to fit any preference or study schedule.

There are tons of different apps and methods out there for learning new vocabulary, but the most useful and practical memorization tool I’ve ever used is Anki.

One of Anki’s best features is that it can be synchronized across devices. With apps available for any computer or mobile device, you can start studying flash cards on your computer at home and pick up right where you left off any time you have a few spare minutes throughout the day with your phone. This article is not meant to be a full walkthrough of Anki’s capabilities, but you can visit Anki’s website to read about more details and amazing features.

How Anki Works

Anki is designed to help you memorize terms by spaced repetition. Each time Anki shows you a flashcard, it asks you how difficult it was. The easier the card was to remember, the longer Anki will wait to show you the card again in the future. The more difficult the card was to remember, the sooner Anki will bring it up for review again.

the Anki flashcard difficulty scale
The easier a card is to remember, the longer Anki will wait to review it again. The more difficult a card is to remember, the sooner Anki will review it again.

You can change Anki’s settings to review cards more or less often if you like, but the default settings have always worked great in my experience. If you forget a term, you can always tell Anki to review it again when it asks how difficult it was. You can always count on Anki to review each card again eventually, so you don’t have to worry about scheduling reviews or forgetting terms that you learned in the past.

But I already use Quizlet!

Already made a bunch of flashcards on Quizlet? Quizlet is great too, but it doesn’t have all the options and features that Anki has. If you want to switch from Quizlet to Anki or use your flashcards on both, you can easily move flashcards to Anki without making them all over again. Simply export flashcard decks from Quizlet and import them to a new Anki deck!

Exporting a deck from Quizlet and importing the file to Anki.
Export flashcards from Quizlet (left), and import them to make a new deck in Anki (right).

How I Use Quizlet for Vocabulary

I like to keep things simple, so I put all of my vocabulary flashcards in one big deck for each language. As I study and come across new words and phrases that I want to remember, I add them to the deck. Since Anki reviews cards by spaced repetition, not by topic or deck, it doesn’t matter if you have one deck or twenty. All the cards that need to be reviewed each day are due on that day, no matter what deck they are in or how you prefer to categorize them.

A tactic I employ to ensure thorough memorization of vocabulary is creating two versions of each card. For example, when I add flashcards to my Korean deck, I create an English-Korean card and a Korean-English card. Sometimes I can easily remember the English translation of a Korean word, but I struggle to remember the Korean translation of an English word. By creating two versions of each flashcard, I ensure that I can more easily bring to mind each word that I learn in either language.

Since both versions of each flashcard are already in the same big deck, Anki will review each word both ways each time it comes up. However, if you wish to keep both versions of a card together in a deck, you must create them back-to-back and use the default “Show new cards in order added” option rather than the “Show new cards in random order” option. Otherwise, the two cards will be randomly shuffled into the deck and will likely end up being reviewed separately days or weeks apart from each other. Don’t forget to sync your account when you add new cards or finish a study session!

Finally, try not to skip a review day with Anki. If you have a few small decks, catching up the next day might be easy, but when you have multiple decks and hundreds or thousands of flashcards, missing a day can really cause things to pile up! If you find that you have too many flashcards to review in one day, you can change the “Maximum reviews/day” setting in the “Reviews” tab of the options menu.

Download Anki


As you’ll see for yourself, Anki is a powerful app with tons of great options and features. There is so much more that could be said about Anki, but exploring all of its options and features would take us far beyond the scope of this post. I hope you’ll find Anki as helpful as I have on your own educational journey. Do you use Anki or any other study apps? Share your own tips and tricks in the comments!

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a stack of old books

The Real Shortcut to Learning

At some point most of us find ourselves needing or wanting to learn another language. Thankfully, we live in a world with a surplus of available information. There are countless free and paid learning resources available. We have apps, books, online courses, and everything in between that promise to teach us just about any language we could possibly want to learn. And all of these learning methods promise to teach us more effectively than all the others. Language courses claim to have the latest and greatest instructional methods that guarantee the fastest and easiest way to become fluent.

Sadly, as we can often instinctively tell, most claims of fast and easy fluency are exaggerations at best and sometimes flat-out lies. Many of us are all too familiar with the falsehood of such claims. We’ve signed up for a subscription for some app that promised us the easiest way to fluency or bought a phrasebook that promised to teach all the essential vocabulary we’d need to speak like a native and found out the hard way that such short cuts don’t work. We’ve seen the advertisements and infomercials about language courses that immerse us in a new language so that we can have fun learning naturally without having to study grammar or memorize vocabulary and ended up bored or frustrated.

If you’ve looked into learning a new language, or really anything else, you’ve probably noticed the trend learning systems are following. They’re promising that learning will be easy and fun. We’ve been indoctrinated with the fallacious idea that education is supposed to be entertaining since we were toddlers watching Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer, and developers are using the false doctrine of “edutainment” to make a profit. This doctrine is so pervasive that many of even the most conservative and traditional educators promote the idea that learning should be as fun as they can make it.

Replacing real education with cleverly disguised entertainment breeds ignorance and frustration. Having all grown up under the delusion that we need to be constantly entertained, we’ve shortened our attention spans and weakened our ability to sit still and pay attention to something that is not meant to be entertaining. We are shocked at the idea that people living before the subtle takeover of entertainment culture could willingly sit and listen to speeches, lectures, and sermons for hours at a time and read books for pleasure. Now it’s hard enough to find an adult, let alone a child, who could sit alone in a room with his own thoughts for an hour or two without desperately craving some kind of entertainment or media to consume.

Having all grown up under the delusion that we need to be constantly entertained, we’ve shortened our attention spans and weakened our ability to sit still and pay attention to something that is not meant to be entertaining.

In addition to making everything entertaining, language educators are also claiming that they can make learning easy, especially by eliminating the study of grammar. Grammar is often presented as some terrible monster of a subject that no one in their right mind would approach. Many people growing up in the public school system don’t even learn much grammar anymore, if they learn any at all. When people are ignorant and fearful of the grammar of their own language, mastering the grammar of a foreign language seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Language instructors then design apps and curriculums that attempt to teach languages with as few technical grammar points as possible.

When people are ignorant and fearful of the grammar of their own language, mastering the grammar of a foreign language seems like an insurmountable obstacle.

Language learning techniques that claim to be easy and entertaining sound great. Everyone wants to achieve maximum results with minimal effort, so most popular language learning tools strive to provide easy and entertaining courses without dry or difficult material like grammar. Entertainment sells. When consumers get bored with an app, they end their subscription and uninstall it. When learning a language gets dry and difficult, we often become frustrated and discouraged. We lose our steam and want to quit and find something better. And without the motivation of a serious financial investment in a real language class and a report card to keep us committed to our studies, it’s all too easy to cut our loss of a few dollars and move on to something else. In the end, we don’t end up learning much of anything.

We could blame the developers of “easy” and “fun” language learning systems for making exaggerated and inaccurate claims about their grossly inadequate curriculums, but the truth is that they only produce the products that consumers want. They’re only making what sells. The reason educators are producing lazy curriculums is that we the consumers are lazy. Businesses sell what consumers want, and what consumers want is to be entertained. We have lost the discipline and mental fortitude required to make real progress.

Businesses sell what consumers want, and what consumers want is to be entertained.

Most of us would readily admit that great thinkers and leaders of the past were much more intelligent than we are today. We wouldn’t dare compare ourselves to historical figures like Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Sun Tzu, or Alexander Hamilton. But did any of these men become highly intelligent and successful by learning through entertainment? Absolutely not. Benjamin Franklin did not learn French by subscribing to an app. Napoleon did not become a great strategist with brain teasers and puzzles. King Solomon did not become wise by watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. Great thinkers of the past learned by putting in significant effort. They studied. They wrote. They practiced. They memorized. They read all the books they could get their hands on. They weren’t expecting to be entertained. They realized the importance and necessity of applying themselves and working hard even when something was not easy or entertaining.

At some point, studying will get difficult and boring. We’ll have to struggle with difficult words and grammatical concepts from time to time. That’s how we learn. We can’t master a new subject if we’re just looking for novelty all the time. As entertaining as the “fun” teachers are, they might not always be the best for us if they don’t also make us work. The teachers I would have claimed as favorites in school were the ones who were funny and entertaining. I remember them well, and I even remember some of their funny stories, but I don’t remember much of what they taught in their classes. However, I do remember lots of boring things like grammar, multiplication tables, and spelling rules that my strict teachers forced me to memorize day in and day out. I didn’t have fun in their classes, and I hated all the homework. But all the hard work and memorization forced me to learn things that are nearly impossible to forget now.

The real shortcut to learning is to stop looking for shortcuts. Stop demanding constant novelty and entertainment. We master subjects by wrestling with new ideas and concepts, making mistakes, and building on the foundations of what we’ve learned before. To make real progress, we have to stop demanding that everything be fun and easy and develop the discipline and mental fortitude necessary to truly succeed.

The real shortcut to learning is to stop looking for shortcuts. Stop demanding constant novelty and entertainment.

The modern mind is like a spoiled child demanding constant entertainment. We need to stop spoiling our brains, stop trying to work around their childish cravings for novelty, and start disciplining them. There is truth to the saying that the mind is a muscle. Like our other muscles, the mind will grow through strenuous activity. Just as we gain strength and muscle mass by challenging our physical limits, so too will we gain mental strength by challenging our intellectual limits. We need to stop looking for shortcuts and falling for sales gimmicks telling us what we want to hear and start disciplining ourselves to work hard toward meaningful progress.

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a smartphone next to an open notebook

How Texting Affects Literacy and Grammar

With all the technological advancements in the last few decades, texting has become a commonplace form of communication. The brief nature of texting has popularized an abbreviated communication register referred to as “textese.” Due to the informal nature of textese and its blatant disregard for basic grammar and spelling rules, many people may assume that the use of textese damages skills like spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and literacy. However, research on the effects of texting shows some surprisingly positive results. Texting is not always detrimental to literacy and grammar and is actually beneficial in many ways.

Studies largely indicate that texting has positive effects with few or no negative effects on literacy and grammar among children and adults. M.A. Drouin points out that “studies in both the United States and Britain have shown that there are no significant, negative relationships between the use of textese and standard measures of literacy,” and that those studies actually indicate positive effects among children and little effect on young adults.[1] With so many variables in regard to people and their environments, it is difficult to determine consistent trends and effects of texting, especially with adults, which makes it even more difficult to associate poor literacy with texting in any meaningful way.

It is likely that an adult’s comprehension of literacy and grammar systems is determined more by his competency than by his use of language. Competent adults are able to differentiate between the registers of textese and standard English and know the appropriate times and places to use each register. Drouin says, “It does not appear that textese just seeps out into writing everywhere and in equal amounts; instead, the average person uses textese thoughtfully, and more often within the contexts deemed ‘appropriate.’”[2] People are not usually oblivious when using textese. They seem to make the deliberate choice to use it or not. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron also pick up on this idea in their own research: “Our results suggest that the impact of ‘lazy’ language use when texting may have been overstated. Our findings reinforce the need to differentiate between the deliberate violation of grammatical or orthographic convention and a genuine lack of understanding.”[3] When a person uses textese, he is likely doing so consciously. The use of textese does not necessarily mean that people are becoming completely ignorant of the proper rules of grammar and syntax in standard English. People are aware of two distinct forms of communication, even if they do not always choose the best one.

Even in the case of a truly oblivious or grammatically incompetent individual, textese could still prove useful. De Jonge and Kemp assert that “if less competent language users are drawn to the creativity and flexibility of textese in a way that improves their language skills through exposure to written language (as has been suggested with younger children), then mobile phones could prove useful in educational settings.”[4] As with children, textese could prove beneficial even to young adults, if it serves to expose them to written language and encourages them to experiment and manipulate it in different contexts. Of course, texting is not preferable or comparable to real language education, but something is better than nothing. Texting has the potential to be beneficial to people at various levels of linguistic competency.

In addition to competency, Wood, Kemp, and Waldron point out that things like the state of the person texting and even the texting device he is using also make a difference. Factors such as time constraints, emotional states, and the intended recipient of a message can all affect how a person texts, as “the use of kisses, emoticons, and multiple punctuation marks might have more to do with one’s tendency to feel or to display emotion and affection, than with one’s grammatical or orthographic prowess.”[5] Different situations call for different levels of correctness and formality; the use or neglect of standard grammar and punctuation in a situation that does not require their strict application does not necessarily indicate any detrimental effects of texting on an individual. Wood and associates also indicate that “the inclusion or omission of conventional punctuation and capitalization might be determined more by the sophistication of self-correcting phone technology than by the skill of the writer.”[6] Even the notorious “auto-correct” functions account for some of the apparent lack of literacy and grammatical skill associated with texting.

Texting is not necessarily as detrimental as people often assume, and it can actually be quite beneficial, particularly to children. Research shows that children who text frequently tend to be better readers. Deacon and Whitzman point out that the more proficient a child is at texting, the more proficient he is at spelling and reading standard English and believe “it seems unlikely that texting, on its own, impairs children’s development of the vital reading and writing skills that they need in the classroom.”[7] Studies indicate that texting does not have negative effects on children’s literacy and rather show the opposite. Van Dijk and associates assert that in most studies “children’s use of textese and their spelling and literacy abilities were found to be positively related.”[8] Drouin and Driver agree that textisms are positively related to children’s literacy.[9] Wood, Kemp, and Waldron also observe that school children “who used more ungrammatical word forms and more unconventional orthographic forms showed better . . . spelling and growth in orthographic processing.”[10] Research indicates that the more children use textese, the more their literacy improves.

There are several possible reasons for the positive effects of textese on children. One common idea is that texting is fun because it allows children the freedom to play and experiment with language without regard for spelling and punctuation rules. If children enjoy the fun of texting and using language in this way, they are more likely to enjoy and appreciate other literacy-based endeavors as well, further increasing their interest in the use of language. Van Dijk and associates suggest that texting exposes children to more text and also increases their “phonological and phonetic awareness” to improve their reading skills, suggesting that simple exposure to text itself, whether typing it or reading it, provides practice of sorts and increases children’s awareness and mastery of reading and using text.[11] Wood, Kemp, and Waldron echo this idea as they discuss the phonetic nature of many textisms: “Their use contributes to phonological awareness and phonological processing, which in turn contribute to spelling development.”[12] Simply gaining more exposure to language and putting it to use in different ways contributes to children’s linguistic development.

Van Dijk and associates also suggest that texting generally increases children’s awareness of different registers and the appropriate times and places to use each register.[13] Texting may help children to understand that there are different registers of speech and writing and to differentiate between those registers as they learn where and when each register is appropriate. Children who frequently use textese may develop advantages similar to those of bilingual children. It is possible that switching between the registers of textese and standard English may exercise similar mental functions to switching between languages. Van Dijk and associates point out that being bilingual strengthens one’s abilities to suppress certain information while making use of information relevant to a given situation, even a non-linguistic situation.[14] A similar process for choosing between registers of speech and writing could offer the same benefits.

Texting has been found to have positive effects not only on children’s literacy but also on their grammar. Much like the effects of texting on basic literacy functions, its effects on grammar are largely positive. Van Dijk and associates found that “the more words children omitted in their text messages, the better their grammar performance,” suggesting that the omission of words in textese may train children’s grammar systems and improve grammatical performance in their speech.[15] Similar to the way exposure to texting and manipulation of language improves phonological awareness, experimentation with omitting words enhances grammatical performance. Van Dijk and associates further explain that “by using textese, . . . children apply rules of grammar and do so in a context-sensitive manner.”[16] When children regularly analyze sentences and make decisions about which words to drop in ever-changing contexts over text, they are essentially doing grammar exercises without even realizing it. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron’s studies agree that texting has no detrimental effects on grammar and found that grammatical violations in texting do not appear to be linked to loss of grammar skills.[17] Texting has no significant detrimental effects on grammar, but rather improves understanding of grammar.

Writing is an art form, and as with any art, one must understand the rules before he can break them. Combined with an understanding of the rules of standard English grammar, textese can help deepen a student’s understanding of grammar as he picks grammatical constructions apart and uses them in different ways and contexts. The manipulation of language to write in textese actually exercises grammar systems and improves understanding of grammar. As long as the correct rules are learned, remembered, and applied when appropriate, breaking them through textese offers only benefits.

Studies indicate that texting is likely beneficial to literacy and grammar skills. Texting is especially beneficial to children and likely harmless if not beneficial to adults as well. Texting exposes children to text in new ways and contexts and serves as a mental exercise to sharpen their understanding of grammar. Texting may break a lot of rules, but, so long as the distinction between registers is understood and each register is used appropriately, there is likely no need to worry about texting destroying our language skills.


Looking for a good grammar book? Grammarai Warrior recommends Farlex International’s Complete English Grammar Rules. This book is a thorough, affordable, and easy-to-use reference book that is perfect for any serious student of English grammar.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

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[1]. M.A. Drouin, “College Students’ Text Messaging, Use of Textese and Literacy Skills,” Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 27, no. 1 (February 2011): 69, accessed April 5, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[2]. Drouin, “College Students’ Text-messaging,” 72.

[3].Clare Wood, Nenagh Kemp, and Sam Waldron, “Exploring the Longitudinal Relationships Between the Use of Grammar in Text Messaging and Performance on Grammatical Tasks,” British Journal of Developmental Psychology 32, no. 4 (November 2014): 427, accessed April 5, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[4]. Sarah De Jonge and Nenagh Kemp. “Text-message Abbreviations and Language Skills in High School and University Students,” Journal of Research In Reading 35, no. 1 (February 2012): 65, accessed April 5, 2017,  Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[5]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 427.

[6]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 427.

[7]. Helene Deacon and Sara Whitzman, “Does Texting Lead to Poor Literacy Skills?,” Literacy Today no. 67 (December 2011): 15, accessed March 29, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[8]. Chantal N. van Dijk et al., “The Influence of Texting Language on Grammar and Executive Functions in Primary School Children,” Plos ONE 11, no. 3 (March 31, 2016): 2, accessed April 5, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[9]. Michelle Drouin and Brent Driver, “Texting, Textese, and Literacy Abilities: A Naturalistic Study.” Journal of Research In Reading 37, no. 3 (August 2014): 264, accessed March 28, 2017, Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost.

[10]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 427.

[11]. Van Dijk et al., “The Influence of Texting Language,” 3.

[12]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 425.

[13]. Van Dijk et al., “The Influence of Texting Language,” 3.

[14]. Ibid., 4-5.

[15]. Ibid., 16.

[16]. Ibid., 17.

[17]. Wood, Kemp, and Waldron, “Relationships Between Grammar and Texting,” 427.

Korean signs lighting up a dark street

Useful Apps for Living Abroad in Korea

There are a lot of apps we use to make our day to day lives a little easier. From shopping and eating out to navigating and catching a ride, we rely on apps to do quite a bit these days, and if you’re going to a foreign country, you might need some different apps in your arsenal to keep doing all these familiar things while you’re away from home. Here’s a list of a few apps that I frequently found helpful during my time teaching in Korea.

Keyboard

The reason I mention keyboard apps first is that you’ll find life much easier if you are able to type in Korean on your phone. You don’t need to be fluent in Korean to get by for a while in Korea, but you’ll need to at least be able to read and write the Korean alphabet to make good use of some of the other apps on this list. That means you’ll probably have to spend a little time studying Korean, but being able to read and write in Korean will make things go much more smoothly, whether you’re just taking a quick trip or living in Korea for an extended period of time. Don’t worry though, you can learn to read the Korean alphabet, called Hangeul, easily in about an hour or two. To learn Hangeul quickly, I recommend GO! Billy’s 90-minute YouTube series, and if you’re really excited about learning Korean I recommend TalkToMeInKorean‘s online lessons and textbooks.

Most smart phones these days offer options for typing in multiple languages in the settings already. However, if your phone doesn’t have the option to use multiple languages, you might consider installing a keyboard app like Gboard instead.

Translation Apps

If you don’t speak Korean, you’ll definitely want to keep some translation apps handy. I recommend being comfortable with more than one translation app if you plan on spending a significant amount of time in Korea. Sometimes one app might just be inaccurate or not be able to find the particular word or phrase you need, and sometimes you might need to translate offline. For a quick trip you might get by with one basic translation app, but to handle all the different circumstances you might find yourself in during an extended stay in Korea, it is best to have more than one app at your disposal. Here are the apps I recommend.

Naver Papago

Perhaps the most useful translation on this list is NAVER’s Papago. Papago is a fantastic app for quick translation on the fly. You can easily switch between several languages, and you have plenty of different input options. You can type in either language using the keyboard, use voice input, and even use a conversation mode similar to the one Google Translate offers. One of Papago’s best features is its camera input method. It allows you to take a picture or screenshot of the text you want to translate, pan around and zoom in on the image, and highlight the specific text you want to translate. Papago saves your translation history and allows you to star your favorites and frequently used words and phrases. Another fantastic feature about the app is its built-in phrasebook for everyday topics, travel and tourism necessities, and emergencies. Papago is a must-have in Korea, and it’s my go-to translation app for everyday use.

Google Translate

I know your Spanish teacher in high school told you that you can’t trust Google Translate because it’s just not accurate. Mine did too, and our teachers were right. Google Translate is not entirely reliable, but it has come a long way over the years. Many common phrases and individual words are perfectly accurate.

Google Translate has some handy features that make it a versatile app. It’s easy to input text in either language with various input methods and has a handwriting feature you can use even if your keyboard app doesn’t already have the option. You can also use your camera to translate text as you look at it. Google Translate also has voice input and a conversation mode that allows two speakers to converse back and forth in their own languages. Another great thing about Google Translate is that many languages are available to download for offline use, making this app indispensable when you don’t have cellular data or Wi-Fi. Google Translate also makes it easy to save frequently used words and phrases in a phrasebook.

Kakao Talk

Just like you probably rely on a favorite texting app at home, in Korea a lot of people rely on Kakao Talk. Kakao is another big name on the web in Korea. They offer many web services including Kakao Talk, navigation apps, games, and even a social platform called Kakao Story. If you have even one Korean friend or colleague you need to stay in touch with, they’ll probably ask if you have Kakao Talk, or “Katok,” as most people call it for short. Kakao Talk is a pretty straightforward messaging app, which is what you will really need it for. It offers free texting, phone calls, and video calls with all the standard features that other similar apps offer. It has deeper features and functions and connects to other Kakao apps and services as well. Kakao Talk is a convenient and versatile messaging app, and you’ll probably need to get familiar with it if you plan on staying in Korea for long.

Air Quality Apps

An unfortunate dilemma that comes with staying in Korea is the need to be wary of air quality. Korea has a bit of a pollution problem. Some of the pollution in the air comes from within Korea, and some of it blows over from China. The severity of the pollution varies with the weather and time of year. When the air quality is poor, you should wear a mask outside, even if you don’t plan on being out for long. Breathing the pollution can give you a sore throat, bother your sinuses, and make you sick.

Some weather apps like AccuWeather include an air quality index with the other weather information, but they may not be as accurate or reliable as dedicated air quality apps like AirVisual or MiseMise.

Navigation Apps

At home in the States, a lot of us are used to using popular navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze, but sadly those won’t work so well in Korea. Google Maps might be better than nothing in a pinch, but in Korea it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Here are a couple alternative navigation apps you might find useful for getting around in Korea.

KakaoMap

Kakao comes in handy once again. KakaoMap seems to be the most reliable map app in Korea. It works pretty much the same as apps like Google Maps. You can even use it in English, but you’ll find better search results for some destinations if you’re able to type their names in Korean. Just like Google Maps, you can search for the best routes by car, bus, bike, or on foot; save favorites; and choose to see the map in several different modes.

Kakao Navi

Kako Navi is a GPS app similar to Android Auto or Waze. It displays detailed information about traffic congestion and the locations of speed monitoring zones and CCTV cameras for traffic law enforcement.

MAPS.ME

MAPS.ME is particularly useful for its offline features. This app also works similarly to Google Maps, but allows you to download maps for offline use, even in places where Google Maps might not let you. It allows you to save area maps, locations, and routes for offline use, which can be a lifesaver when traveling somewhere without data or Wi-Fi.

Public Transportation Apps

In addition to their great navigation apps, Kakao also offers a suite of public transportation apps. For finding a taxi, Kakao offers Kakao T, which allows you to request a taxi to pick you up at your location. If you’re looking to take a bus, there’s KakaoBus. This app offers bus stop information for many cities in Korea and can notify you of bus arrivals and departures. Finally, if you need to take the subway, you might want to try KakaoMetro for checking subway maps and information and finding the right train and exit. Your mileage may vary with some of these apps depending on where you are in Korea, as some apps and services might not work well in small cities or rural areas.

Travel Apps

Now that we’ve covered getting around within Korea, let’s mention a few things about traveling internationally from Korea. Incheon International Airport is a big hub for international travel, and it’s surprisingly affordable to travel to a lot of other countries from Korea. If you’re staying in Korea for an extended period of time, it’s likely that you’ll want to travel for a vacation or a long weekend. If you plan on traveling during holidays, especially big Korean holidays like Chuseok, you’ll want to plan as far ahead as possible. Everybody in Korea has the same grand idea of taking a nice international vacation on their long weekends and holidays, so tickets can get expensive if you don’t plan and buy tickets well in advance.

Jeju Air

Jeju Air is a budget airline that offers affordable flights to many major international destinations. It’s a popular airline in Korea, because it’s cheap and offers some great deals, especially if you book well in advance. They also have a rewards system, so if you plan on being in Korea for a while and using Jeju frequently, it’s probably worth creating an account. Jeju flights are not always for sale on the usual big travel websites, so be sure to check Jeju directly.

T’way Air

T’way Air is another budget airline based in Korea. I haven’t used this one myself, but depending where you want to go, it’s another cheap alternative to consider when booking your trip.

Kiwi.com

Kiwi.com is a travel site for booking cheap flights and hotels. They offer some good deals that you might not find on more well-known sites, and they even list Jeju and T’way flights.

Apps for Learning Korean

Whether you’re going to be staying in Korea for a while or you just really love the language and culture, you might be looking for some apps to help you learn Korean. Like I mentioned previously in this article, if you’re serious about learning Korean, I’d recommend TalkToMeInKorean.com. They offer free audio lessons, and they sell a great collection of textbooks and workbooks for serious students. No app out there can really get you to a true mastery of a language, but there are a few that can supplement your learning along the way.

AnkiDroid

Anki is a flashcard-based study app you can use to memorize just about anything. You can download flashcard sets made by others or create your own. Anki will then show you some new cards each day and use spaced repetition to review old cards. Anytime you come across a new word or phrase, add it to your deck of flashcards, and Anki will do the rest! You can read more about Anki in this post, too!

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone won’t make you fluent, but it can give you a good start. It’s available on mobile devices and in a web browser if you prefer to use it on a computer. Rosetta Stone takes the immersion approach to learning a language, attempting to simulate the way we naturally learn our native language as we are exposed to it. It’s speech engine also helps you improve pronunciation. Rosetta Stone is a good place to get started, but it will not help you fully understand things like reading, writing, and grammar, and it will not prepare you very well for natural, real world conversations all on its own. If you decide to subscribe to Rosetta Stone, I recommend you check prices on their website and in the mobile app before you pay. The pricing within the mobile app has previously been significantly lower than the pricing offered on the Rosetta Stone website, and subscribing from either the app or the website grants you full access to both platforms.

Innovative Language

Innovative Language offers courses for a lot of languages. The website for their Korean courses is KoreanClass101.com, where you can listen to their podcasts and access many other useful learning tools, some for free and others requiring a subscription. Innovative Language often offers big sales and discounts on apps and books available on their store page as well, especially for new subscribers. Much of the content you can find in Innovative Language podcasts and apps is also available for free on their YouTube channels.

HelloTalk

HelloTalk is a language exchange app. It allows you to chat with native speakers of your target language who wish to learn your native language. You can message each other for free and easily translate texts and correct mistakes to help each other improve. The app also offers free voice and video calls to practice speaking and interacting with native speakers. There are some paid features available, but the free version should be more than adequate for most users.

Duolingo

Duolingo is primarily useful for memorizing key words and phrases from the app or your favorite browser. It makes memorizing vocabulary somewhat entertaining and gives you a little sense of progress to keep you motivated. However, it can get a bit tedious and will not help you much with speaking or grammar, although it is still improving over time.

Quizlet

Quizlet is a good flashcard tool, and it offers several methods for learning and memorizing vocabulary cards in engaging ways. You can make your own flashcard sets, or you can study sets that others have already made. Quizlet is available for free on mobile devices or in your web browser.


I hope you found this discussion helpful and thought-provoking. If you’ve found some other apps useful in Korea, or you think I missed something that should be on this list, please feel free to share! If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing and following the Grammarai Warrior Facebook page for updates.

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inside a colorful Korean pagoda

Ten Awesome Things About Living in Korea

It’s easy to get in a comfortable routine at home. We get used to doing everyday things in certain ways, paying seemingly normal amounts of money for expenses, and putting up with some inconveniences that we assume are totally normal pretty much anywhere. Sometimes we don’t realize that the everyday things we take for granted might be a little bit different or even a whole lot better in other parts of the world. Here are a few awesome things I enjoyed about living in Korea.

Cleanliness

In the States we almost expect certain cities to be fairly dirty, and we don’t really think much of it. If you live in a rural area, you might be a little surprised by how dirty a place like New York City can be, but for the most part, we’re all pretty used to some level of filth on the streets. After getting accustomed to U.S. cities, I was pleasantly surprised to see how clean Korea was. Even taxis in Korea are clean, and they don’t even smell like cigarettes inside! Sure, it’s not spotless, and not quite as pristine as somewhere like Japan, but Korea’s cleanliness is impressive and much appreciated.

Korea’s cleanliness and orderliness are not only limited to tourist destinations like Seoul and Busan either. Even in relatively small cities, people are committed to keeping their hometown clean. City workers help keep the streets and sidewalks clean and well-swept, and there are even programs in place to keep senior citizens active and involved by organizing meetings to pick up trash, pull weeds, and sweep sidewalks and parks. After a lengthy stay in the cleanliness of Korea, your home city might seem surprisingly unsanitary when you get back!

Public Transportation

Besides actually being clean and not making you feel like you’re going to get lung cancer from breathing the air inside, taxis and buses in Korea are plentiful and affordable. Taxis are everywhere and can even be easily requested by an app on your phone. Buses and trains make traveling around your city or between cities affordable and easy. Even a somewhat more expensive and comfortable bus line is surprisingly cheap. Taxis are also very cheap compared to prices you might be used to. Korea’s infrastructure and well-organized public transportation systems make it quick, convenient, and affordable to get just about anywhere.

Travel Opportunities

Besides convenient domestic travel, living in Korea also comes with some great opportunities for international travel. Incheon International Airport is a major hub for international travel. Living in the States, traveling all the way to Europe or Asia is dauntingly expensive and often seems out of reach for many of us, but once you’re over there, international travel can be surprisingly affordable. Plus, budget airlines in Korea such as Jeju Air and T’way Air make travel to many popular destinations even cheaper. Living in Korea makes it easy to go on awesome and affordable international trips during your time off whether it’s just a long weekend or a full summer break.

No Tipping

You might be used to handing over an additional ten- to twenty-percent at restaurants or leaving a few bills on the table at hotels, but you don’t have to in Korea. Wait staff in Korea are expected to do a good job simply because it’s their job. Wait staff are even expected to do a bit more in Korea. Korean customers often call a waiter or waitress from across the dining room whenever they need something rather than waiting until the next time one comes to check on their table, and staff are fully expected to respond promptly and politely. Korean wait staff do not demand or even expect a tip for simply doing what they are already supposed to be doing. In fact, they might even be offended by tipping and think you are being arrogant. Coming from a culture where tipping is demanded even for poor service, this sense of responsibility for doing one’s own job without expecting extra payment can be very refreshing—for you and your wallet.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi in Korea is fast and affordable. There are a few big providers for Wi-Fi, cable TV, and cell phone service, and they usually offer all three in a bundle for a surprisingly reasonable price on one easy bill. And when you’re not at home, there are cafes and restaurants everywhere, so you can easily find Wi-Fi on the run. Some places offer free public Wi-Fi, while at others you might have to ask for the password or buy something first, but either way, Wi-Fi is always readily available, reliable, and affordable.

Convenience

As several topics discussed so far have not-so-subtly hinted at, convenience is a big deal in Korea. People in Korea are often in a hurry and expect prompt professional service for just about everything. A lot of locals will openly admit that Koreans are not very patient people because they are so used to the countless conveniences in modern Korean culture.

Convenience stores in Korea especially live up to their name. Besides being everywhere and usually open late, they sell all kinds of things you might need in a hurry from toiletries to full meals. Convenience stores offer an impressive array of drinks and foods, hot or cold, and they even provide microwaves to heat up food and eat it right in the store for no extra cost.

Even picking up your prescriptions when you’re sick is convenient in Korea. Anywhere there’s a clinic or a hospital, there’s a pharmacy right next door or even in the same building. You might not even have to wait to pick up your medicine. Pharmacies are so efficient they sometimes have it ready by the time you get there.

Perhaps one of the most convenient things about Korea is the delivery service. Tons of restaurants offer delivery—even fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s. No wonder some people can become so impatient in Korea!

Affordable Medical Care

Medical care in Korea is extremely affordable. When moving to Korea from another country, you might find yourself getting sick more often for a while as your body adjusts to the new environment, but clinics and pharmacies are everywhere and won’t cost you hundreds for insurance copays and prescriptions. Any trip to a clinic or hospital back home in the States gets expensive fast and often comes with a sizeable copay depending on your insurance, but medical care in Korea is refreshingly affordable.

Healthy Lifestyle

Medical care might be very affordable in Korea, but hopefully, you won’t be needing it too often. Korean culture encourages healthy living, so it’s a little easier to keep a good diet and exercise regimen. Korean meals make use of lots of rice and vegetables, and even a lot of snacks and refreshments are designed to be at least relatively healthy. Many of the snacks and sugary beverages we often buy in large containers at home in the States come in smaller packages in Korea and are often individually wrapped. Drinks like soda and sweet tea come in smaller cans and bottles, and cookies, chips, and ice cream often come in much smaller containers. Korean culture makes it a little bit more inconvenient and expensive to eat too many sweets, even if you want to.

Besides encouraging healthier eating, Korea also encourages exercise. With everything being so close, it’s easy to walk or ride a bike just about anywhere you need to go. Korean schools often have picnics and outings to get students outside, and many parents also put their kids in taekwondo classes to keep them active and help them grow strong and stay limber. Public parks and playgrounds are almost always equipped with free exercise machines. Even the elderly stay very active in Korea, and you will often see them out walking, riding bikes, or volunteering to clean up parks and sidewalks. Korean culture does a good job of encouraging diet and exercise habits for people of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Safety

In addition to encouraging healthy living, Korean society also encourages safety. Overall there is little fear of walking around the city at night. Many Koreans work hard and late, so it is not uncommon to see lights on and a few people out and about even during the wee hours of the morning. Streets are clean and well-lit, and there are CCTV cameras everywhere that discourage crime. Korea also makes heavy use of CCTV cameras to watch traffic and establish speed monitoring zones to effectively keep people driving within the speed limits for safer highway driving. Whether you tend to be out late by nature or are just looking for a safe town to settle down in for a while, Korea is a secure and comfortable place to live.

Beautiful Scenery and Culture

No list would be complete without mentioning Korea’s beautiful scenery and unique culture. Korean culture offers a wonderful mix of the old and the new. You can experience old traditional Korean villages only miles away from bustling modern cities. Koreans are sure to keep up with modern fashion and style while also holding on to and still making us of the traditional Korean hanbok. The Korean people are equally proud of their rich history and their modern advancements and achievements. Korean culture is an interesting mix of old traditions and philosophies and modern comforts and technology. In addition to the rich culture, there is also some great scenery to take in. Korea has beautiful mountains to hike, beaches to relax on, islands to visit, and cities to explore. No matter what you’re into, you can always find plenty to enjoy in Korea.


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