Buying Time

In 2 months’ time, I’ll have been at the 500-yen Korean language school for 5 years exactly. Yesterday, I went to the school and submitted my notice of withdrawal from the school because the new owner came up with the payment by GIRO system and to leave the school, we would have to submit a notice 2 months prior in order for the necessary GIRO cancellation processes to complete.

Part of the reason why I decided to pick up Korean initially was honestly because of the lesson fee. At 500-yen an hour, it is ridiculously cheap. I was initially torn between taking up Spanish and Korean for the reason that I had been studying Spanish for around 6 months in Singapore before I moved to Japan so I had wanted to continue studying that but Spanish classes in Japan are so expensive, searching for “dirt-cheap Spanish courses” on Google didn’t reap any satisfactory results. The translation company I was at had a lot of Korean translation jobs, so I felt it would be a good language to pick up and searching for “dirt-cheap Korean courses” returned the 500-yen an hour school I’m attending now, which was the deal-maker.

But 5 years later, I feel that the school is suitable for people who just want to have fun, take their time to pick up the language and don’t want too much pressure. Many students often skip class because it’s so cheap.

I had been thinking about leaving the school for a few years now because the teacher usually spends the first 1-1.5 hours talking about random stuff in a mix of Korean and Japanese, instead of proceeding with the text. It started with her always talking about her boyfriend in Japanese and that got annoying, and then when she too got tired of talking about her boyfriend, she talks about other stuff like manicure and her friends.

Before class started, we were told our first beginner textbook was supposed to last approximately 6 months but it took us a year to finish it because let’s face it, most of the 2 hours we paid for, we are not learning anything. At the very start, whenever I missed a class, I would put in the time and effort to read up on what I missed so that I can catch up with the class,

Side note: The school does have a make-up class policy, but there are no two classes running at the exact same pace so the make-up class usually ends up with us attending a lesson we’ve done before, so I’ve never attended any of those.

but a few too many times when many students skipped class and there were just 2 or 3 of us, the teacher would choose to not proceed with the text and instead review what we had done before so that the others won’t miss out. That was the catalyst for the beginning of me considering leaving the school because I am a pragmatic Singaporean. If you miss a lesson, it is your responsibility to put in the effort to catch up with class, not the class’ responsibility to slow down and wait for you. I am also a paying consumer, why should I be made to waste my time and money because a bunch of other people are not responsible for their own actions? And that made me lose motivation in studying since the teacher has created an environment where effort is not necessary.

When the teacher spent more and more time talking about random stuff in class—from 30 minutes to an hour to an hour and a half—in a lot of Japanese, I tried to think of it more positively that I get to practise listening in what little Korean there is. But sometimes, the discussion is entirely held in Japanese and the class starts to talk as though we were at a drinking party. I had initially thought that was only my teacher so I was considering changing teachers, but when I asked some other students in other classes, they said it’s the same so it must be the school’s policy to do that. However, the amount of time spent talking about random stuff is probably up to each teacher and 1.5 hours is simply unacceptable. If there were a CELTA for the Korean language, perhaps the teachers should do it to learn one very simple pedagogy: teacher-talking-time should be less than student-talking-time.

Some time ago, some students complained about the jump in difficulty between the 2nd and the 3rd textbook of the series we are using, so the school decided to insert one random text from another series in between, which I felt was a waste of time. Being at the 3rd book now confirmed my thoughts that the random book inserted was just plain unnecessary and perhaps a way to lengthen our stay at the school to expand our lifetime value as a consumer.

The deciding factor to leave was when a couple of weeks ago, the same thing happened and the teacher was talking about random stuff for the first 1.5 hours or so. After which, we were told to read the vocabulary in the textbook, some 15 of them. And that was it. We finished the entire 2-hour lesson reading just 15 vocabulary words twice. I decided enough is enough. This school is quite crappy.

Back when I was studying Japanese, the schools have:

  1. Elementary I
  2. Elementary II
  3. Elementary III
  4. Intermediate I
  5. Intermediate II
  6. Intermediate III
  7. Pre-Advanced I (or some call it Upper-Intermediate I)
  8. Pre-Advanced II (Upper-Intermediate II)
  9. Pre-Advanced III (Upper-Intermediate III)
  10. Advanced I
  11. Advanced II
  12. Advanced III

And I completed all of that in 5 years.

The current Korean textbook we’re using has:

  1. Elementary I
  2. Elementary II
  3. Random book
  4. Intermediate I
  5. Intermediate II

That’s it. And 5 years later, we’re not even halfway into Intermediate I.

I’ve decided to pay more for a decent teacher that gives me what I want to learn even if it’s expensive so that I can pick up the language in a shorter amount of time. That’s the difference between a good and expensive teacher, and a poor and cheap school. In the long-run, you’ll be paying the same amount of money since a good but expensive teacher can help you master something in a shorter amount of time. It’s a question of whether you are willing to pay more to buy time; to pick up something in a shorter amount of time; or you’d rather spend additional years in order to pay less in the short-term.


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