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Sep 7, 2008

Tongue Twisters and Teacher Talk

For Koreans, Eleutian English lessons can be fun
Powell Tribune Staff Writer

Even among South Koreans whose studies often begin at dawn and continue until the midnight oil is all burnt up it sometimes is OK to butter up the teacher.

On a recent day, at 7:23 p.m. in Powell (11:23 a.m. in South Korea,) Susan McClinton, 57, a teacher with Eleutian Technology in Powell, asked Hong Che Young to name her favorite subject in school.

Through a screen within a computer screen, and over a set of earphones, 10-year-old Hong, a student in Seoul, South Korea, said she likes English the best.

“Ahh, you are such a smart girl to say that,” McClinton told her young protege. “I enjoy English too. That’s why I teach it.”  Hong is in Eleutian’s English 99 class, but her teacher said she is advanced enough for English 102.


Whether South Koreans such as young Hong like learning English or not, their government has deemed it essential to their future.  The country’s new president, Lee Myung-bak, is making English education a big focus of his administration because English skills are essential in Korea’s competitive business world.


Eleutian president Kent Holiday estimates his company will be teaching nearly 36,000 students within a year.

Increasingly, Eleutian’s teachers are instructing whole classrooms full of students over live-video feeds. The company prefers one-on-one, 15-minute sessions like that between McClinton and Hong.  “Our research has really shown us that, after about 15 minutes, your brain quits absorbing information as efficiently,” McClinton said.


The session was longer than 15 minutes only because technical problems came up three or four times that required them to reconnect. They discussed family, food, video games (which Hong does not like) and books (Hong loves Harry Potter.)


And McClinton taught Hong some tongue twisters. Hong had little trouble repeating “a skunk sat on a stump and thunk the stump stunk, but the stump thunk the skunk stunk.”

In fact, she got a kick out of it.


On a later afternoon, Eleutian teacher Amy Moore, 36, discussed units of time with a 31-year-old South Korean teacher who goes by “Elvis.”  Moore gushed over Elvis’s cute toddler. They talked about the differences between farming in America and South Korea.  “I was wondering,” Moore said with a laugh, “when you harvest rice, do you have to pick up one little piece at a time?”


Rice is harvested with a machine, Elvis said.


The two teachers often seemed like they were shooting the breeze, though Moore dutifully noted her student’s progress at the end of the session. Eleutian’s lesson plan is not big on rote memorization, she said.  “They’re learning in a natural context,” she said.  Moore said teaching methods are flexible because Eleutian’s students range from youngsters like Hong to middle-aged business people.


Students choose their teachers, and they learn more if they form a personal bond with a teacher.

Eleutian teachers are encouraged to learn some Korean. McClinton has never been to Korea, though she hopes to travel there soon. Moore and her husband, Mike Moore, Eleutian’s Director of Teacher Operations, both taught English in Korea shortly after they were married.


“They’re wonderful people,” Amy Moore said. “Once you get to know them, you have a friend for life.”