“Koreans are learning English incorrectly”

March 26, 2014
Yi Ju-seung CEO of Debate for All

Yi Ju-seung
CEO of Debate for All

Debate lecturer Yi Ju-seung believes in  ”No script” policy

By Jung Min-ho

Korean education is often criticized for its heavy reliance on rote learning, particularly in the teaching of foreign languages such as English.

Yi Ju-seung, a debate lecturer and CEO of private language institute Debate for All, Inc., questions whether the practice of drumming English words into students’ heads is killing their creativity and ability to construct arguments.

“It defeats the purpose of debate,” Yi said in an interview with The Korea Times, criticizing an environment he believes is driving students to learn English with the sole purpose of getting higher test scores. Learning a different language, Yi said, should be about acquiring a skill to communicate with people from different cultures and understand their way of thinking.

“The result-oriented teaching actually teaches students nothing,’’ he said.

Yi noted the right way should be guiding students to develop their own ideas into convincing presentations. “The bottom line is that debaters should have a sense of what they are talking about,” he said.

After working for English debate institutes for a couple of years, Yi decided to quit telling students to memorize “forms of logic, questions and answers,” and opened his own last year to coach them properly.

He adopted a “no script” policy, with a belief that “the whole process of practicing and participating in contests should be a learning experience.”

“The biggest value of our education is to nurture students to grow as independent thinkers and understand different perspectives,” he said. “After all, it should be a competition for students, not teachers’.”

After graduating from SolBridge International School of Business in Daejeon in 2012, Yi, 26, set up the institute in Daejeon with Rho Hye-won, 25, who he met at many debate competitions for college students. Due to increasing demand in Seoul, they recently moved into an office in the south of the capital.

Yi’s vision is more than just teaching, or “coaching” in his words. He wants to change the rules of the game more fundamentally.

For the Sixth Korea English Debate Championship in February, the first competition they supervised, they did not reveal the topics to participants for the final rounds.

“The team with the best score from the preliminary round lost in the quarterfinals, where it did not know the topic in advance. It was an upset,” Yi said. “It highlighted what they actually knew instead of what they memorized.”

He said the change made the contests more dynamic, “like sports games.”

“It was certainly not a satisfying change for everyone, but I was surprised that few people complained about it, which makes me believe that more change is possible.”

The Debate for All stands for fair competition and equal opportunity, he said.

“We want to spread the value of debate to more students at an affordable price,” Yi said. “It should not be an expensive education only for some. More people need to learn how to talk.”