‘Fun factor’ makes listeners tune in: Kim
This is the 17th installment of a series of interviews with experts in English education aimed at offering tips, trends and information related to English learning and teaching in Korea. – Ed.
By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald: March 18, 2010
Sun Kim, host of “English Go! Go!” on EBS said the official identity of the radio show was positively deceptive.
“This one-hour evening program pretends to be a daily English lecture, but the truth is that this is a very entertaining variety show,” said Kim in an interview.
The “fun factor” is essential for Kim’s target audience, most whom are commuters and housewives tuning in to the program at 6 p.m. “I am not trying to teach anything. After all, most of my listeners cannot concentrate on the show because they are either driving home or preparing dinner for the family. So the focus is to make it entertaining. I mean really entertaining,” Kim said.
The three-part program starts with a relatively formal segment about daily news articles, but it quickly moves to the second segment in which Kim and his co-host Richard Scott Ashe jointly field English-related questions from the audience via telephone. “We also make random calls to our listeners, sometimes disguising our identity, asking, for instance, if we could order a Chinese dish,” Kim said.
The third part involves guests on a rotational basis, including TV comedian Ahn Il-kwon, and Kim said the interaction with guests is aimed squarely at maintaining the show’s playfulness.
Kim, who modestly refused to label himself an “English teacher,” said the program’s heavy reliance on fun-oriented spontaneity is designed to encourage the audience to be more receptive about learning English. At least, that’s what worked for him.
Kim’s original specialty was not in teaching English, but making films. It was in 1988 when Kim, still a high school student, flew to Los Angeles, leading to the first ever encounter with a foreign culture and language. He went on to study film at Loyola Marymount University and got a master’s degree in journalism at University of Southern California.
Kim was serious about his career as a budding filmmaker. While in college, he ventured out to meet Shin Sang-ok (1926-2006), a famous Korean filmmaker who was then staying in Los Angeles, working on his next projects. “In 1993, I simply asked him to give me a chance to work for his project, even though I never met him before,” he said. Luckily, director Shin indeed gave Kim an opportunity to work as a film staff member, and later as an assistant director for a series of projects over a period of 10 years.
Kim, however, was forced to return to Korea in 1998 when the Asian financial crisis hit many Korean students studying in the United States. In 2000, he briefly got a job at Sidus, which grew to become one of the country’s leading film production companies. Kim went back and forth between filmmaking and English education while living in Seoul, not sure which way he should go.
The real turning point came in the winter of 2004 when he was just about to leave Korea to study again in the United States. “I got a phone call from EBS, but I had no idea what EBS was doing. The call was about a host job for a new program, and I became host of a listening program,” Kim said.
Unlike other EBS hosts who solidified their teaching career in the private English education market, Kim said he was fairly “liberal” in using expressions on the air, which prompted EBS executives to ponder whether they should keep him or not.
Kim clearly had a talent, not for a formal textbook-based English listening program, but for a casual, tongue-in-cheek English talk show. This defining characteristic led to Kim’s getting a host job for “English Go! Go!” and that’s how he is running the show, which is the country’s second-longest running live English learning radio show after “Morning Special.”
When asked about how to improve English proficiency, Kim said that English is like learning how to drive a car. “Even if you read the driving manual 100 times, you (won’t learn how to) drive unless you actually go out on the road and drive yourself. Likewise, you have to use English in order to improve your proficiency,” Kim said.
The simpler, the better, Kim said, referring to ideal methodologies or daily routines. For example, studying one news article a day could be an effective method. The Web is also a great tool for learners, Kim added. A number of websites including Voice of America and BBC offer free-of-charge news scripts along with MP3 audio files, a perfect combination for those who want to improve their speaking proficiency at their own pace.
“I want to emphasize the importance of speaking over reading. One simple tip is to talk to oneself in English, starting with a very simple sentence, like when you wake up, you say ‘It’s morning,’ and when you look at the refrigerator, say ‘What’s in the refrigerator?’ and then you can say, ‘Nothing!’ and finally ‘I’m sad,'” Kim said, laughing.