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Best Thesis Award: Interview with Baek SeungJoo (Ph.D.), TKFL major

First of all, Congratulations to the Ewha GSIS graduates, class of 2021! On this occasion, the Ewha GSIS blog is proud to announce that three graduates from Ewha GSIS received the “Best Thesis Award” on their graduation. 

One of the awardees is Baek Seungjoo, who successfully obtained the Ph.D. with her thesis topic “Process and product: Investigation of L2 Korean writing using keystroke logging” (you can access the thesis here). 

Through this interview, you will learn how the career in Korean language teaching had motivated Seungjoo to continue her Master’s and Ph.D. at Ewha GSIS, and how her online teaching experience under the pandemic situation inspired her to research students’ Korean writing process through the keystroke program and thus became the Best Thesis. 

Plus, she gave very useful and practical advice for people who are planing for their thesis writing! 

How long have you been teaching the Korean language, and how did you enter this profession?

It has been nine years since I worked at Seoul National University Language Education Institute (SNU LEI). Before working here, I taught Korean to foreign executives at several global companies, such as McDonald’s Korea and Disney Korea, and Hyundai Motor for two years. Since I was young, I have liked to read and write something. So, I majored in Korean language and literature as an undergraduate. And when I was in the third grade or a junior at the undergraduate level (in 2006), I had an opportunity to volunteer as a “language buddy” at the Ewha language education center. My buddy was a Chinese student who is two years older than me. So I called her Unnie, and I had a lot of fun with her, such as going to Chonggyechon, helping each other learn Chinese and Korean (I studied Chinese as well at the time), and experiencing the Korean culture. Somehow I realized that maybe teaching Korean is something that I can do well and like. So, since then, I started to study Korean Studies as a minor. And after that, I studied Teaching Korean as a second language at Ewha GSIS. I like my job so much because it is enjoyable for me and socially meaningful.

Baek Seungjoo
After you graduate from undergrad, do you start your teaching career or you continue your master’s?

I continue my master’s because, at that time, it was quite hard to start working as a professional Korean language teacher without a master’s degree. So I have to finish the master’s degree first. And then, after that, I was able to start my career as professionals at McDonald’s.

So what is the most challenging thing for you to teach Korean to foreigners?

Actually, nothing is particularly challenging or difficult for me. I think this job is calling for me. So, I’m happiest when I’m with students in the classroom. I’m always grateful to students who come all over the world to Korea to learn Korean. If it is necessary to talk [about a challenging part of this job], saying goodbye to students is still the most challenging, because we don’t know when we can meet again. So that is the most challenging part for me as a Korean teacher.

“I’m always grateful to students who come all over the world to Korea to learn Korean.”

What is the difference between teaching adults and teaching kids?

Before I worked in SNU, I worked at Lycée Français de Séoul. It’s a French school in Seoul. At the time I taught Korean to 8-10 years old students who speak French as a mother tongue. For teachers who teach young students, they should have two skills: teaching Korean and managing the young students. Because, usually, they don’t have the strong motivation to learn the Korean language. They probably just have to learn the Korean language because one of their parents works in Seoul. So, it was quite difficult for me to manage the young students and to keep their attention to learning Korean. But for adults, like university students or foreign executives, they are eager to learn Korean because they have to learn, or they are big fans of K-pop or K-drama. They are very open to acquiring new information from the class. So the atmosphere is very joyful.

Taking a Master’s degree is necessary for becoming a teach Korean teacher here. Why did you choose Ewha?

Because I can learn life as well as study at Ewha Womans University. In our school, there are many working mothers like me, who work and raise their children while studying. It is sometimes difficult to live as a mother, teacher, and student at the same time. Whenever that happens, it is comforting because I can seek advice from seniors and professors and they always gave me very useful advice. Sometimes just watching them is comforting because I can see that not only me who struggle to survive every day.

And also, the curriculum of Ewha GSIS is very well organized so you can work as a Korean language teacher right after graduation. That’s very impressive. You can learn the essential knowledge that is very important to produce teachers with wide and deep knowledge. I strongly recommend Ewha GSIS where you can learn to make educational materials, learn about second language education, second language acquisition theory, as well as how to make the practical practice as well.

And also, our seniors are teaching Korean, not only in Korea but also all over the world. So, you can quickly know the Korean language education situation and trend in various countries. That’s the greatest strength of Ewha GSIS.

Why do we have to acquire deep and wide knowledge in a master’s degree in order to teach Korean? Is knowing the language itself well or being a native not enough?

Not all Korean can teach the Korean language to foreigners. I got this question so many times, for example, do I have to be good at English to be a Korean teacher? To become a Korean teacher, you need to accumulate enough knowledge of Korean first. Then, you have to be able to explain what you know easily. At Ewha GSIS, you learn how to explain your native knowledge easily and constructively. Through this course, you’ll be changed from a person who can speak Korean to a person who can teach Korean.

Our seniors are teaching Korean, not only in Korea but also all over the world. That’s the greatest strength of Ewha GSIS.

Baek Seungjoo
Recently your thesis has been awarded as Best Thesis. Could you please explain what its main idea is and why you decided to conduct this research?

First of all, thank you for the award. I didn’t expect it at all, because I started my doctoral course in 2013 and I paused my study for a long time. Thanks, Ewha GSIS and my advisor Prof. Youngkyu Kim for that first.

The purpose of my thesis is to clarify how the writing process of learners of Korean as the second language can predict the features of the final text from a cognitive perspective. The existing research on Korean writing focused on the final text, which is a writing output, while the studies on the writing process and its empirical analysis in the process-oriented approach have drawn relatively less attention. With the growing demand for Korean teaching and learning in an online environment day by day, especially in the COVID-19 situation, I want to analyze the Korean language learners’ patterns of pause and revision, and writing fluency in their writing process, by using the keystroke program. The keystroke program is basically a program that observes your writing process.

In addition, this study evaluates the final text features based on text quality such as text structure, grammar use, vocabulary use, and text length, text error rate to identify their relationship with the writing process. My focus was the writing process because I can’t meet students face to face under this COVID 19 situation.

Observing the writing process by the keystroke program is quite famous in English education. There are several keystroke programs for analyzing English, but there was no keystroke program for the Korean alphabet. So, I sent an email to an English keystroke program developer to get some advice about this. And they said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know Korean at all.” So, with the help of a developer here, I developed a Korean keystroke program by myself for the thesis.

That’s impressive. It’s beyond my imagination that Ph.D. students in Teaching Korean Language major here would develop some software.

(laugh) I just want to know how my students write essays in Korean.

What inspired you to do this?

After the COVID-19 outbreak got critical in March, all classes were changing to online. I always want to know my students more and more, but now we have a distance because of this. I would like to know them, not only for the class itself but also for the evaluation as well. Teachers don’t know how they write. And when conducting the class online, students might copy and paste someone’s essay.

Yeah. That’s right.

(laugh) So, I just want to know how they organize the paragraph and which part they find most difficult. I just want to know more about the students and that inspired me to Google more about the writing process research, not about the final output.

My program name is “HAWAI.” It is an abbreviation of “Hangul And Writing Analysis Instrument.” I named it. My HAWAI captured the keystroke and a screen, as well, as a video. So, I can monitor the whole screen moving, the mouse-clicking, or window pop up, etc. It’s helpful for teachers.

Does this research suggest the way that teachers and students can improve their way of learning Korean writing?

You will find out when you read my thesis. (laugh)

Baek Seungjoo
Some Master’s students at Ewha GSIS want to know about how the process of writing a thesis is like? What is the challenge that they have to prepare themselves for?

Sure. I fully understand the difficulties. If you haven’t found a topic research topic yet, it is recommended that you select two to three famous academic journals in your major field. For example, for Korean language education majors like me, it is helpful to read the leading foreign journals, such as TESOL Quarterly, Applied Linguistics, and Studies in Second Language Acquisition, as well as Korean publishing journals, such as 한국어교육, 이중언어학, 국어교육. Just read the research over the past five years, let’s say from 2017 to 2021, but not the whole article. Just read the title and keyword. After you read titles and keywords, you will instinctively find a paper that you want to read more in detail, then just pick it and read.

But when you read papers, it is important to read while organizing them. Here is the format that I made while reading a paper, organized in an A4-sized organizing table.

The excel sheet created by Baek Seungjoo

The sheet contains the number, the date when you read, the place where you read, the title, the publishing date, authors, journal name, keywords, the based theory, research design, statistic techniques that were used, and the result. I am not good at statistics and mathematics, so I summarized it while I’m reading. So when you read the paper, you have to organize and summarize it. Otherwise, you will have to read twice. And that wastes your time. So, you have to summarize the contents of the paper. And the most important part of this table is here: the limitation of this research. You have to critically figure out what is the limitation of this paper. But when you started reading a paper, you might not have the ability to find out the limitation of the paper. You may think, “this research is very good and there’s no limitation.” But as it accumulated, you will find out the way to fix or correct this part. Reading about 20-30 prior studies will help you realize what topic you are interested in. That is the way to find out or grab the thesis topic.

“Reading about 20-30 prior studies will help you realize what topic you are interested in. That is the way to find out or grab the thesis topic.”

Secondly, it is important to actively take the information search education provided by the Ewha library. It provides detailed and friendly instructions on how to search for Korean and foreign academic materials and journals and how to use EndNote or RefWorks. They provide you the information about how to use EndNote or RefWorks effectively, how to search, not just Googling, academic materials in Korean and foreign fields. This 2-3 hours of training will totally change the amount and quality of the paper’s references.

What is the different between master and doctoral thesis, master and doctor he different,

Good question. I think of more responsibility. That’s the thing.

This might be a sensitive question, but I can see that many Ph.D. students take a long time to graduate. Why is that so?

In my case, as a Ph.D. student, there’s no other chance. Because Ph.D. is the final stage of studying something. So, to write a perfect thesis, you need more research. Sometimes, you can’t be satisfied with this degree and need more and more. That’s maybe why. Not because of outside factors, but it is just because of me.

This will be the last question. Do you have any advice to give to people who are now interested in studying in your field, especially the ones who would like to come to Ewha GSIS? What they can expect from the program here?

To become a Korean language teacher, you need to accumulate enough knowledge of the Korean language first. For those who are ready to study, Ewha GSIS is the best choice. Wherever you work, you always hear that people who studied at Ewha are different. Before you know it, you will be the right person for Ewha’s reputation before you know it.


Published by Khing Amatyakul

Thai, Working at SuperPlanet, IR grad from Ewha GSIS | @khingamat

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