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Teacher helps break language barrier

The class, this hour at least, consists of two boys and three girls but Sie-Gearl Cho will have seen many of his native Koreans before the day is through.

Cho, Luverne's first Korean citizen, teaches English as a Second Language at Luverne High School. Every day, children and their parents enter a classroom at the high school's AgriScience building to learn what Cho calls the 'exceptions' in English grammar and pronunciation.

"For a Korean," he says. "English is the most difficult subject to learn and it is even more difficult than math or chemistry."

The reasons are many, says Cho. There's variation in the style and structure of the language. In grammar, Koreans use a subject-object-verb structure. While in English, one would say 'I'm going to the store to buy some food' a Korean would say, 'I food to-buy in-order-to store-to going-am.'

That being said, Korean writing characteristics are very similar to the English alphabet. In fact, says Cho, it is easier to teach the Korean language to Americans than to teach Koreans English.

Today his students, four third graders and one fourth-grader, repeat sentences spoken by a monotone voice from Cho's desktop computer. Cho clicks on a picture. The students, watching the overhead screen, listen to the sentence associated with that picture and recite.

"The tow truck is pulling the car," the voice says.

The children repeat.

Cho instructs and corrects them in their native tongue. Computers have made teaching the English language easier than when he attended the university in Korea, says Cho.

And because of that technology, the children, he says, learn fast. Even faster than the adults.

"When they first came here," Cho recalls. "They did not even know the English alphabet. It was very difficult for them to understand and learn in their other classes. Now they have begun to pick up the language and understand what is being taught in the classroom."

Cho wasted no time in preparing the 16 students he sees daily for acclimation into an English-speaking society. He taught them the alphabet and basic 800 words. Gradually, he moved on to simple sentence structure, pronunciation and English composition for the older students. And he assigned homework for his class every night.

Repetition and practice, he says, is the foundation of knowledge

Cho did the same with his own children when they moved to the United States years ago. Cho, who taught high school English in Korea and business administration at a Korean university, made sure his children were skilled in the use of the language. He came to the US as a production-planning manager for Texas Instruments and was then employed by United Douglas Pharmaceuticals and moved to Luverne.

"They were excited to come to America," says Cho of his three children who now attend Troy University. "But it was never easy for them to adjust to living here for the first time. English was the most difficult barrier. They studied English for long hours in home. Fortunately, they are all doing good in school now."

Kathi Wallace, Superintendent for the Crenshaw County school systems, calls Cho a 'godsend.'

"When it was announced that Hyundai would be coming to the area and we would be receiving a number of the plants that supply Hyundai, the need arose for us to have someone like Mr. Cho to help the Koreans coming into the county," she says.

Wallace says that Cho helps Korean families outside of the school as well.

"At the beginning of the year he was with the parents and the children at Fred's and other stores helping them with their school supply list," she said. "He even took a number of the families on a trip to the USS Alabama in Mobile."

And while Cho is happy to help his fellow Koreans adjust to living in a new country, it is teaching children which brings him the most pride.

"I feel happy to know that their future is going to be bright," he says.