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South Korea Introduces Robot English Teachers

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Download In South Korea, students of all ages study English throughout primary school and university as well as attend private academies. 

At many of these schools, foreign native speakers are flown in to instruct courses.

But at one school, students have been studying with the help of a teacher that didn’t come from abroad.

In fact, she was completely assembled in Korea.

From Daegu, reporter Jason Strother tells us more.

Meet Engkey, she’s the Hagjeong Primary School’s newest English teacher. She’s about 3-feet tall and shaped kind of like a penguin.

Engkey wheels around the front of the classroom and stops in front of each of the six 4th graders taking part in this educational pilot program.

She asks them to repeat English phrases and also leads them in song.

Engkey is a robot. Her voice is not her own, nor is the face of a Caucasian woman that appears on her retractable, LCD panel head. Engkey is hooked up via teleconference to the

Philippines, where an English teacher there conducts the class through a monitor.

But Engkey’s creators say this robot is much more than just a video screen on wheels.    

“The robot can do just like the English teacher do.”

That’s Kim Mun-sang, the director of the Intelligent Robotics Program at the publically funded Korea Institute for Science and Technology in Seoul.

He says Englkey is most like an avatar. 

“We have some perception technology. We can detect the motion of the English teacher. As soon as the teacher moves his hand, the robot raises its hand, if the teacher for example laughs, we can detect his laughing expression.” 

The robot also has an autonomous mode. Here Engkey is working with students on their pronunciation.

The robot plays a little tune when the students pronounce a word right. 

Or let’s them take another shot at it.

Jang Byoung-ok is principal at the Hagjeong School.  

He says learning English is all about repetition and that makes a robot an ideal teacher.

Jang says there’s also a financial incentive to put robots in classroom as opposed to human teachers from abroad.

“It costs around 40 thousand dollars a year to support a foreign English teacher in Korea. That includes paying their salary, airfare and housing." 

The current cost to make an Engkey robot and connect it to the Philippines is less than 20 thousand dollars, according to the Korea Institute of Science and Technology,

Jang says later, if the Engkey program catches on, the robots will be mass-produced and there will be an even greater cost benefit.

But some observers say if the government is so concerned with saving money, there are better ways to spend it while improving education.

Yu Do Hyun lectures in English education and pedagogy at Seoul’s Kookmin University.

“We need Korean teachers also, for beginners, or for intermediates, Korean teachers know how to learn English easily and what’s the problems for Korean students”

And Yu says English teaching robots would deprive students of the most basic reason to learn a foreign language, human interaction. 

“Communication is between humans, so they need practicing with native speakers, human teachers. Even though they practice English a lot with the robots, when they meet human native speakers, they will be very nervous, because they haven’t conversed with real speakers.”

Engkey creator Kim Mun-sang says he’d like to see all Korean schools use the robots some day, to teach more students at a lower price.

Yet even he isn’t so sure if they could ever totally replace human teachers.

He says in the end, it’s the students who will determine Engkey’s grade as a teacher.

“This success depends on the acceptability by the students, I think.  Whether they can emotionally accepted by the students”

And back at the Hagjeong School, Engkey receives high marks from the students. 

One 10 year old boy, who said his English name is Tony, says he was a little nervous about the robot at first, but liked its singing and dancing

10 year old Charlotte goes even further: she says she likes the robot teacher better than human teachers.



1)abroad: luar negeri 

2) assembled: dirakit

 3)retractable: alat yang bisa datarik kembali

 4)mass produced: diproduki secara masal

5)pedagogy: ilmu keguruan/pendidikan, pengajaran

6)cost benefit: biaya manfaat

7)repetition: pengulangan

8)deprive: mencabut/menghalangi

9)conversed: berbicara langsung

10)educational pilot program: program percontohan pendidikan

11) Caucasian: orang berkulit putih


1) Who is teaching the fourth grade students at the Hagjeon Primary School and what method is used?

2) What does it look like  and how does it work?

3) Who created it and how is it funded?

4) Why is it cheaper than hiring foreign teachers and what are the setbacks in learning English with this new teacher?

5) What do the children think about their new teacher?

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 March 2011 18:40 )