Many people back home wondered how I was going to teach in Korea without knowing how to speak Korean.
I assured them it would be no problem as I would speak English and the trusty Korean sidekick would take care of translation and classroom control.
When the myth of the co-teacher was debunked and the reality of the low-level English in my rural schools sank in, I realized I had to act if I was to gain any semblance of control within my classes.

Whiteboard sketch of hangman above shark
A new teacher can be eaten alive if they don’t assert themselves early

The following phrases have made the infuriatingly impossible so much easier. Sure, the language barrier is still frustrating but memorizing these commands will enable you to improve your classroom control, thus making your job and life as a teacher in Korea a little bit less stressful

1 – jo-young-hee [조용히 ] = Be quiet

Initially, this phrase saved me from losing my voice. Classroom control is pretty tough when you attempt futile calls for calm in English. The Korean counterpart packs more of a punch. Delivered with a booming tone it can make a kid cry, especially if you throw in ‘YA!’ right before it to really catch their attention. Sadly, its impact fades with excessive use.

2 – an-joo-sae-yo [앉주세요] = Sit down

Pretty useful with the youngest kids when they are swarming around my desk, threatening to touch me with their sticky mitts, running around with scissors or trying to steal candy from the drawers. Shooing them away like cattle doesn’t seem to be effective but a couple of ‘an-joo-sae-yo’s’ later and they’re like sheep in a pen.

3 – ap-ay-bo-sae-yo [앞에보세요] = Look forward

I had a co-teacher once, a legit specialized English teacher who worked alongside me in every class and even prepped half the materials. She left abruptly for a new venture but the one golden nugget I learnt from her was this.
No longer do I have to make binoculars with my hands while running around catching every kids attention individually as I point frantically towards the projector screen like it’s on fire.

4 – yeon-seub [연습] = Practice

Korean kids with paper masks
Masked monsters

This is a good one if you’re giving an example of something. Even better, if the kids are just getting to grips with a game and an argument breaks out because somebody cost their team a valuable point. To regain classroom control, just interject with a wave and a smile, say “yeon-seub” and then order shall be restored. 

5 – ha-na-daw / han-beun-daw [ 하나 더 / 한번 더]= One more / One more time

Useful in more than just the classroom but always handy to nudge a confused kid in the right direction or illicit further vocal practice or rounds in a game.

Me with a group of 3rd grade Korean students
Being too friendly can lead to a loss in authority

6 –  da-ra-ha-sae-yo [따라하세요]=  Repeat after me (literally means ‘follow’)

Trying to get the class to practice a new phrase together, but only getting a lazy, murmured echo from the few loyal students as the class ignores you? Blast out da-ra-ha-sae-yo in a commanding tone, followed by the key phrase you want them to say, loud and clear. Cover your ears.

7 – goo-man-hae-yo [그만해요] = Stop doing that!

A fundamental element of classroom control is being able to stop a bully or clown from doing what they do best. This little gem works best with a scowl or intimidating frown and pointed finger. If you want to be really blunt and show them you mean business, drop the ‘yo’ and growl it. 

Korean boy on stage with microphone
Don’t let the kids take over

8 – ha-jee-ma / bo-jee-ma [하지 마 / 보지 마] = Don’t do that / Don’t look

The affix ‘-jee-ma’  (-지 마) means ‘do not’. Simply put the conjugated verb in front and you can deliver all sorts of prohibition. These two are my most used in the classroom, from stopping kids and their paper airplanes to stamping out cheaters who try to spy other students’ answers or cards.

9 – yo-gi-wa [여기와] = Come here

You’ll be surprised how many Korean students don’t understand the English phrase, further confused by the unusual hand gesture that Korean people use for this command. This makes life easier.

10 – ma-jee-mag (gi-o-way) [마지막 (기회)] = Last (chance)

It’s always good to give the kids a heads up when it’s the final round of an activity as a sudden end to games or activities can sometimes cause unrest. Combining the two words above is also a pretty stern warning to that kid that is pushing your buttons, just make sure you follow through if he calls your bluff.

11 – ba-lee (hae) [빨리(해)] = (Do it) quickly

Some students need a little time, others deliberately stall on games where time is of the essence. If you want them to pick up the pace, this rarely fails. A click of the fingers and gentle utter of 빨리해 is enough to get the ball rolling. If you want an activity to shift into top gear just get excited and shout 빨리, 빨리,빨리, then watch them panic.

12 – cheong-so-ha-ja [청소하자]Let’s clean up!

Classroom looking like a bull ran through it? Got twenty little monsters who like to rip up paper and draw on desks? Tables and chairs scattered everywhere after an active class? Don’t let them leave until the place is in order. A clap of the hands and few barks of this phrase will have the place ship-shape in no time.

Korean school sports day tug-o'-war
The power struggle is real

What difficulties have you had with classroom control? How do you manage unruly students?