I got an e-mail a couple of weeks ago asking what I think is so innovative about my new workplace and the courses there. At the time I couldn't answer, but now, at the beginning of month two, I feel better placed to do so.
Without going into too many details, here's my reply.
The teachers are actively encouraged to contribute our own knowledge and experience, and to try new ideas and share those that work well with co-workers. (Of course, any learning environment should work on this basis, but in my experience this isn't always so here in Korea.)
Learners preferably do have to cover a certain amount of the book (they'd probably not be best pleased if they bought a book they never used!), which lends a certain structure to classes and security to those students with high "Uncertainty Avoidance". However, how they are used is otherwise open to the teacher's (and the learners') preferences. (Again, this level of flexibility is something I haven't come across here before.)
The books are chock full of very varied activities, many of them simply variations on great ideas that have stood the test of time. (Which makes a nice change from the ideas that haven't stood that test: to name but one, heavy grammar is apparently still the cornerstone of second-language learning in Korea.) And they're conversational, grammar-lite, often focussing on language chunks, with the aim of improving fluency and naturalness.
Conversation topics have been chosen that are relevent to the learners (it's locally made), important to them, that they have strong opinions about. Mainly culture and values - global, local and personal. Most teachers also bring in hot topics from the news and so on. It's interesting, it's fun - and easy to make it fun.
Why is this innovative? you may ask.
Well, in itself it represents more a triumph of common sense and experience than innovation per se. (But could it be that this line of thinking is innovative these days?) And there are the modern additions of a level of fairly natural level of language and the idea of using 'chunks' as the building blocks of fluency. It also encourages the two-way learner-teacher relations that most people believe to be the ideal in the language classroom (and which Korea's traditional hierarchy and continued use of corporal punishment have for so long kept at bay).
Let's say that for Korea this is indeed innovative stuff.
And by international standards, it's simply a good, and learning, language school.
I'm glad to be part of it.