Welcome to the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Jin Ho Kang

When Jin–Ho Kang ’06 first arrived at Illinois State, he hadn’t spoken English since high school. The only words he could say were “thank you” and “hello.” However the language barrier did not deter Kang from pursuing a degree and eventually founding an English language institute in South Korea.

Kang completed two years of course work at the Dong Ah College of Broadcasting in South Korea before transferring to Illinois State through an exchange program. At Illinois State, Kang enrolled in the mass communications program, intending to eventually become a radio producer or engineer.

Though he was an exemplary student, the language barrier proved to be problematic for Kang. Yet he was determined to succeed. Kang worked with the English Language Institute and recorded lectures, which he would listen to repeatedly at Milner Library to master the material. With persistent effort, Kang was able to overcome this hurdle and continue with the major.

However, a decision to seek an easy “A” proved to be life–changing for Kang.

“I was looking for an easy class to take for elective course work,” Kang said. “So I picked Speech and Hearing Science. Many people asked me why I would want to take that course. Because my major in Korea was audio production, I already had a lot of knowledge in that field.”

Kang found himself intrigued by the subject and found many similarities in the concepts of instrument sound and human hearing.

“I was fascinated by the concept of human speech and felt I could be very competent in that field,” Kang said. “It changed everything in my life.”

The mass communications major made the decision to change his studies to speechlanguage pathology. Looking to further perfect his English, he teamed with Professor Heidi Harbors for six months to practice accent reduction techniques, making his speech closer to a native speaker. This work led him to partner with Professor Jean Sawyers to examine the differences in languages and to explore ways to solve the issues caused by the different sounds in various languages. The research was presented in the United States and South Korea.

“We learned a lot together in that research,” Kang said.

Kang graduated summa cum laude and took an eight–month break from his studies, during which a friend introduced him to his future wife, Moon–Kyoung Cho. Kang then returned to the United States to begin work on his Ph.D. at the University of Memphis.

During his first year in the program, Kang maintained a heavy workload, working as a speech analyst, graduate speech clinician, and full–time student.

“It was the busiest time in my life,” Kang said. “The nature of their research is based on the Spanish bilingual population. It was helpful to learn, but some of the research was not applicable to Korean, and I wanted to apply my knowledge to my native language.”

Kang made the decision to return to South Korea after a year in the program. He found a position as an English conversation expert and instructor. Kang held this position for five years before creating his own company, SELI (Sweet English Language Institute) in the Gangnam district of Seoul.

The students of SELI range from ages 2–70 and are primarily business professionals from Gangnam, which boasts national and international headquarters for major corporations. Kang and his staff work with students one–on–one or in groups, based on the skill levels and schedules of their students.

“Learning English is in very high demand, especially for younger generations,” Kang said. “It’s a way of success for Korean people because of business conducted with English speaking countries and because the relationship for South Korea and America is important for our country.”

Kang’s success in helping business leaders perfect their English speaking ability may be in part to his use of technology in lessons.

“I became popular in my country because I use software that allows people to see where their tongue is located,” Kang said. “After two years I made the decision to create my own software.”

Kang’s software shows a 3–D animation of ideal tongue position for all English language sounds. The visualization is helpful, especially in early stages of learning when tongue position is problematic.

In addition Kang created a voice–responsive tool that allows users to measure proper tongue placement and apply sounds to the English language. He is in the process of integrating aspects of both tools so that students can see the proper tongue location for a given language and compare it to a 3–D representation of their own tongue when they try to imitate the sound.

“I will be working with professors at ISU to validate that the functions are correct,” Kang said. “After we have enough consensus, the software will be published.” Kang hopes to also release the software via apps for the iPad and iPhone as well as through Google Play in the upcoming year.

Despite the demands of running SELI, Kang returned to Illinois State to share his software tools with staff and receive the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders Distinguished Alumni Award.

“To me it is a great honor. I was really surprised,” Kang said. “My life was completely changed when I made the decision to become an expert in speech–language pathology. I am thankful to all of the people at ISU. All of the people in the department were very supportive. I still appreciate their support and help, which completely changed my life.”

An impromptu trip to Seoul, South Korea, gave graduate students McKayla Ellsworth ’13 and Christine Zinn ’95 the opportunity to apply their knowledge of speech pathology to another culture. The whirlwind trip first came about last fall when JinHo Kang ‘06 returned to Illinois State to accept the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders Distinguished Alumni Award and share the software and techniques he had implemented at his Seoul–based Sweet English Language Institute (SELI). Kang’s software provides 3–D animations of tongue positioning, in addition to voice responsive programs. His cuttingedge techniques and reputation as a seasoned instructor and English conversation expert have helped his company thrive.

During his trip to campus, Kang lectured in Associate Professor Heidi Harbers’ Speech Sound Disorders class. Her students were fascinated by Kang’s work at SELI and the ways he has integrated technology into instruction. At the conclusion of his trip, Kang, a former student of Harbers’, began discussing ways that SELI could collaborate with the department. Kang invited Harbers and two students to travel to Seoul in January. Harbers selected graduate assistants Ellsworth and Zinn to make the journey.

“I’ve always been interested in studying abroad, but I was never able to with our program,” Ellsworth said. “It was an opportunity to go to another country, explore that culture, and also have a speech pathology component to it.”

“I was really interested in seeing someone start a business the way he had,” Zinn said, emphasizing that seeing how knowledge of sound systems could be implemented in a working environment was particularly fascinating.

Harbers, Ellsworth, and Zinn left January 2 for Seoul. Kang had arranged an itinerary that included touring SELI, sightseeing in the city, collaborating on new iterations of his software, and interacting directly with SELI students.

During their stay, Ellsworth and Zinn administered 90 speech–sound assessments to SELI students–some of whom travelled for more than an hour for their 20–minute session. The sessions saw South Koreans reading 50 words and 20 sentences aloud while Zinn and Ellsworth listened for sound production. The graduate students would then provide coaching and feedback, which was highly appreciated by the non–native English speakers.

“We as English speakers have no idea of the status we have in being able to speak English,” Zinn said. “What comes naturally to us is a huge struggle for South Koreans to get absolutely correct. I can’t quantify how much it means to them to be able to have interactions with Americans.”

Sightseeing trips and meals provided Ellsworth and Zinn not only the chance to experience and learn about Korean culture, but also a valuable opportunity for students to practice their English conversation skills with native speakers. The two graduate students also helped collaborate on Kang’s software, having their voices recorded while speaking various vowel sounds.

Harbers attended instructional sessions and other events with Ellsworth and Zinn, and spent time with Kang reshaping 3–D tongue animations and exchanging ideas on the field. Kang introduced her to Sun Yim, a language professor at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul who was interested in creating a collaborative partnership between students at both universities. Harbers also spoke at Hallym University in Chuncheon.

“I learned more about the pronunciation challenges of trying to learn English phonology when you have a Korean system as your first language,” Harbers said. “I think we all learned more about what sounds are more problematic. It’s so fascinating because in South Korea speaking English is status. Everyone learns it, but they don’t practice it.”

The trio returned to the United States on January 12, just in time for the beginning of spring semester classes the next day. Despite the fast pace of the trip, Harbers, Zinn, and Ellsworth all found the experience to be well worth the time and financial investment.

“There were so many things you could take away from it: the cultural aspect, the language aspect, the clinical aspect, even the tradition,” said Ellsworth, who plans to return to SELI in July with Harbers and three other students after studying abroad in Australia and New Zealand in May.

The success of the trip has led Harbers and Kang to form additional ideas on how SELI and Illinois State University can work together in the future, including the trip to South Korea becoming a biannual offering. It is just one more step Harbers has taken in creating international opportunities for students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. She has two other trips planned, including one to the University of Hong Kong, led by Assistant Professor Hua Ou, and another to London in 2015. However she hopes that even more partnerships can be created domestically as well.