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Korea, an English-speaking Country?

All Koreans will speak English soon. Will stress about whether you can speak English or not increase or decrease? The new government, Lee Myung Bak’s transition team, announced that all schools in Korea will teach subjects in English. Since one week passed after the announcement of their plan, portal sites and opinion sections are full of this plan.

Kim Hyung Seok criticizes the reasons why English is more important than fundamental education.

[…]영어는 일종의 커뮤니케이션 수단이다. (영어는 영어지 영문학이 아니라는 뜻) […]지금 인수위 하는짓은 비용적으로도 대단히 비효율적이다. 아이들이 영어수업을 따라가려면 엄청난 영어교육이 필수적이다. 웬만한 영어 훈련으로는 도저히 불가능하다. 그렇다면 결국 막대한 비용과 시간을 투자해서 영어훈련을 선행해야 한다는 말이 된다. […] 거듭 거듭 말하지만 영어는 보조수단에 불과한거다. 우리 아이들이 앞단에서 지식과 학문의 인식과 논리체계를 잘 잡아놓으면 뒷단의 문제해결과정에 추가 옵션으로 영어를 장착하면된다. 게다가 문제 해결방식에 영어가 필요 없는 사람은 궂이 영어를 배울 이유도 없다. 스트레스 받지 않고 그냥 생존영어만으로도 충분 한거다. 이명박 인수위는 아무래도 무슨 무슨 영어유치원 프랜차이즈나 대형 영어학원과 커넥션이 있는게 아닐까라는 생각마저 든다.

[…]English is a means of communication (English is English, not English literature). […] What the Lee Myung Bak administration drives forward is very inefficient in terms of expenses. In order to catch up with English classes, a lot of devotion for English education is essential. It is impossible to have normal English training. Then it means that English training with tremendous capital and time should be necessary. […] I’m emphasizing this again. English is an auxiliary means. Our children should frame knowledge and learning, and analyses in advance. In the processes of questions and solutions, English can be set up as an option. People who don’t need English don’t have to learn English either. Without stress, English for survival is good enough. I even suspect that the Lee administration has some conntections with English franchises or institutes.

The change will lead to a decrease in private tuition and an increase in globalization, the Lee administration emphasized. But many netizens don’t agree.

[…]명분은 좋다. 세계화 시대에 영어 필요한 거 누가 모르고 영어로 인한 사교육비 줄여야 하는 거 누가 모르나? 문제는 인수위가 내놓은 영어 몰입교육안은 현실성도 없을 뿐더러 사교육비는 더 늘릴 공산이 크고 심지어 그네들이 그렇게 마르고 닳도록 좋아하는 세계화에도 별 도움이 안 되는 한심한 방안이라는 거다[…]영어 몰입교육의 기본전제는 영어를 가르칠 수 있는 숙련된 전문인력의 공급이다. 그러나 불행하게도 그런 전문인력은 없다. 현재의 공교육 수준으로는 영어수업을 영어로 진행하는 것조차 무리이다. […] 사교육비 절감? 말도 안되는 궤변이다. 인수위 논리대로라면 우리나라에 사교육은 있을 이유가 없다. 고등학교 과정까지 공교육에서 가르치고 수능도 원칙적으로 교과서와 EBS에서 나오는데 뭣하러 사교육을 받겠는가. 사교육이 난무하는 이유는 첫째로 다른 사람과의 경쟁에서 이기고 싶은 욕망이 있기 때문이고, 둘째로는 공교육이 부실하기 때문이다. 당연히 영어 수업을 아무리 충실히 한들 첫째 원인은 사라지지 않는다. 대학이 서열화되어있는 한은 말이다. 그리고 둘째인 공교육 부실은 더욱 심각해진다. 앞서 언급한 것처럼 영어 수업을 할 인력이 사실상 전무하다. 안그래도 공교육에 불만이 많은 학생들이다. 그 수업마저 어설픈 영어로 더듬더듬 진행한다면 그런 수업을 열심히 듣겠는가? 차라리 그 시간에 자고 학교 끝나자마자 학원으로 달려갈 것이다. […] 고등학교에 영어수업을 도입하면 중딩들이 열심히 영어회화학원에 다닐 것이고 초등학교에 영어수업을 도입하면 불쌍한 아이들은 영어 유치원에 다녀야 할 것이다. 물론 이게 다 부모들 돈이다. 돈이 없으면? 억울하면 성공하세요! […] Konglish하는 선생님들에게 배워서 느는 건 Konglish뿐이다.(교사들을 비하하려는 게 아니다. 영어 수업 같은걸 해본적도 없고 영어교사가 아니고서야 영어를 쓸 일도 거의 없는 교사들이 영어를 능숙하게 못하는 건 너무나 당연하다.) 전 세계인들은 English를 쓰는데 Konglish쓰는 인재(?)를 열심히 키워서 뭐할 셈인가? 이건 세계화에도 역행하는 바보짓이다. […] 공교육도 죽이고, 서민 경제도 파탄내니 원샷 투킬이다.

[…] It sounds good. Who doesn’t know English is necessary in this globalized world and private tuition fee for English should be less? The problem is the English immersion program that the Lee administration tries to propel is not realistic and the private tuition fee will grow. In addition, their suggestion is not going to be so helpful for the globalization that they long for. […] The basic condition for the English immersion program is the supply of professional human resources so that they can teach English. Unfortunately, there are no such professionals. It is impossible to have English classes with the current education. […] Decrease in private tuition fee? It doesn’t make sense. According to their theory, Korea shouldn’t have private tuition. Public education takes care of students to the high school level, and preparation for college admission test is enough with textbooks and EBS (education channel in Korea: author). Then why do we need private tuition? The reasons for private tuition include first, desire to win against other competitors. Second, public education is not good enough. Even though there are good English classes, the first reason is not going to disappear, as long as college levels exist. And the second reason will be more serious. Like I mentioned before, human resources for teaching English classes are almost nothing. Students are already not satisfied with public education. Then if the classes will change to poor English, who will listen to the classes? They would rather be taking a nap at school and rush to private institutes after classes. […] If high schools will apply English classes, middle school students will rush to English institutes. If primary schools will apply English classes, poor kids have to go to English kindergartens. Of course, everything should be covered with parents’ money. If they don’t have money? You’d better succeed.[…] What students can learn from teachers who speak Konglish is Konglish (I’m not looking down on teachers. It is natural that teachers who rarely use English are not good at speaking English). People in other countries use English. What can we do with people who speak Konglish? It is stupid to go against globalization.[…] killing public education and destroying citizens’ economy…it’s one shot and two kills.

Deulpul made up a funny news article, based on the new plan of the Lee Administration.

(서울=연압뉴스) 앞으로 대통령직 인수위원회의 모든 회의가 영어로 진행되는 방안이 추진된다.

이경숙 대통령직 인수위원장은 23일 기자들과 만나 “금일 이후 대통령직 인수위원회에서 진행되는 모든 회의와 토론이 영어로 이루어질 것”이라고 밝혔다.

이 위원장은 ‘영어를 인수위 내의 공용어로 쓴다는 말이냐'라는 기자들의 질문에 “그렇게 보면 된다”라고 대답했다.이에 앞서 이 위원장은 “인수위에서 일하시는 분들이 모두 적어도 대학 졸업자인데 일상 언어를 영어로 말하지 않는다는 것은 어불성설이다”라고 강조했다.또 회의나 토론 같은 공식 자리에서뿐 아니라 개인간의 대화나 전화 통화에서도 모두 영어를 쓰도록 할 방침이다. 이 방침을 위반한 인수위원은 과거사위원회로 좌천시킬 예정이다.

이같은 방침은 영어 공교육을 획기적으로 강화하겠다는 이명박 당선자의 공약을 인수위 내부로부터 실현하겠다는 뜻을 분명히 한 것이어서 상당한 파장이 일 전망이다.이에 따라 이 위원장을 비롯한 모든 인수위원들의 업무 시간은 오전 9시~12시로 조정될 예정이다. 나머지 시간은 영어를 배우는 시간으로 활용된다. 벌써 강남의 유명 영어 학원들이 인수위 주변으로 옮기는 움직임이 나타나고 있다. K학원의 최모 원장은 “이제 인수위 위에 영어강사위가 있다”라고 말했다.

인수위에서는 이같은 부작용을 방지하기 위해, 미국 최대의 소매점 체인인 월마트와 영어 원어민 강사 수입 계약을 추진중인 것으로 알려졌다. 이 체인을 통해 국졸 이상의 우수한 원어민 강사를 인수위에 직수입해올 수 있기 때문이다.이러한 계약이 성사되면 대통령 인수위의 주요 정책은 미국에서 긴급 수입된 월마트 직원에 의해 결정될 공산이 크다. 또 월마트 직원과 외국인 신분의 한국 공무원 사이에 치열한 권력 다툼이 벌어질 전망이다. 이 위원장은 “이것은 한국이 세계 시장에 진출하기 위해 겪어야 하는 비용이다”라고 말했다.일각에서는 이같은 조처가 인수위에 불필요한 회의가 지나치게 많고 인수위 위원들이 말이 너무 많은 데 대한 충격적 대책이라고 진단한다. 영어 사용을 의무화하면 모두 말을 극단적으로 아낄 것이라는 예측 때문이다.

한편 지난 주부터 인수위가 사용하는 모든 유선 전화기가 영어로만 사용할 수 있는 기기로 교체된 것으로 밝혀졌다. 이 전화기는 영어 이외의 잡언어로 통화를 시도하면 자동으로 연결이 차단된다. 인수위의 전화 라인 서비스 제공 업체인 한국통신은 이 조처로 전화료 수입이 크게 줄어들 것으로 예상하고 있다. 실제로 영어 전용 전화기로 교체된 뒤 일주일 동안 인수위 전체에서 이루어진 유선 통화는 단 두 건에 불과한 것으로 나타났다. 그 중 하나는 잘못 온 전화였다.

한편 이 날 기자들과의 간담회에서, 한 기자가 왜 이 위원장의 발표는 영어로 하지 않느냐고 질문하자 이 위원장은 “그 때는 다 그랬다”라는 알쏭달쏭한 말을 남기고 황급히 자리를 떴다.

(Seoul=Yeonap News) In the future, the Lee administration will hold all meetings in English. Lee Kyung Sook, head of president-elect Lee Myung Bak’s transition team, told a press conference on the 23rd, “From today, all meetings and discussions that the Lee Myung Bak administration will hold will be managed in English.” About a reporter’s question, “Does that mean English will be an official language?,” she answered, “Yes.”

She also emphasized “People who work here are all college graduates. So it doesn’t make sense that they don’t speak English as an everyday language.” In addition to official meetings, individual and phone conversations will be also all in English. Team members against this regulation will be downgraded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Korea (The Lee administration announced the closure of this commission: author). Therefore, working hours for team members will be re-arranged from 9-12 am. The rest of the time will be used for learning Enlgish. Famous English institutes in Kangnam already started moving near the Lee administration office. A chairman of K institute said, “English teachers will be higher than those team members in terms of status.”

In order to prevent this side-effect, they are considering having a contract with employees from WalMart, one of the biggest retail stores in the U.S. From this store, they will import native speaking teachers who have from primary school graduating certificates. If the negotiation ends smoothly, the major policies of the Lee administration will be decided by employees from WalMart. Conflict between Korean government officials and WalMart employees over authority can be predicted. Lee Kyung Sook said, “It is the expense that we have to put up with in order to step in international markets.” Some people analyze that this is the counterplan because the Lee administration has way too many meetings and the transition team members are way too talkative. If English speaking is compulsory, everyone will speak much less.

In addition, telephones used by the Lee administration are changed to English speaking equipments. If they speak other languages, the phones will be automatically off. Korea Communication, which serves phone lines for transition team members, predicts that phone fees will decrease fast. In fact, since the phones were changed a week ago, two calls were made. One of them was the wrong number.

During the press conference, a reporter asked why Lee Kyung Sook doesn’t have her presentation in English. She ambigiously answered “All did at that time” and left hastily.

Korean teachers are one of the groups most concerned about this new plan.

요즘 4학년 이제 졸업시즌이 오면서 임용준비한다고 노량진 고시학원을 다니고있습니다. 사범대에 들어오면서 제가 생각하는 선생님이 이렇게 힘들고 또 엄격한 과정을 통해 배출되고 아이들을 가르치고 계시는구나 하는 생각에 절로 숙연해 지는 마음은 어쩔수 없더군요…

신문기사를 읽었습니다.영어로 모든과목을 가르치겠다…인수위, 이명박씨께선 무슨생각으로 이런정책을 펴시는건지…언어는 한나라의 혼과 얼이 담겨져있는 문화유산입니다.

기러기아빠를 위해서라구요? 서민층을 위한다는 후보님의 말은 어디로 가셨나요?기러기아빠들은 애초부터 서민들과는 거리가 먼 분들이 대부분이지 않나요?먹고살기도 힘든 서민들이 몇천씩 들여가며 기러기아빠노릇을 합니까?

사교육경감이라구요?
영어로 수업을 하면 사교육이 경감된다는 논리는 어디서 나온건지 머릿속에 들어가보고싶습니다.
영어를 못알아듣는 아이들은 그럼 꼴지를 하라는 말씀이신가요?
그아이들도 학생인데 수업을 따라가기 위해서는 학원을 다닐수밖에 없습니다.[…]

사교육 경감대책이 오히려 사교육을 더 늘린다는 생각은 왜 못하시는지…

I am a senior at a teaching university. Preparing for the teaching test at an institute in Noryangjin, I have respect for teachers who went through a difficult and serious process for 4 years… I read a newspaper…. teaching all subjects in English. The transition team, what thought does Lee Myung Bak have to suggest such a policy? Language is a cultural heritage that includes spirit and soul.

For geese fathers? [http://news.ncmonline.com/news/view_article.html?article_id=1585a9d19045a34b8d1de6b0794735fb] Didn’t Lee say he will work for common people? Aren’t geese fathers distant from common people? How many common people who have difficulty making a living are geese fathers?

For decrease of private tuition? I would like to look into his mind to know why he thinks English classes will decrease private tuition. Then, should children who don’t understand English be losers? In order to catch up with classes, they should go to private institutes.[…]

Don’t they think that their policy to decrease private tuition will increase private tuition? […]

English-speaking nations are wealthy nations? Not a few netizens question this linkage, making reference to the development of the Philippines.

미국의 독립지원으로 독립한 필리핀… 경제조달로 FTA는 예전부터 …70년당시 한국보다 무지무지 잘 사는 나라중 하나…[…]
근데… 필리핀을 따라가자는 한국…필리핀의 사립중고교의 한해 교육비는 2000만원가량… 대부분 미국이나 상류층 자제들…우리나라 곧 사립중고교의 300개 만든다는데… 잘 따라간다… […]

The Philippines, which obtained independence by the support of the U.S. … Due to economic support, they already compromised FTA. It was a much wealthier country than Korea in the 70s.[…] Then Korea is trying to copy the Philippines. Tuition fee at private secondary schools in the Philippines is about 20 million won (US$20,000)… they are mostly children of the wealthy class or from America. Korea plans to make 300 private secondary schools soon… It’s good…[…]

6 comments

  • Jim

    I have been teaching in Korea for over 6 years now. This PLAN seems great on paper, however, it can not happen. First, only 1 out of 15 Korean public school teachers can speak adequate English (you would have to hire a new teaching force). Second, students and teachers refuse to speak English. This may be a personal experience, but, Koreans since the early years of ESL education, study written English rather than spoken English. As a result of this, Koreans generally are shy with speaking and have difficulty with communicating ideas. Third, the foreign teacher population is not stable. With the change in public school policy and the lack of English proficiency of Korean teachers, Korea would need to triple its foreign teacher population (or even more). However, foreign teachers generally remain in the country for maybe 1 or 2 years only. Foreign teachers rarely are accepted as equals and are not even hired as official teachers (with derogatory terms such as F.A.T. to name them “Foreign Assistant Teachers”). Many teachers are repulsed by the system right from the first few weeks and rarely renew the contract. Foreign teachers are often accused of being pedophiles, criminals, drug users and disease carriers due to media exaggeration and a bad example of a few offenders in the past. Further, with the new visa policies for foreign teachers, many teachers are either scared or rejected from working in Korea. If Korea wanted to Really become a fluent in English, they would have to change the entire visa, public school system and the general mentality of the populous.

  • Adam

    I echo Jim’s comments. There simply aren’t enough Korean teachers who speak English fluently or confidently enough to make this plan viable. I worry about the quality of the teaching that will go into these classes.

    Moreover, I also have doubts about the logic behind the plan. Why do all Koreans need to speak English? “It’s necessary in a globalised world” simply doesn’t cut it. Necessary in order to do what? In all the governmental zeal, has anyone thought about this?

  • […]  http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2008/01/26/korea-korea-and-english-speaking-country/ […]

  • art

    Korea and Japan have wonderful opportunities to become English speaking countries. We must be careful to define what an English speaking country means. Should these to economic giants be English speaking countries in the form of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand? Or countries like India, the Philippines, South Africa, and Hong Kong, where English “can be” a second language.

    In India and the Philippines, English is official but are considered “second languages”. In these two countries, English, although a second lanugage to many of its citizens, is NOT a foreign language as it is in Korea and Japan.

    You have to remember, India was a British Colony for 250 years and the Philippines was under American administration for 50 years. The English language now is PART of the Indian and Filipino culture. The T.V. programs, newspapers, radio stations have many articles and programs in English, and also English became the medium of instruction at schools as well as their own languages. The U.S. and Great Britian are two of the most powerful and infuential English speaking super-powers the world has ever seen.

    In Korea and Japan, English at this present time is generalized as “foreign” because of the social traditions and customs of both countries. Both countries feel “foreign” influence such as English used in daily lives, would decrease and take away from ancient Korean and Japanese cultural practices.

    Therefore, where English is easily spoken on the streets in India and the Philippines, it may always be difficult for Korea and Japan to speak English to their own citizens without being chastised by traditionalists.

    Four recommendations;

    1) From elementary school, set aside one hour a day watching and listening to British-Canadian-Australian-American educational programs and cartoons.

    2) Middle school, set aside one class to focus on writing, speaking and exposure to reading magazines, newspapers and radio programs.

    3) High school, set aside one class just on English conversation.

    4) University, offer courses that allow students to express themselves in English by debating on social, political, and economical issues. But most importantly, Hyejin Kim, please change your hairdo. Gee, don’t you feel stupid now?

  • Hyejin

    Art, thanks for the good comment.

    And the photo is 10 years ago. Anyway… it was really not nice of you to criticize other person’s hairdo. Hope you can be more polite (or considerate) later.

  • Erik

    Adam brings up a topic that I’ve heard debated by foreign and local teachers alike — why do all Koreans need to speak English?

    While I believe that aspects of the administration’s PLAN succeed in contextualizing and legitimizing the language in terms of usage, there is no indication that this should be or need be done across the board. Moreover, this legitimization only appears to be within very discrete terms, outside of the realm of daily communicative competency.

    In my experience, one major weakness with the current — and, in all reality, proposed-future — Korean English educational environment is that it treats language acquisition as a quantifiable entity, similar to how systems treat math or science (and shift focus away from the arts and humanities) Everyone must participate, regardless of ends. Everyone must advance, regardless of progress. Success will be decided through standardized tests. I

    In all it’s rhetorical glory and “radical” labels, I feel that the current proposal is little more than a shiny veneer placed on one small surface of a largely-failing educational system.

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