[KS] Unstoppable English - Korea and Japan make English Official (못말리는 영어)

kc Kim kc.kim2 at gmail.com
Mon Jul 12 23:20:21 EDT 2010


Thank you for your thoughtful response.

I would like to comment on just two of the points you make:
that "the Japanese were not irrational enough" and that
"Korean schools have little to do with English proficiency"

First about being crazy:

I absolutely agree here, but I am inclined to see this more as being a
complimentary remark.  I think Korea has to be given credit for being
"crazy" enough to take the risks and try new approaches, even when
there were obvious negatives.

The saying in Korean is "미처야 미친다," or "You have to be richly mad
to reach your mad  goals."   And given that every other previous methods
failed to provide desired proficiency in English(drilling in grammar,
traditional language teaching methods, etc), I think Koreans have to be given
credit for having been willing to take the risks and for trying many
and different
approaches to achieve English proficiency.

They've succeeded while the Japanese in their "insufficient madness" have
not. Perhaps the limits of even the best laid blueprint of plan of
action has to
be recognized and give due credit to "being crazy" when all else fail.

As to the negatives, I think they have to be seen as the fallout from
the process
of learning by trial and error, and certainly of manageable scale when the
surrounding environment is supportive.  In this regard, I see the effort by the
Koreans to embrace multiculturalism as really praiseworthy.  As I see it,
the Korean government and society is not just giving lip service in promoting
this effort. They are serious and I think good benefits will flow from it as it
faces the challenges of changing demographics and greater flow of
people and ideas as the borders become more open as trade volume increase.

About schools having nothing to do with it:

This point seems to echo an earlier observation about how most of the
near-native foreign speakers of Korean did not learn it in school by
Ross King.  Just as the Western university developed programs have
failed to successfully, in most cases, teach Korean, the same seems
to be true for teaching English and what has come of orthodox
methodologies coming out of Japan and Korea universitieis.

Perhaps the experiences and practices of the more innovative Hagwons
and successful kirogi families should be examined and studied more closely,
instead of being only ridiculed or attacked.


Joobai Lee


On Mon, Jul 12, 2010 at 11:23 AM, <johnfrankl at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Thank you for the thought-provoking post. I have given this a lot of consideration in the past, and will add just a few thoughts and observations.
> First of all, you are absolutely correct about Korea being
> far ahead of Japan in terms of English language proficiency
>and usage. The Japanese themselves are also fully aware of
>this. I have only been at Yonsei for five years, but we have
>already hosted several different groups of Japanese educators
>who wanted to ask us about the "secret"  to Koreans' English
>proficiency. My former dean wryly commented to one group that
> they would never catch the Koreans because the Japanese were
>not irrational enough to pay ridiculous amounts for private education,
>live apart as kirOgi for several years at a time, and often lose a
>good degree of fluency in their mother tongue all for better English.
> He was only partially joking, and added quite seriously that
> Korean schools have little to do with English proficiency.
> But he also commented that he believed Japan was more
> like the U.S.--a large and rather self-sufficient country/economy
>that was rather complacent with monolingualism--while Korea
>"needed" English to be competetive. While this is rather simplistic,
>it is also worth considering.
> As for companies/universities adopting English as their official language, this should also be taken with a grain of salt. I cannot speak for Japan, but in Korea these claims and figures are quite often inflated. Legislating "100% English" is somewhat akin to making drugs or prostitution illegal and then assuming they will not be readily available; official statutes and policies often have little relationship to actual circumstances.
> "Are they pursuing an independent strategy for globalization from that
> being pursued by the Korean elite?"
> If you mean raising their children in U.S. boarding schools or domestic international schools with the concommitant loss of Korean language ability, yes.
> "This terrible fear of raising Japanese illiterates seems to be behind the
> tendency of the Japanese students and businessmen abroad to leave
> their family behind in Japan.  Korean students and businessmen abroad
> on the other hand, appear not to be subject to such fear of illiteracy
> (thanks to Hangul), and have the exact opposite tendency of having their
> children in the States, so I have observed."
> Hangul may make their children (and anyone else with a few hours to study) able to read, but that is quite different from actual ability in the language, which I think the Japanese you mentioned were pursuing.
> "Over the last 10 years, the public's attitude also seems to have gone
> decidedly pro-English.  Every public survey about using English as the
> official language at work seems to show that about 70% of the respondents
> favor it."
> Yes, and how ironic. In the xenophobic 80s and early 90s many parents were against English being introduced to their innocent children before middle school, fearing it would corrupt their Korean identity. Now they send them abroad before puberty.
> "Now this is a brave new world in Korea."
> This is where I disagree. The xenophobic, monolingual South Korea of the mid-to-late 20th century represents the abberation. For well over 1,000 years prior to 1945, nearly all members of the Korean "upper class" were in a sense at least bilingual and bicultural. This was true, of course, for many places outside Korea prior to the rise of nationalism. In any case, employing English as an official language of scholarship, business, law, etc. while using Korean for much of spoken and casual written communication has much in common with Korea's historical use of literary Chinese. As such, I see it more as a return to established practice than as "a brave new world."
> A couple of random but not unrelated thoughts are as follows:
> The above observation dovetails nicely with the fact that contemporary Korean nationalism is much more ethnic than cultural/linguistic.
> Whether discussing literary Chinese in the Choson dynasty or English today, many Koreans at the top of the social hierarchy had/have a vested interest in keeping access limited.
> National language is not always pushed for altruistic or patriotic purposes. Certain groups of Koreans, Japanese, and Westerners were all pushing for increased hangul usage in the late-19th and early-20th century. But all of them were doing so for the selfish reason of wanting to disseminate their own propaganda more quickly and efficiently, not for any love of King Sejong.

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