On the Spread of English in Korea (Blog angry, my friends)

Seoul, South Korea 1:13 AM
Early April 20th 

I am super tired and I have tons of work to do. Unfortunately, it is the type of work that requires full attention and sizable amounts of coffee. I am not quite ready to sleep but I am pretty much done doing hard work today so I find myself blogging. For some reason I decided to join Tyson’s 5 in 5 challenge and now it is a battle of attrition and a test of will. Or not. I have enjoyed the nudge to write more and the excuse to not obsess over typos and the like.  Wondering what to do and trying to avoid the news out of Boston an article caught my attention.  Here it is.  On the surface it might seem like the type of article I would be into. Korea. English. Global whathaveyous. Economics. As I read a bit I got that sinking feeling that something and some things might be a bit off. 

It just hit me that if I were to try to deal with all the mythconceptions about Korea and English teaching I would have no time to actually teach. Anyway, I am not offering up sources but just my thoughts, which are a bit different than the author who didn’t offer up much in the way of sources either, to be fair. Sorry if the tone is snarky. It has been a long week. 

It is funny because the piece I am responding to is not actually the worst offender of Korea-focused half truths I have seen, it just crossed my radar at the right/wrong time. 

So, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the piece. The original is in italics.  

>>Nowhere is this  [the importance of English] more apparent than in South Korea, where the government has gone as far as to outlaw the teaching of English in early education for the sake of preserving its own native language. But despite the official ban, nearly 96 percent of Korean kindergartens offer English (all private – South Korea does not have public kindergarten); the demand for early exposure to the language is simply too high.

Not quite sure the reason for the ban is because people are worried about English encroaching. I think more likely they are worried about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. I am not saying this is a good idea. 

>>The rampant consumption of English education extends beyond the classroom itself, as native English speakers have begun to exploit a burgeoning black market for private tutoring, which can command rates as high as $75 per hour.

“Have begun” is an interesting choice of grammar here. Private lessons were pretty big bag in 1994. Yes, one can make some serious money doing private lessons but “burgeoning” might be a bit too much. I don’t know many people that do much in the way of privates. Maybe I just know the wrong people?

The “author” 
of the piece on tutoring, Kang Shin-Who,  has a less than stellar (by less than stellar, please read: shitty). reputation. So there is that. It seems to me that he has an ax to grind so it might be better to avoid sharing his claims all around the world.

 >>South Korea ranks near the bottom when it comes to English-language proficiency in east Asian countries.

This is an easy one. Everyone takes TOEIC. In other countries people that are not interested in English don’t take it. In Korea, everyone takes the tests. Of course they rank lower. The author seems to blame early education programs for this. Are they doing early English education better in Japan example? 

 >>This [low scores and rankings] could be due to the fact that, despite the prevalence of English instruction, these illicit hagwons (cram-schools) are effectively unregulated. Apart from concerns regarding improper hygiene and lack of lunch programs, these schools are also not required to hire certified teachers. Not only are these schools incredibly expensive, many of them are total shams.

I don’t find it odd at all that after school language institutes don’t offer lunch. Sadly, I actually fully agree with the sham comment. I would like to mention that Spanish teachers at Berlitz or whatever in the good Ol US of A are not likely to be certified teachers either. I actually don’t think being a certified teacher is would  be much of an advantage in most hogwons, anyway.

>>For an article that talks a lot about economics there is not much in the way of supply and demand here.

Also, I am honestly confused if the author is confused about kindergartens or pre-schools or hogwons or a mix or something totally different. Perhaps has has these all mixed up which would make things make much less sense than they do.  

>>On its face, this seems like an unnecessarily bad situation. As with any black market, all the Korean government needs to do in order to protect mothers from wasting money in illegal, often-ineffective early English education is lift the ban on teaching English in kindergarten; this would allow for increased oversight and improved education.

I am not certain more government oversight would automatically lead to improved education.

>>Why did South Korea ban early English education in the first place?
The answer seems to lie in a cultural phenomenon that has something to do with the Internet sensation, Psy.

Yeah, this is when I sort of tuned out. I am ready to blame a lot on Psy, I really am but this is too much. As above, my understanding is that the policy is not about preserving Korean culture or language but trying (in vain and foolishly) to level the playing field and not allowing the haves to get a head start on the have nots in the clearly important race for English.

Anyway, hasn’t this all been going on for a while? Did it start when Psy made it big in the West last year ? Did it start when Psy arrived on the Korean music scene (more than 12 years ago? Did it start when Youtube got popular? 

I might have missed the author’s point but is there any reason why students learning English at an early age would mean that they would lose touch with Korean or Korean culture?  I get dizzy and grumpier when I think about who I disagree with more here. The people that might think Korean kids are going to suddenly stop speaking Korean or the people that think the ban is based on this belief. 

Finally, @EBEFL, over at Evidence Based EFL would probably not approve of the phrase, “the exception the proves the rule” but I have already fulfilled my snark quota for the day so I am out of here.

Goodnight and thanks for reading. Apologies to the author if I was a bit too harsh. I just realized he is still a student. Feeling a bit guilty. Anyway,  I will brush my teeth and go to bed.

Signing off..

2:15 am 


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