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English-Only Kindergarten Smells Success

Posted November. 27, 2002 23:04,   


`Learn English with Foreign Friends.`

Enthusiastic parents are flocking to a kindergarten located in Gangnam for a special English course in which little children can learn and play with not only native-speaker teachers but also foreign classmates. With too many applicants waiting on line, the kindergarten began to hand out a waiting list.

Educational experts, however, point out that such a plan could backfire if it only focuses on creating a foreign school-like environment, ending up with imbuing children with sense of inferiority about our language and culture.

▽Feeling Like Being in `Foreign School`

`J` kindergarten located in Banpo-dong, Seoul announced on Nov. 27 a plan to open an English-only course beginning this spring semester, where children learn in the foreign school-like environment.

Students will not only meet foreign teachers and textbooks, but also learn with foreign friends, it said. The course will be offered to small children aged 3 to third-graders at primary school. It will cost about 5 million won for a six months-long course.

The kindergarten explained that it already made an arrangement with a French School in Korea for some 40 French children to attend its English classes. For those foreign students who will learn English as a second foreign language, it will offer some 70% discounts.

About 20 children from Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia already began to enroll in September. The kindergarten, hiring only foreign teachers, further offers circle activities such as `theater play` and `musical band` copying the models in western countries.

˝With foreign classmates, children will not only more easily learn English but also better understand foreign cultures,˝ said Jung, a 37-year-old mother.

▽Foreign Language Learning Boom

So-called English kindergartens hiring native speakers began to spring up in the late 1990s, and now even import American textbooks paying 50,000 to 60,000 won a copy.

Against this backdrop, the emergence of `foreign school-like` kindergarten looks certain to fuel competition for English-only institutes centering on Hannam-dong, Dongbuicheon-dong and Bundang where foreign schools are mostly located.

In comparison, Geio, a leading private institute in Japan, offers both Japanese language course and English course placing a more focus on the former. ˝We have had an exchange program with British schools, but our priority is to let foreign students understand things about Japan,˝ said an official at the institute.


The number of kindergartens has declined from 1,251 in 1998 down to 1,033 this year, but that of English kindergartens increased to 112, accounting for 10% of the total.

With the latter type classified as private language institute, the authorities have yet to review their programs and give instructions.

˝It will help children develop global sense,˝ said Lee Won-young, professor of child education at Joongang University. ˝Yet, they might get the wrong idea about our own language and culture, that ours are inferior to westerners’.

In-Jik Cho cij1999@donga.com