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[Opinion] Korean Language in Crisis

Posted July. 06, 2005 00:37,   


Korean scholar Ju Shi-geong likened learning and ameliorating Korean to house cleaning. Just as the heart of family members becomes confused when a house is untidy, he judged that national spirit and the nation itself, too, would become loose and weak if Korean speaking and writing become muddled. Lee Hae-in’s poem, “Words That Nurture Me” sings that good words make a society mature: “When I say beautiful, I also become a beautiful person for a while and my heart lights up/ Good words nurture me/ I know it again as I speak.”

The phenomenon of a language breaking down is serious. Expressions that seem to mock Korean flood the Internet. The young are not only to blame inasmuch as the Korean president himself pours out thoughtless words. The crisis of the Korean language goes further than contamination and vulgarity. Corporate personnel managers expressed discontent about the lacking Korean ability of university graduates in a survey. Due to their lack of speaking and writing skills, they cannot produce plans and reports properly. They also lack presentation skills in which they have to speak before many people.

Writing and speaking are the very ability to express oneself. As there goes the saying, “You can succeed only if you speak well,” the power to convey one’s opinion exactly and persuade is a “weapon for survival” in the competitive era. Advanced nations recently reinforced drama and arts education to enhance their students’ expression ability. Scholar Ouyang Xiu in China’s former Cheong Dynasty proposed “Three a lots” to write well: to read, write, and think a lot. Korea lacked such education. Adults did not pay attention to refining their Korean, either.

National competitiveness drops when the number of those who cannot not write and speak increases. A corrupt language makes a society ill. How should we tackle the problem of generally poor Korean language skills? Others will not protect Korean; we have to do it ourselves. It is a crime to pass on spoiled Korean because our language encompasses our national soul.

Hong Chan-sik , Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com