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Korean Language Skills May Be Slipping

Posted February. 16, 2006 02:59,   


Korean language professor Park Deok-yu at Inha University was very disappointed at the results of writing tests conducted at six middle schools in Seoul, Incheon, and Cheonan last December.

Some 200 eighth graders wrote an essay titled, “future dream.” All but two students made spelling mistakes.

A teacher at a middle school in Incheon became perturbed while grading an English examination last December. Seventy percent of 350 students got the right spelling of caterpillar in English, but they misspelled it in Korean.

In a literary class of a high school in Incheon on February 13, when a teacher said, “This character is skeptical,” students seem to have no idea of what “skeptical” means.

The situation is no better in universities. A professor at a university in a metropolitan area said, “When I mentioned “archipelago,” about two thirds of students did not understand. Due to the poor vocabulary of students, it is difficult to conduct classes smoothly.”

Linguists who study the Korean language pointed out that since 1997, when third year elementary students and above began to learn English at schools, less attention has been paid to Korean language education.

About thirty percent of elementary schools nationwide teach first and second graders English in special aptitude classes. An increasing number of schools are changing Chinese character classes to English class. High schools pay less attention to Korean grammar education than to book reading and writing as they try to better prepare students for university entrance examinations.

Whereas Korean people pay little attention to their own language, an increasing number of foreigners are learning Korean. According to the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation, the number of foreigners who took the Korean Language Test rose to 26,569 from 25 countries, up by 51 percent from 2004.

Jun-Ho Cha Kum-Chun Hwang run-juno@donga.com kchwang@donga.com