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[Opinion] Korean English Reform

Posted May. 08, 2006 07:08,   


More than 15,000 primary and secondary school students go abroad to study every year. Their decisive motive to study abroad and take risks is English. Only 27% of all freshmen this year who go to Seoul National University were eligible for taking advanced-level English courses. This means English education in Korea is not enough in spite of four years in elementary school, and six years in middle and high school. Parents are well aware of the fact that English will be a necessary weapon to survive when their children grow up. So studying abroad at an early age is a product of wishes of parents who want their children to master English.

Some analyses show that bad textbooks are one of culprits for insufficient English education. Lee Ju-ho, a congressman of Grand National Party said that 30 errors have been found in five kinds of high school English textbooks. The bigger problem is that there are lots of “Konglish,” awkward English expressions, in them and that students are learning them.

There are 15 kinds of high school English textbooks. It seems that a competition screening bad textbooks has been set up. But this is not the case. Whether text books are well-made or not, the same proportion of net profits is distributed to publishers. In advanced countries, a large amount of money is spent in making textbooks looking good and useful. They make textbooks the best so that students feel like reading them. Meanwhile, Korean English textbooks are produced at cheap price and on top of that, they are a subject of bid rigging.

It is said that Korean Americans are eagerly teaching their children Korean these days. In the past, they insisted that their children should not use Korean to better accommodate themselves to the US society. They have changed their minds because their chances of succeeding in American society as Korean Americans speaking only English are low. People with good command of both Korean and English have an upper hand in competition. We, too, should try to produce talents who are fluent both in English and Korean. That is a way out of the difficulty for Koreans and a way of language education from now on. The number of cases of going abroad to study would decrease if one becomes able to use English perfectly only from domestic education. That is why a complete reform of English education is urgent.

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