Annyeong! Let's speak English

Annyeong! Let's speak English

SOUTH KOREA - It has made great strides in technology and is the world's most wired nation, yet the new focus for South Koreans is to learn English as they see its indisputable dominance globally.

South Korean students are simply committed to studying English.

They spend much more time studying the language than their peers in other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations, and students learn English throughout the 12 years they spend in elementary, middle and high school, not to mention kindergarten.

And as the language continues to be a priority even after they enter college since it is a a prerequisite for landing decent jobs after graduation, most university students here take an English course for one or two years alongside other major subjects.

Many undergraduates are now required to complete certain credits in English and to acquire high scores on English proficiency tests, such as TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) or TOEFL ((Test of English as a Foreign Language) in order to receive a degree from their respective universities.

The trend has spurred more and more public and private universities to offer courses conducted entirely in English.

"One key driver of this trend is that Korean universities are increasingly concerned about their roles in a globalised world," Sohn Dong-young, an associate professor in the department of media and communication at Hanyang University, told The Korea Herald.

"I also teach my course in English with the aim of helping students better prepare for a globalised job market," he added.

To foster the global competitiveness of their students, now several universities, including Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, have started to offer all courses exclusively in English.

Kim Keon-woo, a 23-year-old computer engineering major, said he would be happy to attend more English-only lectures.

"For students like me, who want to go abroad to study or work, having the experience (of taking English-only classes) is highly useful," he said.

Currently, English-only lectures account for about one-third of the total lectures in most universities.

Yet more schools are now trying to increase that proportion not only to encourage students to go abroad, but also to attract overseas students, according to an official from Hanyang University.

To introduce more English-only lectures, universities here have been recruiting professors who are English-proficient. The varsities have also been providing them with financial incentives.

Students, on the other hand, get more scholarship opportunities by attending English-only lectures.

Nevertheless, some educators remain critical as to whether universities should teach more courses in English.

Linguists, in particular, argue that teaching in English is very different from teaching English.

They insist that students' learning efficiency may decline if they attend English-only classes, arguing that certain subjects, such as Korean history and literature, would be better taught in Korean.

A recent survey taken by 2,400 university students also raises questions about the effectiveness of English-only classes.

According to the survey, about 40 per cent of students understand less than 60 per cent of the content in such classes, while only 27 per cent of the respondents said they were able to understand 80 per cent or more of the class.

Nearly half of the respondents said they questioned the efficiency of such English-only courses, while 24 per cent found them to be helpful.

"Lectures conducted in English are not properly conducted due to the low level of students' comprehension," said Lee Kwang-hyun, a professor of education at Busan National University, who carried out the student survey.

Sohn of Hanyang University also disagreed with the idea of teaching all subjects in English.

"We should be careful because the most important thing universities can do for their students is to provide the best possible learning experience," he said.

"It is up to these schools to try and make the learning experience more useful and enjoyable."

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