'English proficiency in Korea unimproved'

Despite huge investment and educational zeal, the English language skills of Korea’s adults have not improved and have remained at a moderate level over the past six years, according to a global survey released on Tuesday.

Korea is ranked 24th among 60 countries where English is not a native language, according to the English Proficiency Index compiled by Education First, an international education company based in Switzerland.

Korea was below Asian neighbours like Malaysia (11th) and Singapore (12th) and only slightly higher than Japan (26th).

The top five nations were all European nations, namely: Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Estonia and Denmark.

The survey was based on results from free online English comprehension tests taken last year by 750,000 people from around the world. The tests included grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening sections.

In addition to ranking 60 countries, the EF included an analysis of English proficiency trends from 2007 to 2012, using past test data from more than 5 million adults.

The report shows that Korea’s score has dropped by 0.73 point over the six-year period, while the rest of Asia, including Indonesia, Vietnam and China, has made dramatic gains.

It will be seen as a disappointing result for the country considering the significant amount of time and money spent on English education. While compulsory education begins at age 7, many children start to learn English at kindergarten and through private tutoring much earlier.

Korea’s traditional English instruction that focuses on memorization and grammar partly contributed to the lack of improvement, the report said.

“(Korean) students graduate with technical skills, but many lack the ability to communicate with others in English,” it said.

“We found that by engaging in a national dialogue about English, stakeholders can help align goals, improve incentives, and focus on teaching English for communication,” said Christopher McCormick, senior vice president of EF’s academic affairs.