Linguistic Imperialism?

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

From today’s Korea Herald:

High Schools May Teach in English from 2010

Elite high schools are expected to begin teaching various subjects in English in 2010, according to the presidential transition committee yesterday

It is part of President-elect Lee Myung-bak’s plans to enhance English education, which will be announce early next month.

The new policy, designed to offer students greater exposure to English, will be implemented first in elite schools including autonomous private high schools, and be expanded later to ordinary schools, officials said. The two kinds of schools targeted for the first implementation are among the 300 kinds of schools which the incoming government plans to introduce, as part of its efforts to give schools more leeway in creating and managing their curricula.

Amid concerns that a quick implementation of such a program in all subjects could have negative effects, such as a decrease in students’ understanding of the subjects, the committee is considering applying the teaching program only to relatively easy-to-understand subjects such as math and science first, and to others gradually.

The committee said it plans to implement the English immersion policy as soon as possible, in order to ease the financial burden on parents which stems from the high costs of their children’s private English classes — estimated at 15 trillion won ($15.8 billion) a year.

Meanwhile, concerns are rising about the practicality of such a policy of “immersing” students in classes where they can learn other subjects in English.

“To create the right environment where teachers are capable enough to smoothly lead a class in English, and students can understand the lesson, is of paramount importance. Rather than discussing whether the policy is good or not, we should create the conditions first, which is fairly difficult, at present,” said Cha Kyung-whan, a professor in the English education department at ChungAng University.

“It would be very difficult in the actual subjects, although the policy itself looks really ideal. Even in a highly advanced class, only one third of the students understand my English lecturing. Teaching other subjects in English would increase the anxiety of the students and make them shy away from the subjects, while those who are good at English enjoy the classes. This could, in turn, exacerbate the social gap,” said Kang Dong-heun, an English teacher in Incheon.

By Song Sang-ho



Really??? Not that I’m advocating hypernationalism via monolingualism, but I think Korea is in perpetual danger of being drawn further and further into the sphere of American (neo)imperialism. The Korean language is beautiful in its own right; what will happen to the students at those “elite” schools? Will they be able to function in Korean society as well as their non-“elite” peers? How will they view their national culture if their language use is different? How has this worked out (or not) in other countries (Philippines, Singapore, etc)?

sigh… And here I am, trying like mad to learn Korean.

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