Western Schools in South Korea

Saw this article in the Times today.  In South Korea, the government is financing a 940 acre city on Jeju Island where everyone–doctors, administrators, students, store clerks–will speak English.  The purpose is education; 12 Western schools have plans to open within the city, and the hope is that Korean kids can go to school and speak perfect English when done.  It’s better than sending kids abroad because it’s cheaper, it enables families to stay closer together, and kids will be more likely to retain their Korean and ability to work within a Korean system.  You can see the website for Jeju itself here

I used to feel weird when Asian countries promoted English, but I’m coming to see the reasoning behind it.  English most likely will remain the lingua franca in international business.  Even though China will surpass the U.S. economically, Chinese is just too hard for non-Chinese to learn (not so much because of the speaking, but because of the writing and reading).  I used to worry about English threatening native cultures, but I think that too is unlikely–only the rich will be able to afford these schools anyway.  Having a government sponsored city like Jeju Global Education City is probably a good way for South Korea to expand its ability to sell its products overseas.

10 thoughts on “Western Schools in South Korea

  1. great article!

    I’m glad that the natives are somewhat receptive to the idea. A spanish-only enclave (or any non-english enclave) here in the US would never fly.

    But I’m not so sure if it’s just merely speaking English proficiently that makes them valuable in the Korean workforce, as opposed to their experiences from studying abroad. As a once-college student who studied abroad, I would still encourage most people to see what’s going on out there in the world with their own eyes.

    They say that it will create “school’s for the rich”, but I would venture to guess that the ones going abroad probably come from affluent families as well.

  2. Actually, that’s an interesting idea. It would be quite cool to have places in the US where you could go and live for a time in order to learn another language/culture. Smart Koreans!

  3. I just thought of something. I wonder how effective it will be if the kids start in junior high or later. By that time, kids will already be in the habit of speaking to one another in Korean. They may speak English in class or when buying stuff, but they won’t be speaking it to each other. I wonder how effective this will be, compared with going abroad.

    I guess it’s better than nothing.

    (Man, these recaptchas keep getting harder and harder.)

  4. Hopefully it works out better in S. Korea than it has in either China or Taiwan. I met graduates from those Western schools, those English immersion programs, and frankly, I’m left wondering what exactly their parents paid for all those years. So I agree with Ben II; nothing replaces the direct experience of studying abroad.

    And yeah Byron! These recaptcha prompts are hella hard!

  5. Even though China will surpass the U.S. economically, Chinese is just too hard for non-Chinese to learn (not so much because of the speaking, but because of the writing and reading).

    During college, I showed my Korean name written in hanmun (classical Chinese characters) to fellow Chinese students. Chinese characters is the Latin of Confucian-based East Asian societies. They had trouble recognizing one of the characters. This was before I knew there was such a thing as “simplified characters” which was prolly more familiar to them.

    My first gf was a Cantonese speaker. One day I decided to indulge my inner asshole child and suggested to her wouldn’t the Chinese be much better off if they were made to adopt hangeul as their official written language? I reasoned that it’s an alphabetic system, not tens of thousand of characters. It was developed practically overnight by the mandate of the enlightened 16th century scholar-king Sejeong, designed to be easy to learn so that even the peasants could be literate. This was totally contrary to the prevailing notion that literacy should be solely the province of the yangban-class literati elite. It’s also completely phonetic, like Hebrew. You can read it beautifully without knowing what it all means. Strangely enough, she didn’t seem to take too kindly to that idea.

  6. So I agree with Ben II; nothing replaces the direct experience of studying abroad.

    As someone who has once taught conversational English in a middle school in Korea, I discovered that Koreans are very hesitant to practice speaking English in front of a native English speaker for fear and embarrassment of making mistakes. This single factor probably holds back Korean’s fluency in English more than anything else. Unfortunately, many native English speakers can be linguistically chauvinistic and fail to make allowances for faulty, hesitant English spoken by those from whom this is not their natural tongue. Perhaps that is one of the rationales behind this city.

    Currently, the Koreans are trying and have tried all kinds of experiments to promote English from importing native English speakers as teachers to inventing teaching robots to now this. However outlandish the idea seems, nothing surprises me anymore.

  7. I’m left wondering what exactly their parents paid for all those years.

    Those programs are usually geared to do one thing and one thing only, pass standardized tests such as the TOEFL exam. Hence, lots of people highly fluent in broken English.

  8. This is interesting – my mom pitched this exact same idea (I remember helping her come up with a curriculum, while holding infant LN in my arms) but ran into opposition from then-dean of Jeju University. I’m going to have to ask my mom about this.

  9. This is a bad idea. It will be like those Indonesian who don’t know Indonesia becuase their parent sent them to English schools all their life.

    I wonder if they will only hire white people to teach there. I think it is a waste of money

  10. Not sure how I feel about this. If the entire city is more modern, clean, and well funded than any other city/school area and the schools become the top schools in the nation, then Koreans might associate these positive qualities with the English language and white people and the situation becomes like Indonesia as john mentioned. Going there becomes a status symbol and not just something that helps you out when pursuing an international career.

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