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Several Problems South Korean Students Face Learning English

Several Problems South Korean Students Face Learning English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

This essay examines English education in South Korea and its socio-cultural problems. The discussion draws on my personal beliefs and experiences. First, the history of Korean education is laid out by illustrating the cultural background of Korean society. Following that, it traces the problems of learners of the English language in Korea and tips on how to improve their learning.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Nayoung H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

National Background

For a long time, Korea has been a country that’s been highly education-obsessed. Entry to a top university has led to prestigious, well-paying, and secure jobs; it has even led to fame. Therefore, the country has been heavily invested in education and having a university degree has become very important. Some students don’t even wish to go to a university but still go in order to have better societal status on the promise that tuition is paid by their parents (Education is so important that a lot of Korean parents are eager to support their children’s’ education). As a result, this has led to a key problem of English learners in Korean society in that they have been largely focused on the written college entrance exam, they neglect skills associated with speaking.

The Korean government has actively promoted English proficiency since the late 1990s as a vital tool for the competitiveness of the people and the country. English education has somewhat evolved over the past 20 years. As an example, from 1997, English has been taught in the 3rd grade, which used to be taught in middle school (7th grade). In this time, many private English language academies emerged trying to differentiate themselves. Sometimes English was taught at preschools before kids could fully develop their mother tongue.

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Education System

However, this over-focus on English education has created all sorts of problems in Korea. For example, private language academies are expensive, especially the ones that offer private lessons with native English speakers. Kids that can’t afford a private academy naturally feel neglected and left out. Arising from the government now wants to better manage English overzealousness, the government now has banned English teaching before the 3rd grade as they believe it to hinder students’ proficiency in Korean. Furthermore, some prestigious universities now put less focus on English grades in the college entrance exam when it comes to accepting students. With all these changes, what does it mean for Koreans abilities to speak English? English education is better than before but still not good enough for the amount of time and money Korean’s spend on English.

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Speaking Challenges

These are some of the problems from my point of view to why Koreans can’t speak English well:

  • English should be frequently practiced and used on a daily basis. Korean people, however, aren’t exposed to English nor have opportunities to use it (as Korean is the primary language spoken in Korea).
  • The Korean language structure is totally different from that of English. It’s not as easy, for example, as learning English for a European person.
  • Koreans don’t want to lose face, which seems to be a common problem in Asia. Koreans are particularly embarrassed about making mistakes and lose self-confidence.
  • Motivation is a very important concept in learning English or almost anything, and, unfortunately, some Koreans think to learn English as only a pressure arising from society and do not pursue it passionately. To this end, a lot of Koreans give up in the middle and later return to start the learn all over again. The vicious cycle continues.

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How to improve Korean’s English speaking

  • Koreans must set their goals and find out where they want to use English (for jobs, travel, moving abroad, dating, etc.) and then set a timeframe.
  • Memorizing whole phrases or sentences is effective as Koreans can naturally learn grammar, vocabulary, idioms all at once. The English structure is not easy to learn in detail for most Koreans and they get bored and give up.
  • Koreans must be exposed to English. It’s not easy but they can try chatting online with someone from an English-speaking country or can choose to establish a relationship with a pen-pal. Listening to pop songs and watching movies in English is also helpful.
  • Koreans shouldn’t think of English as a subject in school, some kind of tool to advance their life, or societal pressure. They should think of it as a hobby and enjoy it. Make it part of their life. For example, watch a nice movie in English with English subtitles. Likewise, they can listen to pop songs daily while driving in their car.

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Do you want to teach English in South Korea?

In conclusion, English education in Korea is still very important although today the government wants to lessen the excessive focus on it. I’d love to teach Korean students how to speak English more effectively. I can say with confidence I can teach much better now than I could have prior to entering this course.

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