Thursday, November 1, 2007

#11. The English Craze

I've talked about the English craze in Korea before in this blog, but now I'm devoting a whole post to it. This inspiration comes from news about the Nova schools in Japan and the Korean presidential candidates' platforms regarding expansion of English education in Korea.
Recently, there was a crisis for many native English speakers in Japan. They lost their jobs because Nova, a popular English conversation school chain, filed for bankruptcy. The focus of this post is not on the crisis though, but how this news also reflects the English craze of Japan. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, "English-conversation schools are a big business in Japan. Millions of Japanese dream of speaking English. But the six years of language classes given in middle and high schools focus on grammar, not conversation, so few children learn to speak English well. The $3.5-billion-a-year foreign-language-education industry teems with more than 1,100 companies catering to about two million students, according to the Japan Association for the Promotion of Foreign Language Education."
The situation is more severe in Korea. The two major South Korean presidential candidates have recognized the obsession with English education in Korea and have drawn up plans to alleviate the costs and pressure following this craze.
Chung Dong-young of the United New Democratic Party (UNDP) pledged to open government-operated English-language schools in order to reduce educational expenses. According to Chung, the number of students going abroad to study English has increased by 2.6 times in the past five years. I myself can attest to this rapid increase of students studying abroad, as I am one of them. My high school, which has a study abroad program called "Global Leadership Program" has expanded continuously since it began in 1998 with four students. When I graduated, there were 78 GLP students in my class. There are over a hundred students in the class of 2008. There are also many more schools that are starting similar programs. This apparent English craze is not good for the Korean economy, and Chung said that his pledges will "create more jobs and solve the problem of families separated for English learning." Oh, yet another problem in Korea: fathers earn money to send their wives and children to English-speaking countries. They call these men "Giruhgi (Goose) Fathers." They are a group that many take pity on, since they have no family to return to at home and work just so that their children can learn English and have a more successful future.
Chung's opponent, Lee Myung-bak of the Grand National Party (GNP), proposed creating "an international zone, which would provide an English-only environment and autonomous education system like those of Singapore and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates." He also suggested more English classes in schools and more native speakers assisting in such classes. Citing that Koreans spend 1.4 trillion won ($15.5 billion) on English study, Lee promised to nurture 3,000 English teachers annually and post them in schools to cut educational expenses in half.
The Dean of Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious universities in Korea, said that he expected Korean colleges to expand the number of classes taught in English. According to, "In a recent poll by JobKorea, a recruitment website, 64 percent of the 1,075 South Koreans surveyed said they were stressed at work because they had insufficient English. Nearly a third, or 31 percent, said they were disadvantaged because of a lack of English proficiency, having failed to get a promotion or secure the posts they desired." Kim Hwa Soo, the CEO of JobKorea explained, "As companies focus on strengthening their global competitiveness, the ability to speak foreign languages is becoming an important factor at workplaces." According to the Korean Education Ministry, in the year ended on March 31, 2007, 52% of the 217,959 students who went abroad for university or higher level education went to the U.S., U.K., Australia and other English-speaking countries. Four years ago, 159,903 went abroad to study.
I think I've offered overly sufficient information to show how important Koreans regard learning English. Even just looking at the numbers for Stanford, you can tell how popular studying abroad is in Korea. For the Class of 2011, Korea had the most international students accepted to Stanford, 37, while number 2 and 3, Singapore and Canada, had 17 and 16 respectively (if I remember right). When I walk/bike around campus, I see Koreans and hear Korean every day. It's just crazy!
Anyway, I feel like I'm going off-topic here, but I'm sure that now you have a sense of this English craze I'm talking about.
It's probably not as intense as Korea, but English is taking over other countries in Asia, too. According to the Tehran Times, Khazaeifar, head of the English department at Ferdowsi University in Mashhad, Iran, said, “Persian is being gradually and deceptively eaten away by a relentless enemy named the English language." At a SPELT (Society for Promotion of English Language Teaching) conference currently being held in Karachi, Pakistan, a speaker, Mashood Rizvi, said that a project named "English for Life" has been launched in Sindh and Balochistan, and that the program will soon be expanded. In an opinion article by Nilanshu Agarwal in India, "English plays a very important role in education, business and administration. It is the medium of instruction for higher education-both academic and technological. Those who seek jobs in private companies or professions must be proficient in English. It is recognized as an official language for purposes of administration at the national level."
In 1607, only 3.5 million people spoke English in 1607, almost all of whom lived in the British Isles. It is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide will speak English by the end of this decade. According to Lord Alan Watson of Richmond CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire), English is joining Chinese, Hindi and Arabic as the most-used languages in the world. The difference is that for Chinese, Hindi and Arabic, it's because large numbers of people speak them as a first language. For English, it's because of the number who learn it as a second language. He also said that more people are learning English in China today than all of the North Americans who speak English and predicted that by 2030, the largest ethnic group in the world using English will be the Chinese.

So... what's the cause behind this proliferation of English?

Well, EVERYTHING is in English these days. Most of the studies in academic fields and the internet are in English. So, it's THE language to know.
But what if this is just a passing fad?
Well, I guess we can't know that for sure. But the increase of both the speed and amount of global communication will keep English from suffering the fate of Latin, which evolved into different languages in different places because people were isolated.

So, right now, I'm extremely glad I'm proficient in English. :)

Korea -
Japan -
Iran -
India -
Pakistan -
English is the global language -


Mizz Hur said...

I wrote on the same topic as you before and would like to ask you, so what's your opinion on it?
I personally agree that there is an English craze but I disagree with the pledges the presidential candidates are offering in Korea.
I went to an international school in Korea for two years, and they were trying to use the "international zone".
I and other students, hated it.
It actually encouraged us to look for ways to speak korean without getting caught and reduce the amount of time we speak English to each other.
The international zone actually backfired to the facutly for the students were more discouraged to speak English.
So just by setting up the zone and other English centers, do you necessarily think that the students will learn English proficiently?
It is normal for us,teenagers, to do the opposite of what is required from us cause you know, we hate authority. :)
tell me what you think .

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