Speaking English is a skill held in high esteem in Korea. A surprising number of Koreans speak the language and many speak it pretty well — certainly better than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts. English is taught in schools, especially junior high and high school, and many businessmen, university students and housewives study it in their free time. Most train stations, tourist information offices and department stores employ someone who speaks English. Train signs and many road signs are in English as well as Korean. Children spend many years studying it in and out of school.

English-learning is a multi-billion-dollar industry of language tapes, books schools and tutoring in South Korea. Even though it is a mandatary subject in school, parents often spend the equivalent of hundred of dollars a month to send their kids to after school English classes at institutes called hagwans. There was a very big surge in English teaching in the 1990s. The number of foreigners teaching in Seoul increased from around 4,000 in 1995 to 7,000 in 1997, brought in partly to satisfied a demand for English teacher spawned by a national effort to "globalize." Back then the translation of Intel’s Pentium chip in Korean was “chip of death.”

South Korea, China, Thailand and Taiwan have all incorporated English into their primary school curriculum. English taught in school tends to focus on reading and writing rather than speaking and listening and students approach grammar as if it were a series of mathematical formulas. English education is part of the curriculum of the South Korean education system all the way to college. President Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013) made the teaching of the English language a core program of his administration.

According to the “Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language”: “English has had a considerable influence on the structure of the modern language. Over the last 40 years, English has generally been assigned as many school hours as Korean for students aged 12–18, and is in the main an analytical grammatical exercise that has affected the study and use of Korean, resulting in adjustments made to some Korean constructions so as to align them more closely with English: for example, greater use of the optional plural particle -tul. Although this is not a strict equivalent of the English plural inflection -s, many think that it is or should be. After the Korean War and partition, the need for English declined in North Korea but increased in the South, where it is the main foreign language. Almost all students have three years of it, and the 80 percent who attend high school have six years. There are many private English institutes, one for students preparing for college entrance examinations the other for people who want to speak the language.” [Source: Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press 1998]

Importance of Learning English in South Korea

English is regarded as an important asset for getting ahead n life. Both Presidents Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung declared that learning English was of matter of national concern. Kim Dae Jung lived for some time in the United States and befriended Michael Jackson. Many Koreans say they feel more sociable when they speak English. Subway posters show Korean men in traditional costumes and horsehair hats speaking to each other in English.

Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post: “Educational experts say South Korea has been embracing English training with aggressiveness and creativity. South Korea ranked first last year in the number of students taking the standardized Test of English as a Foreign Language. More than 86,000 South Korean students took the exam last year, eight times the number in France and almost three times the number in China.” [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, November 18, 2004]

“The number of elementary school children sent to study English abroad has increased more than 10-fold” between 1998 and 2003, “according to government statistics. South Korean housewives in their thirties and forties are registering in record numbers to learn English in adult education programs, mostly to teach their children proper English at home, officials said. "English is the universal language, and with limited Korean speakers outside Korea, being bilingual is clearly a top priority," said Lee Eui Kap, a research fellow at the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation. "

Importance of English in South Korean Education

Kyna Rubin wrote in the International Educator: Korean families’ push for their children to learn English — and attend a school like Harvard — fits into a larger obsession with education. Despite a weak economy and skyrocketing household debt, Korean families spent US$20 billion on private education (half of government education spending), or 2 percent of Korea’s GDP, in 2012, according to data Min presented at a Harvard talk in October 2013. That makes education the nation’s largest spending area, outshining defense expenditures, which are second, he says. Of monthly family outlays for private education, the greatest portion, US$73, goes toward English classes (math is second, at US$68). [Source: Kyna Rubin, International Educator, March-April, 2014]

The English frenzy begins at an early age. In the 1990s Koreans grew concerned that the nation needed to bolster its English proficiency. Then President Kim Young-sam pressed the MOE to offer English to younger children, and to this day English is required and tested from third grade through graduate school. Korean parents’ response to the third-grade English launch, , was, “I have to start my kids earlier than other kids.”Sunshik Min, who runs a large company specializing in English-language education, says his business was the first in Korea to create an English-language kindergarten program in the early 1990s. That program uses U.S.-style teaching to prepare children for the more flexible thinking and learning they will encounter, and be expected to succeed at, years later in a Western college classroom.

Beating out even those who can afford private, Korea-based, English-taught kindergartens are so-called “goose families.” These are better off households that migrate, like geese, to the United States so their child can secure footing on a good college campus by getting an on-site U.S. K–12 education. Typically, mom accompanies the child for years while dad remains in Korea. Some 300,000 fathers are living alone while their wives and children reside abroad for pre-college education, according to a 2013 article in Korea’s Joongang Daily.

“Koreans’ English craze is tied to the nation’s dramatic economic transformation from a poor nation in the 1960s to an Asian tiger and the world’s sixth largest exporter — of memory chips, mobile phones, ships, and autos. Korea’s GDP is largely dependent on international trade, and English is the common tongue of global business. As a condition for assistance during the economic crisis of the late 1990s, the International Monetary Fund required that Korea open its education, banking, and other markets to foreign entities, says Min. Who did foreign companies want to hire in Korea? Bilingual employees, he says, sparking the practice among even local Korean firms of requiring applicants to submit their English scores from the Test of English for International Communication, or TOEIC. That exam is an ETS-developed gauge used first in Japan and now throughout Asia and elsewhere. Today Korean universities require high TOEFL scores to graduate. And an “English divide” determines monetary success, Min, who has a doctorate in business administration from Harvard, told International Educator . “If you speak English, your income is higher than if you don’t, and if your English is good, your starting salary is higher.”

Excessive Lengths Korean Kids Go Through to Speak English

Excessive English-learning techniques found among Koreans include placing infants and toddlers in front of televisions to watch English-language videos for hours on end. This practice is so common it has been identified as the source of a syndrom. One psychiatrist told the Los Angeles Times. “These children watch videos maybe five hours a day. They know a lot of words in English like ‘chair’ and ‘table’ but they speak like robots in a monotonous accent and cannot communicate properly.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2002]

Reporting from Seoul, Sang-Hun Choe of Associated Press wrote: “South Korean mothers know few bounds in trying to give their kids a leg up in speaking English. They play them nursery rhymes in the womb, hire pricey tutors for toddlers, send preschoolers to America to pick up the accent. But now they're even turning to surgery to sort out misplaced L and R sounds [See Below], underscoring the dark side of the crushing social pressures involved in getting a highly competitive society in shape for a globalized world. [Source: Sang-Hun Choe, Associated Press, January 18, 2004]

“The English craze among preschool children took off” around 2000 “when the government made English classes mandatory starting in the third grade. “Flawless English was once ridiculed as snobbish and even unpatriotic. Now it's a status symbol and prized by business and colleges. "Many parents have an illusion that good English could change their children's lives," said Song Young-hye, who runs "Wonderland," one of the thousands of English-language schools that have mushroomed in South Korea's English-teaching industry.

“Noh Kyung-sun, a child psychologist at Seoul's Kangbuk Samsung Hospital, calls the lengths mothers go through "crazy" and cites the case of a 3 1/2-year-old to illustrate the parental zeal that disrupts children's lives. "That child came to my office and saw a big Jackson Pollock poster on the wall and could read each letter of the artist's name at the bottom — J-A-C-K-S-O-N — but could speak neither English nor Korean," he said.

“The government has tried to absorb some of the overheated private English-instruction industry into the public school system, hiring more teachers, including native speakers. But there is no sign that the craze is losing steam. The mania has even induced changes in the Korean language, like "goose fathers." These are dads who work in South Korea and fly to the United States for seasonal reunions with their kids — who have been transplanted to the America just to learn English.”

Tongue Trims For Better English

In the early 2000s, it became increasingly common for children to have part of their tongue removed in the belief it would help them speak better English. Many Korean parents believe there children have trouble speaking good English not because the language is difficult to learn and Korean and English pronunciation are so different, but because their tongues are too long. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2002]

The surgery involves cutting the frenulum — the thin fold of tissue under the tongue. With the tissue gone the tongue is longer and more flexible, and ,the reasoning goes, able to more easily reach the roof of the mouth to pronounce difficult English sounds. The operation is simple. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes under local anesthetic, costs US$200 to US$400 and can be done on an out patient basis. Academics regard the whole thing as ludicrous. Why they ask can Korean-Americans speak perfect English. Some of the blame is placed doctors who should refuse to do this kind of surgery but instead want to make a quick buck.

Sang-Hun Choe of Associated Press wrote “The government is so dismayed” by the surgery “that its National Human Rights Commission has made a movie to scare the public into ceasing the practice. It shows a young mother, obsessed with her son's pronunciation at the kindergarten's all-English Christmas play, rushing him to the clinic for a quick fix. The boy screams as the mother and nurses hold him down, the mother insisting: "It's all for his future." "Many viewers close their eyes at the surgery scenes," said director Park Jin-pyo, who used footage from a real operation. "I wanted them to see how our society tramples our children's human rights in the name of their future." [Source: Sang-Hun Choe, Associated Press, January 18, 2004]

“The medical procedure, called a frenulotomy, is used in the West in cases where the tissue under the tongue is abnormal and causes a speech impediment. No statistics exist on how many Korean children undergo it. Although local media say it is widespread in Seoul's wealthier districts, doctors call the reports exaggerated. "Tongue-Tie" struck an immediate chord when it was seen in "If You Were Me," a compendium of six short films about human rights in Korea released in cinemas to enthusiastic reviews in November. Doctors scoff at the notion that the Korean tongue is too short or inflexible for proper English. "Doing the surgery on a normal kid just for English pronunciation doesn't make anatomical sense at all," said Park Bom-chung at Seoul's Kangnam Sacred Heart Hospital.

English in Public School

Korean children formally begin learning English in the third grade in public school. Most of the instruction — book exercises, grammar lessons, call-and-response drills and multiple choice tests — is geared towards preparing students for their college entrance exams. This means that students graduate from high school after nine years of studying English without being able to speak it very well.

Efforts have been made to improve the level of English teaching in public schools so families don't have to spend so much money on private lessons and rich families don't have an advantage over students from less affluent families.

In the mid-1990s there was an effort to hire more native English speakers for “English Only” classes in the first year of middle school. The goal was for all secondary school students to have at least one hour of English a week with a native English speaker by 2004.

Teaching English in Korea

Before the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis, South Korea had a reputation of being a place where foreigner could go to make a lot of money. It was not uncommon to meet people who earned US$100 an hour teaching ABC's to elementary school children or conversation to businessmen. The Washington Post ran a story in April, 1997 about an American English teacher that returned home with suitcases full of money and paid for a Jeep Grand Cherokee in cash.

In the 1990s, when I was teaching in Taejon and Ulsan, most English teachers who worked legally earned about US$1,500 a month teaching 25 to 30 hours at private academies called hagwans or around US$2,000 a month teaching 15 to 20 hours at universities. The real money, however, was in teaching private lessons in which teachers usually made more that US$50 an hour. These numbers were all drastically reduced when the won (the Korean currency) plummeted at end of 1997. But then rose again in the 2000s. In 2010, according to the Los Angeles Times, foreign English teachers, mostly from the United States, were earning around US$2,500 a month, plus free rent and a round-trip ticket.

Sponsors usually provide foreign English teachers with free housing, medical insurance and round-trip tickets to Korea. The conditions vary a great deal. For every story of big paychecks and easy working hours there were many stories about teachers forced to work long hours, seven days a week and being screwed out of money owed them in various ways.

Because the teachers at my school, had difficulty pronouncing the Korean names all of our students had English nicknames. One thing I'll have to give the Korean credit for is their self-deprecating honesty. One girl who ate a lot called herself "Oink." Another guy who looked like an ape so he called himself ape.

Problems with Teaching English in Korea

In an effort to crackdown on illegal English teaching, language police have raided hagwans to make sure the documents of the teachers working there are in order, staked out apartment buildings to see if any suspicious Caucasians enter, and even paid informants for tips on illegal teachers.

Sometimes the hours are awful. Some teachers begin teaching English at 6:00am to businessmen who take classes before they go to work. Many teachers have split schedules. They teach early in the morning, have the afternoon off and teach at night.

There are some real outlaws teaching Korea. I worked at one school where a women was stabbed 55 times after breaking off her relation with her lesbian crackhead lover. The murderer, who was believed to have also murdered somebody in Bangkok, escaped to the United States, which does not have an extradition policy with South Korea.

Some South Korean educators who say many foreign teachers lack the skills to run a classroom. Some teachers from abroad counter that Korean laws regarding their status remain discriminatory. Foreign English teachers must undergo HIV tests and criminal and academic checks that are not required of Koreans doing the same work, they say. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2010]

Keeping an Eye on Foreign English Teachers in Korea: a Form of Stalking?

In 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported on a South Korea group — Anti-English Spectrum — that uses the Internet and other means to keep on eye on foreign teachers and bring attention to what the group says is illegal and unsavory behavior. Yie Eun-woong, volunteer manager of the Seoul-based, investigates complaints from parents about foreign teachers. Angry teachers groups call him an instigator and a stalker and teachers complain they became victims of rumors. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2010]

Reporting from Seoul, John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ Sometimes, in his off hours, Yie Eun-woong does a bit of investigative work. He uses the Internet and other means to track personal data and home addresses of foreign English teachers across South Korea. Then he follows them, often for weeks at a time, staking out their apartments, taking notes on their contacts and habits. He wants to know whether they're doing drugs or molesting children. Yie, a slender 40-year-old who owns a temporary employment agency, says he is only attempting to weed out troublemakers who have no business teaching students in South Korea, or anywhere else. The volunteer manager of a controversial group known as the Anti-English Spectrum, Yie investigates complaints by South Korean parents, often teaming up with authorities, and turns over information from his efforts for possible prosecution.

“Outraged teachers groups call Yie an instigator and a stalker. Yie waves off the criticism. "It's not stalking, it's following," he said. "There's no law against that." Since its founding in 2005, critics say, Yie's group has waged an invective-filled nationalistic campaign against the 20,000 foreign-born English teachers in South Korea. On their website and through fliers, members have spread rumors of a foreign English teacher crime wave. They have alleged that some teachers are knowingly spreading AIDS, speculation that has been reported in the Korean press.

“Teacher activists acknowledge that a few foreign English instructors are arrested each year in South Korea — cases mostly involving the use of marijuana — but they insist that the rate of such incidents is far lower than for the Korean population itself. "Why are they following teachers? That's a job for the police," said Dann Gaymer, a spokesman for the Assn. for Teachers of English in Korea. "What this group is up to is something called vigilantism, and I don't like the sound of that."

“In November, the president of the teachers group received anonymous e-mails threatening his life and accusing him of committing sex crimes. "I have organized the KEK (Kill White in Korea)," one e-mail read in part. "We will start to kill and hit [foreigners] from this Christmas. Don't make a fuss. . . . Just get out." Yie acknowledges that he has been questioned by investigators but denies any involvement in the threats of violence. "To be honest," he said, "a lot of our group members believe the teachers made this all up."

South Korean English Teacher Makes US$4 Million A Year

Some Korean tutors earns million of dollars a year through teaching via paid Internet video in the hagwons. Amanda Ripley wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Kim Ki-hoon earns US$4 million a year in South Korea, where he is known as a rock-star teacher—a combination of words not typically heard in the rest of the world. Mr. Kim has been teaching for over 20 years, all of them in the country's private, after-school tutoring academies, known as hagwons. Unlike most teachers across the globe, he is paid according to the demand for his skills—and he is in high demand. [Source: By Amanda Ripley, Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2013]

“Kim Ki-Hoon, who teaches in a private after-school academy, earns most of his money from students who watch his lectures online. ‘The harder I work, the more I make,’ he says. ‘I like that.’ Mr. Kim works about 60 hours a week teaching English, although he spends only three of those hours giving lectures. His classes are recorded on video, and the Internet has turned them into commodities, available for purchase online at the rate of US$4 an hour. He spends most of his week responding to students’ online requests for help, developing lesson plans and writing accompanying textbooks and workbooks (some 200 to date)…

James Marshall Crotty wrote in Forbes: “Kim Ki-Hoon is a contributor to, and beneficiary of, South Korea's high-tech, free-market approach to education. As “Mr. Kim” himself notes, “The harder I work, the more I make.”. Of course, it doesn't hurt that South Korean parents are willing to pay the extra Won to insure that their charges have access to South Korea's best and brightest tutoring talent. According to Edutech Associates, South Korean "parents with school-age children spend close to 25 percent of their income on education and all parents spend a large portion of their income on supplementary educational materials." That means big business for hagwons, South Korea's primary supplemental education providers. [Source: Amanda Ripley, Wall Street Journal, James Marshall Crotty, Forbes, Aug 11, 2013]

“It is a true meritocracy, where the best and the brightest – or at least the most popular and passionately engaged — end up being paid the most. Moreover, to maintain high standards of accountability and performance, a representative hagwon fires about 10 percent of its tutors every year. In the U.S., about 2 percent of public school teachers are fired for poor performance every year. The downside is that hagwon tutors receive no benefits and no guaranteed salary. The result is that for every Mr. Kim, there is thousands of hagwon tutors who make far less than their traditional brick-and-mortar peers do. It is a zero-sum system that would be written off as patently ruthless if it wasn’t so spectacularly popular.

“A 2010 survey of 6600 students at 116 South Korean high schools found that South Korean students gave their hagwon tutors far higher marks than their regular schoolteachers, and regularly regarded their hagwon tutors as “better prepared, more devoted to teaching, and more respectful of students’ opinions.” In addition, hagwon tutors are far more likely to experiment with new technology and nontraditional pedagogies, mainly because their pay hinges on the positive reviews that flow from improved student achievement.”

Koreans Flock to Philippines to Study English

In 2006, Reuters reported: “Ellie Sung and a friend are queuing at a Manila shopping mall to catch the film ''Mission Impossible 3'' for the second time. It's not that Sung is a Tom Cruise fanatic or finds the plot difficult to understand. ''I like to watch movies. It's for my English practice,'' she said. Sung, 28, is one of thousands of South Korean students at about 800 language schools in the Philippines who are trying to get the edge that translates into a good job, a higher salary or an acceptance letter from an elite university back home. [Source: Reuters June 8, 2006]

“The importance placed on English in South Korea has driven high school students, graduates and unemployed degree holders to private language centres, or ''hagwon'' as they are known there. Those looking for a more intensive experience move to countries where English is a main language. The Philippines -- a former U.S. colony with a love of Hollywood movies, basketball and other icons of American culture -- is a close and relatively cheap choice. It is five hours by plane from Seoul and there are Korean communities in many cities.

“While the government puts the number of Koreans living in the Philippines at around 70,000, Dr. Hyun-Mo Park, president of the Filipino-Korean Cultural Foundation, sees it closer to 100,000. Last year, 524,000 Koreans visited for various reasons, including education, business and tourism. The tourism department expects 600,000 Korean visitors this year, growing to 800,000 by 2008 and 1 million by 2010.

“A big draw for South Korean students is cost. In the Philippines, they need 40,000 to 60,000 pesos (755 to 1,135 dollars) per month for tuition, room, board and entertainment. For the same fee or less than for group classes in Korea, they can enrol in one-on-one lessons. But standards vary widely. Bernard Lee, an administrator at the Jungchul Academy in Manila, said unauthorised schools had ''mushroomed'' in the capital and other big cities since the English-language trend among Koreans started in the mid-1990s. Lee estimated that only about one-quarter of the schools were registered with the government. ''In certain places, they're a dime a dozen,'' he said. Philippine law encourages foreign-owned firms catering to the domestic market to take on Filipino partners or be directed in part by Filipinos, so many hagwons choose not to register as a way of remaining fully Korean-owned. ''As long as you pick a good teacher, that's the most important thing,'' said Julie Park, 25, who studies English with a private tutor. For many South Koreans, immersion in the language is what they pay for with a ticket to Manila. ''Everyday I can practise English with almost everybody,'' Sung said. But recent studies show the number of Filipinos who speak and understand English competently has fallen as the debt-laden government struggles to find money for education. According to the European Chamber of Commerce, about 75 per cent of the 400,000 college graduates each year have ''substandard'' English skills.

“Shiena Jaco, a senior teacher at the Jabez International Education Center, says the findings are misleading because they do not reflect the lowering of English ability among Filipinos as much as the rising standards all over the world. ''In many places in the Philippines, people can actually speak English very well,'' Jaco said. ''Many of our students end up staying longer than they plan to. It's the norm.'' South Koreans are also less threatened by the insurgencies and crime that can deter tourists from visiting the Philippines, said former Trade Undersecretary Gregory Domingo. ''They have hundreds of guns pointed at their country every day, so warnings of things like kidnapping and extortion probably don't scare them as much,'' he said. For Park of the Filipino-Korean Cultural Foundation, the local welcome also counts. ''In other countries, racial discrimination is a big problem for Koreans but in the Philippines not so much,'' Park said. ''Filipinos are very hospitable people.''

Number of Koreans Studying English in the Philippines Rises Further

In 2009, Jonathan M. Hicap wrote in the Korea Times, “The last five years saw the phenomenal rise of the Philippines as the prime source of English education for South Koreans. Whether they come to the Philippines to study English or sit in front of their computers at home in Seoul and learn the correct pronunciation of English words from a teacher in Manila, South Koreans are bent on learning English as a second language as part of the globalization plan implemented by the government. [Source: Jonathan M. Hicap, Korea Times, September 13, 2009 =]

“The English education explosion in the Philippines among South Koreans was a product of ideal factors that fit together. The Philippines -- ranked in the top 10 in terms of English-speaking population - has affordable education. This is coupled with its strategic distance from South Korea: Manila can be reached by plane in just four hours from Seoul. In addition, the Philippines has a low cost of living, making it an appealing place for South Korean students to stay and live. Throw in the allure of its white-sand beaches and tropical weather and you'll have a formula to make it a favored travel destination. =

“Today, hundreds of schools throughout the Philippines offer English as a Second Language (ESL) courses for foreigners, but South Koreans stand out as the leading group that comprises the majority of the ESL market in the Philippines. Based on data provided to The Korea Times by the bureau's student desk division -- headed by Teodulo Estrada, chief, and Adela Camtal, assistant chief -- South Koreans who were issued Special Study Permits increased by 500 percent from 2004 to 2008. In 2004, the data showed 5,877 South Koreans were given SSPs in the Philippines. The figure increased three-fold to 17,904 in 2005. The numbers continued to increase over the next three years. In 2006, 21,876 Koreans obtained SSPs while 27,322 got the permits in 2007. Last year, 29,155 Koreans were granted permission to study short-term courses in the country. In total, 102,134 South Koreans studied in the Philippines from 2004 to 2008 -- or an average of 20,427 students per year, or 1,702 students per month. In addition, 13,937 South Koreans were granted student visas from 2004 to 2008. The visa allowed them to study degree courses in the Philippines. =

“In the last five years, South Koreans became the largest group of foreigners to study in the Philippines. The numbers continue to rise as more schools offer ESL courses. De La Salle University, one of the Philippines' top universities, is one of the schools accredited by the Philippine Bureau of Immigration as an English-language learning center for foreigners. The university's Manila campus has the Center for Language Learning (CeLL) that provides year-round short English courses. The length of each is three weeks, ranging from basic grammar to conversational English. =

“According to Dr. Leonisa Mojica, center director, a total of 515 Koreans enrolled at the center in 2008. From January to August this year, there were 184 Koreans who enrolled in various short English courses. Mojica said most are college students while some are working students. She said almost all of them have "little knowledge and can hardly speak English" when they enroll. "At first they have difficulty speaking in English," Mojica said. On the average, a Korean student takes two to three English courses that take about two to three months to finish. Afterward, Mojica said the Koreans are happy that their use of English has improved. When asked why Koreans prefer to take English courses in the Philippines, Mojica said it's probably because the tuition fees "are cheaper" compared to fees in other countries, plus the fact that they are appreciative of the kind of teaching or training that they get from their centers. Besides offering one-on-one and classroom English courses, many Philippine schools are offering online courses for students in South Korea who want to learn English using the Internet. =

ESL has become such a growing business sector in the Philippines that the government incorporated it as part of its tourism program. According to the tourism department Web site, the Philippines ESL Tour Program "is a tourist activity in which the study of English as a second language forms part of a structured tour package. The study of English becomes more exciting and fun through dynamic and creative ways of learning where participants get to interact, practice and use English more often in real-life settings (through) games, outdoor activities, excursions and immersions. Aside from learning the English language, participants get to see the beautiful scenery of the Philippine countryside and immerse with the local culture." =

South Korea’s English Village

Reporting from Ansan, South Korea, Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post: “"Next!" barked Joanne Richardson, a bureaucratic-looking Canadian sitting behind a desk in a bustling hall marked "Immigrations." She beckoned to a timid looking 15-year old girl wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt. "Good morning, what is your name" Richardson, 27, asked using clear, enunciated English. The South Korean girl beamed, suddenly excited at the sound of a language she has come to love through Britney Spears songs and Disney movies. "Hello, my name is Hu Jung Hee," she blurted out in brave but labored diction, "and I want to be a movie star! I know first I have to learn good English." "Then you came to the right place," said Richardson, one of 40 native English teachers from six countries at this novel, government-funded language complex on a small island 40 miles southwest of Seoul. "Welcome to English Village. Enjoy your stay." [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, November 18, 2004. Joohee Cho contributed to this report]

“For South Korean students, that stay is five to 30 nights inside this three-month-old immersion compound, where young guests check into a hotel, shop, bank, order food, take cooking lessons, acting classes and even make short documentary films — all in English.
First developed by officials in Kyonggi [Gyeonggi], a prosperous province of 10 million south of Seoul, five more English villages are sprouting up across South Korea, including an US$85 million mini-town currently under construction 32 miles north of Ansan, which will boast a main street with Western-style store fronts and a small live-in population of native English speakers.
“As tougher immigration laws make it increasingly harder for foreign students to learn English in the United States, immersion villages, according to experts, have promise beyond South Korea. The Japanese, for instance, have visited this English village and may implement the idea.” The “English Village concept was developed this year in part as an antidote to the highly structured, school-based English programs. The Gyeonggi governor, Hak Kyu Sohn, who perfected his English while earning a doctorate from Oxford, championed the concept as a way to bring English alive outside the classroom — particularly for students who cannot afford to study abroad. "Our schools have been stressing memorization and grammar, so we have students who still emerge from years of English schooling as university graduates who still cannot say 'hello' " Hak said. "We need to be more creative, change the educational environment and give these kids a chance to experience English — and hopefully in the future, Chinese and Japanese — in an environment where they can actually interact and talk."

“Inside English Village, about 200 students arrive each week from local middle schools, checking their Korean language at the door. They receive pretend passports, pass through an imitation immigration procedure and head to a bank to receive local currency, which looks like fake dollar bills. But in South Korea, where anti-American sentiments have been on the rise in recent years, English Village goes out of its way to avoid connections with U.S. symbols, stressing English as a "global language" separated from the politics of one nation. For that reason, the school tried hard to recruit native English speakers from diverse places such as Canada and Wales, as well as teachers proficient in English from as far away as Poland. Creative language use is encouraged. When buying books for their classes, for instance, students with enough language capability can even bargain for a discount. "Five dollars" asked Hee Sung Park, 15, when buying a drama book. "Oh, that's too expensive! Can I have a discount" "Good word use," said Simone Daley, a Canadian-Jamaican drama teacher. She smiled. "Okay, you can have it for US$4." "

English Village Shut Down: Victim of Overspending and Competition from Internet Learning

Gyeonggi English Village in Paju, which opened in the early 2000s to meet high demand for its style of teaching English, closed down in 2016 after seeing that demand subside as online learning grew. Hong Yong-duk of Hankyoreh wrote: “An English village in Gyeonggi Province that ushered in a wave of similar establishments around the country has begun procedures to close down - unable to withstand twelve years of accumulated red ink and changes in the educational environment with the arrival of online education. [Source: Hong Yong-duk, Hankyoreh, June 1, 2016]

“The Gyeonggi English village was one of the top pledges made by then-governor Sohn Hak-kyu in 2002, when he was affiliated with the New Korea Party (a precursor to today‘s ruling Saenuri Party). In 2004, the province spent around 8.5 billion won (US$7.1 million) to open an English village as a camp in Ansan. The Paju village, which measures around 278,000 square meters, was opened in Apr. 2006 at a cost of around 99 billion won (US$83.1 million). Another in Yangpyeong was opened that same month at a cost of 67.6 billion won (US$56.8 million).

“Offering the opportunity for short-term experience-based English learning without traveling overseas, the English village model proved popular enough for 22 total to be established nationwide. Early on, prospective customers had to wait several weeks even with a reservation. Buoyed by the response, Gyeonggi Province at one point openly weighed adopting English as a “second official language.” But a failure to foresee the future a decade down the road turned English village policy into a burden for the province. In 2012, the Ansan camp closed its doors after eight years. Over that time, it had amassed millions in debt - 11.8 billion won (US$9.9 million) in its first year alone.

“So how did this happen? Now that online private English education has become possible, there is less need for experience-based English education,” suggested a Gyeonggi Province source. “Instead, there’s a greater need now for the creative intelligence-based education of the future.” But the real reason looks to be the red ink. Gyeonggi Province spent a total of 175.1 billion won (US$147.0 million) setting up its three English villages. For the Paju village alone, it suffered losses ranging between 1.4 billion and 6.3 billion won (US$1.2-5.3 million) every year between 2008 and 2015, for a total deficit of 21.9 billion won (US$18.4 million). The resulting financial strain was severe, with 25.4 billion won (US$21.3 million) spent to make up the difference.

“After sinking about 200 billion won into its English villages and patting itself on the back without taking into account the local government’s educational demand, the effects, or financial conditions, Gyeonggi Province is now hard at work trying to paper over it, without anyone taking responsibility for the policy failure,” said Park Ok-bun, a proportional representation member of the Provincial Assembly for the Minjoo Party of Korea.”

TOEFL Crisis in South Korea

Taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam is a big deal in South Korea. The New York Times reported in 2007: “Forget the North Korean nuclear crisis. What has many South Koreans in an uproar these days is the “Toefl crisis.” The Educational Testing Service, which administers the test, reduced the number of slots for test-takers. So with demand for the test far outstripping the available slots, and with scalpers demanding exorbitant prices, desperate South Koreans have been hunting for possible test sites from Japan to Southeast Asia, and even Australia. Travel agencies have begun offering “Toefl tours” that include test preparation courses, a guaranteed test slot and sometimes even a bit of tourism on the side. One test preparation school estimates that about 500 Koreans a month all told travel to other countries to take the test. [Source: New York Times, May 17, 2007]

“South Koreans make up one of the largest groups of foreign students in the United States American colleges and graduate schools typically require foreign students to submit Toefl scores with their applications. So it is hardly surprising that the demand for opportunities to take the test is high. But in recent years, Toefl scores have also become a necessity for many South Koreans with no intention of leaving the country. Many people, from teenagers applying to selective secondary schools to adults applying for jobs — even jobs with no obvious need for fluency in English — must submit Toefl scores. Dozens of universities require a Toefl score for graduation. Government offices and quasi-governmental agencies — city councils, jails, the Korea Racing Association — ask applicants for their scores. “I think English ability is a basic criterion now,” said Kim Jae-yoon, the human resources director of Chongga Kimchi, a major producer of the traditional Korean dish. The company recently hired an accountant and a manager after factoring in their Toefl results.

“The number of people taking the test in South Korea jumped to about 130,000 in 2006, from 50,311 in 2001, according to the Educational Testing Service, based in Princeton, N.J. The crisis erupted last year, when the company changed testing methods. In September, partly in an effort to tighten security and discourage cheating, the testing service switched to a new Internet-based test that would be given simultaneously throughout the region, about four times a month, and then discarded. Previously, the test was given as many as 50 times a month, as local demand warranted, from a bank of questions.

“But the abrupt reduction in the number of times the test would be offered meant that, from September to December 2006, they were prepared to process only about 20,000 tests in South Korea. The testing service had initially expected that it would be able to allocate 64,000 test slots for South Korea in all of 2007. This was so far below demand that, in April, a senior vice president of the testing service’s international division, Paul Ramsey, told reporters in Seoul that an additional 70,000 slots would be created for South Korea in 2007.

“But it is unclear whether even that will be enough, with some private cram schools anticipating a demand of 200,000 this year. As an indication of the fierce competition for the available slots, the testing service’s Web site recorded 32 million hits in one day from South Korea when it opened online registration for the July test; available seats were gobbled up “within moments,” according to the testing service.

In April, Mr. Ramsey announced several other measures to help alleviate the problems, including the opening of a testing service office and the creation of a Korean-language page on its Web site. The testing service also said it would provide at least 72 hours’ notice before the test registration, so South Koreans would not have to sit in front of their monitors day after day.

Efforts by Koreans to Take the TOEFL Exam

The New York Times reported: Oh Sun-yee went to Bangkok “for a three-day stay was something considerably less recreational. Like an increasing number of South Koreans, Ms. Oh went to take the Toefl. “It would have been easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to sit for the Toefl in Korea,” said Ms. Oh, 31, who spent two days cramming for the test in her Bangkok hotel room, took it on the third day and then caught the six-hour red-eye flight back to Seoul.”

“Travel agencies offer two- to three-day Toefl tours to other Asian locations, including Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines. The packages typically include registration, crash courses and Korean breakfasts for those unwilling to risk indigestion on the important day. “You don’t know when you’ll ever be able to sign up for the test in Korea, and if you go overseas, you can also enjoy some travel!” says an advertisement for an agency called English-Up. Agencies say that these tours, which typically cost about US$850 to US$1,000, airfare included, are almost fully booked for the next few months.

“For those who do not want to leave the country, trying to register for Toefl can be like playing the lottery. Two days after the July test was announced, the testing service said registration was open in all locations except South Korea. But later, without notice, it reopened registration for the July tests four times in South Korea as more seats became available. It also offered a one-time-only paper-based test for 8,000 people.

“Some South Koreans registered by clicking away frantically at their computers for days on end. Others hired people to register for them. Kim Hye-sook, 29, said she paid a student US$100 to secure a seat. “Since I am working, I can’t click on the computer all day,” said Ms. Kim, who wants to study public health in the United States and will take the paper-based test in Seoul on June 3. The shortage of seats has attracted scalpers who register for the test and then resell the slots for far more than the US$170 registration fee. Stories of would-be test-takers cheated out of their money are common.

“The Toefl crisis has prompted calls for South Korea to establish its own national English proficiency test. “We need a test run by this country,” said Sohn Jung-a, 39, the mother of a ninth-grade girl who registered for the June 3 test in hopes of entering a selective secondary school. “I don’t know why my daughter has to take the Toefl,” Ms. Sohn said. “She’s probably not mature enough to understand the questions made for older students going to the United States.” Still, if her daughter does not score well in June, Ms. Sohn said, she plans to send her to the Philippines for a second try.”


Konglish is a Korean-style English used by Korean speakers. The term was first recorded in 1975. It mainly applies English loanwords that have been appropriated into Korean in ways that are often perplexing and not easily understandable to native English speakers. Common Konglish words and expressions include “meeting" (blind date), “handphone" (mobile phone), “apart” (apartment), “gagman” (comedian), “eye-shopping” (window-shopping), and “skinship" (romantic relationship derived from combining “skin” and “friendship”). Konglish also embraces English loanwords, mistranslations from English to Korean, and pseudo-English words coined in Japan that came to Korean usage. Konglish is widespread in South Korea but largely absent in North Korea. [Source: Wikipedia]

On the origins of Konglish, Charles Fullerton wrote in the Korea Times: “The first pidgin adopted by Koreans and GIs was known as Bamboo English and was actually a mix of Japanese and English (most soldiers had been in Japan before Korea). The honorific suffix -san was often added to a person's name. The ubiquitous “fighting" is of Japanese origin where it is known as “fight-o." Originally transliterated as “paiting," it first appeared in the Chosun Ilbo archives on Nov. 16, 1965, in an article about a company sports day. Many early references occur in stories about boxing so the original meaning was much more literal. [Source: Charles Fullerton, Korea Times, December 24, 2009]

“Candidates for the first Konglish include bar, restaurant and tailor. “No touch," another early Konglish, has two possible etymologies. It comes either from foreign mining companies or the U.S. army. In either case it is believed the Koreans were constantly told not to touch, either the minerals being mined or the army equipment. “No touch" (nodaji) thus came to mean something valuable.

“More recent additions to the lexicon include “Hollywood action," (diving, an exaggerated action) a result of the 2002 Winter Olympics and Apolo Anton Ono's “stealing" of the gold medal from a Korean speed skater by throwing up his arms after being cut off by him in the race. This year on the TV show "Misuda," Lee Do-Kyung used “loser" to define any male under 180cm tall. Whether this is a lasting addition to the lexicon or not remains to be seen.”

“Historically, half of the Korean lexicon is of Chinese origin. Nowadays nearly all new loanwords come from English. Up to 10 percent of Korean vocabulary is now believed to have come from English. There are over 30,000 such words. This is remarkable in a country with a 5,000-year history. In just 60 years, since the first American GI's occupied the peninsula on Set. 8, 1945, English words have been adopted at an ever increasing rate.”

Common Konglish

Common Konglish: one-side love (unreturned love); second (mistress); one piece (dress); walker (military boots); back number (uniform number); vinyl bag (plastic bag); cunning (cheating); skin scuba (scuba diving); fighting! (Way to go!); arbeit (part-time job); A/S (After-sales service); morning call (wake-up call); pocketball (pool); black eyes (dark eyes); autobi (motorcycle); Ringer (I.V.); white (correction ink); punk tire (flat tire); remocon (remote control ); air-con (air-conditioner); band (band-aid); back mirror (rear-view mirror); sign (autograph); manicure (nail polisher). [Source: m.blog.naver.com/gazeteng]

Food and drinking: instant (TV dinner); strong drinker (heavy drinker); weak drinker (light drinker); decoration cake (decorated cake); particular food (special); egg fry (fried egg); super-salad (soup or salad); Castella (sponge cake); chou cream (cream puff); ice cake (popsicle); cola (pepsi, coke); ice coffee (iced coffee); coffee time (coffee break); Dutch pay (Dutch treat).

Music and entertainment: blues, bruce (slow dance); go go (fast dance); trot (fox trot); aerobic (aerobic dance); dance party (dance); volume dance (ball room dance); back dancer (background dancing); classic (classical music); record (album); group sound (musical band); amp (amplifier); cassette (cassette tape player); MC = master of ceremony (talk show host); CF (CF model (commercial actor); porno (pornography); episode (anecdote); happening (false happening).

Sports: two strike one ball (one ball two strikes); four ball (base on balls); dead ball (hit by a pitch(ed ball (nighter (night game( (under throw (submarine throw); mountain fly (pop fly); full base (3 runners on base); home in (went home); shoot goal in (shot! goal); turning shot (turned and shot); no goal (no point); goal getter (striker); overhead kick (bicycle kick); full back (sweeper); golden goal (winning goal); goal in (make a goal); game set (game and set); indoor (driving range); tee box (teeing ground); tee up (tee off); back number (uniform number, jersey number); fighting (way to go); cheer girl (cheer leader); cheer man (male cheer leader).

Konglish from Japan: bond (glue, adhesive); hotchkiss (stapler); mass-com (mass media); talent (television entertainer); Burberry coat (trench coat); concent (power socket or plug); glamourous (buxom woman); handle (steering wheel); running machine (treadmill); service (something that is free of charge). [Source: Wikipedia]

Studying Chinese in South Korea

By one estimate about 100,000 people, including students, are studying Chinese in South Korea. Hwang Jae-ho wrote in the Korean Herald: “In Korea, the demand for Chinese study varies slightly depending on age. First, adults often study Chinese as a necessity at work. Since many Korean companies are actively engaged in trade with China, each company often provides Chinese language courses and educates its employees as a necessity for in-house lectures. However, it is true that the demand for Chinese among adults has decreased since the issue of THAAD (A U.S. missile defense system deployed in South Korea). Most adults learn Chinese for business. However, after the THAAD issue, it seems that business with China is unstable because the political factors between Korea and China have directly affected it. As a result, fewer adult learners are trying to study Chinese than before. [Source: Hwang Jae-ho, Korean Herald, August 3, 2019. Hwang is director of the Global Security Cooperation Center, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies]

“A Chinese language certificate has become an essential requirement for a job. Therefore, most university students study Chinese in various ways, such as language training or online lectures. What's unusual is that because their objective is to get a job, they often stop learning after getting a certificate after cramming for a short period of time, and there are relatively few who are able to communicate fluently in Chinese when they actually meet a Chinese speaker. For kindergarten or elementary school students, they study Chinese with long-term goals. As China has emerged as one of the G2, Chinese is recognized as a must-learn language. Therefore, private kindergartens and elementary schools are teaching Chinese as a second foreign language subject, and the private education market for children's Chinese is growing steadily.”

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “After years of slogging through her English lessons, stumbling over impossible pronunciations and baffling rules of syntax, Chae Chang Eun came up with a better idea. The 33-year-old science teacher switched to Chinese. It wasn't that the language was easier. But studying Chinese felt like a homecoming, a return to a culture and way of thinking closer to Chae's roots as a South Korean. Besides, with China on its way to surpassing the United States as South Korea's largest trading partner, she figured its language would be more advantageous in landing a job in the business world. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2004]

“Until recently, South Koreans studying Chinese were primarily scholars, not unlike Westerners who learn Greek or Latin. There was little interest in the modern Chinese language. "People would ask me, 'Why are you teaching Chinese?' Even if I was sitting on a bus reading a book in Chinese, people would give me funny looks," said Song Jae Bok, a teacher at the Koryo Chinese Language Institute.

“Eighty percent of the students at the school in downtown Seoul are women, mostly looking for jobs in trading companies. One reason for the boom in private Chinese institutes is that Chinese is not offered in most public schools. English is still the mandatory foreign language. Virtually all South Koreans taking Chinese lessons have also studied English, although many have had difficulty mastering it. "Somehow students in the Chinese department are not interested in English. It seems they did not like to learn English and they see Chinese as an alternative," said Seo Kyong Ho, associate dean of humanities at Seoul National University and one of the few academics who is fluent in both Chinese and English.

Chinese popular culture has not made dramatic inroads into South Korea — there are no signs that it will push aside the influence of Hollywood. But South Korean music, soap operas, film and fashion are increasingly popular in China. Chae, the science teacher, started Chinese lessons four years ago after reading a book predicting the rise of China. It was something of an epiphany, and through the language she started exploring the Chinese roots of Korean culture that had been forgotten in recent years.

Studying Chinese Becomes Popular in South Korea in the 2000s

In the 2000s a relatively large number of students from South Korea went to China to study Chinese. In some places 90 percent of the non-Chinese students were Koreans. In 2005, 57,000 South Koreans were studying in China compared to 18,000 Japanese, 11,000 Americans, 7,000 Vietnamese, and 5,000 Indonesians.

Associated Press reported in 2005: “Yeo Ji-eun once felt the English and Japanese classes she struggled through were enough to land a good job. Now, the 24-year-old electronics worker is in a crash course to learn the language of a country that South Koreans once considered backward - China. "I realized I've got to study Chinese these days. No matter which country you work in, no matter which company you work for, you have to think about doing business with China," says Yeo, who goes to twice-a-week Chinese classes offered by her local government. "Student numbers at language institutes specialising in Chinese have risen 10-fold over the last two years," said Chang Hyun-min, a manager at Yiersan, a Chinese language institute. [Source: Associated Press, March 27. 2005]

“With China surpassing the United States as South Korea's biggest trading partner, young South Koreans facing a tightening domestic job market are rushing to master Chinese as the language of the future. There is no definitive estimate of how many South Koreans are studying Chinese, and English remains the most widely taught foreign language, but billboards along the streets of Seoul are increasingly crammed with signs advertising Chinese language courses. More than 35,000 South Korean students attended Chinese colleges or graduate schools as of late 2003, making them the largest expatriate student community in China, according to the latest data available from the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. In comparison, about 74,000 South Korean students studied in the United States in 2003. They were the second-largest group of foreign students after 81,000 Japanese, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says.

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2004: “In the last two years, half a dozen private Chinese schools have opened in downtown Seoul, and posters for new ones are plastered throughout the subway system. In December, prestigious Seoul National University announced that Chinese had replaced English as the most popular major among liberal arts students. The country's largest electronics companies recently started offering free Chinese lessons for their employees in anticipation of expanded operations in China. Since 2000, the number of South Koreans studying in China has more than doubled. There were 35,000 as of the end of last year, making South Koreans the largest nationality of foreign students in China. Meanwhile, the number taking the entry exam for Chinese universities has increased threefold, according to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. At the same time, student visa applications to the United States are down about 10 percent this year from the year before, a U.S. diplomat said. He attributes it to a combination of tighter security requirements and what he calls "the competing pole from China." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2004]

Seoul High School Students Prefer Japanese and Chinese to German, Spanish and French

In 2011, the Chosun Ilbo reported: “Japanese or Chinese is taught as a second foreign language at nine out of 10 ordinary high schools in Seoul, a recent survey says. According to data for 2011 released by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education on Sunday, 196 of 222 ordinary high schools in Seoul teach Japanese to second-year students, while 176 schools teach Chinese. Some 169 schools teach both. By contrast, only 41 high schools teach French, 27 German, and six Spanish. None teach Russian or Arabic. [Source: Chosun Ilbo, May 9, 2011]

“Experts said most students prefer Japanese or Chinese because they believe the languages are more useful in the job market. Nationwide, only a handful of schools teach Arabic, but 49,116 students chose the language in the second foreign language section of the CSAT last year. Students have shown a preference for Arabic for three years now, mainly because the mean score is low due to the small number of students who are good at it, which allows mediocre performers to land better comparative scores than in subjects where the average is higher. The next popular language was Japanese with some 19,931 students.

Lee Hyo-sik wrote in the Korea Herald: “Teachers say that schools opt to teach students Chinese or Japanese because they are easier since all three use similar Chinese characters. They also say Korean companies prefer to hire those fluent in Chinese or Japanese due to the nation’s growing business ties with the world’s second and third largest economies. [Source: Lee Hyo-sik, Korea Herald, May 8, 2011]

An official at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education echoed teachers’ views, saying students these days are eager to learn Chinese, with more domestic firms making inroads into the world’s fastest growing economy. “If you are able to speak Chinese, it will definitely help you find a job. In the past, many students used to learn French or German. But these days, that is not the case,” the official said.

Meanwhile, the number of high school students choosing to study a foreign language fell sharply in 2010, compared to a year ago, when it no longer became mandatory. According to data released by the state-run Korean Educational Development Institute, students learning a second foreign language totaled 596,044 as of April 2010, down 120,939, or 16.8 percent, from a year earlier. The number of second foreign language classes at high schools nationwide also fell 11.2 percent to 18,554. The dive in popularity for a second foreign language came after the government adjusted high school curricula in 2009 to put more emphasis on the study of English, Korean language and math. Learning a second foreign language was compulsory until 2009. By language, the number of students who chose German as a second foreign language marked the steepest fall at 26.9 percent, from 29,881 to 21,841, the data showed. Students of Spanish fell 25.4 percent, followed by French (18.6 percent), Japanese (17.5 percent), Chinese (13.3 percent) and Russian (5.6 percent).

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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