Language, Culture, and Pedagogy: An Overview of English in South Korea

Brendan Flattery

Copyright 2007





Many discussions of the role of English in a particular country where it is not an official language or the first language to most of the population begin with a discussion of the language’s global status as a lingua franca in our increasingly global society. To fully realize this, however, it is important to examine how English is used in such countries, and what attitudes exist towards such uses. In South Korea, an “Expanding Circle” country according to Kachru’s model of concentric circles, English is not an official language nor is it a second language that has become important for institutional purposes of government even though English instruction in Korea has become a vast industry and all children currently receive a minimum of six years of English instruction. There are many different and conflicted associations with English in South Korea, and there are different varieties and registers of English for different kinds of situations, spoken by people of different occupations, classes, age groups, etc.

This paper serves as an analysis of different attitudes towards the English language in South Korea and how they have changed, or not changed, historically. As well, given how large the English language instruction industry has become in South Korea, this paper is an examination of teaching practices and approaches that are currently employed in the public school system, the site of mandatory English instruction. The review of the literature on this subject reveals that a major goal of the Ministry of Education is the fostering of native-speaker proficiency, or as close to this as possible, via a method known as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). However, since there has been difficulty with implementing this approach for a variety of reasons, this paper examines alternative suggestions for improving or moving beyond CLT methods for a particularly South Korean English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context, such as the teaching of cultural knowledge, the fostering of more critical awareness of the place that English holds in South Korea, and the consideration of Korean English or Konglish as a means to provide a greater understanding of Standard English (SE). A consideration of attitudes towards English in Korea is necessary to begin this overview, as they inform the goals and motivations for learning English and illustrate the ambivalence that exists towards it in South Korea society.


English in South Korea: Function and Attitudes


         English has had a variety of functions in Korean society over the last century, and its development since the Korean War has been mainly the result of international trade, particularly with the US. Therefore, SE norms have been given special emphasis due to the function of English used as a foreign or international language. However, the actual use of English by the majority of Koreans reveals clear and regular deviations from SE. There are many who learn English for specific purposes, such as for business, trade, academics etc., but very few interact with native speakers, and amongst themselves they prefer to use a uniquely South Korean variety of English that is reinforced by the local media. This illustrates a discrepancy between the goals of EFL teaching and the complex functions of English in modern-day South Korean society. These complex functions are broadly divisible along the lines of nationalist vs. internationalist, for throughout the history of English use in Korea there have been conflicted associations with the language revolving around this dichotomy.

         Samuel Gerald Collins’s essay, “‘Who’s This Tong-il?’: English, Culture, and Ambivalence in South Korea” is a historical overview of attitudes towards English in South Korea, and illustrates the interplay between nationalist and internationalist ideas that have surrounded the use of English in South Korea over the last century. From the beginning, the Koreans were wary of the English language. This had to do with the fact that because Korea was the last East Asian country to have contact with the West it was able to witness the impact of western colonialism on its neighbours (419). The imperial court in Korea during this period actively persecuted those with western learning, a sign that they were initially wary of the West. Initially, then anything associated with the West was met with nationalist and isolationist resistance. By 1882, however, the Koreans had signed a treaty with the United States (US), fostering the arrival of missionaries, advisors, traders, and teachers who brought the English language with them and who soon began teaching it to Korean children via English only classes (419-20). In the face of increased Japanese expansion, English became a site of resistance for Korean intellectuals hoping to further associate themselves with the Americans, and in 1896 a group calling themselves the Independence Club founded the first English language newspaper (420). During the period of Japanese rule in Korea, which began in 1910, English was still taught as a mandatory subject, and the Japanese colonizers published annual reports in English on the ways they contributed to “Korean life” (420). In this period, then, English was simultaneously a means of disseminating propaganda and a cite of resistance to imperialism, and though the English language put Korea onto the map, so to speak, in an international setting, nationalists who opposed Japanese imperialism found a means to do so through the English language.

Following the Korean War, English use developed in South Korea because of international trade, especially trade with the US. Collins notes that after the Korean War, English was used to communicate with the US military government and the soldiers, as the military government had need of people that could communicate in both languages (421). Thus the value of English was highly practical, but also opportunistic, and almost immediately had associations with prestige. As trade flourished so did English instruction, and in the 1960’s, South Korean teachers were being trained to teach English. By the 1970’s and 80’s the language was already associated with middle class and cosmopolitan values (423). After the 1988 Olympics, the government consciously associated English with globalization, both cultural and economic, and began actively promoting English language education to foster international competitiveness. The Kim Young Sam administration sponsored this by initiating a program known as Segyehwa, a major component of which was the development of English instruction (Yoo 6). English as a tool for international trade developed quickly over the last fifty years, and this is still the major impulse behind English instruction in South Korea.

Within South Korea, English is viewed as means to gain social prestige and economic success even though very few companies demand their employees pass English language tests (Collins 424). English is also associated with progressive or liberal ideas, especially among the youth, but there is also a reaction to the spread of English in Korea that is closely related to nationalist sentiments. Thus, even at home there is ambivalence towards whether English is an entirely positive or negative force in South Korean society.

 Jamie Shinhee Lee, in 2 essays, tracks the use of English in pop-culture formats, such as television commercials and popular music, and she argues that English language use is associated with representations of youthful people, with youth culture in general and with values that reject traditional Korean ones. Lee’s first article on “K-Pop” or Korean popular music addresses kinds of English used by young artists in an expression of group identity and a resistance of “mainstream norms and values” (“Hybridizations” 430). Lee notes a heterogeneity of both code-mixing and -switching between English and Korean, and a range of use from a single English word, to entire songs in English. As well, artists change the varieties of English they use, from Korean English to standard American, and even incorporate elements of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) (430). In more elaborate uses of English, especially when it appears alongside Korean, there is a marked difference in content between the two languages, perhaps relating to censorship.

One general trend is how direct expressions of sexual desire are found exclusively in English, and Lee argues that such language would be unheard of in Korean love songs where romantic or sexual love is traditionally downplayed (436). The examples that Lee provides show more trends of antagonism towards traditional conservative values, with a definite contrast between the kinds of material found in English and Korean, particularly in a category Lee calls “Assertion of struggle with unsettled identities” (438). For example, in a song entitled “Everything” by Fly to the Sky, the artist expresses animosity towards his girlfriend because of her promiscuity, with lines such as “Should’ve known you was a hoe” but in Korean he articulates a sense of patience and a desire for her to come back to him (438-9). This song is one of the examples that contain AAVE features, and many others contain specifically Korean features as well. One singer mentions his use of Korean English directly, saying, “You don’t like my yenge palum” before repeating the title which directs the addressed person to “suck [his] dxxx” (443). Yenge palum means “English pronunciation,” but the artist uses Korean to locate himself in a particular kind of Korean English, which he uses throughout his song (443). This is a clear example of a sense of group identity positioned in contrast to traditional values, and given the violent contrast between English and Korean language choices in these songs, it is certain that English is a means of associating oneself with a youth culture in opposition to a conservative or traditional norm.

         The second article, “Linguistic Constructions of Modernity: English Mixing in Korean Television Commercials,” is a comparison of 720 advertisements in prime time weekend spots, ostensibly when the largest number of people would be watching, shown on the three major networks (“Constructions 68). Of these 720 commercials, 603 had some mixed English and only 117 were in Korean only. The vast majority of the English- mixed commercials (abbrev. EM), contain both spoken and written English (71). The most striking feature of this analysis is the differences in identity association in the two types of commercials. In Korean-only ads (abbrev. KO), one finds character types such as “old grandmothers, middle-aged salarymen,* well-established older businessmen, and a group of Koreans depicted with a distinct Korean national identity (e.g. with the national flag)” (73). Importantly, whenever the nation is mentioned as a whole, for instance in public service announcements by the government, these commercials are strictly KO (73). By contrast, EM commercials contain spokespeople or characters such as “rebellious teenagers, college students with an unconventional mindset, young, stylish career women, Misicok,F self-reliant elementary school children, fun-loving, young male office workers, and looks-conscious young ‘metrosexuals’” (74). The rest of the article deals with specific situations and products associated with these character types, adding to the association between English code-mixing and a youth culture related to ideas of what it means to be “modern” in Korea (70). Lee is not alone in drawing connections between English and modernity, but she provides good examples of how that connection is made in popular media.

There are many who are against the spread of English in South Korea who believe that the Korean language and national identity are at risk, and thus reject proposals that English should gain official status in Korea. One memorable example that sparked a great deal of response occurred when a popular music star, known as J, asked “Who’s this Tong-il?” on television, completely unaware that Tong-il refers to the reunification of North and South Korea (Collins 426). Needless to say, there was a negative reaction to this, and many began to fear that the youth in Korea are losing their cultural heritage. Since then, there has been an increase in situations on television shows that criticize characters who use two much English, for example a character on one show that excessively drops the names of American stars into conversations (426). Therefore, English is accepted and valued as a means of establishing South Korea on a global market, but there is a reaction against using too much English as though doing so would corrupt Korean values. Yoo’s essay concerns the debate over English as an Official Language in South Korea, and illustrates that the issue is hotly contested and is centered on the nationalism vs. globalization argument (8-9). Therefore, English in South Korea is a complicated notion, surrounded by conflict and debate at the least even though few would likely argue against its necessity for South Korea’s rapidly expanding economy.


English in the South Korean Classroom


         English is taught and studied in a variety of ways in South Korea, in public and private schools, or through take-home work sheets and private tutoring, and the motivations for learning it have mostly to do with the above ideas of modernization and globalization.          Jun-Kang Kim did a study for a dissertation entitled Globalization and English Language Education in Korea: Socialization and Identity Construction of Korean Youth and found that the majority of high school and university level English students that were interviewed believed they felt an impact from globalization and thus believed English to be necessary for finishing their educations and achieving success afterwards. Kim argues that, “[t]he students seemed to conceive [of] English not just a necessary tool, but and end, which will make their dreams come true” (74). The insistence on the use of English for international purposes indicates perhaps why SE norms would be privileged in classroom settings, and by the speakers themselves and, and the South Korean Ministry of Education has been doing their best to foster native speaker proficiency among EFL students. Seon-hwa Eun, in a dissertation entitled Contextual autonomy in EFL classrooms: A critical review of English teaching methods in South Korea (2001), shows that the education curriculum announced in 1992 clearly states that CLT should replace the earlier audio-lingual method used in middle schools, and the grammar translation method used in high schools (54). With the 1997 curriculum primary school students began EFL instruction based on CLT models as well (54). Therefore, it is necessary to discuss CLT methods and their implementation of them in EFL classrooms.


CLT in Theory: the Public School Curriculum in South Korea


         Hyun Jung Kim in her dissertation entitled A Case Study of Curriculum and Material Evaluation: Elementary English as a Foreign Language in South Korea defines CLT as consisting of the following characteristics. There is a focus on meaning over form, content and function over grammatical complexity, fluency over accuracy (though there is still a place for accuracy), student-centered learning that emphasizes active participation and interaction rather than teacher-centered directive learning, communicative competence, authenticity of speech, and the teaching of cultural knowledge (4). Kim cites Larsen-Freeman who qualifies “authentic speech” as “language used in real life situations by native speakers,” thus containing realistic or “genuine” communicative situations (4). Communicative competence, according to Hymes is “what a learner needs to know in order to be communicatively competent in a speech community” and according to Canale and Swain consists of grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence, and strategic competence (ctd. in H. Kim 6). Thus CLT uses methods that encourage active participation and interaction with the main goal being native speaker proficiency.

         Hyun Jung Kim studied the sixth and seventh curricula of South Korea (1997 and 2001), with specific attention to Primary School EFL instruction (3rd to 6th grades, ages 9-12), and found that while the curricula clearly state goals of implementing specific CLT practices, they fall short of providing examples and textbook materials on how to encourage communicative competence. In the sixth curriculum, H. J. Kim found objectives such as the encouragement of interest and confidence with English, an understanding of basic English used in everyday life, and the ability to express basic ideas in English (26). A secondary goal in the curriculum is the learning of culture, as it recognizes that language and culture are inseparable. This is strongly emphasized in the sixth curriculum of 1997 (26). The idea is that if students are taught customs of native English speakers they will become more aware of their cultures, “develop more positive attitudes towards English speakers, and recognize the differences in language and culture between Korea and English speaking countries” (26).

         The seventh curriculum of 2001 is similar in essence to the sixth for third and fourth grade students, though slightly less intensive for grade six. The main goals of the seventh curriculum are to provide communicative competence, “to accept foreign culture with a positive attitude” and to compare English and Korean culture, to reinforce Korean values in contrast to foreign ones (31-2). This last point especially illustrates fears in the government of Korean culture suffering from the expansion of English instruction. Generally, both curricula place emphasis on communicative activities, and though this is more emphasized in the seventh, there are no new examples of what activities to use or suggestions for putting such activities into practice (35). One key difference of the seventh curriculum is that the teaching of culture is a main goal, not a secondary goal as it was in the sixth (36). Therefore, the South Korean Ministry of Education states what specific CLT methods they want implemented in classrooms, but as the next section will show, there have been issues with these goals. 


CLT in Practice: Teachers’ Difficulties with Implementing CLT Methods


         There are quite a few studies concerning CLT methodologies in South Korea and the problems with implementation of these methods among South Korean teachers. Broadly, many agree with using CLT in their classrooms in principle, but either disagree with certain practices such as learner-centered approaches, or do not have the resources, such as authentic materials, to implement them. Seon-hwa Eun found by interviewing teachers, that most had trouble understanding the nature of CLT (129). They also had trouble implementing it in their classrooms and thought that CLT was not entirely appropriate for their classroom settings (170).

         Generally speaking, the main problems with implementing a CLT approach are as follows. First of all, there is a lack of implementation of all CLT concepts, such as a focus on listening and reading skills over speaking. As Seonghee Choi notes in a dissertation entitled Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Korean Middle Schools: Exploration of Communicative Language Teaching through Teacher’s Beliefs and Self-Reported Classroom Teaching Practices (1999), teachers report that they focus on reading, listening skills, and grammar more than speaking, strategies for communication, socio-cultural knowledge and writing skills (64). H. J. Kim analyzed approved textbooks and finds that in both curricula there is material encouraging interest and confidence with learning and using expressions commonly found in every day life, yet listening is more emphasized than speaking and the speaking activities are not designed for real communication or interaction, requiring students instead to repeat phrases verbatim rather than think critically about what they hear (43). Eun also notes that tests emphasize reading and listening first, and speaking and cultural knowledge last (85). As well, they reported little use of authentic materials, videos, computers, overhead projectors, and learner-centered activities (Eun 85). Eun also notes many problems with implementing CLT in South Korea, due to teachers’ lack of proficiency in spoken English, large class sizes, a resistance among learners to active participation, and a lack of CLT training for teachers (32). Other main sources of difficulty include a lack of understanding and an uncritical adoption of CLT (Li, Gethin, and Thompson ctd. in Eun 32-3).

Also, there is a lack of student interaction and student-oriented activities, with a continued emphasis on teacher-oriented and directive methods, and as Seon-hwa Eun notes in her study, teacher’s and students alike seem to resist student-centered approaches (32). Seonghee Choi notes that teachers are far more likely to use drill activities, and other teacher-centered methods are primarily used compared to student-oriented ones, such as more interaction between students (65). H. J. Kim also finds that in the Ministry approved textbooks there is no material designed for small group activities and that in the seventh curriculum textbooks there are even less opportunities for students to communicate with each other (43-44). Another point that Choi mentions is that a major consideration for students is university entrance exams, which still place an emphasis on reading and grammar translation, rather than on communicative competence (64), therefore this “wash-back” effect may be affecting how English is learned and taught.

Finally, many studies find the continued privileging of native speaker norms combined with a lack of cultural or situational contexts that would reveal how and when students should use different varieties or registers of English. According to H. J. Kim, in the Ministry approved textbooks there are no topics on culture whatsoever (43), and Choi notes that many teachers do not teach cultural knowledge in classrooms, despite the fact that it is a major goal of the curriculum (85). As well, Hagens found that South Korean teachers find that Konglish, or Korean English, to be inappropriate for the classroom, and teach that it is incorrect even though, as I will discuss further down, many are beginning to believe that teaching Konglish might help students learn standard forms of English. The subjects of culture and Konglish need further discussion and investigation, so those will be the focus of the remaining sections of this study.



Beyond CLT: Suggestions for Improving Communicative Competence in a South Korean Context


Most of the objections about CLT in South Korea surround its applicability to a specifically South Korean EFL context. Some would argue that CLT is grounded in Western ideology and needs to be reevaluated for non-Western settings, while others believe it is unsuitable because it was originally designed for ESL learning rather than EFL. Still others take issue with the privileging of native speaker norms and suggest the use of local varieties of English in classrooms to foster a greater understanding of different varieties of English in different contexts.

Yuko Goto Butler in an essay entitled “Comparative Perspectives towards Communicative Activities among Elementary School Teachers in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan” questions what constitutes ‘teaching for communicative purposes’ in an EFL context (435). Butler argues that a cultural context is necessary before “more authentic” communication can even take place. Other salient problems that Butler raises involve the nature of authenticity in a place where English is not spoken as a first language by more than a very small percentage of the population, and what constitutes authentic international use of English. Butler also argues that “‘teaching for communicative purposes’ remains ambiguous” in international EFL contexts (442), and concludes by arguing that CLT must be reevaluated.  It is then valuable to examine theories regarding the teaching of cultural knowledge and the examination of CLT for different socio-cultural contexts.


The Teaching of Culture and the Consideration of Specific Cultural Contexts


Most of these theorists and the Ministry of Education recognize that language and culture are inseparable, and Hyun Jung Kim also shows how teaching cultural awareness in a comparative sense is a major if neglected feature of the most recent curriculum. Perhaps the lack of cultural teaching in Korea is a major problem in the inability to fully realize communicative methodologies. Jean Kim, in “Teaching Culture in the English as Foreign Language Classroom” argues that culture should be a major focus of language teaching and lays out problems as well as suggestions for teaching culture effectively, though she does so in general terms not specific to any country in particular. Jean Kim notes specifically a need for teachers to be aware of their own beliefs about culture to avoid making generalizations or stereotypes (29), and she promotes a critical discussion of culture in classrooms to allow students and teachers to discuss their preconceptions and to think more critically about both their own culture and that of the target language they are studying (30-1). Kim has looked at many theories discussing culture, and possible ways to do so in a critical way, such as directly illustrating instances of cultural misunderstanding in relation to miscommunication via handouts, videos, discussions and tests that will allow both students and teachers to compare their culture with the target culture (33-4). This kind of method would encourage learning about an English speaking culture, but also learning about one’s native culture as well and for an EFL classroom could be tailored to include the cultural attitudes towards the use of English.

Seon-hwa Eun proposes that CLT methods are the product of western ideologies towards language teaching, and need to be re-evaluated in non-western countries, particularly in EFL situations. Eun agrees with Butler that CLT methods need to consider the local contexts in which language learning takes place, because language and language learning are inseparable from context (31). Eun also suggests a new kind of methodology that is embedded within a particular local context, or socio-cultural framework. The main way to do this, according to Eun, is to empower teachers to adopt and adapt methodologies that work in classroom settings, by practicing different methods to see what promotes effective teaching and learning (57-8). In particular Eun concludes by suggesting a need for critical cultural awareness on the part of teachers when suggesting methodologies for teaching. Ok Kyoon Yoo also mentions a similar argument in her essay stating that if the students are also more aware of the language policies that govern their educations it might have positive results. Yoo writes:

Here, a big challenge is presented to English education in relation to a language policy: a pedagogical need to help students take up their subject positions among competing discourses on English-related language policies that will affect them, while improving English proficiency at the same time (29).

Therefore, in addition to teaching more specific knowledge about different cultures in EFL classrooms many argue about raising awareness to the cultural implications embedded within teaching practices so that students and teachers alike become more aware of what is influencing their teaching/learning of the English language.


The Question of Konglish


         An important issue related to culture is the issue of Korean English, or Konglish as it is pejoratively known. Konglish is the local variety of English in Korea with its own regular set of phonological, syntactic, lexical and semantic features. It is used a great deal in the media, as indicated by Lee’s articles above on code-switching/mixing, but also in newspapers and printed advertisements. There are articles that define salient features of Konglish, such as Kent’s “Speaking in Tongues: Chinglish, Japlish and Konglish” but there is little research done on the official status of Konglish. Despite the fact that it may be used on a large scale in the media and in everyday life, and that there is even evidence of some acceptance towards Konglish, there is still resistance towards the use of it in classrooms. However, some would argue that it is already being codified and that it could have direct pedagogical value in an EFL classroom.

         One problem is that South Korean EFL teachers and students still have negative opinions about the variety of English they speak. Hagens’s dissertation, entitled Attitudes toward Konglish of South Korean teachers of English in the Province of Jeollanamdo is a study of South Korean EFL teachers perspectives on Konglish, and while most of them agree that Konlgish is a legitimate variety of English they would not use it in classroom setting and they still teach that it is incorrect. Hagens, a Canadian with experience teaching in South Korea, notes that English is rarely spoken in the classroom, and if there is any mention of Konglish among students or South Korean teachers, it is followed by general laughter and in some cases a sense of embarrassment (3). Kirkpatrick writes that a standard native speaker variety is impossible for students to learn without immersion and that teachers, presumably indigenous ones, “will inevitably feel their own variety is inferior to the superimposed model” (74). Also, in South Korea, Hagens feels that native speakers are regarded as superior, and that South Korean teachers will defer to native-speakers, even though they are more likely to have better training as teachers (5). This is another major feature of Kirkpatrick’s summary of the effects of native-speaker models of English teaching, specifically in how the “insistence on a native-speaker norm diminishes local teachers of English and undermines their self-confidence and self-respect” and how this can lead to the ignorance of the advantages these people can “bring as teachers” (75). First, when asked to define Konglish, they hesitated and had to think about it, suggesting to Hagens that there is no “standard definition that they perceived to be universally accepted” (40). Generally, they all believed it was unique from SE, and the majority of them even thought it was a legitimate variety rather than a corruption. Only 26% of the teachers Hagens interviewed thought it was “bad English,” but 83% thought that they should teach that Konglish is incorrect. Only 37% of them thought it should be taught in schools (44).   There are many reasons why Standard American English would be preferred in South Korea, according to Kirkpatrick’s summary, but a major factor is the attitudes of students and teachers, whether native-speakers or South Korean.

         Despite the attitudes towards it, there is evidence that a Korean form of English is already being taught in EFL classrooms and that codification has taken place even before any recognition of legitimacy. Rosa Jinyoung Shim, in her essay, “Codified Korean English: Process, Characteristics, and Consequence” shows that forms of Korean English exist in textbooks already, contrary to the opinions or expectations of many South Koreans. Shim notes that it is significant that “people all over the world believe that American English is being taught in [Korean] schools” (250), suggesting that there is little to no external legitimacy given to Korean English. Additionally, Shim notes that within Korea, “most educated Koreans” wrongly believe that certain features of Korean English are, in fact, “identical to American English” (248), which illustrates a possible unwillingness to even recognize any legitimacy of Korean English among the educated classes. Shim also comments on the freedom given to English teachers in public schools over which varieties they can teach, but mostly in reference to British or American standards (Choe ctd. in Shim 247). The fact that “educational codification of Korean English has occurred and codified Korean English has firmly taken root” (Shim 249), means that teachers have recognized a practical need to teach Korean English, likely because the children in schools are speaking it and using it, though without any recognition of legitimacy by the more educated speakers of English due to the fact that there is little attention given to this codification; however, given the negative attitudes of teachers towards Konglish in studies such as Hagens’s, this statement of Shim’s could be mistaken.       

         There is more evidence to support the fact that Konglish has received some limited codification without such official or pedagogical recognition. Kent has shown that Konglish is a written vernacular and that a “significant amount of Konglish lexis is used in the Korean language” (Kent ctd. in Hagens 28). As well, many English words are borrowed into Korean and listed in dictionaries, but these are treated as new loanwords, not code-switching (Robertson ctd in Hagens 11). This fits with an attitude that is willing to admit and recognize the influence of English on Korean, but not on an interference variety of English that combines the two languages. Hagens also notes that there is confusion and difficulty among South Korean English teachers about distinguishing between Konglish and SE, and that this is a source of self-consciousness for them (43). This correlates with Shim’s findings that even educated Korean speakers of English believe that constructions unique to Korean English are thought of as Standard constructions (248). As Kirkpatrick notes, a major reason that Standard native-speakers models are used is because they are codified and have a history (72, 75), and despite the limited form of codification of Korean English in textbooks that Shim notes, there are no dictionaries or grammars that recognize the legitimacy of it.

            Despite this lack of recognition, many believe that using Konglish would be highly beneficial in an EFL classroom. In his article “Speaking in Tongues: Chinglish, Japlish, and Konglish” Kent suggests that using Konglish in a classroom setting would help students understand the differences between Konglish and SE, though he still tends to regard SE as “correct” and Konglish as “incorrect” (203-4). Kent describes the major kinds of loanwords, hybrids or truncations commonly found in Konglish and suggests ways of illustrating the differences between them and the SE forms from which they derive (204). Specific advantages of this approach include the fact that the students do not need to relearn the lexis of their local variety, and can use the linguistic set they already know as a basis for learning SE as well (204). This could help students develop more understanding of both their local variety and SE, and could even intersect with the teaching of cultural knowledge as mentioned above. Konglish could be a means of helping students become critically aware of how English is used in South Korea, what attitudes towards it exist, or when it is acceptable to use different varieties or registers of English. Therefore, the teaching of Konglish in a metalinguistic framework could promote a greater understanding of the role of English in Korea and in each student’s life more generally.




            In conclusion, many people regard English as valuable if not necessary for their financial/economic survival in South Korea, though many are worried about the negative impacts it is having on their national identity. Additionally, many see CLT methods for teaching communicative competence as overly western and inappropriate for a South Korean socio-cultural context. These critics believe that this is a major reason why CLT methods have failed to take hold in EFL classrooms, and thus argue that they need to be adapted. Others argue that there needs to be more cultural knowledge taught in classrooms, as the Ministry of Education states in the curriculum. As Kent argues, Konglish should also considered as means of teaching SE forms to students or of illustrating to students what kinds of English use are appropriate in different social settings. A major factor that has received little focus is the opinions of South Korean EFL teachers, for many reject certain aspects of CLT and others believe that Konglish has no place in a classroom. Therefore, many of the above theories need require testing and examination to see how applicable they are in particular situations. This area of study is fascinating and has a great deal of potential for further research, mostly due to the fact that very little published material is available at this point, and hopefully this report provides an overview of what kinds of material exists about the functions of, attitudes towards and teaching approaches of English in South Korea.


Works Consulted


Butler, Yuko Goto. “Comparative Perspectives towards Communicative Activities among Elementary School Teachers in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.” Language Teaching Research 9 (2004): 423-446.


Choi, Seonghee. Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Korean Middle Schools: Exploration of Communicative Language Teaching through Teacher’s Beliefs and Self-Reported Classroom Teaching Practices. Diss. Ohio State U, 1999. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1999. AAT 9941302.


Collins, Samuel Gerald. “‘Who’s This Tong-il?’: English, Culture, and Ambivalence in South Korea.” Changing English 12 (2005): 417-29.


Eun, Seon-hwa. Contextual autonomy in EFL classrooms: A critical review of English teaching methods in South Korea. Diss. Ohio State U, 2001. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2001. AAT 3031198.


Hagens, Sheilagh A. Attitudes toward Konglish of South Korean teachers of English in the Province of Jeollanamdo. Diss. Brock U, Can., 2005. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2005. AAT MR10725.


Kent, D. B. “Speaking in Tongues: Chinglish, Japlish, and Konglish.” KOTESOL. 1999 Conference Proceedings. 28 Jan. 2005. 30 Oct. 2006. <>.


Kim, Hyun Jung. A Case Study of Curriculum and Material Evaluation: Elementary English as a Foreign Language in South Korea. Diss. McGill U, Can., 2001. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2001. AAT MQ75236.


Kim, Jean. “Teaching Culture in the English as Foreign Language Classroom.” Korea TESOL Journal. 5.1 (2002): 28-40.


Kim, Jung-Kang. Globalization and English Language Education in Korea: Socialization and Identity Construction of Korean Youth. Diss. New Mexico State U, 2002. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2002. AAT 3053643.


Kirpatrick, Andy. “Which Model of English: Native-Speaker, Nativized, or Lingua Franca?” English in the World: Global Rules, Global Roles. Ed. Rani Rudby and Mario Saraceni. New York: Continuum, 2006. 71-83.


Lee, Jamie Shinhee. “Linguistic Constructions of Modernity: English Mixing in Korean Television Commercials.” Language in Society 35.1 (2006): 59-91.


---.“Linguistic Hybridizations in K-Pop: Discourse of Self-Assertion and Resistance.” World Englishes 23 (2004): 429-50.


Park, So Jin and Nancy Abelmann. “Class and Cosmopolitan Striving: Mother’s Management of English Education in South Korea.” Anthropological Quarterly 77 (2004): 645-72.


Shim, Rosa Jinyoung, “Codified Korean English: Process, Characteristics, and Consequence.” World Englishes 18 (1999): 247-58.


Yoo, Ok Kyoon. “Discourses of English as an Official Language in a Monolingual Society: the Case of South Korea.” Google Scholar. Simwo Middle School. 10 Nov. 2006. <,%2520Ok%2520Kyoon.doc+ok+kyoon+yoo>.



* a Korean English term meaning “a company employee who depends on a monthly salary” (Notes to Lee “Constructions” 89)

F young married women that dress and act like they are single, used in a positive sense (Note to “Constructions” 89)