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The English Language: a Useful Tool or the House of Korea Identity?Rho Heon-gyun / Professor Dept. of English
   
 
 

Rho Heon-gyun

 
 

In his article "Letter on Humanism" Martin Heidegger insists that "Language is the house of being."  After the philosopher's statement about the language, various interpretations have been followed as to the implied meanings of the assertion.  

What holds these different understandings together is the importance of the daily spoken language through which human beings express themselves via communication, written document, and intellectual activities among others. 

In other words, language is significant in understanding and defining the identity of the  language users.  From Heidegger's statement it can be easily inferred that language plays the most important roles in building the fundamental frame of the users's identity.

Why do I start this essay by citing Heidegger's opinion on language?  Because I am wondering if President Lee Myung-bak and his cabinet members have ever thought of the existentialist philosopher's multiple meanings of language education when they planned to change dramatically the policy of today's English language education at elementary, middle, and high schools in Korea. 

 Their first draft was composed of several elaborate projects in order to produce global leaders by providing "class delivered in English only" to every school except colleges.  Under the "class delivered in English only" system, teachers teach all subjects in English: mathematics, physics, biology, social science, and even Korean history and the Korean language.

Putting aside such expected obstacles as students's inability to follow up in class, the difficulty of finding teachers fluent in English, and the unexpected high cost needed to run this new teaching system, there exists a fundamental problem in President Lee's "class delivered in English only" agenda.  As Heidegger implies in his argument, Koreans build their house of Korean identity by and through the Korean language. 

If, however, Korean children and teenagers who spend relatively longer time at schools than in any other country are exposed to "class delivered in English only" all day long, then they will begin to build their identity more by English rather than by Korean without doubt.  After having been trained under President Lee's program more than ten years and finally reaching their adulthood, they might turn into neither Korean, nor British, nor American but beings of unknown nationality.

In spite of the negative reaction against "class delivered in English only" project, I don't deny the necessities of teaching English in wider and larger educational perspective.  In addition, I fully second the idea that the English language is one of the useful tools in pursuing our career. 

In order to satisfy the strong demands for the better command of the English language from students, President Lee and his aides of education can help the students achieve their goal by making a slight change in the present policy of English class and by using after-school hours more effectively. 

Teachers teach English grammar, structure, and reading skills in Korean for the first two-thirds of regular English class, and repeat what they taught in English for the rest of time.  By keeping teachers and students familiar with traditional English class and by adding a little change to it, they may feel still comfortable and get ready for dramatically changed English classes late afternoon.   In after-school English program, a native English speaker and a Korean teacher make a team to offer a "class delivered in English only." 

Several presuppositions are needed to maximize the effect of the after-school program.  First, more variable texts should be available.  Both written and audio-visual texts covering whole aspects of culture in English speaking countries might stimulate students's curiosity about different cultures, which will gradually make it natural for students to access to the English language. 

Second, both Korean and English teachers encourage students to participate in class discussion actively.  Korean teachers should pay more attention to those students who are too passive and shy to expose themselves in English.  The Korean teachers can support the students sometimes by interpreting English into Korean and other times vice versa.  Third, students are required to hand in written journals regularly.  

 Korean students have relatively less chances to practice English in written essays.   This difficulty can be solved at after-school programs because students have more opportunities to correct their journals by Korean and English teachers.  Last but not least, the educational authorities should hold speech and essay contests in English frequently so that students have more opportunities to express themselves in English. 

By taking this alternative policy rather than President Lee's "class delivered in English only" in regular classes, Korean students can achieve two goals at the same time: They build their national identities through the Korean language; and they can better improve their English skills as a useful tool.

Rho Heon-gyun  The Dongguk Post

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