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Americanization in South Korea

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Americanization in South Korea

  1. 1. Running head: AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 1 Americanization in South Korea and the Effects of English Education Jamie McClure
  2. 2. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 2 Abstract This paper is going to survey the issue of Americanization in South Korea, particularly where English education is involved. There will be some historical and political background to understand how globalization and modernization contributed to the rise of Americanization in South Korea and then I will address the political, social, and educational effects of this phenomenon. English is the world’s first global language (lingua franca), and is the chosen language of almost all international academic and political discourse. With such global power, English education is necessary if a country expects to compete economically and academically, and this necessity is especially clear in South Korea. However, tension arises between American values and English as a necessity for economic and academic success, and Korean identity. It is in this climate that I, an American native-English speaker, will go to South Korea to teach English. These complicated issues underlying education are imperative for me and all American teachers to understand if we have any hope of ameliorating this issue.
  3. 3. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 3 Americanization in South Korea and the Effects of English Education Korean Identity and the Beginnings of Americanization South Korea’s history plays a large part in understanding the disconnection between their zealous nationalism and internalization of American values. Park and Shim (2008) state that the “English fever in Korean society may appear incongruent with the image of a country that is well known for its strong sense of national and ethnic pride” (p. 138). However, English’s development as a global language and Korea’s desire for advancement and international standing force the coexistence of such rival desires. Of course the spread of English began during the expansion of the British Empire, but the reason English maintained this global position is because of the “economic power and cultural influence of the United States” (Jambor, P. 2012, p. 1). Whereas the United States did not previously colonize South Korea, there is a current cultural and linguistic colonialism taking place. Park (2009) argues that “colonialism is involved in two processes: ‘the undervaluing of a people’s culture’ and ‘the conscious elevation of the language of the colonizer’” (p. 16). Through this elevation of English, one can understand why South Koreans struggle with their nationalistic identity since the U.S. is, essentially, colonizing them through language. However, for South Korea to become a global force, this colonization is necessary because English is the lingua franca and recognized global language. Park (2009) also says that South Koreans “think of Americanization as globalization, therefore they have to internalize American values and language in order to survive” (p. 59). If globalization is seen as a “tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization” where one can “supplant cultural for linguistic” then it is easy to see why Koreans consider this linguistic colonization as necessary for their survival (Park, J., & Shim, D., 2008, p. 153). Despite this struggle between “the colonized” and “the colonizer”, South Korea is attempting to use this
  4. 4. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 4 global platform (English) to insert themselves on the global playing field and to compete internationally. This creates tensions, however, when a culture views its “monolingual” status as an inherent part of their national identity due to previous domineering linguistic experiences with other countries (Park, J., & Shim, D., 2008). Although South Korea was never physically colonized by the West, they have had other physical and cultural colonizers in the past. When Japan occupied South Korea during World War II, they required all Korean citizens to learn Japanese to use not only in their private lives, but also as the language of instruction. In fact, they even taught English and other foreign language education in Japanese; Chang (2009) elaborates that “actual English language instruction in secondary and higher schools was regarded as being degenerative to Japanese Imperialism rule” (p. 86). Then English education at the time could have been seen as a liberating language choice as opposed to the imposed Japanese one. Previous even to the Japanese occupation, however, one can see a similar relationship between Korea and China during the Chosun Dynasty that exists between Korea and the U.S. today. South Korea in its history has had to depend on powerful nations for its survival, economically and diplomatically (in particular to defend against any invaders). Park (2009) states that South Korea “had to depend on China in terms of language, culture, and technology”, which is similar to when he says earlier in his paper that “Korea now seems to be colonized by the U.S. in economic, political, and cultural realms” (pp. 57, 52). Just like English is required knowledge for the success of any South Korean today, Park (2009) explains that “proficiency in spoken or written Chinese in the Goryeo and Chosun dynasties was directly linked with accumulating wealth through successful business” (p. 58). South Korea is repeating a historical trend to depend on “stronger” nations, yet it is through these experiences with countries like China and Japan that create a desire for a
  5. 5. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 5 strong national identity and pride in their host language. Park and Shim (2008) say that “throughout the nation’s experiences of colonization and modernization, the construct of danil minjok (“one people” or racial homogeneity) served as the central ideology... Korean language is a strong and prominent symbol of national and ethnic pride for Koreans” (p. 142). South Korea is struggling to find a balance between their desire for globalization and the internalization of American values because their launch onto the global platform started through another country and language; through South Korea’s interactions with China, the door to Western countries opened to them. It is also during this opening to the West where one can see the shift from Chinese to English as a tool for power and competition. During the Chosun dynasty, global trade boomed as well as international relations with Western countries. With the new interactions between Western countries, there became a demand for English speakers. Chang (2009) asserts that “the dynasty was in immediate need for officials who were able to communicate in the native languages of the countries for both commercial transactions and diplomatic purposes,” and it is this era that South Korea started bringing in native-speaking English teachers as well (p. 84). South Korea opened a foreign language school in 1893 because they believed that learning the languages of others (English being among them) would modernize them and bring them into the global sphere (Chang, B-M., 2009). This trend since 1893 has not changed since the global power of English has only increased. Park (2009) states that English “created a more equitable society and was a driving force for the country’s emergence out of poverty to become an industrialized country,” and he goes on to say that despite this importance placed in English, Koreans’ “everyday lives remained strongly monolingual and the Korean language served as a symbol of national and ethnic identity (pp. 143, 153); so while English gains in importance, so does their adherence to their native
  6. 6. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 6 tongue as a tie to their native culture. Although South Korea wants to maintain its nationalism and monolingual status, unfortunately, as Abelmann and Park (2004) point out, “increasingly, to be South Korean means to be South Korean ‘in the world’ -- a prospect that calls for the mastery of English” (p. 5). Educational Effects of English in South Korea First, we will look at why English is needed academically. Nunan (2003) explains, “English is currently the undisputed language of science and technology, and scientific journals in many countries are now switching from their vernacular to English...English appears to be the universal language of communication” (p.590). This is supported by Jambor (2012) who says that “95% of the worldwide academic output is being made in English...the English language has more academic power than any other language in world and even possibly all other languages combined” (p.3). Most academic journals only publish in English so if a South Korean researcher wants to be recognized in his or her field in a way that could advance his or her’s career than he or she will have to have a high command of English. This shows that Korea is following a global trend in a world that is academically being run by English. There are many responses to this trend in Korea to try to ensure the academic success of its students and intellectuals. Many colleges and universities conduct a bulk of their coursework in English. Nunan (2003) says that “all colleges and universities require 3-12 credit hours of English, and many universities and employers require minimum Test of English for International Communication and Test of English as a Foreign Language scores from those seeking either education or employment” (p. 600). Because of the demand for effective English speakers many universities even “offer pay incentives to encourage teachers to teach in English” (Nunan, D.,
  7. 7. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 7 2003, p. 600). Furthermore, among foreign doctoral degrees held in South Korea “81.1% earned PhDs from the US, and the figure has been increasing annually” which supports that “Korean universities like to employ tenure track professors who got US degrees” (Park, 2012, p. 54). Many Koreans even choose to receive their PhDs from the United States, which greatly devalues the post-secondary education system in South Korea. Koreans believe that having a better English educated staff will result in more classes conducted in English, which creates better English speaking students, which thus raises their international ranking and competitiveness. This does not seem to be an assumption on the part of South Korean intellectuals, but is already proving to be true; Jambor (2012) says, “POTECH leaped ahead of all Korean universities in the Times Higher Education - Reuters 2010 World Ranking (THE, 2010) in the very same year it proposed to offer all of its undergraduate courses in the medium of English” (pp. 14-15). The government also invests in “hagwons” (after school programs) for primary education that specializes in different subjects, the most popular being math and English. After school, students will go to a second school to study a specific subject, and English hagwons teach students to speak English effectively and prepare to get into the “best” universities that provide a generous amount of their coursework in English. Whereas this is a high amount of English integration into Korean society, the better English learning environments Koreans can create in their own country could result in less “outsourcing” of their English education, which is when Korean families send their children to be educated in English speaking countries. This is a major concern in South Korea because it devalues their own education system while denying students the ability to study in their home country and language. The reason many Korean families feel the need to do this is because of the high expectations placed on student’s to have strong English communication skills.
  8. 8. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 8 It is now expected of Korean students to not just do well on standardized tests, but to communicate English effectively in order to succeed in English-centered university environments, get hired, or get into the best schools. In fact, many schools will require students to conduct and “English-only” interview before being accepted into the university. This focus on effective English communication is one reason native speakers are chosen as teachers, and is also the reason many Korean families send their children to English-speaking countries to get an education. Korean families and can spend as much as 210,000 USD a year on their children’s foreign education (Park, J. & Shim, D., 2004). Unfortunately, this option is expensive and not every Korean family is able to send their students abroad. The previous mentioned hagwons are also incredibly expensive. The typical Korean family spends a third of their income on their child’s education. The government, recognizing the expense of providing a good English education to their children, as well as the demand for immersive environments, created “English Villages,” which Park and Shim (2008) describe as an “English-speaking society, complete with shops, restaurants, police stations, banks, hospitals, and even ‘immigration offices,’ where the vendors or workers are all native speakers...so that students (children and adults alike) can learn and practice English in an immersion environment without leaving the country” (p. 137). Park and Shim (2008) also explain that there were “proposals to allow local students to attend international schools or begin English immersion programs in non-English subjects” and that all of this signals the “economic value of the English language as having equal status to material facilities that may serve as a basis for economic development” because of the belief that these programs could prepare citizens for the global market South Korea is becoming a part of (pp. 145-146). The Korean government spends more on English education than any other nation in the world (Jambor, P. 2010). This is clear when one sees that the “English Villages” created a
  9. 9. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 9 deficit of $22 million US dollars in 2006 (Park, J., & Shim, D. 2008). So then there is the question of what this all means. Jambor (2012) states that only “students with native-like skills expectedly have the most excellent chances” of entering the best programs (p. 5). Since English education is so expensive and the most successful students are shown to be the ones who travel abroad or enter expensive hagwons then English education becomes more than just a conflict of cultural interests, but also a class marker and barrier. English Education and Class Divides South Koreans use English as a marker of a student’s or worker’s value; this becomes problematic when only the most financially able, or “upper-class”, South Koreans can afford the best English education. English education became a way to perpetuate class divides, limiting the best jobs to the top earners, a process not completely dissimilar form what people see in the U.S. English skills are not only critical for entering the best universities, but the university program a student is accepted to also determines their employment after school. This is supported by Jambor (2012) who says that “a significant portion of interviews conducted by companies in South Korea are carried out, at least in part, in the English langauge...the higher the graduates’ English communicative competence, the better their chances of entering the Korean workforce” (p. 10). When a Korean family considers their income, if they aren’t financially stable they view their child’s future as not being secure, predicting that based on their socioeconomic status, they will not have the same opportunities afforded to the more wealthy families. Abelmann and Park (2004) conducted a qualitative study where they met with three Korean mothers in three distinct financial standings in South Korea, and the mothers’ focus is how to provide the best education for their children, especially English education. Hun’s mother,
  10. 10. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 10 who is the most disadvantaged in the “working class”, still tries to provide a form of after school education for her children. However, she questions the investment because she does not know if the classes actually help, but it is engrained in Korean society to push and support English education so she pays for them anyway. She has friends in other social circles and can see the kind of education these mothers provide. By trying to compete with them, her efforts earn her the title of an “overly ambitious mother” among her peers just for trying to provide a service every other Korean family tries to provide. Abelmann and Park (2004) say that she offered many examples like home stays and study abroad “as evidence of the various ways in which women with greater resources were securing their children’s foreign language education” (p. 8). Families in South Korea definitely associate their child’s future success with the learning opportunities in English they provide them in their primary education, and if they cannot afford them, then their children’s future is less secure. This is supported by the example of the third mother, Jinu’s mother, who is a wealthy housewife. Being the wife of a rich husband, she was able to travel abroad with her children for three months, not only giving her children the learning they needed, but she herself benefitted from this English immersion experience. Upon her return to South Korea, she enrolled in English classes, something Hun’s mother expressed a desire to do if she were of better financial circumstances. She also has a positive view of hagwons with Abelmann and Park (2004) saying that she “does not hesitate about the quality or results of the prestigious after-school education” and the authors recognize this could be in part due to her “class standing” (p. 13). She obviously has more confidence than Hun’s mother because her financial security can assure her of the quality of education her children are getting. Whereas nothing in the future is definite, the different class standings definitely affect the opportunities afforded in English education for
  11. 11. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 11 children. Since this focus on English education is caused by Americanization, it is easy to say that “excessive Americanization can make a larger gap between the rich and the poor” (Park, S. 2009, p. 59). According to Nunan (2003), even members closely involved with the education system “reported that the only children who stood a chance of learning English were those whose parents could afford to send them to private, after-school language classes” (p. 606). Therefore, English skills are a major determinant for students’ and families’ economic status. However, the student’s actual English skills may not be as large as a factor as believed. Park and Shim (2008) explain that the disparity in economic status and English education is well known, yet “90% of workers in large companies are continuously tested on their English, even if their job requires little English skills; this “suggests that communicative competence in English is not so much an actual resource needed for survival in the global workplace, but...a sign that the worker is well- positioned within the modern world and...serves as a mechanism for powerful corporations to control who will have access to opportunities and privileges” (p. 10). Although the need of English for many academic and economic advancements, and English’s establishment as the global platform for Korea, is well established, this perspective offers a valid point in that disparities in English education opportunities could perpetuate a broken system where the top earners are considered the top performers, and low-income families continue in that same economic vein. Therefore if one were to consider this standpoint, viewing a child’s study abroad, after-school, and university experience could very well indicate their English proficiency. But there could be another unfortunate indication that those accomplishments are indicative of an advantaged student who could then be shown preference by employers. Conclusion and Further Points of Research
  12. 12. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 12 Understanding and evaluating the power dynamics that exist between English and another cultures language, especially when the “other” culture has to place increasing importance on English, is incredibly important when thinking about English education. This understanding can turn a regular classroom into a prime example of linguistic colonization and creates a new power dynamic between native-speaking English teachers (particularly Americans) and the students who are studying. We have to ask if it is disconcerting that “if Korea is to function effectively as a nation in the era of globalization, Korean people must be able to communicate effectively in English” is an accepted fact in South Korea (Chang, 2009, p. 94). What role then does this massive group of educators, and eventually me, play in South Korea? After concluding my research on the English language and its colonizing and class dividing effects, I couldn’t help but feel a little hopeless when thinking about this question. I thought about my choices as an English teacher and how I, as a white American, could possibly help this inbalance in power dichotomies. After some thought, I came up with a few solutions that I will posit here, and whereas they are not yet fully developed, they are definitely promising new points of research on this topic. First, I realized that I had already taken the first step by doing my research and making myself aware of the issue. My native-English speaking status is a privilege that affords me more dominance and opportunities than others who do not have native access to this language. To combat privilege and social justice issues, understanding when I am benefiting from this privilege is essential. Since I am aware, I can now spread that awareness to others, especially other English teachers. That is incredibly important because then a community is created that could work together to ameliorate this issue. Secondly, through my certification class to teach English, we discussed at great length the value of non-native English speaking teachers.
  13. 13. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 13 However, there is a lot of discrimination against teachers who are not white or not from an English-speaking country, teaching English. There are many cases of these teachers not being taken seriously by the students or experiencing discrimination from their coworkers or possible employers. I could definitely promote the values of these non-native speakers, and Korea could shift to a co-teaching approach, combining native and non-native (especially Korean) speaking teachers, since both native and non-native speakers have a lot to offer in the classroom; this can mitigate white dominance in this field. It is also extremely narrow to assume that Koreans only continually accept and receive this American dominance. With so many teachers traveling there, they are no doubt learning amazing things while living and working with Koreans; this is a two-way street of cultural exchange. Yes, native-English speakers receive this opportunity through our language opportunities, but if we are aware of this issue and take this opportunity to expand our world view and learn as much as we can about Koreans unique culture, then Koreans are equally placing their mark on us as well. Further research is required to gauge how effective this cultural exchange could be to mitigate the effects of this linguistic/cultural colonization, but one can already see this starting to form in English teachers through their promotion of Korean culture through blogs, articles, and even through experiencing “reverse-homesickness” for South Korea. Reverse homesickness is when people who have traveled or taught in Korea (or any country) experience a withdrawal from the life they had adapted to abroad and have difficulty coping with their host culture. By Westerners returning home and becoming “homesick” for South Korea, this shows the positive and expanding affect the country has on us. By learning and showing a true appreciation for the culture, Koreans also teach and affect us. Furthermore, more foreigners are learning the Korean language because of the opportunities they have created for English
  14. 14. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 14 teachers there, creating a strong foreign (especially American) platform base of students learning their language. Koreans are making an impression on current dominant Western forces, pushing themselves onto a global cultural platform as well as an academic one through their efforts in English education and sharing their culture with Westerners, and it is important to recognize that they have succeeded in their efforts to create a more globalized and industrialized economy through these efforts; validating that success is important for their status as a growing dominant force to combat Western power and to promote positive cultural dialogue. Furthermore, there is no better place to promote understanding of cultural values and social issues than in the classroom. By using certain teaching methodologies and material, I can promote Korean values and language while teaching them the necessary English skills they need to succeed. This is going to be one of my main next areas of research: how to teach English not only without infringing on the host culture, but by promoting it. What I hope to create is an equal feedback loop of understanding and language to mitigate the dominance the West has through English, particularly in the classroom through the student-teacher relationship. Through the idea of World Englishes as well, we can recognize that Koreans and other non-native speakers can take an ownership of English that is outside of our own. I hope by researching more classroom- based methodologies for tackling this linguistic colonization I can turn the classroom into a cultural crossroads. Because if my students can have a better understanding of the power of language and their place in the world, then they can adeptly tackle these problems, and the problems of class divides and English privilege, through this experience in the future.
  15. 15. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 15 References Abelmann, N., & Park S. (2004). Class and cosmopolitan striving: mother’s management of English education in South Korea. Anthropological Quarterly, 77(4).
  16. 16. AMERICANIZATION IN SOUTH KOREA 16 Chang, B-M. (2009). Korea’s English education policy innovations to lead the nation into the globalized world, Journal of Pan-Pacific Association of Applied Linguistics, 13(1), 83- 97. Jambor, P. (2012). English language necessity: what it means for Korea and non-English speaking countries. Korea university - IFLS: department of education, art & design. Jambor, P. (2010). The ‘foreign English teacher’ a necessary “danger” in South Korea. Korea university - IFLS: department of education, art & design. Jung, H. (2010). The rise and fall of anti-American sentiment in South Korea: deconstructing hegemonic ideas and threat perception. Asian Survey (50)5. Nunan, D. (2003). The impact of English as a global language on educational policies and practices in the Asia-pacific region. TESOL Quarterly, 37(4). Park, J., & Shim, D. (2008). The language politics of ‘English fever’ in South Korea. Korea Journal. Park, S. (2009). The present and future of Americanization in South Korea. Journal of future Studies, 14(1).

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