English Key Tool for Promoting Korea Worldwide
Korea Times columnist
WASHINGTON - How does one present Korea's image to the world?
I propose that there should be more Korean people who can speak English at street level. The best means to present the best image is good language. English is the international business language and is spoken by people all over the world. The language is an essential tool for the Korean people to convey their image to foreign people. It's the container of Korean goods and services.
Korea is proud of its most advanced communication technology; however, English is still foreign to many Korean people. This can be a limit to projecting Korea's image to the world.
Korea is an internationally known economic powerhouse as the 11th nation in world trade. Samsung, Hyundai, and LG, among many others, are producing their goods for the world market, from automobiles to ships to computers to cellular phones.
Korean food is becoming popular in the United States, Japan, and Europe.
Korean film stars are also popular in Asian nations and athletes such Kim Yu-na, Park Ji-sung, Park Se-ri, Park Chan-ho, Choo Shin-soo, among many others, are competing on the world stage. President Barack Obama of the United States admires Korea and sometimes expresses his admiration on Korea's remarkable economic development and educational competitiveness to his audiences in the United States, Europe, and Arab nations. All Koreans are supposed to be good salespeople for their country but many tend to fall short. Why? Because their English is limited.
Many Korean people are still afraid of speaking and writing English. Korea University requires a certain score in Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), but not all Korea University students are proficient in English. During my 10 years of teaching at the University of Seoul, I met many students who were afraid of English, even though it was required for their master's degree or Ph.D. in their fields.
If fear itself was the problem, then I asked them to pick up The Korea Times everyday or every other day, and to start reading front page articles and editorials. The Korea Times printed my weekly column, so they read their teacher's column. That was I how reduced their fear of English. I also owe my English proficiency to The Korea Times. I have read the daily since my university days four decades ago.
Those who fear English are scared of foreign tourists approaching them with a possible question for directions, such as "Where is the Secret Garden or the Changdeok Palace?" My students learned English in their middle school, high school, and college curricula, but they still lacked practical English. They learned grammar and acquired the translation capability from English to Korean, but they did not learn how to speak English in the street.
Undergraduate students are more comfortable with English. I delivered my lectures in English at Yonsei University International School one semester. The students were all proficient in English in speaking and in writing. They did not fear English and foreign people. English was a part of their lives.
All Korean people who have a basic education of nine years or so should have the practical English skills necessary to communicate in the street or on the country road. I met foreign tourists at the famous Haein Temple in North Gyeonsang Province and Jindo Island in South Cholla Province. They could be all over in Korea.
They may ask any of us: "Where is the storage house of woodblocks of Tripitaka Koreana in the compound of the Haein Temple?" Or "Where is the famous artist Heo Paik-ryun's house on this island?" Someone answering this kind of simple question may be satisfied to help a foreign visitor and that visitor may keep a long memory of their visit to Korea. This is what I want from my fellow Korean people.
They do not need to speak fluent English. Many Korean people are also touring foreign countries for the advancement of the wealth of the nation. Their language and behavior in foreign towns will impress other people. This will project a nice image of Korea to foreign countries. This is how lifting the image of Korea will eventually help the marketing of Korean goods and products in the world market.
A very good example is Korean football star Park Ji-sung in the Manchester United in the England's Premiership football league. Of course, it is his football skill, not his English, that is essential to his success as a player. But his conversational ability in English will improve his image, and that will eventually lift his home country's image. His popularity is based on his hardworking spirit, even in learning the English language. He took English lessons a couple of hours a day. He is a hardworking man and player in his life and his profession. Popularity comes from mutual understanding between one person and another.
Another very good exemplary Korean is Kim Yu-na, the world figure-skating champion, who speaks English fluently with the journalists covering her sport. Of course, her English is not yet perfect but she can communicate in English. That will enhance her charisma as a figure-skating champion.
English is going to offer the Korean people the ability to acquire a more logical way of thinking, which will indirectly help more with the power of persuasion. Communicating in English means a logical and intellectual line of communication. Dialogue requires mutually understandable languages and logical thinking.
Dialogues and debates among the Korean National Assemblymen and women were untranslatable into English in my previous experience because their political language and debates were not logical or intellectual at all.
I like Yonam Park Ji-won of the Joseon Kingdom who wrote "Hot River Diary" and "The High Class Aristocrats" because his essays contain intellectual power. Why can the leftist Korean politicians not communicate with the Western intellectuals, including President Obama, the most liberal president in U.S. history?
There is no intellectual dialogue or debate possible between the two parties. English is not just a language, it will open a window to the world. It will lead to comparative language, politics, and culture that will help set up a world-standard definition among the Korean politicians and intellectuals.
Korea's future progress will be helped by more English-speaking Korean people who will bring Korea closer to the world standard. Korea has come so far dramatically from a poor agrarian society to an industrial and information society. It needs a breakthrough to become an even more advanced nation than it is currently. I believe English will be an essential good to that needed breakthrough.
The Korean people should not be afraid of English. The Korea Times is available daily from Monday to Saturday for 700 won to the middle and high school students and college students. Middle and high school English teachers should offer a course one hour a day on the day's domestic and international events in order to keep up with the current news, written in dynamic and living English language.
Then, the Korean people will no longer fear English. This will open a window to the world for a new, refined image of Korea to the people outside Korea. Koreans are known as hardworking people with warm hearts and big smiles. They should also be known as good English-speaking people. This would certainly enhance the good image of Korea and Korean people in foreign countries.
Except for former presidents Syngman Rhee and Kim Dae-jung, Korean heads of state and policymakers have under appreciated the importance of English dailies in Korea. The time has come for policymakers to adopt a policy of encouraging students and English teachers to read English newspapers daily. Korean culture, tourism and hidden beauties should be known worldwide through the English dailies in Korea.