In the recent Korea Observer article about English learning and the college entrance exam there seems to be a glaring and perhaps telling omission. Some might say there are quite a few issues with the piece and the video but for me the striking thing is what is missing.
No mention is made of Korean users of English communicating with the vast majority of English users in the world, who happen not to be “native speakers,” itself a particularly tricky word to define clearly. What of the English users who are neither Korean nor “native speakers” of English?
The piece seems to perpetrate the myths that the purpose of learning English should be to converse with “native speakers” and that speaking with and understanding “native speakers” is the appropriate measuring stick of English ability.
In this era of English as a lingua franca that is simply not the case. With estimates of more than 2 billion people worldwide studying English it is time to move beyond the assumption the purpose of learning English is to talk to the less than 400 million “native speakers” of English on the planet.
Rather than excoriate the Korean education system because Korean students don’t sound like they are from Iowa or Indiana perhaps we should be praising students for being able to communicate effectively with counterparts from Indonesia and Italy. Using the ability to understand colloquial speech from “native speakers” at full speed seems like a blunt, old-fashioned, and unrealistic measuring system based on assumptions unlikely apply to all students.
I am not suggesting for a moment that the Korean English education system is perfect. I am simply saying the (over) emphasis on conversing with, learning from, and trying to emulate only “native speakers” could be considered outdated and unrealistic.
This is undoubtedly an issue for Korean English education and Korean society to consider and confront. It would be nice to see more reports about English education in Korea take into account the realities of this changing and changed world.