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Free English Teacher?


An article submitted to JoongAng Daily‘s Opinion section, written by Park, Jae Young, the editor of Korean Doctors’ Weekly.  He pretty much said everything I wanted to say.  Originally written in Korean.  English translation done by myself who is totally not a professional translator, so please don’t throw me any rotten tomatoes for mistakes.  If you are to take this posting to somewhere, please cite the sources.  Thanks.

A native English-speaking language instructor, who is teaching at a local hagwon, told me a story.  He assigned a short English writing homework to his students.  Topic: the number of foreigners living in Korea is increasing.  What’s your opinion?

Original: http://news.joins.com/article/aid/2010/01/18/3600343.html?cloc=olink|article|default,

Two kinds of opinion were most visible on the submitted writings. “They come in and take Koreans’ job away, I don’t like it,” and “we get more chances to practice English for free.”  He was stunned.  The English teacher, who is white American national, added, “I have experienced racial discrimination here and there ever since I came to South Korea.  I can only imagine what would it be like to live here as black or Southeastern Asian from the third world.”

translated by https://kumasim.wordpress.com

I, too, was shocked as much as he did for two reasons. First, his students’ English skill was better than I thought.  I did not get to see the real copies of their writings, but according to what this teacher told me, their English skill exceeded my expectation.  Second, their thoughts on foreigners startled me.  Students who assumed immigrant workers from Southeast Asia, Africa or China upon hearing the word “foreigner,” thought foreigners as someone who take the job away.  On the other hand, students who imagined white native English speakers clearly see them as “free English instructor.”  Is this really what they think? Or did they ask their parents what to write for the sake of homework?  Whatever the answer is, this is worrying.  The Koreans’ prejudice against foreigners is already becoming a major social problem; and now I could see that prejudice will be bequeathed to the next generation.  Gloomy future.  If majority of opinions were “we should be thankful because they do all the dirty and dangerous works for us,” I would be less distressed.

The people of South Korea take loads of trip abroad and watch loads of foreign-made movies and TV shows.  Besides, South Korea’s oversea trading volume is gargantuan.  It has not been a long time since the last group of  South Koreans worked in oversea, facing many hardships and racial discrimination.  Moving out to foreign country is not an extraordinary affair anymore; today, it is common to see someone who has relative living in a foreign country. But why do we keep ignoring foreigners, if not exploiting them?

Many researches show South Korea has a very low score on international competency.  This is true for not only the country itself, but also for universities, business firms and other categories.  Would having millions of advanced English speakers bring this score up?  Can changing regulations and system, based on so-called “global standard” help?  Or, how about perceiving foreigners as friend or colleague, rather than alien from outer space?

At this point, the foreigners make up 2.2% of South Korean population.  As of Seoul, the percentage rises to 3%.  Cities known for high competency – New York City, London, Hong Kong – have each of 34%, 31%, and 40% of foreigner population.  Unless there is a big change of tide, we will be exposed to more foreigners in this land, and it will be even more so for next generation.  If it is difficult to stash away our prejudice, then maybe we should do our best to not to pass this prejudice on to our children.