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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on June 6)

All News 08:54 June 06, 2016

Language education
Diversification is laudable; motivation is vague

South Korea is set to diversify its foreign language education at schools under a law on special language education promotion.

As the Education Ministry has stated, it is welcome to see that the nation is seeking to modify the current situation in which Koreans have excessively engaged in learning English over the past decades. The second most popularly learned foreign language at colleges and private institutes was Japanese formerly, and is Chinese presently.

The ministry said it will provide universities with financial support for teaching foreign languages other than English as a curriculum divergence.

It has selected 53 languages as "special foreign languages," clarifying that it would shoulder the cost for training programs and internships of students learning them at universities designated "special foreign language education institutions," starting from this August.

Among the 53 languages are Arabic, Turkish, Iranian, Kazakh, Hungarian, Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Hindi and Portuguese.

The project is desirable in terms of offering opportunity of accessing various nation's cultures through their words. On the other hand, it is worrisome when it comes to securing teacher manpower and gaining response among students.

A big problem is that quite a few Korean students regard foreign languages, particularly English, as means to get higher scores in language fluency tests in a bid to grab favorable status among job applicants.

The ministry said it would soon unveil detailed measures to implement its plan. However, as the diversity in languages is not a matter of urgency, it could be better to make more profound research on the existing cases.

Two good models would be Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul and Busan University of Foreign Studies.

It is necessary for the Education Ministry to survey students and professors at language-oriented departments at the two universities as to satisfaction level and graduates' employment opportunities in connection with their majors.

As for the Seoul campus of HUFS, more than 20 languages are taught as majors for undergraduates. These include Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Iranian, Arabic, Indonesian, Mongolian, Turkish and Azerbaijani. Others, including Latin, are opened as liberal arts courses.

Amid demand shortage in the market, a large portion of graduates from HUFS' language departments are estimated to have jobs irrelevant to their major, despite their study of a foreign language, history, society, economy and the like for four years.

Unless there is noteworthy motivation to promote diversity, the scheme involving financial support may result in abuse of taxpayers' money and feasible indifference from students.

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