UPDATE : 2023.12.3 Sun 23:48
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Could Korea become a bilingual society?

Many cities and countries throughout the world have more than one main language spoken by their many inhabitants. English is the dominant force spreading through most of the developed and developing world. Some people hypothesize that Chinese could just as easily replace English as the language of business and international relations because of the large number of people in the world who speak it as their native language and the fact that China is growing quickly as a world power and successful nation. However, while Chinese is easily the language spoken by the largest number of people in the world (by far), and English is only ranked fourth overall in terms of number of actual speakers on earth, a more important number to consider might be the number of countries which speak these languages. Even Spanish is spoken globally by more people than English, but only half as many countries use Spanish compared to English (which is used in almost 60 countries).

From a very unofficial poll that I myself have taken (simply by randomly asking classes full of Korean students since I’ve been in this country), I think it’s fair to say that most Koreans don’t think that their country will become bilingual in this lifetime. Perhaps they are right, but then again, many doubtful things have occurred which no one could have imagined. South Koreans spend an enormous amount of money on English education and companies demand high scores on English proficiency tests to qualify for their jobs even if some rarely use the second language normally. English education is a consistent part of education from a young age in this country and the requirement for students of all ages to focus at least in part on developing their English language skills are factors which are increasingly making more competently bilingual citizens in this nation.

Would being a bilingual nation necessarily be a good thing for Korea? Perhaps. While many Koreans don’t expect this to happen, it’s also definitely true that it isn’t inevitable. Some big changes would need to occur in the culture in order to trigger such a drastic movement. As public school budgets for English education have dwindled over the years, the reality is that at any moment the Korean government could deem the spending on English as a second language studies as frivolous, especially when many families are spending their own money on private education anyway. If that were to happen, then Korea would see a huge gap between wealthy bilingual people and lower-income citizens who only speak their native tongue. Whatever language the world uses in order to become more globally connect, while the trend is with English, it’s good to stay ahead of the game and continue to be as bilingual as you can. Maybe learning English won’t give you an ability to speak to the majority of people in the world, but it will enable you to travel to the greatest number of countries and communicate freely.

By Luke Hanson  lukejhanson@gmail.com

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