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The current paper examines how English has evolved to become valued language capital in South Korea (henceforth ‘Korea’). Since the late 20th century, Korea has experienced the phenomenon of ‘English fever’, which refers to the frenetic and at times over-zealous pursuit of English-language proficiency across Korean society (J. S. Y. Park, 2009). Researchers have examined ‘English fever’ through various prisms, including education (Park & Abelmann, 2004; J. K. Park, 2009), neoliberalism (Piller & Cho, 2013; Cho, 2015; Lee, 2016), and local socio-politics (Shim & Park, 2008). Rarely has the phenomenon been approached from a historical point of view. Considering the fact that a historical examination of language can provide critical insights into the local processes through which distinctive ideologies of language have been shaped and popularized (Cho, 2017), this paper traces the historical evolution of English in Korean society by focusing on three key periods, i.e. Japanese colonization (1910–1945); the post-independence period and modernization (1945–1980); and military dictatorship and globalization (1980-present). Drawing on the theoretical framework of global centre-periphery divisions embedded in Orientalism (Said, 1979), the analysis focuses specifically on the influence of the United States on the rise of English in Korea. In doing so, I show that ‘English fever’ is not a recent phenomenon but has its roots in historicity through which the seeds for the ongoing phenomenon of ‘English fever’ were planted in Korean society.
This article explores how an economic ideology—neoliberalism—serves as a covert language policy mechanism pushing the global spread of English. Our analysis builds on a case study of the spread of English as a medium of instruction (MoI) in South Korean higher education. The Asian financial crisis of 1997/98 was the catalyst for a set of socioeconomic transformations that led to the imposition of “competitiveness” as a core value. Competition is heavily structured through a host of testing, assessment, and ranking mechanisms, many of which explicitly privilege English as a terrain where individual and societal worth are established. University rankings are one such mechanism structuring competition and constituting a covert form of language policy. One ranking criterion—internationalization—is particularly easy to manipulate and strongly favors English MoI. We conclude by reflecting on the social costs of elevating competitiveness to a core value enacted on the terrain of language choice. (English as a global language, globalization, higher education, medium of instruction (MoI), neoliberalism, South Korea, university rankings)*
With the acceleration of globalization, universities in East Asia are increasingly under pressure to compete internationally, and ‘internationalization’ of tertiary education in the region has topped the education reform agenda of each government (Mok & James, 2005). In an effort to join the league of world-class universities and attract international students, East Asian universities have expanded the number of English-medium lectures (EMLs) offered as part of their internationalization strategy, and no country has embraced the move more than Korea (Newsweek, February 26, 2007). As of 2010, all the classes at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) are conducted in English only and 93 percent of classes at the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), the nation's two best science and engineering universities, with rates of EML averaging around 10 to 30 percent among the top 7 universities in Korea as of the first half of 2008 (Chosun Ilbo, March 10, 2008). Reforms of Korean universities characterized by the introduction of EMLs have been praised by many local as well as top international media such as the New York Times and the Science Magazine. Often lost amid the hype, however, are the challenges facing local students in learning complex material in English, a language which most have learned only as a foreign language and to limited levels of proficiency. This article compares opinions expressed in the mainstream media with those from university presses run by student organizations that have been most active in expanding English-medium programs by analyzing articles related to EMLs. The aim of this comparative research is to find out if there are any observable differences in views presented by these two types of print media, in an attempt to shed light on the move to EMLs in this exclusively monolingual country.
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