Monday, December 24, 2007

The English: a deaf-mute language for Koreans

Language is a living thing…it is not just grammar, composition, syntax, or poetry and prose.
Language is also a way of thinking, the culture that the society has made language the most central attribute in daily human activity.
Therefore, when the society, especially monolingual and monocultural ones as Japanese, Korean, or Chinese, attempts to force-feed their people with the second language, English, people become bored of and tired with learning it and eventually lose interest on mastering it.

For them, English is a drab, dumb, and deaf-mute language which isn’t worth a salt in their daily life.
In their mono-lingual ambience, English language does not play any socio-cultural role in their daily life, that is, you do not need to have the facility in English to live a life, not like as in Singapore or the Philippines where English is a lingua franca, the common language widely used among different ethnic group.

In Ontario, Canada, where English and French are official state languages, few would have motivated to learn French even though the education system actively promotes it from the early school years.

In Japan and South Korea, where English is an essential subject for the every level of students to ensure their successful academic achievements, a majority of college graduates are functionally illiterate in oral or written English after the 10-year memorizing of vocabularies and grammatical rules by rote.

In Hongkong, where Chinese people until recently have lived under the British colonial rule since the Opium War, ethnic Chinese totally failed to integrate with their blue-eyed master’s language and got by without using much English, because there was no motivational reason to learn English.

On the contrary, in the Philippines Islands, where people have survived three hundred years of Spanish tyranny plus brutal fifty years of American and Japanese colonial rules, and are still languishing in poverty, the one thirds of Filipinos (25 millions) have overcome the encumbrance of accepting English as their lingua franca, becoming the third largest English speaking country in the world.

It was highly fashionable in the Philippines during the colonial era to speak in English, which later became one of three official languages spoken by the government bureaucrats and social elite and used as the language of science and culture, leaving other languages, Tagalog and Ilokano, in the peripheral sphere of the society

The Filipinos are fully aware of the socio-economic necessity in mastering English, that is, they have to take care of their hungry stomach before they attend to the food for their culture and nationalism.
Without the excellent facility in English, they are not eligible for an overseas employment that proffers them a rare opportunity to send money for their family living in the Smokey Mountain (one of slums in Manila City).

For them, the right formula for the nationalism—love for Filipino-ness, the preservation of the national language, etc—is for the birds, and they trust that English fluency at least gives them an opportunity for getting them out of poverty into the middle-class…that is, an imperative socio-economic context plays a major role in learning English.

While Filipinos learn English at home and go for work abroad, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese are tend to go in drove overseas to study (not to learn) English.
For example, there has been a massive increase this year in numbers of Korean students who left for the study in foreign country, and they are the ones who are deeply chagrined of non-communicative learning in foreign language.

In Toronto, Canada, where a large colony of the Korean immigrant community prospers in downtown core, these students, as soon as they unpacked their luggage, hang out together in the street, the Karaoke bar, or at the Korean restaurant, totally being oblivious about their stay in the foreign country as if they were in their native country.

Many Chinese students who study at the universities in Australia are not much different from their Korean counterparts…Chinese students sit around together themselves in the classroom as other ethnic groups do the same thing even though English can be a lingua franca among them.

They are not interested in sharing their individual culture, vision, or future with others through the vehicle of English language.
They generally tend not to seek fluency in English in earnest, but the degree, diploma or resume that warrant the seat in the elite class at home, as if Korean women make the 10,000-mile trip to deliver about 5,000 Made-in-USA babies annually for the laminated birth-certificates from Uncle Sam.

In the United States, a majority of the Asian-Americans lives in their adopted homeland as the perpetual foreigners, because they do not look like the Caucasians or blacks, and they always tend to speak pidgin English even after they were off the boat dozens years ago.

In the racial semantics, the Asian Americans belong neither to white majority nor black minority and consequently are neither treated Americans nor minority.
They overwhelmingly live together in the segregated ethnic colony, do most business transaction exclusively among themselves, and converse affirmatively in their own mother tongue with each other…they live in the ethnic islands corralled by the English speaking ocean.

In Seoul, South Korea, a drove of riffraff American English teachers was making good money, swooshing around the downtown buildings day and night that accommodate the various levels of the English cram school ranging from 3 to 4-year kindergarten to an adult class.

Although the whole shebang of the President, media, teachers, and parents, hammers the importance of the English learning every day into the drowsy heads of students, there were few people in the street who have the English fluency to help direct the foreign travelers.

There is no one singularly to blame, such as schools, teachers, parents or students themselves, for not being able to belch out a single word in English when they were called upon for help by the foreigners in the street.

It is true that not all fail to overcome the encumbrance of mastering the Second Language but some pass the hurdle reaching high rung of the literary ladder becoming an English writer.
However, it is also imperative to grasp the detrimental factors of the mono-cultural environment in these ethnic societies that the English fluency can not possibly be achieved in any fashion unless they were forced to intensively immersed in, minimum 12-hours a day, the English-speaking environment for years.

It is a caveat emptor that every students, a kid or an adult, should be aware of the pitfall of the snake-oil English salesman who prattles that all become an instant English speaker if they buy his English 101 audio, video tapes, or books…a self-evident reality if we examine how long we were required to learn our mother tongue.

We learned it at our mother’s bosom while sucking her milk and later we were able to streamline it after immersing through many years of the social, cultural, and academic programming.

Like beating a dead horse, chances are your kids would hardly master the fluency in the Second Language no matter how much money and time you spend at the cram school, because there are no socio-cultural or economic factors to learn it.

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