|Leah Nangila Nabangi|
In this epoch of globalization that has seen the English language rise in its significance as a cosmopolitan language, the debate of whether English should be made an official language in Korea has been raging on for many years now, especially after the 1997 Asian Financial crisis.
The Korean government has in turn implemented many measures to integrate English into the Korean economy, only short of co-opting it as the second official language. Most Korean citizens have also been pushed to learn English, as many corporate companies require English proficiency as a skill even though it is hardly used in the actual work environment, making Korea one of the world's largest markets for TOEFL.
English has also inarguably been the most important foreign language in Korea for decades. Therefore, all things considered, I believe that the allocation of English as a second official language would be a huge win for Korea. Here is why:
To begin with, foreign capital would be preserved and Korea would become more appealing to foreign entrepreneurs and foreign specialists such as lawyers and accountants.
According to a report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), the majority of foreign businesses in Korea reported discontent with the business environment, citing the language barrier as one of the reasons with 11.9 percent saying they would cut investments. This should be a cause of concern to the government since as of 2019, foreign companies in Korea already contributed to 12 percent of total national sales and 19.4 percent of exports.
In this situation, adoption of the English language would play a principal role in not only encouraging current investors to stay but also attracting more investment from foreign companies that are presently scared off by the language barrier.
For instance, foreign companies relocating from Hong Kong due to its current political unrest and unfavorable environment would be attracted to Korea, specifically Seoul, if it is perceived as an English-speaking environment. This would offer a great push towards making Korea Asia's new economic hub following the imminent downfall of Hong Kong. The inclusion of English would thus be a good way to maintain and increase Korea's competitiveness and efficiency in the global market.
Moreover, another advantage of the adoption of English is that Korean nationals would be transformed into global citizens who would be able to thrive in most parts of the world.
Presently, even though there might be many other reasons that could limit the movement of Koreans to other parts of the world whether for work, leisure, or education, mono-linguicism could be a contributing factor. Nevertheless, most Koreans currently use Konglish (Korean-style English) in their everyday lives although research show that teachers viewed native English as superior.
All in all, making English the second official language could help in broadening the life perspectives of Korean citizens which would make them even better global citizens. This is because the ability to speak English offers one access to a variety of educational material from all over the world and the freedom to travel to any English speaking country to study or work there.
Korean citizens will also be able to associate with people from all walks of life hence expanding their worldview. The introduction of English in the curriculum would therefore be a great way for the Korean government to show devotion to its citizens.
Lastly, making English the second official language would be a great way to revolutionize education in Korea. With Korea becoming an education hub of Asia, a move to cement the English language would be a good way for the government to invest in Korean students, producing more competent and internationalized individuals who will not only amp up the Korean economy but also have access to worldwide opportunities.
It would also incentivize brilliant foreign students to stay in Korea and establish their careers here since they would be more assured of success. This would greatly diversify the Korean educational environment. As a result, more countries would invest in education in Korea. A good example of this is the Incheon Global Campus in Songdo which is living proof of the heights that can be made possible by the use of English.
As far as the education sector goes, the inclusion of English in the curriculum would also provide more job opportunities for both native Korean and foreign English teachers. The government would only need to cut down on the many regulations to attract more experienced English teachers from abroad instead of people who come to teach English here as a last resort as is the case now. Thus, the adoption of English would have a powerful impact on the education sector.
Concisely, my answer to whether Korea should make English their second official language is a definite yes. There will certainly be some setbacks to a full implementation of this which might include resistance from some citizens as seen in previous attempts to accomplish this but the benefits ultimately outweigh the hindrances.
Although it might be correctly argued that Korea already has a booming economy with one of the best GDPs in the world and doesn't need all these enactments, there is no reason why it shouldn't push to become Asia's economic and financial hub. The manufacturing sector is already doing well therefore adoption of English would boost its service sector, an area in which Korea is lacking in some ways. This might just be what Korea needs to put it on top of the global economic chart in the years to come.
Leah Nangila Nabangi is a student at the State University of New York, Korea.