$15 Billion in Korean English education

For spending an estimated $15 billion a year on English education, you’d think Koreans would be speaking better English. Parents send their children to private English academies or hagwons, summer and winter English camps, trips abroad (that’s why it’s difficult to find cheap flights here) and private tutors. College students and office workers also spend time and money learning English the way younger Koreans do.

Korean English Fever Betrayed by Test Scores
The Korean private English education market is estimated at as much as 15 trillion won ($15 billion). On top of students, office workers are bent on studying the language…
The British Council announced Tuesday that Korea ranked 19th on the general training module of the IELTS among 20 countries ― Korean applicants averaged 5.21 out of a full score of 9…
“Although Korea spends more money on English education and Koreans are trying to study English at an earlier age the test scores have remained the same,” the British Council said.

Why aren’t Koreans better in the language? I’m not an expert but one of the problems is they don’t use English as a tool for communication, but merely as one of the subjects they need to pass to enter a better university or to get work promotion. I’d read of some students obtaining a perfect 900 in their TOEIC tests yet they can’t speak the language. I guess this is one of the reasons why the speaking test is now included in TOEIC and TOEFL tests.
In my five years here, I’ve met several Koreans who speak English really well with a nice American or British accent. Most of them have spent time abroad without interpreters so they were really forced to use the language. Immersion. Koreans here don’t really use English outside their classes, unless they have foreign friends. Being a foreigner here, I sometimes think that they’re just being friendly so they could use the language.


  1. thats right. Koreans rarely used English as a means of communication, be it in mass media or in everyday conversation. All movies, books, magazines (of english origin) are being translated in Korean.
    In my university here for example, in one of my subjects (biochemistry), The course was taught in English (since half of the class are foreigners) and foreign students are using the English version of the book, while native Koreans are using the translated one. And worst during exams, the Korean Profs allows the Korean students to answer in Hangul rather than in English.

  2. I have heard that Koreans are notorious to befriend foreigners just for “free lessons” lol. Anyway, I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s the same in China: it’s considered a class and something you just need to pass the test. Once the test is done, the knowledge is gone!
    Immersion is best, I agree, but for those who can’t afford it, practicing with another for even just an hour a day – forcing yourself not to go to your safety language and try your best to talk – will really make a difference. And it’s fun! When you say something stupid in your native language, you’re an idiot. When you say something stupid because you are learning a new language, it’s priceless!
    This money-spending on just learning English… it’s like building a bridge without setting the foundation…

  3. I totally agree. Immersion is the key to effectively learn a foreign language. But I don’t want to think that my friends in Korea befriended me because I can speak English. Haha. Yeah, it’s part of the reason, but I hope it’s not the sole reason, nor the major one. -_-
    Elliots last blog post..Tribute to the Triad

  4. I think, for them, learning the language is a mere pressure imposed. By who? Probably, the companies they wish to work and by the gov’t to cope up with fast pace of globalization. (Just a guess). Hmm… I do have a Korean friend but I think he’s rather open minded. Though, I hope he doesn’t befriend me either just to improve his English. Hehe
    edens last blog post..Got tagged! OvO v

  5. @arvinsign >> you’re a student? what about the korean profs? do they speak english well? when i had my English test at a univ here, the questions were in korean so i thought that’s really stupid… LOL
    @cher >> i’ve met soooo many koreans who claimed they “studied” english but don’t use it
    @AzureWolf >> i’m soooo immersed in korean but i still don’t speak the language well… but i must be really bad in languages because i can’t also speak my province’s dialect
    @Elliot >> i’m sure they didn’t befriend you just for the English… i haven’t really had a bad experience with koreans… i find them really nice and helpful once they know you…
    @eden >> that’s so true… some companies require a high TOEIC scores from applicants but it doesn’t matter whether they speak english or not… doesn’t make sense… but that’s korea

  6. sometimes I get to attend meetings of the UP Alumni Association – Korea and I am proud to say that the Korean UP alumni speak much much better English than the average Korean university graduate. Their English is even better than some of my colleagues who have spent some time studying in the states.
    algols last blog post..Treasure Trove

  7. that doesn’t surprise me (seven years here, i know).
    they really have no interest in learning at all.
    it’s the mentality, you see, backwards, as always.
    but there is hope.

  8. The #1 problem is that people don’t practice, a lot of the people have this mentality that they can learn a language (any language) by pen, ears, and eyes and that by attending class they will learn by osmosis from my experience. They want to be fluent w/o taking the steps to get there, e.g. They freak out if you add “Today” to how are you? How are you today? and they freak out. Not being able to get past the basic greetings. Then they can’t answer how was your w/e? It was (followed by adj) they can’t even answer these how is/how was questions and they always blame the teachers, it’s time the parents have a realistic view of their children that they’re not geniuses and stop leveling up in the books at the hagwons just for the sake of leveling up!!!

  9. yap, they really deadly tired in studying English. All I can say is just enjoy studying and then you have to practice all of the time… Try to imitate English movies how do they speak

  10. it’s fun that you can speak other language exept your native one…having a conversation with the other people helps us to improve our selves and also making friends…^______^… yeah right… watch english movies you can learn a lot from it…and of course practice and studying is the secret recipe…

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