English only in South Korea’s teaching towns
AFP , PAJU, SOUTH KOREA
Wednesday, Apr 05, 2006,Page 9
"English! English!" said Nathan Glensne, an American teacher, gently scolding a Korean schoolgirl who broke rule No. 1.
Speaking Korean is banned in this English-only village that has sprung up somewhat incongruously from the paddy fields of this rice-growing region north of Seoul as part of a linguistic experiment pioneered in South Korea.
"The rule is to speak English," said Chicago-born Glensne to his shy and giggling pupils as they shuffled between their kitchen tables and his desk to ask in English for cooking materials to make Mexican nachos.
"Sometimes the kids are a bit sneaky. They go behind the teacher’s back and tell their friends something in Korean."
The Paju English village is more than a language theme park. It is a real village of bricks and mortar modeled on an English village where hundreds of people live, eat, sleep, shop and learn.
It sits on a 277,000m2 plot of land, the world’s biggest English immersion camp, boasting its own brewery pub, bookstore, bakery, restaurant, bank and theater along a main street that leads to a big domed-city hall.
Electric trams run through the main boulevard, which branches off to classrooms and houses to accommodate 100 teachers and 70 staff from various English-speaking countries and 550 students. Korean is outlawed and even written signs are banned.
"We wanted to create an environment where students feel they left Korea behind," said Jeffrey Jones, head of the Paju camp.
Jones, former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, said Koreans really need a change to their English education which focuses too much on grammar, reading and vocabulary.
"They spend a lot of time learning English. They can read probably better than I can, but they have trouble speaking," he said. "One of the things we do here is we break the wall of fear. They learn not to be afraid and they learn to speak."
Tens of thousands of young Koreans head overseas every year in the quest to speak a language that is valued in a country that relies heavily on foreign trade.
In an attempt to reduce or even reverse the outward flow, and to provide an alternative to people who can’t afford the trip, English villages are sprouting across South Korea.
Ten such state-subsidized villages have already opened nationwide since 2004 and at least four more expect to be up and running soon.
Jones said the village allowed its Korean residents to talk in their native tongue only twice a day over meals while forcing them to speak English the rest of the time through a tight student-teacher ratio.
The exotic village environment appeals to many Korean students. "It is really wonderful to have first-hand experience in English," said Kim Su-jung, 14, one of 200 middle school girls on an 80,000 won (US$82) week-long program.
At the bank, Lim Chan-ju beamed after completing an assignment to withdraw US$20 using English only with the American clerk.
"I don’t think my English-speaking capability has suddenly improved a lot here. But I feel English now is more interesting and I am more comfortable with it," Lim said. "I hope I can come here again."
The Gyeonggi Province government, owner of the Paju camp, pioneered the mammoth immersion language program in South Korea by building the first English-only village in Ansan on the country’s west coast in 2004.
It spent 85 billion won (US$86 million) in building the Paju camp and set aside 15 billion to 20 billion won to run it, said Kim Joo-han, the executive director supervising the program.
Students appear to be keen to acquire the skills needed to succeed in a highly competitive South Korean society.
"Korean students are very eager. They have a lot of enthusiasm. I think there’s a lot of pressure to learn English," said Tara Hornung, a 28-year-old Canadian teacher.
In South Korea, students begin learning English in third grade, aged nine, and continue all the way to college. It is common for students to spend extra hours on English at private institutes after school.
Many choose to go abroad, usually with their mothers, while fathers stay behind in Korea to finance their costly overseas tuition.
A total of 192,200 South Koreans were studying abroad last year, according to the Ministry of Education, 60 percent in English-speaking countries.
The real figure could be considerably higher, experts say, because some go abroad without an education visa.
Foreign study costs Koreans billions of dollars, according to the government.
Local media put the figure at around US$10 billion per year, but the Bank of Korea estimates the figure conservatively at US$3.37 billion last year, up from US$1.07 billion in 2001.
"It would be much bigger if the undeclared small amounts of remittances were included," said Lee Sun-deok, an official handling current account data at the bank.
Parents view it as money well spent. English proficiency has become increasingly important for Korean job seekers. Interviews conducted in English are common at big-name companies like Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor and LG Philips.
But a visit to the English-only village comes cheaper. A four-week English village program costs 1.4 million won, while a three-week language course in the US or Canada costs at least 5.1 million won, according to YBM Sisa Overseas Education Service, which plans overseas education trips.
Letter: English villages and hype
By Stephen Krashen
Thursday, Apr 20, 2006,Page 8
The Taipei Times has published two articles recently on the Paju English Village, one of 10 in South Korea ("English village in Korea," April 18, page 14; "English only in South Korea’s teaching towns," April 5, page 9). These "towns" are, we are told, real communities in which only English can be spoken, a place where students of English can go to practice their English and feel like they "have left Korea behind."
The Korean government enthusiastically supports English villages because they feel such sites will reduce the number of Koreans who go abroad (or who send their children abroad) to improve their English, which is a drain on the Korean economy. Such villages are also a better bargain for parents, who pay about NT$50,000 (US$1,500) for a four-week course for their children.
According to the Taipei Times articles, the Korean government paid US$90 million just to set up the Paju village, which employs 70 staff and 100 full time teachers. That probably means a payroll of at least US$5 million per year.
But the two articles leave out some important points. First, the villages are not real. The buildings are simulations of banks, post offices, airline offices and the like, and the interactions are simulations: The "residents" of the English village in Korea are actually English teachers trained to play different roles, such as policemen (an ad for English teachers for the Seoul English village mentions that the teachers will also be trained to act as doctors).
Second, to my knowledge, there have been no formal evaluations of the English villages. We have no idea if they are really helping children acquire English skills.
Third, contrary to the claims that they save money, English villages are very expensive. The Paju school has a maximum capacity of 550 students. If the other nine schools have a similar capacity, that means the schools can deal with about 6,000 children per month. A total of 12 million children are in school in Korea, with at least six million in grades in which English is taught. Thus, English villages can, at best, impact on 1 percent of the children who are in English classes.
In other words, Korea is paying an enormous amount of money to provide an untested English experience to just 1 percent of its school-age children, an experience limited to children whose parents can come up with the tuition money.
Other countries should think twice before investing in English villages.
University of Southern, California, Los Angeles