Friday, 31 December 2010
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Let Indians Teach Koreans English
July 22, 2010

An Indian engineer living in Seoul explains why Indians are so much better in English than Koreans.

Indians have a firmer grasp of English than some of their Asian counterparts.

Indians have a firmer grasp of English than some of their Asian counterparts.


These days, teaching English in South Korea is considered one of the hottest jobs, unlike teaching English in other Asian countries such as China and Japan. The Korean government is spending a lot of money on recruiting native English speakers to improve the English fluency of citizens. Public as well as private institutions prefer English teachers from countries such as the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Koreans spend a lot of money on learning English, but you won’t find many Koreans who can speak English fluently.

The other day I met a Korean girl at a parade. She had studied English in New Zealand for two years but she could not speak fluently. I strongly feel that compared with her (and other Koreans), we Indians speak English more fluently.

I meet Koreans who have spent years in countries such as Australia and the US, who speak haltingly because they are clumsily forming sentences in their heads. It is very common in Korea to find people who have lived abroad in English-speaking countries just to get exposed to English via “immersion” but they still stammer when speaking it. I have also met Korean families where the mother and children live abroad in an English-speaking country while the father works in

Korea to support them, all for the sake of English.

So the first question that comes to my mind is why Indians with less exposure to foreigners and with no native-speaking teachers to teach us, speak much better English than the Koreans. The answer is obvious to any Indian living in Korea: media and education. Both play very important roles in our English education.


• Around 70-80% of schools and colleges in urban India and almost 50% of the schools in rural India teach subjects in English. Most of the Koreans I have met study their subjects in Korean and study English only as a language subject in schools and colleges.

• In India, 70% of the nation’s reading population peruse English-language newspapers. Visit any newsagent in India and you will find the number of English magazines and newspapers surpassing that of their local counterparts. Korea also has newspapers in English but they are mostly targeted at the expat community. 99% of Koreans would prefer to read newspapers and magazines in Korean. Only if the media stops or limits the printing of newspapers and magazines in Korean will they do some good for the people of their own country.

• One thing I like about Indian movie channels is that they screen English movies with English subtitles. So it becomes easier for us to enjoy the movie and not get lost in the accent. Apart from that, most of the Indian music channels as well as radio stations have VJs/RJs who host the shows in English. Youth in India are well fed on English media, whereas in Korea English movies will have Korean subtitles. I understand that if there are no such subtitles, Koreans will stop watching English movies. And if at all the DJ/RJ will start hosting their shows in English, then they will quickly lose their fan following.

• If the Korean government wants to help the next generation to improve their English, it should stop publishing houses from translating academic books as well as fiction into Korean. Only 20% to 30% of the stock of typical Korean bookstores is in English. Bestsellers such as Harry Potter and Twilight are translated into Korean. In India bookstores like Landmark or Crossword carry books in English only. All categories of books from technical to academic to fiction to non-fiction to self-help books are in English. It is all about the right exposure. Indians can speak better English than Koreans because we are forced to read. The only way I improved my English was by joining a library during my vacation. Koreans are a nation of very good readers so if they switched to reading books in English, they will improve their language skills.


Most English movie DVDs come with English subtitles for people with hearing disabilities. Knowing English but not understanding because of the accent and pronunciation can also be considered a disability. Koreans can overcome this by watching these movies with English subtitles. These subtitles are like floats. Once they can swim on their own, they will discover many new oceans to conquer in English.

Korea should look at the learning strategies adopted by countries like India, the Philippines and Malaysia… rather than just recruiting native speakers as teachers.

On a side note, Korea should look at the learning strategies adopted by countries like India, the Philippines and Malaysia and incorporate their best practices in its education system, rather than just recruiting native speakers as teachers. Given an opportunity, certified teachers for whom English is a second language would be in a better position to teach because they would know the pitfalls of learning the language from their own experience.

And for native speakers, TESOL or TEFL does a good job in teaching them the difficulties faced by non-natives while learning English or any other language. So if someone takes the time to get certified, it shows his or her commitment towards teaching English to non-native speakers. Having said that, I feel that the Korean government should give equal consideration to native speakers and certified teachers from India and the Philippines.


This post was originally published on Just Another Indian in Korea in May 2010.



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