[EDITORIALS]To command our language

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[EDITORIALS]To command our language

It is a pity that Koreans seem to have only a poor command of their mother tongue. According to a study done by Professor Min Hyun-sik of Seoul National University, the Korean language capability of Koreans is only 30 points out of 100. Even students at the prestigious Seoul National University managed only 34 points. Deepening the gloom, the test was conducted in a format where the respondent had only to choose one of two answers, meaning that a pure guesser would have, on average, scored 50 points.

The spread of the Internet culture, where netizens improvise new words and deliberately misspell others as they chat, has contributed to the slump in Korean language ability. The fervor to learn English is another reason. It is a strange fervor; Koreans are not becoming fluent in English, but are meanwhile losing their ability to speak and write standard Korean.

This trend is likely to go on. This year's test scores are a fall of 20 points from an identical study conducted in 1995. But we cannot blame the decline in Korean language ability only on the information and globalization age.

We need a whole new way of teaching the Korean language. Students must learn very early the basics of reading, writing, speaking and listening. In the United States, students spend their first year honing their knowledge of what words to capitalize and how to use the period. But Korean students, partly because of parents' desire to give their children a competitive edge through early learning and outside courses, are not learning the fundamentals that they should be learning. They are also fixated on getting good grades. Against such a background, the mandatory essay test for college entrance should be made more difficult. Certainly the essay test has its downside, but there is no doubt that students give what attention they do to Korean grammar and composition because they will have to face that test.

Class and generation gaps are deeply etched in Korean society. If a language usage gap grows between generations and classes, our social problems will worsen. A fundamental fix of the Korean language education system is necessary for our society to develop and grow into a cohesive and integrated community.

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