[VIEWPOINT]Cheju Not Ready for English Plan

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[VIEWPOINT]Cheju Not Ready for English Plan

I was in Cheju island a few years ago and was shocked to hear the depth of hostility among the local populace toward people from the mainland. "There was an accident a few days ago, but luckily only people from the mainland got killed," was what one said.

To hear such animosity from people whose main means of living is tourism - mostly visiting mainlanders - made me wonder if the Cheju uprising and the government's bloody crackdown still rankles.

There have been reports of a proposal to make English an official language of Cheju, to make the island more "international." Right away, I began worrying what the people of Cheju would have to say about that. Cheju residents, with their distinct dialect and history, have long shown great disdain for having to follow the standard language of the mainland. Imagine the contempt they must feel over the idea that the people they detest are now trying to shove a whole new "official" language down their throats.

Increasing proficiency in spoken English should be a long-term project. That is why an earlier proposal to make English an official language of Korea years ago was really beside the point. The grandiose plan to make the language official is in fact secondary to educating and training the people so that English can naturally become a secondary language as it is, for example, in France and Germany.

The government and the Millennium Democratic Party's recent proposal to make English an official language in Cheju beginning next year is outrageous. An idea such as that should come from the residents of the region concerned, and they should be involved in the decision-making process. At the very least, there should be an attempt to first persuade the people of Cheju of the merits of the plan.

If the people of Cheju are already content with the level of tourism business they are currently able to draw, then the government should try to encourage them to do better by providing incentives and assistance. The issue of English as an official language cannot be treated as a matter of national interest versus local interest, like constructing a nuclear power plant or an incinerator.

This project will not take a matter of months. It may be possible in five or six years, with a wholehearted effort on the part of the entire people of the island and the gradual introduction of the policy in just a few counties initially. If the policy is introduced without proper preparation, the children of Cheju will grow up learning improper English. That could effectively rob them of the chance to learn proper English for life.

I have specialized in the language, and know how easy it is to get even the simplest sentence wrong going to and from Korean. We have unfortunately introduced a new system of "romanization" of the Korean language that was formulated "subjectively" by people who do not use the English language in their daily lives. That has drawn the wrath of scholars of Korean. If, without proper preparation, we introduce English as an official language "subjectively," imagine how it will reflect on the country when English speakers read the "English" in our official documents.

-The writer is a professor of English Literature at Korea University.

by Suh Ji-moon

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