Happy Hangul Day, but good luck writing itTomorrow is Hangul Day, a national day of celebration for the creation of the Korean writing system.
For decades, Koreans have been, or at least taught to be proud of hangul, their original alphabet, and hangul has been considered a part of the national identity. Koreans’ belief in hangul’s superiority may not have been accepted by everyone, but Korea’s children have always been taught that the Korean language is beautiful, systematic and most of all, practical, making it easy for anyone to learn how to read or write. The man credited for its invention was also the most popular ruler in the country’s history, King Sejong.
But Koreans have not turned out to be as good at using the writing system as they are at lauding it. Large companies, for example, have been complaining about the poor Korean skills of their job applicants, and major corporations such as CJ Entertainment and Samsung have recently added Korean language tests or essays to their applications.
A survey conducted last July by Job Korea, a portal site for jobseekers, found that its more than 700 corporate executive respondents said that job applicants’ Korean language skills were more in need of improvement than their English or computer skills.
Companies are not the only ones concerned about poor writing. Since last year, Yonsei University has required that all freshmen take a Korean writing course. Sungkyunkwan University has also mandated similar writing courses, while hiring 10 new professors to teach the classes. Seoul National and Sookmyung universities have also adopted similar courses to enhance students’ Korean writing skills.
Poor writing skills are said to be a result of the increasing pressures of English education that have worsened over the past few years, as well as the bad influence that online chatting has on young people’s typing skills.
Lim Song-hui, a teacher at Kyonggi Elementary School, said elementary school children speak to their friends very differently than they did when he began his career.
“When they talk, they tend to use a lot of English words in Korean sentences,” he said.
The explosion in digital communications has affected people’s writing and other forms of conversation, as people have developed new forms of shorthand for text messages and online chatting.
“They use a lot of words that teachers don’t understand, and a lot of them come from computer games and the way they communicate over the Internet,” Ms. Lim said.
A teacher of the Korean language at Kujung High School in Apgujeong-dong, southern Seoul, has also seen similar things among her students, but doesn’t think it will affect their ethnic unity.
Park Jin-ho, a Korean linguistics professor at Hanyang University, has his doubts.
“What I am more concerned about is not the way Koreans talk in daily life, but the way they write and debate. Koreans’ writing skill, which requires long-term practice from childhood, has become poor, as they have focused on learning English or preparing for multiple-choice exams,” he said.
Mr. Park also said that Korean students are no longer proud of the Korean language. Since many students learn English grammar before Korean, their perspective of the language has become negative, he said.
“For example, in an English sentence, the subject is always necessary, while in Korean language, the subject is often omitted if it has already been mentioned. But I find some students thinking that the Korean language is inferior to English for that reason,” he said.
Mr. Park says that Koreans have many reasons to be proud of the language.
“Look at how systematically hangul can be arranged on cellular phone keypads. That is a good example of how scientific the Korean language is.”
by Choi Sun-young