[LETTERS to the editor]We need early English education

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[LETTERS to the editor]We need early English education

Citing the need to get in step with globalization, the ministry of education recently announced that it will test-pilot English classes for elementary school first- and second-graders. This decision has sparked a hot debate on early English education.
Some critics say students would have difficulty learning Korean by studying English at an early age. In my view, despite some possible initial side effects, early English education would help improve the competitiveness of Korea in the long term.
It’s been scientifically proved that introduction of a foreign language at an early age maximizes learning it. According to research by linguists, the ages 5 or 6 are optimal for starting to learn a foreign language. I am part of the first generation of Korean students to start English learning in third grade. I became interested in the language through English classes at school. Recent statistics show that this early English education that started in 1997 has actually paid off. Compared with English test scores of first year high school students in 2003, high school freshmen in 2004 who had received English education from third grade showed higher scores. It makes sense that English education at even earlier ages can achieve greater results.
Early English education is a growing global trend. While we don’t have to follow every trend, we cannot overemphasize the importance of English.
Since Korea is not an English-speaking country, the only way to become proficient in English is by learning it at an early age. China, a rising power, is one of the countries which start English education from first grade. Chinese elementary school students learn English two to five hours a week. Taiwan, Malaysia, India, Norway and Israel ― some of the most competitive countries today ― also teach English from first grade on in elementary school. Spain even teaches English to children in kindergarten. These examples show that in order not to lag behind in this age of limitless competition, learning English is a must.
The so-called “English gap” between rich and poor can be narrowed with early English education. Unlike students in urban areas where excellent facilities are concentrated, students living in rural areas or coming from low income families usually do not have the same opportunities to learn English. Introduction of early English education nationwide will thus provide equal access to all students and reduce the gap in English ability.
In today’s world of globalization, English serves as a global language, and in order to train future global leaders of Korea, we need to implement early English education.

by Yi Hye-won
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