[Letter to the editor]Learning, not English, should be priority

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[Letter to the editor]Learning, not English, should be priority

Chun Su-jin’s article, “English lectures result in more pitfalls,” on March 5 makes me really wonder about the decision-making process in so-called high-level Korean universities. They want to become more “globalized” (whatever that means) by torturing local students and professors to work in a non-native language.
I agree, the low English conversation skills of Korean high school graduates is in fact a striking phenomenon and a big problem for their individual careers. But this problem is rooted in a faulty language education in middle and high school, not in the teaching language of the universities. The answer to his problem must target the root, not the outcome. I think university officials simply confuse cause and effect here.
OK, the primary education system is not able to guarantee an appropriate level of English to its graduates. Then I would understand if universities ― for the time being ― establish special programs and curricula in English (as some do already); if they simply change their entrance criteria from MC-test scores to conversation skills; or if they provide mandatory English classes for all majors. But using a foreign language for daily operations only shows them how “poor” they all are (both students and professors), and results in an unjustified bias toward foreigners and Koreans overseas. Worst of all, it tremendously deteriorates the still quite mediocre academic level of Korean schools compared to the top global ranks.
A little quiz in basic educational psychology: If you hold a lecture in economic statistics, or if you facilitate an academic debate about Greek philosophy ― in which case is the scientific level and the learning rate higher? a) In the native language of students and teacher; b) In a language foreign to teacher and students; or c) It doesn’t matter, it’s the same level in any language.
My alma mater, Heidelberg University, has its reputation not because English or some other language is required for teaching and learning, but because it provides an excellent platform for academic debate, for challenging professor’s messages, for questioning established scientific findings, etc. Also, the academic requirements to become a professor there are extremely high and the selection or drop-out rate of students during their studies is very high ― all notoriously missing in Korean universities.
This academic performance culture is provided (almost) completely in Germany’s mother language. Of course, moderate English skills for students are needed to digest handouts and magazines. But linguistic skills should not moderate the intellectual level of studies as such.
Carsten Haertl, A German human resources
manager in Seoul
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