[TV Review]English and soju can be a combustible mix
A man was giving us a hard, hostile stare that was full of anger and it made us flinch. We stopped talking and asked him why he was giving us such a look. His voice dripped with hostility as he said, “Do you think it makes you look good to speak in a foreign language?”
Well, “looking good” was far from what we were looking for, as we were simply at a loss for the right Korean words to describe what was on our minds. Under the influence of soju, he suddenly stood up and came at us, which led to an argument and a small scrimmage. His friends dragged him out of the bar and told us, by way of apology, that English has been a major obstacle in his life.
As he threw his card at us, I could see that his surname was Kim and that he was a member of a civic group that did not apparently require English skills. It was not even the end of the night, but I saw another party at a table nearby leaving at the same time, saying, “We should have gone to Itaewon instead, if we knew we would hear English here as well.”
I am not complaining. Rather, I am contemplating what English meant to my fellow Korean drinkers.
My friends and I were just casually chitchatting, but it must have reminded them of the pressure of learning English, which has weighed heavily on their lives. I have the freedom to speak in English, but they had the freedom not to listen to me. Obviously, you, dear reader, are an object of great envy for them, because you are reading this column in English.
That little incident left a strange aftertaste, as I could not help but wonder why English has become such a major factor in Korean society.
And I was not the only one with the same thought. The SBS-TV investigative news program “Geugeosi Algosipda,” which can be roughly translated as “We Want to Find that Out,” focused on English last Saturday.
Titled “What English Means to Koreans,” the show delved into various aspects of how English has become a scary monster to many in this country. It showed a straight-A college student who could not get her diploma because her TOEIC score was below the school’s standard and a Seoul district governor who was urging owners of shops to change their signboards to be bilingual.
After a shower of sad glimpses of Korea where “English means power and English speakers are admired only for the fact that they can speak the language fluently,” the show’s host ended up saying, “Dear viewers, I hope today’s show helped to lift the heavy burden on your shoulders regarding English.”
What language you speak and how it has been an important factor when it comes to judging other people we can see in the word “linguicism,” which has been coined recently and is used in the same way as sexism or racism. Reflecting the pressure to learn English, the language has constantly been an object of comedy on popular TV shows. One of the most recent examples would be a segment from “Utchatsa” (People Seeking Laughter) on SBS-TV, called “A Picnic to Seoul.”
The show is about two hillbilly characters who are applying for a job where the major criterion is whether they can speak standard Korean, like most citizens of Seoul.
In one segment the two main characters find themselves at a loss for English words and make random puns instead.
Well, I hope that Mr. Kim from my recent bar scrimmage will laugh at the segment and free himself from his obsession with a foreign language.
By Chun Su jin [email@example.com]