[Seoul Lounge] Learning English is no longer enough

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[Seoul Lounge] Learning English is no longer enough

In today’s world, the ability to speak English well is no longer enough for Korean kids to succeed and become future global leaders.

The skills that they need today include having a global mindset, which is too often ignored over building English-language abilities. Simply put, Korean kids can no longer rely on yesterday’s skills to succeed in the future.

As a foreign businessman who has witnessed the changes in Korean society for the past 25 years, I wish to offer some practical advice to all Korean mothers who wish to ensure their kids’ future success.

I have always been amazed by Korean mothers’ passion in sending their kids to private language academies. There seems to be a general belief among mothers that, once their kids attain good English proficiency, they will be adequately prepared to succeed in life and become future global leaders.

However, I can assure you that learning English and developing a global mindset, the real skills needed to become a true global leader, are two separate and unrelated matters.

Even if you accept the fact that English is one of the most important skills, in Korea, English is usually taught as an academic subject, rather than as a tool for global communication.

This is why, even today, I see a lot of high school students who are experts at grammar but who can hardly say anything other than “Hello, nice to meet you!” when greeting foreigners.

This is also why I see young Korean adults who speak excellent English, but who have very few non-Korean friends or who have problems adapting to other cultures or even showing basic global social etiquette.

The world economy has changed and has become globalized. Many Korean companies have adapted and benefited from this phenomenon by successfully conquering foreign markets.

When these globalized Korean companies look to recruit new employees, they take good English competency for granted. In order to sustain their future global growth, these companies seek new employees who demonstrate a true global mindset and who have the global skills to become successful future business leaders.

In this context, my question to Korean mothers is, “Are you confident that your kids are receiving the right training to be recruited by top companies in the future and eventually become global leaders?”

I feel that some Korean mothers have yet to realize that globalization is demanding an entirely new type of skills from their kids. These skills are not being taught in most schools in Korea - and certainly not at private language institutes. High TOEIC, TEP, TOFEL or OPIC scores are not indicative of these skills, either.

Globalization makes people of different cultures come together and collaborate. The people who we must interact with are increasingly different from us, and the environments in which we are required to navigate are diverse and changing. As a result, everyone must adopt different ideas and new practices that are developed by others.

A global mindset is a set of skills needed to understand and adapt to such different situations, ideas, cultures and people. For Korean kids in today’s world, failing to develop a global mindset can mean being unable to become a member of the global economy, thereby being denied a future successful global career.

So, what does it mean for a Korean kid to have a global mindset?

In my opinion, it can mean having three basic sets of skills.

First, the skills to easily make lasting friendships with non-Koreans. Despite speaking different languages and having different upbringings, kids from all over the world have many things in common.

The ability to rise above cultural differences and find cultural similarities with others is the key to building international friendships.

The second set of skills is the ability to show global manners and etiquette. In a narrow sense, this may mean having good dining etiquette. But it could also mean adapting to different cultural circumstances, such as respecting other people’s personal space or understanding unspoken forms of communication.

Third, it is about demonstrating a deep and genuine interest in other cultures. This means being able to be immersed in other cultures and to be surrounded with people from different backgrounds. It may also mean developing career dreams that involve working on the world stage in the future.

In reality, if your kids don’t learn how to build friendships with people from other ethnic backgrounds, adapt to unfamiliar situations, embrace new ideas and understand other cultures today, in the future they will probably lack the skills to meet the challenges demanded by successful global companies.

*The writer is chairman of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Korea.

By Simon Bureau
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