Never give up on EnglishLately, I have often been asked, “What was the hardest thing you experienced in Korea?” In fact, the biggest challenge while living in Korea was English. When I first came to Korea 10 years ago, I spoke little Korean and English. So I thought I should learn Korean soon. But as I lived in Korea for a while, I realized that learning English was more urgent. Everyone I met spoke to me in English. So just like other Korean students, I joined an English language club, made English-speaking friends and prepared for the English language proficiency test. To live in Korea, I had to learn English.
English is also important in Italy. After World War II, Italy received a lot of help from the United States, and Italians consider the United States a developed nation and country of opportunity. From the 1950s to ’70s, English proficiency was a status symbol. People envied the elite class, who studied or did business in the United States, traveled around the world and spoke English. It was fashionable to mix English with Italian.
As Italy’s economy grew in the ’80s and ’90s, the education system became more structured, and Italians could learn English at school. But many people gave up as it was not very useful in real life. I had learned English in school, but as I hadn’t had a chance to use it, I could hardly speak it when I first came to Korea.
But these days, English education in Italy is making progress. Since the 2000s, Italians have had more opportunities to go abroad to study and travel, and people began to change their attitudes toward English. They contacted people from various countries speaking English in their own accent and pronunciation.
Now, English is no longer a status symbol but a means of communication. Italians used to be known as the worst English speakers, probably next to the French, but proficiency is improving among the young people nowadays. They seem to have overcome the nervousness about speaking English with perfect grammar, native pronunciation and accent, and focus on clear communication.
Italians also take pride in their own language as millions of foreigners living in Italy are studying hard to speak the language. Foreigners living in Korea also feel that learning Korean would be necessary to live in Korea longer and to understand the country and culture better. This change will boost Koreans’ pride in Korean and reduce the nervousness about English and other foreign languages. I hope Koreans will realize that learning English and other foreign languages is also a fun way to access more opportunities in a globalized world.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 24, Page 28
*The author is an Italian TV personality who appears on the JTBC talk show “Non-Summit.”