Korean-Language Proficiency Drops

      July 03, 2008 10:20

      The proficiency of Koreans in their mother tongue seems to have declined in recent years as many take Korean-language education for granted and an obsession with learning English has seized the country.

      The Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation carried out a study of the results of the scholastic achievement tests of 20,945 third-year middle school students nationwide between 2004 and 2006. It shows that the percentage of students who received good or excellent marks in Korean fell from 14.1 percent in 2004 to 11 percent in 2006. On the other hand, those who received good or excellent grades in English rose from 18.6 to 20.5 percent over the period. The proportion who missed the minimum standard in Korean expected from a third-year middle school student increased from 4.4 percent in 2005 to 7.4 percent in 2006.

      In 2001, the Korean Education Development Institute released a report on Korean adults' reading comprehension and compared it with that of other OECD member countries. Korean adults scored 237.5 out of 500 points when tested on their ability to understand various documents such as those containing maps and charts, coming 18th out of 22 countries. Sweden came first with 305.6 points. Korea was also in the middle to lower ranks in comprehending newspaper editorials, poems and novels.

      In November last year, a survey of 330 human resources managers in Korean firms, conducted by online job portal JobKorea, revealed that 59.7 percent were unhappy with the level of Korean proficiency of new employees, with 49.4 percent saying they are "not satisfied" and 10.3 percent saying "very unsatisfied."

      Experts say neglect of Chinese characters education in the school curriculum is one of the major reasons behind this. Because 70 percent of Korean vocabulary is made of the combination of Chinese characters, they claim the study of Chinese characters is essential for middle and high school education. However, as English loomed ever larger and Chinese characters began to be branded as arcane, its importance in school curricula dwindled. Prof. Lee Jong-mook of the Department of Korean Language and Literature at Seoul National University said, "The fundamental remedy would be to strengthen Chinese characters education in the school curriculum, and to help children develop reading skills by studying the classics from adolescence."

      Lack of time committed to reading also contributes to dwindling Korean proficiency. According to statistics on Koreans' reading habits released by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism last year, adults managed to read only one book per month, and one in four did not read books at all.

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