Teach­ing English as manda­tory sub­ject

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Walt Gard­ner Walt Gard­ner writes the Re­al­ity Check blog for Ed­u­ca­tion Week in the U.S. Write to

Even if the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion is able to get pub­lic sup­port for mak­ing the study of English a re­quire­ment for all stu­dents, the is­sue is un­likely to be fully set­tled. At least that’s been the ex­pe­ri­ence in the United States, where teach­ing English as a sec­ond lan­guage to the chil­dren of the 42 mil­lion new­com­ers to its shores re­mains highly con­tro­ver­sial.

Roughly one-fifth of Amer­i­cans speak a lan­guage other than English at home.

The sit­u­a­tion in South Korea is not that much dif­fer­ent, with an es­ti­mated 100,000 stu­dents grow­ing up in mul­tira­cial fam­i­lies. In Daegu, nearly 3,000 stu­dents — or one per­cent of the to­tal — come from a home where the mother or fa­ther is for­eign born.

The U.S. ap­proach to teach­ing English to the five mil­lion stu­dents who are English-lan­guage learn­ers — about 9 per­cent of pub­lic school en­roll­ment — can serve as a model for South Korea. Dual-lan­guage pro­grams have sup­planted to­tal im­mer­sion pro­grams. Stu­dents are taught in their na­tive tongue and in English. The goal is to move them to classes that re­quire higher lev­els of English. There are ap­prox­i­mately 2,000 such pro­grams in the U.S. today, com­pared with some 260 in 2000. They vary in the amount of time spent dur­ing the school day in each lan­guage.

At Porter Ranch Com­mu­nity School in the Los An­ge­les Uni­fied School District, the na­tion’s sec­ond largest, a Korean-English dual-lan­guage pro­gram has drawn sup­port from the Repub­lic of Korea Con­sulate Gen­eral, which pro­vides ma­te­ri­als and helps fund a taek­wondo pro­gram and Korean drum­ming class.

Yet the greater chal­lenge is to nar­row the gap be­tween sur­vival English and pro­fi­cient English. It takes the av­er­age learner about 100 hours to move up a level from low beginner to high beginner.

A multi-year study of stu­dents en­rolled in dual-lan­guage pro­grams in North Carolina be­tween 2007 and 2010 found that low-in­come black chil­dren in these pro­grams posted higher read­ing and math scores than their peers of the same race and so­cioe­co­nomic back­ground who were taught in one lan­guage.

If South Korea de­cides to fol­low in the foot­prints of those in the U.S., it will need to step up ef­forts to re­cruit and re­tain trained teach­ers. Of­fer­ing sign-up bonuses and ad­di­tional pay will help. But so will small classes, where teach­ers have an op­por­tu­nity to get to know all their stu­dents on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis.

The con­crete steps South Korea takes to achieve its goal of teach­ing English will play an im­por­tant role in pre­par­ing its young peo­ple for the de­mands of the global econ­omy.

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