LIFE&STYLE

The dominance of American English

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  • Published : Apr 5, 2010 - 12:34
  • Updated : Apr 5, 2010 - 12:34
The dominance of American-style English in South Korea at first glance would seem to almost exclude British English from the curriculum. American-style textbooks and English education coupled with the overwhelming majority of Canadian and American teachers suggest a dominance of the English-teaching industry here in South Korea that is approaching a silent monopoly.
British, South African, Australian and other teachers from English-speaking countries are in a minority here in Korea. But when you look deeper at English in Korea, is the problem really so simple?
South Korea and America enjoy a special relationship forged through the shedding of blood in a common cause. The Korean War brought the two countries together in a bond of unity that has so far lasted over 60 years. Business ties are formidable and the number of Koreans going to America to be educated is high.
Yet strange bedfellows they are becoming, and there are many Koreans who think that the American relationship is damaging in cultural terms. A quick glance at the stalled free trade talks between the two powers reflects the concerns of the Korean people in preserving their homogenous and unique culture.
The teaching of English as a foreign language is very widespread across South Korea in public schools, private institutions and universities, and the government wishes to improve the standards over the next few years in an industry which is both sprawling and unregulated.
Of the many areas they should address, the closing of some areas of the market to those without standard American English is a problem that deserves recognition. Many adverts for teaching jobs openly seek American English or Canadian English speakers for the best jobs and some believe that such discrimination based upon maintaining the status quo and ignorance is unbalancing English teaching.
James Parris, an English teacher from Daejeon who was raised in Canada, disagrees. "It`s understandable. The major influence in Korea is America. With business ties and the relationship with Korea it is natural for parents to want their children to learn American-style English to get ahead. It`s been this way for a long time and is the nature of the beast."
It is easy to identify the hidden subtext of America everywhere you travel in South Korea. There are very few Koreans with British or other accents and from personal experience, children that do are subjected to ridicule from children who speak with what is perceived as the more "normal" American-style English - it is the standard by which we are all judged.
Even Americans and Canadians with accents experience discrimination, and it is clear that the silent monopoly stems from an ideal of American English that not even some Americans can live up to.
Alex Oprea, an English teacher from Daejeon and raised in Canada has encountered accent discrimination. "I was trying to get hired for my first job here in Korea and I applied to a school from Seoul. They were really promising at first until they discovered I was originally from Romania and suddenly I found that the job was closed to me even before the first interview and even though I sound Canadian - it`s a risk to hire British or people with other accents here. Accent discrimination is what is damaging Korea - schools should hire indiscriminately from your qualifications not your origin."
Although many British teachers are hired by hagwons looking for native speakers, they are all judged by American English standards - the yardstick of South Korea. The present situation sees the widespread use of American/Canadian textbooks being used with very little input from other countries who speak English.
If Koreans are serious about opening their eyes to the world they must first look at those who are teaching in their country and the possible effects. If something is not done to remedy the situation, then South Korea will forever forget about the land that English came from.
(seb1_harrison@hotmail.com)

By Sebastian Harrison