Koreans are recognized for their zeal for learning English, though the efficiency of their study methods is often called into question.
A report released this week suggested there might be a good reason they have to be so zealous in acquiring a better command of the language.
Employees who outscore their colleagues by 100 points on the Test of English for International Communication earn an average 1.7 million won ($1,400) more a year, according to the report by Korea Development Institute, a state-run think tank.
It also showed a 1 million won increase in parents’ income leads to raising their child’s TOEIC score by an average 21 points.
These were some of its findings that confirmed the English divide in Korean society along income levels.
Less than 20 percent of students from households earning less than 1 million won a month receive private English tutoring, with the corresponding figure rising up to 70 percent among students from families with a monthly income of more than 5 million won.
The gap in spending on private English education widens to as much as 10-fold between households with monthly earnings above 7 million won and those below 1 million won.
There also is a divide between northern and southern districts in Seoul as well as between large cities and provincial areas.
About half the children in the affluent southern zones of the capital start learning English before they enter elementary school, while around 40 percent of kids in other parts do so from third grade.
Scoring discrepancy between students from different income families in the college scholastic ability test is wider in English than in other subjects like math and Korean, according to the KDI study.
Considering the correlation between wages and English scores, the issue of the gap in English learning needs to be addressed from the perspective of ensuring equal opportunity.
In addition to improving English education at school, more financial support should be given to expand free after-school classes and vacation programs to help put children from low-income families and provincial areas on equal footing with more privileged students.
It could also be instrumental to offer more incentives to university students fluent in English to encourage their voluntary teaching of the language to children with limited access to effective learning.
A separate question that might be raised is whether almost all job-seekers should strive to be armed with high English scores that often do not translate into proficiency of the language at the workplace.
Many corporate personnel managers say they give top priority to character and aptitude in recruiting new employees but their emphasis appears distanced from most applicants’ perception that English is still the most important tool for landing decent jobs.
In this sense, corporations need to clarify detailed standards for English ability required for certain categories of work.