Social Problems Arising From Learning English Abroad

by Park Young-Jin
International Buddhist College

Ms Park, a student from Korea, welcomes your feedback. She can be contacted at

English is an international language, and a very important one in South Korea. Nowadays the world is a big global village. It is like one big family to me. People from different cultures have different ways of doing things. A simple gesture can have different meanings in different cultures. To point a finger at someone is totally acceptable in some cultures, but intolerably rude and offensive in the Japan culture. In international relations and interaction, differences like this can cause serious misunderstandings. These misunderstandings can destroy relationships. To avoid serious misunderstandings like this, we need to be able to communicate well. If we can speak an international language like English, then it's easy to communicate with people from all over the world. It also helps build partnerships in promoting international trades, resolving global conflicts and environmental issues, and other matters. Therefore English language is very important in modern days.
Then why do I want to write about "Social problems arising from learning English abroad?" Learning English itself is not a problem in South Korea. The sacrifices made for it do sometimes give rise to problems. I must stress that the problems I describe here are not typical ones that happen everywhere in Korea. The actions of some Korean parents give rise to serious troubles. They send their children to study abroad to gain extra edge over others. The parents and their children are very competitive among themselves in their pursuit in learning English. Public opinion is divided over this issue of sending children to study abroad. In Korea preschool children and elementary school students consistently outnumbered middle and high school students, respectively. The statistics on the numbers of South Korean students studying abroad in the five-year period between 2002 and 2006 showed that the elementary school students consistently outnumbered middle and high school students. The numbers appear to double every two years, from about 3,500 students in 2002, to almost 14 thousand elementary school students by 2006. The number of middle school students studying abroad seems to be growing at a somewhat slower rate. The high school figures actually fall below 3,000 in 2003, but by the end of the five-year period, even these numbers have roughly doubled.

People learn language by listening, reading, and using the language. Research has shown that children learn their languages more easily than adults do. So some parents invest a lot in their children's education, both on national-type education and learning English at the same time. There is much competition in the Korean society, especially in businesses and international trade. In the competition, ability to gather information is important. Having skills in English language is an important factor that helps one gather information and succeed in the business and professional world.

There are two main ways of learning English abroad.

1. As Exchange Student - Going abroad as an exchange student to learn the language is the best way because this saves time and money since the student's expenses are borne by the host organization. However, getting selected in this program is not easy because competition is always very high.

2. Short-term Study Abroad - During the school vacation, children are sent for short-term study abroad. This is the newest trend because children can study both native education and foreign culture at the same time. Children get new experience and motivation to learn the foreign language. However, expenses are very high. Fees are high for private lessons. There are also other charges such as phone calls and delivery of papers, and rentals on accommodation. They also have to adapt to residing under the care of foreign housekeepers.
Social and family problems are mutually related. These are not typical Korean social problems. Family values are very important. Some parents don't take note of their children's opinions. Some students don't care about their parents' advice or concern about their parents' economic situation. Some families sell their house, and some parents have two jobs in order to finance their children's education. Parents live only for their children. If parents get disappointed with their children, the children would feel frustrated. Parents and children sometimes do not agree. When they refuse to listen to one another, the troubles arise.
Generally, when children are sent to study abroad, their mother goes with them. Their father usually stays back in Korea to earn money. Sometimes, marital problems arise in such situation. Some students lose their love of studying and learning because of culture shock. They get homesick. They become timid. They don't ask questions. They are poor in solving problems. Some people are prejudiced against Korean educational system. Some companies prefer to employ people with overseas experience. So the number of students studying abroad consistently increase. Now the Ministry of Education worries about the education balance of payments being in the red.

Some Korean people, including me, thought "Poor English is sin." But I have changed my mind about this. Ability to speak English or other languages can be beneficial and useful. Learning and getting knowledge are very important things in our social life. We want to become happier. So we choose many ways. The best way is by developing our own ideas and ourselves, and learn another language in a harmonious way. I hope our education will improve our individual and social life.

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