Efforts to Establish Busan as an English-Friendly City: Challenges and Opportunities

While the plan to become an English-friendly city is commendable, there is still a long way to go in terms of improving the English proficiency of South Koreans. The government should strive to provide more effective and efficient English education, as well as address the debates surrounding the use of NESTs. Achieving English-friendliness will not only benefit Busan's bid to host the World Expo but also enhance the competitiveness of South Korea in the global market and politics.

Maru Kim
Maru Kim

Busan Metropolitan City announced a plan to become an English-friendly city in a bid to establish itself as a global hub. This effort dates back to the Lee Myung-bak Administration’s Immersion English education plan, which aimed to increase the proficiency of English in South Korea.

To bridge the language divide, the Korean Ministry of Education has been implementing English education regulations and providing equal opportunities for English language study. In 1997, English was incorporated into the national curriculum, starting from third grade. The national teaching method has shifted from grammar-translation to communicative language education, but the conventional English language instruction in South Korea still lacks in communicative skills like writing and speaking.

In response, the government has adopted the use of Native English-speaking Teachers (NESTs) in schools and extracurricular academies. The English Program in Korea (EPIK) was established to deploy NESTs in public schools, with the belief that exposure to fluent English speakers can improve speaking and writing abilities. The NEST program has been adopted in several other countries as well.

However, the effectiveness of NESTs as teachers has been subject to debates and research. While NESTs bring fluency to the language classroom, non-native English teachers (NNESTs) struggle with their own English proficiency and the difficulties of acquiring English while teaching it.

Despite the government’s efforts to enforce English education policies, South Koreans’ English proficiency remains insufficient. The College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), now used as the College Entrance Examination, does not assess general competency in all four English skills.

The plan to become an English-friendly city in Busan is part of a larger vision to host the World Expo in 2030. The outcome of the bid will be decided at the General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris in November 2023.

In conclusion, while the plan to become an English-friendly city is commendable, there is still a long way to go in terms of improving the English proficiency of South Koreans. The government should strive to provide more effective and efficient English education, as well as address the debates surrounding the use of NESTs. Achieving English-friendliness will not only benefit Busan’s bid to host the World Expo but also enhance the competitiveness of South Korea in the global market and politics.

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