English Fever in South Korea: Survival Tool VS Communication Tool

Posted by Yuting Zhao

In our last class, we discussed how social status causes linguistic variations and how time-related factors, such as age grading, is relevant to language change. In the presentation, our classmates further elaborated the perceptions and attitudes of senior citizens towards English and English learning in Korea. These topics are all very intriguing and make me reflect again on the ‘English Fever’ in globalized context at the moment.

To start with, I would like to share two points in our discussions which most strike a chord with me and deepen my understandings in book chapters. Firstly, when it comes to hypercorrection, one of my classmates mentioned that in order to perform it, people need to learn how to speak in different contexts. I think this notion is very interesting in that it indicates the prerequisite of hypercorrection is that the performers need to be well-educated to have the knowledge for language-switching. It also explains why lower-middle class has the highest frequency in using hypercorrection in our book chapter. They are more knowledgeable in different language styles than working class and more aspired to move up the class ladder than upper-middle class. Secondly, we talked about the female dominance in giving rise to language change. This may partly because most caregivers are women. However, children will not speak the same with their caregiver forever, as Alison said when children grow up to four or five years old, they will gradually change their language. This echoes again with the uniform incrementation model of Labov (2001).

With regard to our reading, it reflects how Korean senior citizens value English as a tool for survival, and crave to learn English. The article is virtually thought-provoking but concerning the interview methodology, I have some critiques. Firstly, the interview lasts for too long (60-80 minutes). According to Gill (2008), the length of interviews varies depending on the topic, researcher and participants. However, on average, healthcare interview last 20-60 minutes. For senior citizens, the interviews should have been shorter. Such long interview will lead to the wearisome of interviewees, resulting in the unreliability of the data. Secondly, in this study, sample size is small (n=15) and all participants are from one senior citizen center in one place, so the result may not be able to represent the perspective and attitude of all the aged in Korea.

As for ‘English Fever’ in Korea, it began since the Kim Yongsam’s government emphasized the policy of ‘globalization’ in 1993 (Crystal, 1999). Up to now, knowing English has been equated with the concept of survival. Not only are people emphasizing the significance of learning English, but they have a single-minded obsession with native speakerism. One striking news I remembered on AP Correspondence was that Korean parents have their newborn babies undergo tongue surgery to help them distinguish pronunciation of ‘l’ and ‘r’. Moreover, last year, when I tutored a Korean student in Westmount Elementary School, I found he was more proficient in Chinese and English than Korean and his mother prioritize the English literacy to her son’s L1 literacy. Therefore, I was wondering if this ‘English Fever’ will have a negative impact on students’ cultural and national identity.

To conclude, I’d like to pose some questions: How will the ‘English Fever’ affect English education both in and outside school? Do you think the early introduction of English education will impact negatively on students’ L1 literacy and national identity? Should English be regarded as a communication tool or survival tool?



Crystal, D. (1999). The future of Englishes. English Today, 18 (2), 10-20.

Gill, P. (2008). Methods of data collection in qualitative research: interviews and focus group. British Dental Journal, 204 (5), 291-295.

Labov, W. (2001). Principles of linguistic change, vol. 2: social factors. Oxford: Blackwell.

One thought on “English Fever in South Korea: Survival Tool VS Communication Tool”

  1. Ethan: Hi Yuting. Thank you for your post. Actually I learned more about the English fever in Korea from your introduction. And to answer your first question: as English teachers, of course we would like to see some form of ‘English fever’ (which will make our job easier). But as for the sake of a nation’s native language, that is a big question. China has decided to diminish English in its college entrance exam, which, as imagined, has received both criticism and praise.


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