South Korea’s ‘English villages’

English continues to expand in South Korea, which is now home to “the world’s biggest English immersion camp,” according to an article from Agence France-Presse.

Speaking Korean is banned in this English-only village that has sprung up somewhat incongruously from the paddy fields of this rice-growing region north of Seoul as part of a linguistic experiment pioneered in South Korea.

“The rule is to speak English,” said Chicago-born Glensne to his shy and giggling pupils as they shuffled between their kitchen tables and his desk to ask in English for cooking materials to make Mexican nachos….

The Paju English village is more than a language theme park. It is a real village of bricks and mortar modeled on an English village where hundreds of people live, eat, sleep, shop and learn.

It sits on a 277,000 m2 plot of land, the world’s biggest English immersion camp, boasting its own brewery pub, bookstore, bakery, restaurant, bank and theater along a main street that leads to a big domed-city hall.

Electric trams run through the main boulevard, which branches off to classrooms and houses to accommodate 100 teachers and 70 staff from various English-speaking countries and 550 students. Korean is outlawed and even written signs are banned.

“We wanted to create an environment where students feel they left Korea behind,” said Jeffrey Jones, head of the Paju camp.

Jones, former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, said Koreans really need a change to their English education which focuses too much on grammar, reading and vocabulary.

“They spend a lot of time learning English. They can read probably better than I can, but they have trouble speaking,” he said. “One of the things we do here is we break the wall of fear. They learn not to be afraid and they learn to speak.”

I found this part especially interesting:

English proficiency has become increasingly important for Korean job seekers. Interviews conducted in English are common at big-name companies like Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor and LG Philips.

source: English only in South Korea’s teaching towns, AFP, April 5, 2006

5 thoughts on “South Korea’s ‘English villages’

  1. “They can read probably better than I can…”? Does that seem tortured to anyone else (I’d do “can probably read”), or is it a regional American construction?

  2. I don’t think I can pin it as a word order particular to Americans, much less any paticular region, although I will confirm its use in informal American English. I might have said it that way under the circumstances. Think of it as a last-second adverb. The speaker knows Korean students of English do a lot of book learning and seem to have good reading skills, so he begins to say just that, “They can read…” While beginning this statement, however, the speaker feels some pangs of doubt and seeks to qualify his statement with the “however” before “better than I can.”

    Speaking of tortuous statements and pangs of doubt, my time in Korea left me with the impression of wildly-variant levels of English mastery, both in private and public usage (a phenomenon it sounds like people living in many Chinese countries can appreciate). In some ways, I think it’s sort of a mercy to generalize that Koreans can read English well. It accords well with the English and US-American cultural tendancy to avoid directly tearing a person down without recognizing their positive points. Germans would likely show less compuncture. However strained an environment these villages might seem to Western eyes, I think with the proper Korean and English-speaking leadership they might be a very positive experience. Koreans need to get out from under all the pressure in their school system from time to time anyway. I wish them the best.

  3. Oh, and this might be a good model for other east Asian countries as well. Living in Qatar, I have been surprised by Qataris’ and other Middle-easterners’ ability to speak and understand English as compared to East Asian countries. Paid advertisements are flawless (perhaps because they’re smart enough to hire anglophones, but almost certainly because they can tell the difference between right and wrong themselves as well). Personal writings in English tend to be much more understandable also. Admittedly, Arabic is slightly closer to English than most East Asian languages, but I have to believe much of the difference stems from a better English education, perhaps in how Western culture is assimilated.

  4. Pingback: Pinyin news » Blog Archive » language acquistion through immersion — 17th-century proposals for Latin

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