chapter  15
17 Pages

East Asian Englishes: Japan and Korea

ByYuko Takeshita

Japan realized the need for English in response to threats from outside. In 1808, when the government strictly controlled and limited foreign diplomacy and trade, the Phaeton, an English ship flying a Dutch flag, arrived in the southern part of Japan. The government had given Holland permission to trade with Japan, and Dutch was used by government officials as a language for international communication. This made the government order Dutch-Japanese interpreters and translators to learn English. With the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854, through which US Commodore Mathew Perry forced Japan to open up to the West, the English language increased its presence in Japan. The start of English teaching in schools did not begin until 1872, however. In Korea, English education officially started in 1883, when the government estab-

lished an English language school to train interpreters (Matsumoto 2003; E. Kim 2008). In the 1880s, other schools, both governmental and private, also opened and English was taught by English and American teachers who were invited or came to Korea for missionary work. One school, established in 1886, taught not only English but all subjects in English. The reason behind the introduction of English language teaching was the Korean awareness of the need for modernization, and the fact that such awareness existed before the Japanese colonization, is emphasized in studies of Korean modern history (Matsumoto 2003). In both countries English has been taught as a foreign language. The two countries,

therefore, belong in the expanding circle. However, the desire for and roles of English are increasing to a remarkable degree, as both countries try to increase their international presence by developing better English proficiency. This chapter will describe some of the social and cultural phenomena concerning English learning and attempt to describe where the two countries are heading in terms of English and English education. Both Korea and Japan place strong emphasis on English education, as well as on

education as a whole. The high percentage of children enrolled in schools bear testimony to this. For example, in Korea almost 100 per cent of primary school students go on to middle and junior secondary schools, and the percentage of junior high school

students going on to senior secondary school is almost as high. The percentage of senior high school students continuing their studies at the tertiary level, i.e. universities, junior colleges and teachers’ colleges, slightly decreased from a high of 90.2 per cent to 87.1 per cent in 2007 (Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Development, hereafter referred to as Korean MEST 2009). In Japan, the percentage of junior high school students going on to senior high

school reached 90 per cent around 1975, since when it has steadily increased, reaching as high as 97.6 per cent in 2005. Upon graduating from senior high school, 51.5 per cent (49.8 per cent for female students) went on to four-year and two-year colleges and universities. If we include those taking correspondence courses, those studying in vocational schools and those enrolled in the Open University of Japan, which offers higher distance education mainly for high school graduates, 76.2 per cent (76.5 per cent for female students) continued on to higher education (Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, hereafter referred to as Japanese MEXT 2006). English is an integral part of the curricula in both Korea and Japan, especially in this

age of globalization. Whether or not one can access the abundant information provided in English and has the ability to respond and act upon the information appropriately can determine how capable and efficient one may be. Such high percentages of school enrolment suggest that graduates should acquire high proficiency in English, as long as the process involves well-motivated students receiving good education in English over several years in schools with appropriate curricula, qualified teachers, effective teaching and learning materials and equipment. Neither Korea nor Japan, however, has found her nation’s English programmes successful enough to provide her students with adequate communication skills. Curriculum revisions, suggestions for better teacher training programmes and development of more effective teaching methods and learning materials, and the dependence on non-Japanese or non-Korean teachers of English indicate that the two countries are still searching for a way to help their citizens acquire a better proficiency in the English language. English education naturally attracts much attention. In Korea, where people’s English

ability is considered to be the key to the country’s economic success and international competitiveness, English learning concerns the prestige of the country. Shim and Baik argue that such international events as the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 2002 World Cup made Koreans realize that English is ‘a crucial element in achieving success in a global world’ (Shim and Baik 2004: 241). Since Japan saw that English ability is a must for increasing its international presence, the government has revised the national curriculum. Although English is not used much for intra-national communication in either Japan or Korea, we shall see that this use is increasing and this, together with its international importance, is making English highly sought after in both countries.