Table of contents
Problematic of the hegemony of the English language
English in South Korea
Webpage of the Global Handong University
Teaching at the Global University of Handong
The Hegemony of the English language in a university context in South Korea
International networking and globalisation have made the English language an indispensable medium of intercultural communication. At this point, English has gained the value of a status symbol. In Korean culture, this language is perceived as a sort of gateway to success and the global science community as well as to have better chances at the highly competitive job market. Therefore, Korean universities have made it their goal to aid their students by introducing language policies such as making English the official language. With internationalising campuses in Korea, the question of the hegemony of the English language arises. This paper aims to analyse how this concept of hegemony can be observed at universities in Korea, in particular, the Handong Global University and through which measures taken by the university this hegemony manifests itself. This paper reflects once more upon this concept of hegemony and how post-colonialism can still be observed in the educational environment in South Korea. In this paper, I will analyse and compare previous studies to critically reflect once more upon this predominance of the English language.
Keywords: linguistic hegemony, education, South Korea, language policies
Globalisation and linguistic hegemony in South Korea
Where would the world be without English? The English language has gained popularity during the last centuries. This can be observed by the rising numbers of people learning English globally. Before looking further into the role of the English language in global communication, I would like to look into and explain the term “hegemony”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the term “hegemony” as “the position of being the strongest and most powerful and therefore able to control others” (2013). Regarding most of the definitions, they tend to focus on the political aspect of domination, in a sense of one nation or country overpowering others. However, in this paper, the term hegemony refers to a linguistic dominance of one language over other languages, in this case especially the dominance of English at Korean universities. The term linguistic hegemony refers to a concept of power that empowers some while disempowering others (Short et al., 2001).
The English language dominates global communication, making it an indispensable medium of communication. The ability to speak English should not be taken granted and further reflection on this topic is needed to see behind the problematic of its linguistic as well as cultural dominance over countries where English is not the official language. The fact that one language is of such high importance in global communication should not be taken lightly since first and foremost, the language serves as a gatekeeper to the job market, international relevance, success and the global science community. Furthermore, on a more individual aspect, it needs to be questioned how the linguistic hegemony shapes the social identity of someone and how it alters their perception of their own mother tongue.
The main goal of this paper is to show how this hegemony can be observed at Korean universities and through which policies this hegemony manifests itself. Moreover, in this paper, I want to critically reflect upon the English language and its high status in global communication as well as the problematics that come with enforcing language policies in Korean universities. There, I would like to mainly focus on discussing the negative side effects Korean students, as well as exchange students, have to face when studying at universities that use English as their official language. As my main sources, I will be using the study 'Speaking English naturally': the language ideologies of English as an official language at a Korean university, conducted by Choi Jinsook (2010). In addition, I would also like to incorporate the homepage of the Handong University in South Korea where English is used as an official language.
Another topic that I would like to discuss in this paper is which possibilities there are to help to improve this problem of inequality of languages at universities and if it is possible to build equal global communication.
Problematic of the hegemony of the English language
Before discussing the problems of the predominance of the English language, I would like to begin by further looking into the words which are used for describing the situation.
The word “hegemony” itself derives from a Greek word which means “dominance over”. In its original meaning, it referred to associations between city-states. Antonio Gramsci, an Italian politician and philosopher describes hegemony not as supremacy that uses brute dominance to justify itself but more so as a group which rules through “intellectual and moral leadership”. (Rosamond, 2016). Since there are different ways of understanding the term hegemony, I want to particularly emphasize that in this paper, linguistical hegemony refers to empowering one group of people while at the same time disempowering another group, regarding their language (Short et al., 2001).
According to an article published by Guo and Beckett (2007), 400 million people speak English as their first language followed by over a billion people who speak it as a second language or as a foreign language. Of course, it has to be mentioned that it is difficult to name exact numbers since it has to be kept in mind that definitions vary regarding the set of skills or language level one must have in order to be acknowledged as a speaker.
With the rise of globalisation, English has become an indispensable medium of global communication. It has the power of connecting people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds with each other. However, it has to be kept in mind that this spread of English cannot be accepted uncritically. Globalisation and the spread of the English language are not recent occurrences. These phenomena have been in progress since early times especially during the times of colonialization. During these times, not only languages were spread but also cultures and religions for example. The more recent revival spread of the English language can be connected to capitalism as well as the predominance of Western cultures. Overall, English serves as a gatekeeper for employment, social status and financial security. This pressure also leads to changes in education where a bigger emphasis gets laid on English education. This high placed market value of the English language leads to a different perception of one’s own mother tongue where it is not of as much value as English (Guo & Beckett, 2007).
English in South Korea
Since the focus of this paper lays on the predominance of English in South Korea, I will further look into the perception of English in said country.
In order to gain a better understanding, I will briefly summarize Fayzrakhmanova’s (2016) description of the role of English in South Korea. The employ of English in South Korea can be observed for example in education, popular media and even day to day communication where anglicisms play a major role. Within the South Korean society, English is perceived as a big criterion in education, success, higher social status and power. Even though the Korean language employs a big variety of English words, that is no guarantee for a high level of proficiency within the society. Since big enterprises such as Samsung or LG lay a big emphasis on high levels of English language skills, applicants need to take a test in order to measure said skills to get a prestigious job within the company. However, when taking these exams, the candidates focus more on gaining as many points as possible without actually looking deeper into the subject. Furthermore, in English education in Korea, grammar gets more attention than exercises on communicative skills. This sort of neglect then leads to a low level of communicative skills.
However, another study argues that a shift from mainly grammar-based education towards a bigger emphasis on oral communication skills took place (Park, 2009). This shift can be now linked to the desire of Koreans to sound more like a native (Shin, 2005:66).
This desire of wanting to sound more native leads to more native teachers being employed in Korea. However, the country struggles to find enough qualified native speakers for primary, secondary schools and universities. To still provide the country with sufficient English education, the government created English-villages as well as English training camps. Yet, many parents are not satisfied with the teaching provided. Therefore, parents are in favour of sending their children to English-speaking countries in order to enable their children to acquire sufficient English proficiency (Park, 2009).
Additionally, officials in Korea have been debating whether or not to make English the official language. The people of South Korea spend every year big amounts of money on private English language education to further their level of proficiency (Fayzrakhmanova, 2016). On the basis of these measures, the hegemony importance of English gets made clear. English itself is not a big part of everyday communication however, at the same time, government officials plan to make it the official language. The reason for that is that the state knows in order to be a global player and to be internationally successful and recognized, the population must speak English well (Fayzrakhmanova, 2016).
Webpage of the Global Handong University
The Handong Global University, short HGU, is a non-denominational private university. It is located in Pohang Gyeongbuk in the Republic of South Korea. The university itself was founded in 1994 and opened its doors to the public in 1995. In 2009, the university opened its doors to the public
While HGU is a non-denominational university, their education is based on the Christian faith. The concept of this education is being presented on their webpage in their “vision statement”.
Handong University will become an international university that educates 21st century leaders who are transforming nations and the world with a Christian spirit, and will produce new leaders who possess outstanding qualities and good Christian character, especially honesty and a heart for sacrificial servitude.
But not only in the vision statement can religiosity be observed but also throughout the entire webpage, for example, the webpage features biblical references. Furthermore, it features individual statements of members of the university’s leadership, such as the presidents, the Chairman board of Director and the Founding President. In the three messages presented, a big emphasis is being put on the Christian faith by using expressions such as “Kingdom of God”, “God’s will”, “God and his glory”.
Next to the topic of religion, another expression that is being employed frequently is “global”. Within the statements on numerous occasions, the members lay a big emphasis on repeating that we find ourselves in a global world with global challenges. According to these statements, the aim of the HGU is to educate global leader in order to resolve said challenges. Once more, in this case, the current President of the university states that the global education of the HGU university focuses on maximizing their students and professors’ talents in order to change the world. Moreover, he states that their education also focuses on adequate problem-solving for the globalized era that we live in.
Handong Global University will be a "Global Christian University", educating twenty-first century leaders for our nation and the world, who embody excellence in both academics and Christian moral character, in particular, honesty and service.
After analysing the leadership’s messages, it has been made clear that the university is highly globally oriented. Next to the central theme of Christianity, it can be observed that a big emphasis is laid on improving the globally interconnected world. Their aspiration is to stay globally relevant and educate their students to be fit for the global environment and further improvements. Since a big emphasis on globality from the university can be observed, I might argue that this is linked as to why the university employs the policy of using English as the official language.
English at the Handong University
When searching for courses on their webpage, only courses available in English are being featured on the page. The courses provided range from Law to Computer Science and Electrical Engineering to International Studies, Languages and Literature. When viewing the Academic Undergraduate Course Catalogue for the year 2019-2020, it is mentioned explicitly that the courses are only offered in English. In total, five majors are taught 100% in English and around 40% of major courses are offered in English. The five English-only-majors are Global Management (GM), Information Technology (IT), and US & International Law (UIL).