Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Linguistic imperialism and native speakers in Korea

[Update - a reader sent along a copy of the ppt and speech - thanks for that.]

On November 20-21, the National Institute of the Korean Language held a conference titled "Protecting and Revitalizing Native Languages in an Era of Globalization" at the Press Center in Seoul (as described by Yonhap), with the keynote speech being given by Robert Phillipson, who coined the term 'linguistic imperialism' with the publication of his book by the same name 20 years ago.

In a post at Dave's ESL Cafe, poster 'crashlanding' wrote about Phillipson's presentation, saying "I have a copy of his speech and Powerpoint presentation if anyone's interested. Just PM me." I tried to join the site but appear not to have passed muster, so if any reader is a member and could get copies of the speech and Powerpoint presentation for me (my email's on the right), I'd certainly appreciate it.

As Wikipedia says of Phillipson,
His book analyzes the British Council's use of rhetoric to promote English, and discusses key tenets of English applied linguistics and English-language-teaching methodology. These tenets hold that:

English is best taught monolingually ("the monolingual fallacy");
the ideal teacher is a native speaker ("the native-speaker fallacy");
the earlier English is taught, the better the results ("the early-start fallacy");
the more English is taught, the better the results ("the maximum-exposure fallacy");
if other languages are used much, standards of English will drop ("the subtractive fallacy").
I'll let you guess which of those fallacies the Kyunghyang Sinmun latched onto in its article about Phillipson's speech:
"Native speaking teachers fluent in Korean should be employed"

Language policy expert professor Phillipson gives keynote speech at conference at National Institute of the Korean Language

"In the European Union (EU) as well in two-thirds of documents are written in English, and its influence is increasingly being strengthened. And in the ten ASEAN countries the language mainly used is also English, and even among these countries such as Cambodia which do not usually use English are at a disadvantage."

This was spoken by Robert Phillipson (70), a professor at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, who criticized the increasing global influence of English on the 20th while visiting Korea to attend the conference "Protecting and Revitalizing Native Languages in an Era of Globalization," which was organized by the National Institute of the Korean Language.  A language policy expert, he wrote 'Linguistic Imperialism' and in 2010 was awarded UNESCO's language peace prize. He said, "I'm not against the study of English in itself and can't make value judgements regarding language." "We should see for what purpose English functions."

On that day in his keynote speech he explained the elements of linguistic imperialism in this way: "People who can use the dominant language are given a kind of privilege." "Trying to fluently have command of the dominant language comes at expense of other languages." "As linguistic imperialism is internalized, the dominant language is accepted as normal." If you just replace 'dominant language' with 'English', it's no different than the shape of our society. He said that if traditional linguistic imperialism is the emphasis on English in the colonies of the UK or US, its modern aspect is slightly more complex. "Today the expansion of English is an American globalization strategy which is linked to the expansion of capitalism, and is closely related to the requirements of the corporate and financial world."

Professor Phillipson cited native speaking teachers in Korea as an example of linguistic imperialism. "If I were Korea's Minister of Education, I would employ native speaking teachers who are fluent in Korean and who have a good understanding of Korean culture, its society and economy. People who come to work in Korea who haven't learned Korean after several years here have a rather shocking and arrogant attitude. In a sense the concept of the native speaker (someone who uses that language as a mother tongue) doesn't exist in Korea. This is because people like blacks, Fillipinos or Indians who use English as their mother tongue are not included as 'native speakers.'" In his keynote speech, he said that, "To believe that the more you learn English as a single language, from native speakers, from childhood, the better, and that if you use other languages your English level will drop ignores the evidence of successful foreign language learning and dual-language education."

Regarding making English lectures compulsory in Korean universities and encouraging the writing of papers in English, Professor Phillipson said, "It's advertised that using English when studying is more advantageous, but even if this is based on experience, having a university education only in English is the wrong choice." He then introduced the bilingual policy of universities in Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland  which use the native language and English at the same time. He said, "There is an inter-language hierarchy in Korea, but rather than internalizing it, public debate is needed."
There's certainly more to be said about linguistic imperialism and how it applies to Korea, but I'd like to get a look at the actual speech before I write any more.

[Note: The title "Protecting and Revitalizing Native Languages in an Era of Globalization" was rendered as "Policies promoting the mother tongue in the era of globalization" in Korean.]


K said...

People who come to work in Korea who haven't learned Korean after several years here have a rather shocking and arrogant attitude.

- Not as arrogant as the Korean attitude that keeps such people as foreigners on one-year visas with no right of residence accruing, despite widespread Korean emigration Western countries where they collect additional passports. Not as arrogant as the attitude that says that people with degrees, visas and contracts are, nevertheless, 'unqualified.' Not as arrogant as the attitude that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Westerners are inherently drug-abusing child-molesters.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Phillipson definitely made a significant contribution to applied linguistics with his work Linguistic Imperialism -- especially the analysis of the early British Colonial Service and its offshoot the British Council. That said I think he is a bit out of his depth in the Korean context. For instance, while he recognizes the importance of scholars like Joseph Sung-Yul Park, he neglects the emphasis that Park gives to race-based nationalism in Korea and how it relates to the concept of the "native speaker".

In discussing so-called "English fever" in Korea, Prof. Park emphasizes that "[t]hroughout the nation’s experiences of colonization and modernization, the construct of danil minjok ('one people,' or racial homogeneity) served as the central ideology [with] [t]he image of the Korean people united through, among other things, a common Korean language."

As Park explains, linguistic “competence is commonly assumed to emerge naturally from a speaker’s inner essence [and] thus, ethno-racial heritage is often treated as if it is sufficient explanation for one’s competence in a language”. Therefore, while “it is considered utterly unremarkable for an ethnic Korean to speak fluent Korean [it is considered] highly unusual, or even scandalous, if she cannot”. But this same emphasis on an essential connection between race and linguistic competence means that ethnic Koreans who speak fluent English are often denied acceptance as “native speakers” of English because it is seen as inconsistent with their ethnic identity as Koreans.

Thus, as an LA Times article notes, “[m]any English teaching positions posted on the Internet include ‘no gyopo’ clauses.” One Korean-American interviewed for the article explained that Korean employers looking for native-speaking English teachers often “don’t fully understand that speaking and appearance are not really related”. Another Korean-American described a typical English teaching job interview experience: “They say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know you were Korean; we thought you were American,’ and I say, ‘Well, I am an American.’”

Just two years ago we had the Busan Global Village (an English language academy established by Busan Metropolitan City and the Busan Metropolitan City Office of Education) found guilty by the NHRCK of racially discriminating against a Korean-American for refusing to grant him "native speaker" status and pay just because he was Korean - even though he spoke English as his mother tongue.

Park makes clear that “[t]he linguistic legitimacy (reflected through labels such as ‘native speaker’) accorded to speakers of traditional native varieties of English . . . is a result of treating those varieties of English as having an essential . . . connection with the speakers’ given ethno-national identity.” And that's precisely the case in Korea where the government itself makes an agentive choice to promote that mistaken belief.

Thus when Phillipson says "the concept of the native speaker (someone who uses that language as a mother tongue) doesn't exist in Korea . . . because people like blacks, Fillipinos or Indians who use English as their mother tongue are not included as 'native speakers'" -- he's correct in noting that individuals without the prescribed ethno-racial identity aren't accorded "native speaker" status (despite possessing mother tongue linguistic competence). Yet, saying that means the concept of the "native speaker . . . doesn't exist in Korea" misses an important point. It does exist but it’s race-based, discriminatory and clearly detrimental to Korea’s self-declared interest in developing its citizens English language ability.

Kamiza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kamiza said...

"Professor Phillipson cited native speaking teachers in Korea as an example of linguistic imperialism. "If I were Korea's Minister of Education, I would employ native speaking teachers who are fluent in Korean and who have a good understanding of Korean culture, its society and economy. People who come to work in Korea who haven't learned Korean after several years here have a rather shocking and arrogant attitude."

Agree 10,000,000%

Sorry "K" but it is true. Your counter-allegations have no bearing upon Phillipson's primary statement. As a teacher, one must know his or her students--where they are, how they got there, where they want to go, and where they need to go within their native cultural context. How can one truly know a culture without knowing the spoken/written language, while also lacking a strong sense of cultural literacy? Why would one choose to live in a place where he or he is illiterate and incapable of communicating beyond a "survival language" capacity? Phillipson raises a very important--though undoubtedly sensitive--issue.

the wanderer said...

Personally, I do feel they need people who can speak both Korean and English, but if you discriminate against gyopos because they don't fit the correct "ethnic profile",shouldn't Korea kill the system already? There is nothing wrong with being a homogeneous country. There is nothing wrong with using Korean to interact with tourists. Putting it bluntly, what foreigner visits the country that doesn't work here? What tourist attractions does Korea offer that a foreign tourist couldn't find in China or Japan? Since there won't be that many tourists, and since they are conflicted about what to do with foreigners living in the country who happen to be from predominately English speaking countries, they should admit that the English education system is a failure, terminate contracts, and live in peace. Frankly, I feel the people who should learn the language are business men and women who deal with overseas clients and/or travel overseas themselves and university students who want to teach the language on a public school level or travel as well. What's so irritating is that Korea is afraid of pulling the trigger because of what they fear they will loose (global acknowledgement as powerful country, bigger economy or economic gains, pride, praise,etc)when in reality, they didn't really have any of these to begin with; which makes it really irritating to watch the country fight with itself over its denial/acceptance of the problem only to still stay in denial however clearly seeing that the whole English teaching shtick is a mess. Face it, the country isn't like China; you don't have the historical sites and high rolling cities. And although you are similar to Japan, you are not like Japan and will never pull the amount of industry and the tourism like Japan. You are Korea. You are homogeneous, you are backward, you have your own individual industry all across the board from A to Z. If you wanted to be global, you would have attempted it by now. You would have increased the amount of ethnic faces being shown on print and screen. There wouldn't be public outrage, there wouldn't be an "us" vs "them" problem. There wouldn't be racially suggestive things happening or shown in country. Not saying that becoming globalized wouldn't have growing pains, but it wouldn't be this long term. This has been happening since 1955! It's OK not to want immigrants in your country. It's OK not to do the things that seem weird to you, or doesn't fit with you culturally.It's your country! But please stop trying to seem non-biased,neutral, and open-minded for global economic gain and acceptance when the majority (60% at least) isn't in some degree or another which kills any economic gain or acceptance. Frankly Korea, you need to give up already. I don't think the rest of the world really cares if you succeed or not. You are attached to North Korea, which we ignore,and are surrounded by more important countries.