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December 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Korean English Language Education: My Experience Learning English

Minjeong Namkung is a Korean university student studying international business.


As English is a second language in Korea, Koreans start to learn English when we are in elementary school. Some learn it earlier in English Kindergarten. There is a lot of debate in Korea about when children should start learning English and many begin at a young age through private education. Public schools teach students English when they enter the 3rd grade. The grade when students start to learn English is also debated a lot and it has changed many times.

A lot of the English Education that students receive is from private schools and tutors. I started learning English when I was 9 years old. Like other kids, I studied in English academies and from private tutors before I learned it in my regular school. Academies, which are called Hagwons in Korean, are very common because Korean society is very competitive.

Both students and their mothers want the best education available, and this makes private tutors and academies common.

In the public school, most Koreans learn vocabulary and grammar, rather than focusing on speaking or speaking with native speakers. It is because of test-focused learning. In Korea, standardized tests are very common and important and a lot of the English education is designed around these tests.

Many Koreans learn English for good grades and high test scores, which are called specs in Korean; however, as time goes, people realize how important speaking is. That’s why more and more people trying to study abroad these days and the number of English-speaking focused academies is increasing.

I was lucky to have a unique English learning experience when I was younger. I spent part of middle school and high school (from 8th grade to 12th grade) in Georgia, United States. I decided to study abroad because my parents thought the US had a better and less stressful education system than Korea. They also wanted me to experience new cultures and view the world from a wider perspective. Now I can’t imagine my life without my childhood in the United States. 

I am currently a teacher/leader in an English-speaking academy, and many students join this because they want to improve their English skills. My students are in different levels. I am in charge of three different levels: introduction, beginners and advanced. Introduction and beginners are people who need English skills to go abroad or workers who found English necessary in their workplaces.

When I talk to students I sometimes ask them why they study English. Some regret that they didn’t study English before. Some students have told me that they found it very uncomfortable to not speak English when traveling in other countries. I think many Koreans would like to speak English fluently for their jobs or for traveling to other countries. Many adults now realize how important speaking is for work and travelling and they are also starting to take classes that focus on speaking and pronunciation, like the ones that I teach.

I think English education in Korea is changing because many Korean now see that speaking is more important than grammar. I also realize that I had some unique experiences of learning English and I’m really happy that I had these experiences.

Tagged  Voices 
  • ELT in Korean Primary Schools: Three Common Methods
    Yoo Jimin, South Korea;John Breckenfeld, USA

  • Korean English Language Education: My Experience Learning English
    Minjeong Namkung, South Korea

  • When Experience Is Silenced...
    Quinton Stephen, South Korea

  • Native or Second Language Speakers, It Makes No Difference
    Lyman McLallen, USA

  • How to Motivate Lower-level Students in Korean EFL Context
    Kyungsook Kim, South