Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Education Policies in South Korea

In South Korea, the context of language politics has been shaped by two factors: national unity and economic development. The shared sense of national unity developed in the course of nationalist movements directed against the Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). During the last five years of the occupation, Japanese was imposed as an official language and Koreans were forbidden to use their native language and even had to change their names into Japanese names. As a result of such a dark period, maintaining Korean language and culture has become the core part of Koreans’ sense of identity, and language policy has also been strongly impacted by such a sentiment.

English has been a major foreign language since 1945, but only few educated elites spoke it fluently. Literacy education and purification of Korean by filtering out foreign loan words were more major concerns in language policy. In 1995, however, the government started a nationwide campaign to foster globalization under the name of economic development. As part of the campaign, foreign language education was targeted for a major reform in 1997, which included launching of a new elementary English program from Grade 3 and shifting of pedagogic method from grammar-translation to communicative language teaching. Such changes, however, did not increase students’ fluency and proficiency for communicative language use. Critiques argue that the policy failed because it did not consider the context of English as a foreign language environment and needs of students. Now, students rely more and more on private education to attain English ability that meets the global market standard. Some argue that English is contributing to economic polarization of Korea because it filters out candidates with low English proficiency who tend to come from low-income families. How the spread of English aggravate inequality and spread neoliberalism in the Korean context is an issue that requires further investigation.

Because of the linguistic and ethnic homogeneity of Korean society, the language curriculum focused on reinforcing nationalism was not called into questions until recently. Since around 2000, however, developing a curriculum for Korean as a second language has been an urgent agenda as the number of immigrant workers has increased rapidly, and some of them settled permanently. Also, more number of people desire to learn Korean as a foreign language due to the rapid spread Korean pop culture or Hallyu (the Korean Wave). Researchers and educators are now actively developing policy and curricula for Korean language that embrace multicultural perspectives while encouraging understanding and spreading of Korean culture. 


English Program in Korea (EPIK): an official website for professional foreign English teachers

Teach and Learn in Korea (TALK): an official website for foreign undergraduate teachers

Hallyu Magazine

Korean language resources in Indiana University-Bloomington

South Korea's English Boom
Opinion: Korean English Education
Teaching English in Korea: Q & A #1 with Dr. Rod Ellis, Anaheim University TESOL Chair
The Great Transformation of Korean Wave Part 1: Hallyu Now, KBS World
The Great Transformation of Korean Wave Part 2: The hub of the Korean wave, KBS World


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as


Mun, Sue (2013). Language Education Policies in South Korea. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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