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English is power

Sept 19,2019
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CHUN SU-JIN
The author is deputy editor of the international, diplomacy and security news at the JoongAng Ilbo.

The English language offers power. When President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro appointed his 35-year-old son to the post of Brazilian Ambassador to the United States, one of his justifications for the appointment was his son’s English language skills. North Korea’s first Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui is the top diplomat fluent in English. Her speeches are known for their accurate and appropriate expressions. Both had a chance to study abroad at an age critical in learning a foreign language. Two faces in Korea’s diplomacy have both studied abroad, and when they had an argument in English, many Koreans responded with envy.

In Korea, where passion for education is phenomenal, English has become a class. But it is a rather strange class. It is hard to join the class by yourself. But if you have money or are lucky, you can give it to your children. If you move high up in the English caste, you can intimidate others with native pronunciation and get to enjoy benefits in college admission.

Of course, spending your childhood in a foreign country is hard. But as long as you can get the English badge, who can refuse “the arduous march”? Most of the 51.7 million people who did not get the chance to win the badge by studying overseas feel bitter. What’s more painful is the insensitivity of those who enjoy the benefit. When I said that I worked as an “indigenous” reporter at an English newspaper for 10 years, a foreign minister several years ago said, “Considering my children who grew up abroad, indigenous English speakers have their limits.”

Justice Minister Cho Kuk repeatedly said in news conferences and at his confirmation hearing that his daughter was good at English. Does he consider his daughter’s privilege of English skills, which were acquired while Cho was studying in the United States, as a right? His daughter may feel that it is unfair that her English badge was not earned by her choice or effort but by chance thanks to her father. But what doesn’t change is the fact that his family enjoyed the badge. Is it too much to expect a sense of honor at least?

So I find former Economist correspondent Daniel Tudor quite refreshing. The British man recently released a meditation app and volunteered to do the presentation in Korean. While he said he was very nervous, the ten-minute presentation was good. I think Tudor’s Korean skills acquired through his own efforts deserve more applause than the English skills of Cho’s daughter, who learned English while her father was studying at the University of California at Berkeley. I find it uncomfortable how Cho asked to understand the benefits his daughter had received when she was admitted to Korea University thanks to her good English skills.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 18, Page 28