The South Korean government cited concerns around the pedagogical validity of early foreign language learning and its effect on the child’s first language ability.
English won’t be part of the curriculum for primary schools until grade three to allow children to develop their Korean language skills first, government officials said.
“The issue of best starting age in language learning is complex and has been the subject of numerous articles and research papers”
“According to many English education experts and neuroscientists, the right age for learning English as a second language is the third grade,” South Korea MoE official Kwon Ji-young said.
However, language policy expert Andy Kirkpatrick of Griffith University told The PIE News that the government may have a point in delaying foreign language learning.
“I believe it is probably best left until children are about 11 and have fluency and literacy in their first language before they embark on English,” explained.
“Schools are not natural language learning environments.”
Some parents are worried that this will increase demand for expensive private institutions teaching English to young children and will mean that students from poorer families will miss out on educational opportunities.
An estimated 7,000 English language teachers are also at risk of losing their jobs. Many more will follow suit with the implementation of a ban on English education for pre-schoolers, which was temporarily delayed after widespread protests, the Korea Times reported.
Commenting on the news, a British Council spokesperson told The PIE that they will work to improve the teaching and learning of English within the national policy framework that education authorities deem “the most appropriate” for the context.
“The British Council does not believe in any one size fits all solution, and does believe that people of all ages can learn English.
“The local context is paramount and the overall best interests of children should be the primary driver in any educational decision,” they said.
“The issue of best starting age in language learning is complex and has been the subject of numerous articles and research papers.”