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South Korea bans English up to third grade

South Korea has banned the teaching of English to first and second graders in a move that was contested by parents and teachers, Al Jazeera reports.

English won’t be part of the curriculum until grade three to allow children to develop their Korean language skills. Photo: PexelsEnglish won’t be part of the curriculum until grade three to allow children to develop their Korean language skills. Photo: Pexels

Some parents are worried this will increase demand for expensive private institutions teaching English to young children

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.”

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4 Responses to South Korea bans English up to third grade

  1. From my experience as a parent and a person who has taught English as a second language, the earlier the better! Whilst experts will disagree with me I will contend that using the grammatical interpretive method (from the 19th century) of language is inefficient, children can be taught a second language as early as 5 years old in simple terms just as they learn their native language in simple terms from birth!

  2. So where’s the research based evidence for this; they say numerous articles and Mr. Kirkpatrick claims 11 could be the best age; however, where is their evidence? Makes think SK just wants to maintain language and cultural identity, which is fine, but call it what it is, do not cover it up with unsubstantiated claims and superfluous statements such as “the starting age in language learning is complex…”

  3. Certainly, young children can learn any second (or additional) language with no adverse effects on the first language. However, young children typically need lots of exposure (for example, school immersion programs or one parent speaking the additional language at home) to gain from early language-learning programs. Research from foreign language contexts (in which exposure to the language is generally limited to class settings) shows that little is gained from starting early. Young children are inefficient learners in a low-exposure context, such as trying to learn English in Korea. Waiting until grade 3 or even 4 allows children to develop more efficient language-learning skills and strategies in this low-input setting. It makes sense, but there is still the “equity” issue that allows higher-income families to introduce English earlier but prohibits families relying on the public schools from doing the same. My main consolation would be that the grade 3 or 4 students can catch up to the early-starters if they have high-quality instruction and additional hours of instruction.

    • Where is this “research” that shows that 11 is the optimal age?
      Young learners should not be learning grammar rules. They should be DOING something with the language.
      Let’s not confuse BAD TEACHING METHODS with INABILITY TO LEARN. These are 2 completely different animals!

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