More and more high schools are selecting Chinese and Japanese as their second foreign languages, elbowing out French and German, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said Sunday.
Experts say practicality was the main drive, which may hurt the diversity of language education in the society.
According to the education office, 196 out of 222 high schools in Seoul established Japanese classes and 176 run Chinese classes. A total of 169 schools had both.
However, only 41 schools teach German and French. No class was established for Russian and or Arabic. Spanish is an established part of the curriculum at just six schools. Just a decade ago, French and German dominated the second foreign language category, but the change has been swift.
Currently, high schoolers learn their second foreign language ― the first being English ― at schools through their second and third years. The second foreign language is selected from among French, German, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese.
“Students prefer Japanese and Chinese because it is practical. They are easier to learn and are useful for their futures,” a teacher of a private high school in Seoul told the Yonhap news agency.
“The two languages have similar cultural backgrounds for Koreans. Also the geographical proximity among the three countries gives students hope that the languages will be useful for their future career.”
He added that more than twice as many students are interested in learning Japanese than French. “The schools should reflect the needs of the students.”
“My friends told me that if I learn Japanese, I will be able to use it in many fields. I am dreaming of becoming a professional singer and it will be a good opportunity if I could make it in Japan,” a high school senior in central Seoul told The Korea Herald.
But observers urge the government to encourage students to explore other languages, too. “The more you learn, the wider spectrum you get,” Prof. Jang Han-up, who teaches French literature at Ewha Womans University, told the news agency. “Education shouldn’t be all about efficiency,” he added.
By Bae Ji-sook (email@example.com