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[Editorial] English-only lecture

June 6, 2011 - 18:48 By 류근하
The spreading of English-only lectures in Korean universities is likely to slow, as presidents and deans have concluded that they have largely been ineffective because of unpreparedness from both professors and students. In a symposium on the efficiency of English-speaking lectures at Yonsei University last week, the participants agreed on the need to make more use of English in university classes in this age of globalization, but they noted that English-only lectures have had unsatisfactory results in terms of the delivery of information.

An average of 30 percent of all classes at universities in the Seoul-Gyeonggi area have English-only lectures, and the average exceeded 10 percent in schools in other provinces. Since KAIST, the leading research university in Daejeon, asked all its professors to give their lectures in English five years ago to keep pace with “global universities,” it became a fast-expanding trend in the nation’s university community.

As “globalization” was included in the categories for the assessment of universities by media organizations that annually compiled the global, regional and domestic rankings of the institutes of higher learning, Korean universities began competing to increase the enrollment of foreign students and recruitment of foreign faculty. As a means of attracting them, they offered various scholarship programs and increased English-only lectures. Professors giving their lectures in English received special allowances as incentives.

Students started classes with high expectations but were soon disappointed, either by the poor quality of lectures or by their own inability to understand them. Only a very limited number of professors showed native-speaking English proficiency and others mostly read written texts, while questions and answers were kept to a minimum. At the symposium, discussants feared disruption in the development of creative thinking.

As we observe the situation, we find it necessary to grade individual professors’ proficiency of English and ask those of high linguistic abilities ― regardless of their academic reputation ― to conduct English-only lectures. Even when lecturing in English, professors should be allowed to use Korean when it is absolutely necessary for accurate communication.

It should also be recommended that university authorities select humanities and social sciences classes for English lectures and expand the scope to other disciplines. In the meantime, universities need to give more emphasis on Korean language courses for foreign students to enable them to attend classes in mixed languages.

It is unreasonable that universities enforce English-only lectures in an obsession to get higher scores in “globalization” appraisals. The result was that, in some classes, students asked their professors to provide them with summaries in Korean to prepare for midterm and final examinations.