Criticism of Park Geun-hye’s Foreign Language Speeches

President Park Geun-hye has earned a reputation for giving speeches in local languages during her trips abroad: Chinese during a visit to Tsinghua University, French at a meeting with business leaders in France, and English during a speech before the U.S. Congress. In response, the head of the opposition party recently criticized Park’s decision not to use Korean. Netizens were split between seeing speeches in the local language as a logical strategy to promote diplomacy or as an embarrassing and pointless gimmick.

President Park gave a speech in English at a joint session of the United States Congress on May 8, 2013.

President Park gave a speech in English at a joint session of the United States Congress on May 8, 2013.

Article from Hankook Ilbo:

Opposition party leader criticized President Park’s foreign language speeches

Foreign Ministry officials say there are no rules for languages during speeches but leader typically uses mother tongue for summit meetings.

The main opposition Democratic Party leader Kim Han-gil has criticized President Park for giving speeches in foreign languages while she is traveling abroad, a critical comment after President Park has been in the limelight for her language fluency.

In a meeting with university students at a hall within the National Assembly on October 8, Kim said, “A president representing South Korea should use Korean as his or her official language… Some citizens may feel proud when they see President Park delivering speeches in Chinese, French and English while she was on state visits in China, France, and the United States. But there is a need to rethink this.”

Does the lawmaker make a reasonable criticism or is he just trying to find fault with Park? President Park has demonstrated her language flair during her foreign tours.

In May this year, Park gave a thirty-minute speech at a joint session of the United States Congress, leading to a big round of applause from U.S. legislators.

In June, when Park paid a state visit to China, she headed to Tsinghua University, where she spoke in Chinese during the greeting and conclusion of her twenty-minute address, drawing an enthusiastic response from the audience.

On the most recent occasion, President Park talked in French during a meeting with business leaders for about twenty minutes on Oct. 4 when she was in France as part of her Western European tour. She was praised for her accurate French pronunciation. In 1974, Park briefly studied abroad in France.

Keeping track of speech records of former presidents does not provide a definite answer as to what language a South Korean president should use during a state visit.

Many past presidents gave speeches in English to the U.S. Congress. President Lee Sung-man, Roh Tae-woo and Kim Dae-jung spoke in English for addresses in 1954, 1989 and 1998 respectively while Kim Young-sam and Lee Myung-bak used Korean language for speeches, which was interpreted into foreign languages.

Former President Lee Myung-bak, however, stressed in English the importance of free trade and market opening at a summit luncheon for leaders of the group of twenty advanced and emerging countries (G-20) in Washington in 2008. That speech attracted surprised applause from the attended leaders.

President Park delivered a speech in Chinese at Tsinghua University on June 28, 2013

President Park delivered a speech in Chinese at Tsinghua University on June 28, 2013

Diplomatic protocols indicate no rules for the language of a speech.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said, “Speaking in the local language of a country during a presidential visits offers the president an opportunity to give a much more personable impression to the audience as it is more effective in getting an intended message across.”

Ultimately, the circumstances determine what language a president will use.

In contrast to presidential addresses, for summit talks there is a practice that a president should use his or her mother language with a interpreter attending as the magnitude of a summit meeting requires accuracy in delivering opinions.

Another MOFA official said, “speeches and summit meetings are starkly different, as the former emphasizes empathy with an audience while the latter is an official talk or negotiation where even a single word from a leader could vastly affect vital national interests.”

President Park gave a speech in French at a business forum in France on Oct. 4, 2013

President Park gave a speech in French at a business forum in France on Oct. 4, 2013

Comments From Naver:


President Park did well. Kim finds faults with trivial things. What an inferiority complex.


His comment explains why approval ratings for the opposition Democratic Party amount to less than half of the governing Saenuri Party’s.


Come on you dumb geezer, Han-gil!! Go have a sit-in protest on the street!!


Now Kim takes issue with irrelevant things, ke ke. Aren’t you jealous of her because you are ignorant? All you’ve done after all is protesting on the streets for your great revolution. Please educate yourself and do your job, nimwit.


Critics are out of their mind. It’s the 21st century!


When Hollywood stars visit Korea and say a few words in Korean, that gives a friendly impression. You ****s, that’s why she uses foreign languages… To make a good impression..


Han-gil is just barking out as a novelist. Woof woof.


Please stop with the emotional factionism. I hope we can establish a political environment where we praise what she’s done well and also criticize her faults with no reservation. A great portion of these Internet comments are meaningless. “I hate whatever you do for no reasons.” Opposition for the sake of opposition. Insulting comments without minimal courtesy, comments invoking regionalism, etc. The politicians should look back on their behavior and the people who write subpar comments worse than what elementary school students would write should quit their antics.


Then what about Nuke Dae-jung who gave a speech in English in America? According to Han-gil’s argument, Roh Mu-hyun who was the most ignorant and incompetent takes the cake, ke ke ke.


Giving speeches in foreign languages is ok if the speaker is as fluent in that language as he or she is in the mother tongue. Otherwise, for speeches on sensitive issues and specialized areas, making a mother-tongue speech would reduce misunderstanding. Small talk and greetings in the local language could be alright for developing friendly ties with other side.

Comments From Daum:


Just saying greetings is enough to give a friendly impression. What the hell is she doing now? It’s a shame to see a person who was elected as the leader of our nation getting obsessed with showing off personal talent.


She must think she’s on holiday!. Typical for image-centric politics!


Only the late former President Roh Moo-hyun spoke in Korean consistently. I am so proud of him.


President Park just did it to show she is knowledgeable because she has been teased as an ignorant chicken brain. Actually, she’s just an idiot bitch speaking garbage English words in the middle of a presentation in order to show off. That chicken-brain president bitch has no pride at all. A big shame for our country.


Ms. Park sold national pride to show off her lousy foreign language ability.


Stop strutting in your fancy clothes, use interpreters and stop using foreign languages at such an elementary level. You can just say greetings in the foreign language. Without substance in speeches, using foreign languages never makes a difference.


The problem is she is not good at speaking in Korean. She just clams up whenever there is not a script for her.


Using a mother tongue is desirable because it represents the country. All the more so for a president who is the public face of a nation. The legitimacy and representation of a country takes priority over expressing friendship. Friendship is sufficiently expressed to a visiting country with opening greetings and the closing comment in a speech. Think of a foreign leader on a visit to South Korea. The leader can show favorable attitudes toward South Korea just by speaking in Korean for the opening and closing part of a speech. [ …]

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