KAIST Professors Criticize English-only Lecture Policy

A protest by professors at one of Korea’s top universities has reignited debate over the practice of Korean professors conducting their lectures in English. The association of professors at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) accused the school’s 100% English-language lecture policy of forcing “Americanization” and requested a change in the policy. KAIST has been at the center of controversy in recent years related to student suicide and extreme academic competition. The professor’s accusation also tapped into the constant debate within Korea about whether English education is making the country more global or simply more dependent on the United States.

Article from Yonhap:

KAIST Professors: “English-language lectures aren’t promoting globalization, they’re promoting Americanization”

By Ju-young Park
In an August 20th meeting of the Professor’s Association at KAIST professors published a statement stating their formal objections to the university’s requirement that all lectures be conducted in English.

The statement was the first following the appointment of Seong-mo Kang as president of the university six months ago.

Gwang-joon Kim, Director of the Professor’s Association, stated, “In regards to the unforeseen consequences of the English lectures, it would be worthwhile for us to put our heads together and reevaluate…the lecture policy, instituted by former President Nam-pyo Seo in order to increase globalization, has created ‘Americanization’.”

Looking at the roster of 283 associate professors at KAIST, 66.4% received their doctoral degree in America, 26.9% in South Korea, and 1.4% received their degree in the U.K., Canada, or other English-speaking countries. Only 2.5% of associate professors received their degrees in non-English-speaking countries.

Director Kim pointed out that, “While America leads in a number of scientific fields, it lags behind non-English-speaking developed countries when it comes to manufacturing, materials, and components studies…In 2003, 7.8% of full-time professors at KAIST had received their doctoral degree in non-English-speaking developed countries. Following the introduction of the universal English lecture requirement, that proportion sharply decreased to 2.5%.”

He added, “The current policy is not promoting globalization, only Americanization…Something must be done to improve the disproportionate share of American Ph.D.s within KAIST.”

Aerospace Department Professor Seung-oh Park said, “Lectures require smooth communication between professor and student. But when we have to lecture in English on subjects that a majority of students find difficult to understand, they aren’t able to actively participate in the class and it can be difficult to motivate them.”

For example, when it comes to the study of dynamics, courses require knowledge of applied mathematics. However, when a student has a hard time understanding a lecture, it could also be because of difficulty understanding English. On the other hand, if a student has good English skills, they may mistakenly think that will be sufficient to understand the course content.

Acknowledging that the lack of a language barrier made it possible to have a productive visit from star lecturer Michael Sandel, author of “What is Justice?”, Professor Park emphasized, “Good English skills don’t guarantee that you will become an expert.”

He added, “Within KAIST, the fact that 100% of lectures are delivered in English means that foreign students have lower motivation and do not work hard to learn Korean…Since students are our customers, we need to think hard about how to satisfy them.”

Ik-ho Song, Professor of Electrical Engineering, emphasized, “Language and words are inseparable from the identity of a nation…Real globalization means that foreign students will want to come to KAIST to take our excellent courses whether or not they have to learn to speak and read Korean.”

Mechanical engineering professor Se-young Lim also commented, saying, “I think the rational decision is to respect the judgement of the professors who are in the classrooms rather than follow some uniform undergraduate curriculum that relies on English lectures.”

The KAIST Professor’s Association plans to discuss ways to improve the issues related to the English-language lecture policy during a meeting on the 22nd of August with University President Seong-mo Kang.

Comments from Daum:


I fully agree with Professor Song-ik Ho, “Language and words are inseparable from the identity of a nation…Real globalization means that foreign students will want to come to KAIST to take our excellent courses whether or not they have to learn to speak and read Korean.”


“Language and words are inseparable from the identity of a nation…Real globalization means that foreign students will want to come to KAIST to take our excellent courses whether or not they have to learn to speak and read Korean.” Professor Song-ik Ho spoke the best out of all of them.


With engineering, there are already many subjects that are hard to understand even when they are explained in Korean. When the lecture is in English, the professor isn’t able to do his job well and the students listening to the professor can’t understand well either…So except for some professors and students who understand English very well, the engineering classes are going to turn into just another English class.


That bastard “Myung Bak Lee”’s English immersion education..a ruinous plan to make Korean a second language in Korea.


All the professors are speaking truth,,let’s put an end to this crazy education style…how could you express the depth of Korean literature via English..and you have to increase the depth of your thinking about the world…not globalization by parroting others…is this just a country that raises interpreters??


This is what I found out when I went to America: I found out that America and Europe are different and that Americans are dumber than you might think. I agree with everything that is being said here. If you just learn English, then you’re not getting globalized, you’re getting Americanized. And isn’t the kind of English we learn in Korea American English? American English is different from British English. And when I say that America is different from Europe I’m not saying that Europeans are all the same. Just like how not every Asian is Chinese, Germans are different from French. If you want to exchange with the rest of the world then you have to have an exchange with each country. There is no such thing as a universal language.


I think the English-language lecture policy is a plot by the former university president to lower the standard of students and get back at KAIST. Students are able to learn much better when they are using their mother tongue than when they learn in English. And how many students are there who understand English well enough for it to be their mother tongue? And what good does it do to just hear English in the classroom? What understanding does that bring?


All spoke the truth.


If we had invested the money we are currently spending on private and public education related to our national infatuation with English on science or welfare Korea would be in a much better condition.


in the physics department at Princeton university there are so many Chinese students that during one class a Chinese professor found that the only students in attendance were Asian, so the professor asked whether they should have the lecture in Chinese. He then went on, all ching chang chong in Chinese, never noticing the Korean student who was sitting amid the Chinese, who couldn’t even raise his voice to say that he couldn’t understand. So Chinese are able to have lectures in Chinese in America but Koreans have to have English lectures in korea?


back when I was an engineering student in the 1980s, I had some lectures in English. But back then, the issue was that none of the textbooks were translated into Korean yet, they were all still in English. These days, with plenty of translated textbooks, it seems like it would be logical to teach students in Korean rather than forcing English on them~


10 years ago I took an aerodynamics course in English at KAIST. The content was hard enough, but because I had to do the class in english I couldn’t understand it. I finished the course but my grade wasn’t good.


if you refuse Americanization they will call you a commie red and have the intelligence service watch you, be careful.


Ilbe idiots, you think not using English makes someone a commie? Get out of Korea and go live in America.


all the suck ups are coming out here, calling people commies..they think the only alternative to relying on America is death.


learning things in a foreign language for sure makes it harder to understand..they should first teach the content in Korean and then have a supporting class taught in English..then you could study your major and still pick up another language..

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  • Tim

    빨간동전님’s comment was the best option!

    • Sapphire Jones

      Yup! Exactly what I was thinking.

  • Patricks

    If the Korean professors at KAIST are similar to the ones at my school who also have to give some lectures in English the English students don’t even know what they’re talking about because it is so bad. Their terrible broken English doesn’t benefit the English speakers and doesn’t benefit the Koreans either so may as well use Korean.

    • Brett

      Haha, same with me. I can’t understand my professor at all. Where are you studying at?

      • Patricks

        Working at Dongguk, but we had a similar story in our school news paper last year, I think it was, where foreign students were interviewed and expressed their thoughts on the matter. Thought it was kind of funny at the time. Our school like many in Korea have tried to implement English lectures to get more foreign students to study there. A money thing, but I believe more foreign students also raises the school ranking.

  • Compulsory foreign language education is a terribly ineffective practice––particularly when the student doesn’t even have the freedom to choose his or her foreign language. Korean education would be wise to become more diversified––something like 25% English, 25% Chinese, 25% other, and 25% no foreign language whatsoever (seriously––not EVERYONE needs to be bilingual). As a victim of Spanish-language education in an American high school, I can testify that a student will not learn a language unless he or she actually wants to.
    El conocimiento forzado no es deseable y usualmente no es efectivo.

    • Brett

      I remember exactly zero french from high school… Reason is, I didn’t want to learn. I studied Chinese for 3 semesters and became fluent because of how interested I was in the language and culture.

      I agree on all points . but to further the argument, I also think not everyone needs to go to college. I know this is a top tier school we are talking about, but I can’t even count how many college graduates I know, who are working part time at coffee shops or pool halls, collecting metals to scrap or found a job in a factory. It’s okay to not pursue a higher education.

    • linette lee

      Es importante aprender un segundo idioma a una edad temprana. Los ninos tienen mas facilidad para aprender idiomas que los adultos.
      And you are not forcing the kids to learn. You are just feeding them informations and they are like sponge absorbing it. You can teach them apple, car, folk, manzana, coche, tenedor, 蘋果,車,叉…etc. It’s just a bit extra informations you are feeding them.

    • Scream_Writer

      I totally agree with you, Matt, but I would add donde esta la biblioteca?

    • P.

      Quieres un coco?

    • ytuque

      As students are not forced to attend KAIST, there is nothing compulsory about English language instruction at this university.

    • nitrostat

      porque te hablas en espanol ?

  • Bingo19842

    Hmm I believe that first and foremost as a school, it must be able to impart knowledge to its students effectively. I don’t think it is useful to have 100% English classes for the sake of “globalization” when both the professors have trouble explaining and the students understanding in English.

    If Korean is the better language medium to transfer knowledge and ideas in Korea, and it should be since its their native language, it shouldn’t be disallowed on campus. As for classes that are held in English, it should be provided as an elective to students who wish to pursue further studies in Western nations, or who would want to work in a global MNC.

  • zachsarette

    Agreed! 빨간동전님’s comment is beautiful!

    “learning things in a foreign language for sure makes it harder to understand..they should first teach the content in Korean and then have a supporting class taught in English..then you could study your major and still pick up another language..”

    Americanization is not the problem. Actual understanding and learning is the problem.

    Studies have shown that Bilingual educations works miracles. Although in the US it is not politically sound, it is scientifically solid! Just read Dr. Krashen’s work. He says that If you have the background information in your mother tongue, it makes it much easier to acquire the technical information in English.

    Most of these graduates will work for Korean companies who use Korean to get the job done. And if they are working with foreign engineers (many companies do) then they can communicate in English as well because they understand in both languages. Perfection!

  • commander

    Two points are worth to consider in the debate of the value of English education at tetiary schools in Korea.

    First, English is a must for those who want to studies for a degree in many academic fields as up to date information is shared via academic papers in English.

    Second, English education fall short of demands for those with proficiency in English. The primary reason is the problem with teaching method in English classes at secondary schools as well as insufficient qualifications of South Korean teachers for English.

    As a South Korean who has never been abroad for English studying, I have encountered numerous obstacles in learning English. After embarking on learning English in a self-taught way from the mid-20s, I have managed to express my opinions in English, but spoken English is still a real challenge for me.

    I blame difficulty in spoken English communication to faulty curricula at secondary schools which focus on grammer, vocabulary, and reading disregarding listening and speaking. Also responsible for trouble college freshmen face when they take English-only courses is school teachers’ inabiliy to teach students English at middle and high schools.

    Thus, the scathing condemnation from the KAIST faculty for its English only lecture polict is the product of a combination of the growing needs for English proficiency, ill focused English education at secondary schools and frustration from faculty and students who have been praised for their acdemic performance during secondary school periods when they find themselves hardly understand English only lectures.

    Poor English education at schools explain why astronimical amouny of money has been spent on English teaching, only to find miserably disappointing little progress.

    The only way to pacify the simmering debate about how much value English education has for students is to strenghten effectiveness of English education by making well round approaches to it and boosting teachers teaching abilities.

    The claim from the professor association that the 100% English classes at KAIST is more closer to Americanization over globalization is, I think, a expressed frustration at the seemingly insurmountable language barrier.

    The language barrier tend to be reinforced depending mostly on how wealthy your family is as the richer a family is, the more the family relies on private English education for their children.

    To prevent wealth-determining polarization in English fluency, which turns over time into a gauge of social status in South Korea, public education should be beefed up.

    • Brandon Francis

      I don’t think English should be mandatory. If people want to work abroad then fine learn English; but don’t force someone to learn English. As an Jamaica-American it pains me a lot when a language is forced out of existence or deemed less important because English imperialization. (I wish my family still spoke Twi but alas imperialization.)

      • commander

        You get me wrong.

        My point is that aspiring Nobel laureates at KAIST are required to study English to produce a laudable sicientific feat.

        If they pursue the corporate or researcher life at local firms or research centers, they might not need to spend engergy on English learning.

        But to become one of tops scientists in the world, English usage dexterity is one of the indispensible ingredients for it.

        Of course this doesn’t mean English language takes precedence over their mother language. Rather the opposite is true.

        The ouystanding command of the mother tongue is a prerequisite for nay second language acqusition.

  • chucky3176

    It’s a money thing. Quickly falling birth rate means the already too many Universities in Korea are begging for students and their tuition money. Otherwise, they’re facing permanent shut downs. With ever shrinking number of university students everywhere, where do the school get their students to fill their next year’s budgets? China, Vietnam, Mongolia, etc. But since these countries would have difficult time communicating with Korean, English is the only way to accommodate them, as well as using lower scholastic minimums to let as many people in (even if they don’t qualify). Its all about the money and greed. But who’s going to suffer most? Korean students with worsening education standards and lectures in languages that they don’t even understand , and the Korean tax payers who have to fund these schools so that they stay alive.

    The public education system in South Korea has been in a collapsed state for a long while. It’s the private education industry and the foreign schools abroad who are really holding up the system in place, with a deep price for individual South Korean family. It’s not a really a rocket scientist why Koreans continue to go abroad to the West to get educated. Sad reality.

    • Patricks

      Foreign students give the university higher ranking points and some extra cash but most schools aren’t facing great shortages as far as I can tell. Most have filled their quota as approved by the government and have others on the waiting list waiting in case of drop outs. This website offers a lot of stats for enrollment: http://heik.academyinfo.go.kr:9000/college/main.tw

      • chucky3176

        I once saw a Korean news documentary where some schools had ghost students because they needed government accredition and funding – especially those second, third tier schools out in the smaller cities. Not just ghost students, but also foreign students who have no business in attending university, were allowed in without any kind of minimum requirement (overlooked and ignored), as long as they paid. Real foreign students would rather study in the West, not Korea. Korea got all the students who couldn’t make it in the west because their grade standards were too low. It wouldn’t be half bad South Korean tax payers, if at least the schools charged decent tuition fees, but what the schools are doing is huge 50% discounts, free scholarships that are given away like gum – all to fill the seats and fill the quota for the year. The costs all inevitably comes back to Korean tax payers who are the ones paying for it all. South Korea is paying for foreign students to come and study in Korea, so that these schools can be kept alive, when they should be closed.


    안되면 외국인탓

  • KCdude

    Learning your first foreign language is better if you learn how to understand your mother language better from the beginning. I barely see Korean adults who could differentiate between 에서 and 에, understand how to use 은/는 the right way, and avoid using passive sentence structures.

    Schools don’t want to improve their Korean teaching methods for students. I don’t think they can improve the teaching methods in English classes in the first place.

    Blame the people first. Then blame the system.

    • commander

      As most of native English speakers are not good at writing eloquent, logical articles on a given subject, many of South Koreans might have grammatical errors in their daily communication, and it is no problems until they decide to bevome knowledge based workers.

      Dont’s English speaking natives naturally recognize the subtle usage of definite and indefinite articles when they grow up?

      That explains why foreign language learning is so hard as a brain is structured by one languages system when they are young.

  • linette lee

    University is like a business for so many countries. All those universities want international students charging them astronomical fees. They have to pay full tuitions even higher than the local students. That is why the gov’t love education business. It really boost their economy. They will make you take classes you don’t need in order to graduate paying them $50,000 extra easy. What a scam.

  • commander

    The claim made by the professor group that giving lectures in English, subjects of which are difficult to understand even if being delivered in the mother tongue, fan Americanization in terms of American doctorates appears problematic.

    Albeit a rude awakening, it is inevitable for South Korea to live in the shadow of world powers: The United States, and possibly in mid-21st century, China.

    No matter what Americanization is, US absolute dominant primacy in science forces South Korean talents to double their efforts to cultivate expertise in their major and English, and possibly Chinese from the middlevof this century.

    The United States is a global showcase where all ingenious ideas come in and compete for new technological innovations.

    This means we need to realize the birth in a middle power dictates locals to break the language barrier to advance into a broader world and compete against inqusitive minds from many parts of the world.

    The intention of English-only lectures conceived by former president of KAIST, resigned from the post for his competition-valuing teaching philosophy that backfired in the form of suicides over poor school grades, is to make students experts in their major and demonstrate their academic achievements in English-written scientific journals.

    His policy itself may be without problem in theory. But troubles arise when such an approach lands on the reality where many first-year college students discovered a seemingly unbridgeable gap in English classess between high schools and their college.

    As we all know, learning a foreign language requires a lifelong commitment and can not be completed with just one or two year intensive studying becasue of organic nature of language–language evolves over time.

    The ambitious goal by former KAIST dean–fostering future Korean Nobel laureates and the ordeal KAIST freshmen finds in learning English–a difficulty that is compounded by the fact that English education at high schools are far behind from the level a English immersion teaching at college calls for–are mutually conflicting, leading to tragic campus suicides of students that feel deeply depressed over poor academic performance during their firsr year at college.

    These deaths promote an furious uproar from students and professors who claim that English only class only serve to undermine effecrive learning for students.

    The statement describing the controversial policy as Americanzation is a disturbing reminder of a dichotomy between ideal and reality, with its answer appearing to take long time to be found.

    • MintyBadger

      Are people actually attempting to blame the suicides on the use of English for lectures?

      • commander

        Student at KAIST reportedly committed suicide because of pessimisim over poor grades. At that time, critics said that then KAIST dean’s policy of encouraging competition between students backfired, driving students to the brink of suicide.
        The English only lecture was the part of that policy under criticism following tragic incidents as those who are not good at English found hard following lectures in English which would be given even in the Korean language.

  • lonetrey / Dan

    I want to sympathize with them, but since I can’t read/write Chinese but can speak/listen to it, I have mixed and biased feelings about this.

    As a Chinese American person with one foot on both sides of the line, I want them to have English in their courses if I ever wanted to participate. Education and society in general in Asian countries have always intrigued me, and I’m always a little sad that my cousins have to guide me around whenever I want to explore. I feel like that point is more because of my parents’ overprotectiveness though and not so much due to my weak Chinese skills. I like to believe that I know enough to navigate :/

    But at the same time, I want them to be able to be proud of their education, and let it be accessible to all students rather than just the ones that know English. When I think of this point of view, I don’t know how justified it is. I know that restricting their courses to only Korean would kneecap their ability to reach out to international audiences. On the otherhand, it would be harder to keep their academia in Korean roots and I fear for their loss of identity.

    • mopedchi

      Is it all classes or just engineering? I don’t think there’s any reason to teach non-engineering courses in English but I can see why it may be beneficial to use English in technical courses. This assumes that most technical publications are in English and undergrad students want to pursue graduate degrees in the US; regardless how you feel about America, most of the top engineering school are here.

      When I got my MSEE in the early 90’s, foreign students (mostly from Taiwan and China) outnumbered domestic students by a wide margin, and many told me that their lack of English skills was a huge problem. Some even asked me to translate textbook/notes; my Chinese is too lame for that.

      My first job after engineering school was at a small Chinese company in LA. I had to “communicate” with factory engineers in Taiwan via fax (pre-email era); I would send questions in English and they would reply in Chinese. Since I was the only engineer, other employees (accountants, warehouse manager) had no idea what they were translating for me. Made my job that much harder.

      Anyway, I think the anti-American and/or Korean nationalists have it wrong. The school is trying to help students improve their English skills for either grad school overseas or working in a high-tech MNC, but they should keep it to technical courses only.

      • lonetrey / Dan

        Very interesting response, thank you for the insight!

  • henryezra

    And you wonder why Korean are so bad with their Engrish …

    • Tee Kei

      Why does it feel like you’re responding only cuz your ass is hurt? Are those tears I taste?

  • henryezra

    Korean spoke with each other in English (strictly in educational institution only) is Americanization?
    You know what, this is the problem with South Korean English, it’s not about the effort, the money, but rather the mentality. If you learn a language with negative prejudice, it’s no wonder if you can’t learn it very well.

    • Sillian

      Nobody is saying using English alone is ‘Americanization’. However, the English-only policy forces them to choose profs who studied in English-speaking countries and most of them got their degrees in America. Just read the article again.

      • ytuque

        Taking a class from a Korean, who received a PhD in America, hardly qualifies as Americanization .These Koreans professors for the most part acquired very little American culture as they spent their time studying or in the company of other Koreans.

        • Sillian

          I don’t think ‘Americanization’ in this context means general American culture’s influence. It just sounds like a catchy word referring to the marginalization of non-American university graduates.

          • ytuque

            America leads in the number of world-class universities; Korea does not. This begs the question why!

  • Mighty曹

    So what’s the whining about? 100% English-language lectures or the fact that 2 out of 3 professors received their Ph.D’s in the US?

    • commander

      The complaint is about English only lectures that undermine academic diversity, and lead to doctorate in the US.

  • Jang

    English = America? Okay, then every white man walking down a Seoul sidewalk must be American too right? You know that’s what them KAIST professors think when they walk by a white man. Sorry Canadians/Brits/Aussies/ etc…

    • Sillian

      You can at least try to read the article.

      Director Kim pointed out that, “While America leads in a number of scientific fields, it lags behind non-English-speaking developed countries when it comes to manufacturing, materials, and components studies…In 2003, 7.8% of full-time professors at KAIST had received their doctoral degree in non-English-speaking developed countries. Following the introduction of the universal English lecture requirement, that proportion sharply decreased to 2.5%.”

      He added, “The current policy is not promoting globalization, only Americanization…Something must be done to improve the disproportionate share of American Ph.D.s within KAIST.”

      • mopedchi

        “Something must be done to improve the disproportionate share of American Ph.D.s within KAIST.”

        Why? Any what does he mean by “American”? People born in the US or graduates of American universities? If they want to hire the “best” professors globally, then some (or a lot) will be from American universities. If teaching at KAIST requires Korean language skills, that cuts their hiring pool by a lot… which may be okay if they can get enough quality candidates. Again, per my comment above, I think engineering is a special case; there’s no reason to teach GE courses in anything but Korean. In the future, if Korea becomes the world leader in engineering schools, academic research, and top producer of PhD’s, schools in the US may start teaching in Korean. :)

        Personal story: I taught a few one day seminars in China many years back in accounting/finance (got MBA after engineering school). I couldn’t teach in my kindergarten Chinese, and my students’ English was worse. If I was the “best” finance instructor (far from… it’s not even my day job) and the school wanted me to teach there, then the students better have good English skills or it will be a colossal waste of time.

        This is a tough issue. Maybe students that don’t want to go to grad school in an English-speaking country, or think they won’t need English in their career can pick another school to attend (or does it not work that way in Korea?).

        • Sillian

          The university might prefer bilingual profs who speak both Korean and English. They need to speak Korean in other settings than the lecture rooms. All profs can be American university graduates as long as they were hired because they were academically the best candidates. But it seems some insiders feel their share is unnaturally high due to other reasons related to the university’s politics.

          • mopedchi

            Perhaps… politics suck.

            Maybe they should let the professor decide what language to use. I guess you have to limit to Korean or English (for now) or have lectures in English but discussion sections in Korean? It does feel strange to have Korean professors lecture to Korean students in a different language if neither has good English skills.

            I took a graduate VLSI class where the professor was Indian and most of the class were Chinese foreign students. Since this was in the US, class was conducted in English. Funny thing was that the foreign students understood (or the appearance of) the professor’s thick Indian accent and I really didn’t.

      • Jang

        I read it. It’s an attack on America when you automatically equate English to America no matter how pretty a picture you try to paint. Nobody forced those professors to go to America to study. Only 1.4% of KAIST professors got their doctoral degree in the U.K., Canada, or other English speaking country. What does that tell ya? While 66.4% did so in America.
        What’s disturbing is that some of those 66% are complaining because they don’t know English but somehow received a doctoral degree in America. Another example of biting the hand that fed you If they can’t teach their specific field of expertise in English then something is wrong.
        DUH, Korean KAIST professors. We know where your fanaticisms lie. It only takes one American hater at KAIST for the other professors to follow the herd. It’s obvious they hate America at KAIST, they defamed and got rid of Korean American Nam Pyo Suh so nothing is surprising at KAIST.

        • Sillian

          “It is an attack on America when you automatically equate English to America”

          “It’s obvious they hate America at KAIST”


          Who equated just using English itself to Americanization? It is only in your head. They pointed out that by the forceful English-only policy, doctors who didn’t study in English-speaking countries are marginalized and the ‘English-speaking countries’ happen to be pretty much just America. The word ‘Americanization’ was used as opposed to ‘globalization’ in the context. Ideally, English is the lingua franca and the English policy is supposed to open door for candidates from all around the world. But that didn’t happen and they consider it an issue. How do you even take this as America bashing? Martyr complex?

          Language skills are not binary. It’s not like either you speak it or you don’t and there can be considerable gaps between reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Koreans who began speaking English relatively late in their life generally struggles the most with speaking even if they can understand academic publications in English very well. In the field of engineering and science, fluency in English doesn’t play a very critical role in successfully getting a degree in English-speaking countries as long as they can communicate. Nobody at KAIST seems to have a problem using English textbooks and technical terms. That has become very common for engineering students in Korea. However, forcing everyone to only speak English in lecture rooms brings a whole new challenge. Unless both profs and students are fluent in English, the quality of lectures is obviously degraded.

          Are you saying that KAIST profs hate America so they kicked out a Korean American president Seo Nam-pyo? Gee… It seems you just have your few favorite conclusions. Do you even know what policies from him were criticized for what reasons?

  • russ

    I was under the impression that this policy was put into place so that the University would be attractive to students on an international level rather than just a national level. Can a school be internationally competitive if they don’t teach in an international language? It seems that the university is in a situation where they have to do X to reach goal Y. If the university is only concerned with being nationally competitive, there is an easy fix to their problem. They can get rid of the English teaching requirement. However, they can’t get rid of that policy and then expect to be internationally competitive. What does bother me, however, is that 67.8% of their professors obtained their PhD’s from English speaking universities, but cannot teach successfully in the language that they used to get their doctorate.

    • xNoirX

      Writing couple of papers in English is different from communicating in the same language.

      • russ

        Writing a couple of papers really doesn’t cover the level of fluency that you should have to get a PhD from a school in an English speaking country.

  • ytuque

    Prof. Seung-oh Park stated “100% of lectures are delivered in English.” As a number of professors at KAIST refuse to lecture in English, and the administration is too weak to stop them, the professor is being dishonest. I have verified this with a handful of international students.

  • MintyBadger

    If the schools cannot teach a basic skill such as a language, which is little more than a way to true globalization…how do you expect them to successfully teach more complex subjects that require a level of expertise? People who attempt to equate globalization with subservience to the US are just trying to muddy the issue in order to avoid it. English is the lingua franca of the modern world, if Koreans wish to compete on a global scale in more areas, English is an effective tool to attain that goal. People who rail against English education are just insecure because they were unable to acquire a basic skill to further their own education..it all comes down to a lack of motivation and laziness. Other countries have quite successful ESL programs that Korea has chosen not to implement decade after decade.

  • Aaron Crossen

    English is the language of academia. Most academic journals worth reading are published in English only, or perhaps in English alongside another language.

    Moreover, the world’s most prestigious universities conduct a lot of lectures in English regardless of where they’re located, and that’s for a reason: good universities want the best professors and the best students, and given that English has become the universal language of academia, those professors and students will almost always speak English. It has become a requirement to excel in the world of higher education.

    The minute KAIST drops the English lectures its ranking will tumble, and no one should wonder why.

    • commander

      Most of the time you hit the right point.

      But a college assessment is made based on the number of scientific papers on presitigious journals rather than whether courses a college offers is proceed in English.

      • herrinj

        That is precisely the point. English lectures and textbooks are used in order to develop some some sort of proficiency and comfort with the scientific terminology necessary to publish a high volume of credible, readable academic research. I have proofread the English work of KAIST graduate students, and they need the practice and skills applied from daily English use in classes and lectures.

        • commander

          I agree.

          But the problem is any semblance of that proficiency and comfort that is used to produce high quality scientific papers is exceedingly hard to come by.

          Already past the optimal age for second language acquisition, students have trouble learning what is whooly different from the Korean langauge.

          Although many scientists prove distamantlement of the language barrier after beginning to study English in earnest from the early 20s, it still remains a formidable challenge to write, speak like a native.

    • holdingrabbits

      dead on

  • raja

    At first, I am extremely sorry to state the following but it’s reality…
    the claim by the Korean Professors’ seem not true!
    Korean culture itself had adapted Americanization few decades ago but not the language. The young Koreans (boys & girls) are addicted of Americanisation and it’s getting hard for them to live, dress and eat the Korean way.
    In my view, Koreans must bring their society back to Korean culture in their brought up; whereas must teach English as a foreign language. English language is a need of today for every country in the world to market her development.
    I am extremely sorry for expressing my opinion boldly.

    • commander

      How do you explain Hallyu, a crave for Korean pop culture across East Asia if South Korea is deep in Americanziation?

      Distinction should be drawn between acceptance of American culture as a result of increased cultural exchanges and uncritical worship of it.

      In fact, South Korea make a conspicuous presence in international culture stage, as shown from Psy’s unexpected rise to stardom , internationally acclaimed awards for Korean movies.

      These appear to run counter to your case for the nation going deep into Americanization.

  • ytuque

    The Korean idea of globalization is foreigners speaking Korean and eating kimchi. This is definitely not what the rest of the world has in mind.

  • holdingrabbits

    I think the main reason for having lectures in English at these schools is the same reason people who want to become doctors need to know English. You can do it on your own without it, but you’re going to be behind on new innovations and you’re going to miss out on the majority of what your peers in the field have to say, because most journals and research are done in English. I don’t think this is how it should be, but it’s the way it is. If you want to study science, you need to know English.

  • EastAsianNationalist

    Use native language + English loanwords in parentheses for specialized terminology. Works for China.

    • ytuque

      The Chinese are increasing the number of universities offering English language instruction.

      • arat

        China is also sending record numbers of students abroad (mostly to the US).

  • commander

    The debate on the usefulness of English only lectures at colleges is divided into two groups.

    Skeptics, firmly believing that a foreign laguange is largely a tool for communication, put a greater value on the learning effectiveness for students, saying that if the English inly policy only serve to hamper quick and accurate understanding in class, it should be scrapped.

    Advocates, viewing English as the lingua franca as having the significance just more than a communicavtive tool, counter that advanced knowledge is disseminated in scientific papers in English and that the policy is inevitable in fostering top-notch scientists who, be they like or not, will compete in English speaking countries for a master or doctor degree.

    They say that expertise in specific fields matters but a language to understand and present it is as important.

    In the heated discussion, a compromise griup emerges, claiming that it would be better to make an eclectic mixture: lectures in the mother tongue and makeup class in English for technical jargons.

    The new idea is palatable to antagonists but does not suit the taste of protagonists.

    The policy supporters say that the compromise proposal is meaningless becasue most of prestigious univerisites in Seiul use imported textbooks in English for mathmathic and scientific major class.

    The policy is designed to make sutdents foster abilities to present their ideas and expertise in their majors and make writings in English, they added.

    In the past we have seen many Korean researchers who have great expertise in their fields but hardly articulate their ideas in English for sharing with others, they noted.

    The policy is originally intended to help students in the long term not give them a big burden, they say.

    Critics claim that the public education in English should be first enhanced before the policy is initiated as the gap between required levle in English usage for students at high schools and universities are too wide.

    Well meaning, ambitious but not down-to-earth policy may partially contribute to a stribg of suicides at KAIST, they say.

  • jfet41

    During enrollment, you could see if the lecture will be conducted in Korean and English. Of course, foreigners could only select those classes which will be offered in English. If no foreigners enroll in these class, professor will hold the class in Korean.

    Most professors can speak English since most of them got their PhDs in US. I think as long as the materials is in English, a foreigner can survive a class. (You could ask a professor afterwards). Some professors also say that they use the lectures as a practice for their English. Professors also are evaluated based on the quality of their submissions and almost all high-impact conferences and journals are in English.

    One little point is, Korean students can always ask question if they don’t understand the lecture. There are also TA’s especially in undergraduate subjects, which can help you. However, I don’t think this doesn’t happen often and I believe that discussions are more important than actual lectures itself.

    • commander

      It is true that many professors at Korean universitesi earned doctorates from American or British univerisities.

      But many of them have trouble in delivering lectures in English, many students complain that the quality of English only lectures by those teachers fall short of expectations, claiming that they are deprived of a chance of taking better lectures when those are given in the mother tongue.

      • jfet41

        Yup. However, professors can choose whether to hold the class in Korean or English, if the professor is not confident in his speaking ability.

        For students, it’s our responsibility and our right to ask if the subject is not clear.

        • commander

          The thing is that a clash occurs between a stubborn KAIST dean insistent on fully enforced English only lectures and flexible supporters like you.

          Anyway, I am with you on most of the time.

  • negative

    i learn english through video games, nuff said

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  • Cheung Suks Dong

    “While America leads in a number of scientific fields, it lags behind non-English-speaking developed countries when it comes to manufacturing, materials, and components studies…” Director kim, knowing which non-english-speaking developed country you were actually referring to, did this itsy bit of news escape your brown eye ???? http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/18/justice/dupont-kevlar-competitor-indictment

  • Paul M

    Arriving fashionably late to the party… From what I’ve heard (unverified sources) the only thing that conducting lectures in English serves is to boost the university’s global ranking while having no perceived benefit for the students themselves. It’s as if the universities don’t care what their students learn as long as they can say “Yay were number # in the world!”

    I wish Koreans would get over the ‘learning English’ mental illness. When I first got here a lot of my co-workers were begging me to teach them English. I refused on two grounds 1. I don’t want to teach you English 2. You don’t need to speak English.The disproportionate amount of time and effort spent on learning English plus the fact that not everyone is suited to learning languages causes a lot of stress in students which I think significantly contributes to a high teen suicide rate.

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  • M

    The basic problem is that Koreans can’t speak English well and the teaching methods are bad and outdated. I know it basing on my own experience of learning Korean in Korea and from opinions of English teachers at ‘hagwons’.

    My Korean teacher focuses only on going through the material ASAP, teaching mainly grammar and vocabulary with very little practice. I can actually sit the class without uttering a word in Korean. No conversation is fostered, no opportunity to practice speaking. That’s not the point!
    I believe that English education methods in Korea look just the same.

    Secondly, my friend who is an English teacher in a ‘Hagwon’ told me that she was shocked when she talked to some other English teachers who were Koreans, and found it difficult to communicate with them as they had difficulties understanding her. How someone who is not qualified can effectively teach others?! It’s like a vicious circle.

    In addition, I saw some Koreans who got a degree in English major, making some basic mistakes while writing. Sad and pathetic…

    Getting back to KAIST:
    1. KAIST aims to be a well recognized university. I can’t imagine how can it achieve it only with Korean? [although I believe that when there are no foreigners in the class, it can be taught in Korean]
    2. When students chose the univ. they’re aware about English policy in KAIST. So why do they complain later?
    3. I’m a student of KAIST and sometimes I see that some Koreans studying with me are not able to communicate with me in English (the students of the best tech. univ. in Korea, which is placed pretty high in global rankings!)

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