English Fever in Asia

This month we published Young Children’s Foreign Language Anxiety by Jieun Kiaer, Jessica M. Morgan-Brown and Naya Choi. In this post the authors explain the concept of ‘English fever’ in Asia.

English in the modern age has well and truly ascended to the throne as the lingua franca of the international academic, business and political worlds, and proficiency in English is seen to hold immense social capital in Asia and most other countries around the world. This prestige has sparked a frenzied English education culture in Asian countries such as China, South Korea and Japan, where a huge amount of resources are funnelled into the English tuition industry each year. In South Korea, parents’ spending on their children reached a record high in 2018, according to the Ministry of Education and Statistics Korea. Total spending on private education was 19.5 trillion won, or roughly $17 billion dollars, marking a 4.4% increase on the previous year. The same survey also revealed that 82.5% of elementary school children were receiving private education. Parents spent more on English education than on any other subject – a total of 5.7 trillion won. Not only are parents looking to spend large amounts of money on English tuition for their children domestically, but students are often sent to English-speaking countries alone for as little as one year to their entire elementary or middle school periods for the purpose of attaining mastery in English.

The problem

Although it is widely accepted that second language acquisition is most efficient in one’s childhood, some children are forced to study English at such young ages that the child’s mental wellbeing and psychosocial development are compromised. There are increasing instances of children showing symptoms of stress at ages as young as 4 and 5 due to this pressure imposed on them by their parents. In English kindergartens, which are gaining in popularity in East Asia, students are often reprimanded for speaking in a language other than English. In some cases, young children who experience early English education can show low self-esteem, lack of concentration, hyperactivity and difficulty in controlling their emotions. Also, they often find it difficult to establish a stable relationship, even with their parents, and fear studying. This unnatural, oppressive exposure to English at the expense of a child’s mental health and cognitive development runs the risk of leading to a mass ‘English trauma’, where English proficiency is ultimately impaired, which is the case in many adults.

The solution

What matters is not when we are exposed to languages, but how. The early stages of a child’s development have lasting impacts on their attitudes towards learning, and children should be allowed to cultivate a healthy curiosity and joy towards cognitive inquiry. This naturally applies to language learning, where children should be exposed to other languages in ways that allow them to engage in a cheerful and inquisitive manner, rather than one that is imposed upon them forcefully. This will not only preserve the child’s proper psychological development, but also curbs any possibility of a widespread English trauma taking hold.

For more information about this book please see our website. We recently held an online event featuring the book, which you can watch here: 

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