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Is English Taught in Korea?

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Last updated:

Yes, the public school system begins teaching English to children around four years old, and it is part-and-parcel to their education throughout their lives. English is becoming increasingly important to the culture, and it’s equally necessary for future generations to be able to speak it with some proficiency.

Since English is the unofficial language of international business, many countries and cultures incorporate it into their educational curriculum. But some places in Asia don’t teach it as much to children while other areas make English mandatory.

Is English Mandatory in South Korea?

English is a mandatory subject in Korea the moment children enter into the education system. Once in high school and college, it becomes a little more optional. However, there is a strong emphasis on all children learning English in South Korea.

Do All Students Speak English in South Korea?

Almost all students receive an English education in Korea, but they do not speak it very well. There are some difficulties and blockages to fully learning the language that has to do with language disparities, cultural differences, and social hierarchy.


Children begin learning and speaking English as a second language as young as three or four years old. Only a small percentage of them fully grasp the ability for conversation and comprehension. This is because of the several challenges they face in being able to learn the language proficiently.

Particular Levels of Speech

First, most Koreans find English challenging because they address elders and important people in a different way than they do friends and strangers.

People of high status and respect have a completely separate set of words, phrases, and vocabulary. English doesn’t make this distinction, and the use of language doesn’t vary. The gives English a sort of consistency that isn’t present in Korean.

Korean has several levels of speech which they reserve for specific situations and social stratifications. So, when they learn there isn’t this separation in English, they can become intimidated when wanting to speak to someone of respect.

Koreans Express Themselves Indirectly

The way Koreans learn to express themselves indirectly compounds their feelings of intimidation since English promotes self-expression clearly and directly. This also causes a disconnect in Koreans being able to communicate their emotions and thoughts.

Because of this, they find English to be a uniformed and impolite way of speaking. This is mostly due to how they cannot match or consolidate it with their norms and manners. This problem goes one step further when factoring in the vast differences in phonetics, grammar, and pronunciation.

Pronunciation Problems

There are several sounds in English (f, v, x, and hard r) that just don’t exist in Korean, so pronunciation is a painstaking effort. This also includes spelling and application of Korean language rules. Each letter has a corresponding sound where there is no variation as there is in English for one letter.

Grammar: Sentence Structure

English sentence structure is also an awkward experience for Koreans to learn. In basic English sentence structure, it goes as follows:

Subject – Verb – Object (Janie – throws – the ball)

But, in Korean, the object comes before the verb:

Subject – Object – Verb (Janie – the ball – throws)

Such structure differences make it difficult for Koreans to consciously switch around. It takes a lot of effort to do it with confident proficiency.

What Is It Like to Learn English in South Korea?

Only until recently was English presented on a surface level of understanding for the average Korean student. The learning structure focused on memorization and parroting that wasn’t conducive for fluency and comprehension.

Today, more schools are using games and activities to help students learn English in a more comprehensive way. This includes practicing conversational speaking skills and reading popular literature.

A Typical Class ; the Education System

In general, they take one or two 40 minute classes per week. The classes can have anywhere between 40 to 60 children. This means there’s very little interaction between the student and their English teachers.

As the students enter the middle grade, their classes become major subjects of study. It’s here they learn more grammar and readings skills. Their learning shifts to obtain the highest grade possible rather than learning the English language for its own sake. This is because education in Korea at this age is preparatory training for higher education. 

Should You Learn English as a Korean?

Learning English as a Korean is always a good idea. But, of course, this will depend on what you need it for. If you wish to travel, teach in another country, do business on the international stage or hope to sell a product to English-speaking countries, getting an education in English will be imperative.

Plus, learning the language of another culture is the best way to understand it. This widens your perception of the world and helps apply different concepts to your own culture in enriching ways.

How Long Is a Korean School Day?

The students in South Korea go to their public schools for about 12 hours per day. Most students go to at least one after-school private academy, if not several, called a “Hagwon.” It is here they learn how to speak, read and write in English. But, they also go to tutors and other after-school activities, like sports or music. 

This means their education can extend to almost 16 hours per day. Studying and homework can tack on another four hours of learning time. 

Is a Korean Education Hard?

Education is a very important aspect of Korean culture for the simple fact that they don’t have nearly as many natural resources or land space as their neighbors in the region.

So, they heavily invest in their people’s education, and it’s very difficult. The pressure and stress of a demanding learning schedule, along with perfect performance expectations, is insurmountable. Even children in Kindergarten get as little as four hours of sleep per night. 

Intense Class Schedules

The public school education provided in South Korea is intense, to say the least. Children begin going to school between three and six years old and move onto elementary school around seven or eight years old. 

It’s not uncommon for children to attend multiple schools at once and spend most of their waking hours either in school, with a tutor, or studying. They do this every day and don’t come home until well into the evening hours.


English is an important subject for people to learn in Korea. The difficulty and differences between the languages and cultures mean they begin children learning it in Kindergarten as young as three old.

This adds to the tremendous pressure put onto children to learn, excel and succeed throughout the formative years of their education.

This is because South Korea values its richest natural resource: its people. So, they ensure a thorough and immersive education that can last more than 12 hours per day. But, it’s likely a lot more than that.

Korean late-comers to learning English can undertake it, but they will experience a host of problems and challenges due to the obvious disparities in speaking, social norms and cultural attitudes.

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    About The Author

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    Jason Park

    Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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