OWL Magazine Korea

Seung-yeon Jo’s “Fluent: The Secret of English Fluency”

South Korea may not be a country where English is used in daily life, but it is a nation that diligently studies English more than anyone else. As a country with no natural or underground resources, it relies heavily on exports, inevitably positioning itself geopolitically to conduct business overseas.

Due to high academic and educational fervor, South Korea is exposed to English education from a young age, and it’s an environment where one must continuously study English through middle school, high school, and university. And this doesn’t stop even after entering the workforce or throughout one’s career.

Conversely, achieving proficiency in English in South Korea brings significant benefits. It increases the likelihood of admission to prestigious universities and securing employment at top companies, making life relatively easier.

“Diverse Books on English Learning Methods”

Given this environment, numerous books on “English learning” have been published in South Korea over the years. Dr. Jeong Chan-yong’s book “Never Study English” published in 1999 marked a significant moment in history, illustrating how fervently South Korea is passionate about English education.

Despite South Korea moving beyond being an emerging economy and joining the ranks of advanced nations, interest in English education remains high. Nowadays, even before attending kindergarten, parents can be found sending their children to academies named “English Kindergarten” in hopes of exposing them to English at an early age.

“Seung-yeon Jo’s ‘Fluent'”

In this environment, author Seung-yeon Jo has also published a book addressing “English learning.” Subtitled “The Secret of English Fluency,” the book delves into how to approach learning English effectively and why English learning often feels daunting.

The book explains why English is challenging to learn based on “culture.” It argues that Western and Eastern cultures are vastly different, and the linguistic gap between them makes English difficult for us, just as learning Korean would be challenging for English speakers.

When two languages share similarities and are close, learning the foreign language doesn’t take much time. Conversely, when the distance between languages is vast, learning becomes more challenging.

For example, consider Korean and Japanese. Both share similar cultures and relatively similar grammar, making learning Japanese easier for Koreans. This applies to Japanese learning Korean as well.

“What About Korean and English?”

However, Korean and English are very distant. There are no similarities in grammar, and they don’t share writing systems. Culturally, there’s no common ground between Western and Eastern cultures. Therefore, learning English in South Korea is not only challenging but also learning Korean for Americans or Britons is not easy.

In reality, while foreigners who have diligently studied Korean and have no problem communicating can be found, it’s rare to see them speak Korean naturally like a native speaker.

This also applies to Koreans. It means that Koreans who speak English almost like native speakers have put in tremendous effort.

“Why Koreans Find English Learning Difficult”

The book covers two main topics. First, it discusses why we inevitably find English learning difficult. The reasoning lies in the points mentioned above.

In the second major chapter, the book introduces methods to overcome these barriers. Looking at the table of contents, one can anticipate the book’s content:

  1. PART 1. To Become the Winner of the Language War
    1. Let’s Move Away from the English View of the Colonial Era
    2. The Lingua Franca of the 21st Century
    3. English Has No Standard Language
    4. Why We Fixate on Pronunciation
    5. Grammar is Not Regulation of Speech
  2. PART 2. English Mind, Korean Mind
    1. Easterners See the Whole, Westerners See the Movement
    2. English, Too Small to Contain Korean Emotions
    3. Abstract English vs. Intuitive English
    4. The Subject is Not the Master of the Sentence
    5. English Flows Freely, Korean Puts On and Takes Off
  3. PART 3. The Secret of English Sentences
    1. Train “Subject + Verb”
    2. Understand Grammar in Three Stages
    3. The Unique Presence of the Verb “To Be”
    4. English Builds Skyscrapers
    5. Grammar is About Advancement, Not Memorization
  4. PART 4. The Secret of Words
    1. Memorize to Win
    2. Two Methods for Understanding Word Meanings
    3. Every Word Has a Story
    4. Studying Words Using Prototype Forms
    5. Understand the Traces of Attached Loanwords
  5. PART 5. The Secret of Context
    1. Enhance Cultural Reading Skills
    2. Recite Poetry
    3. Techniques for Reading Classics
    4. Understand Western Philosophy
    5. English: Past, Present, Future

“Perception Differences Between East and West”

Language differences often stem from cultural disparities. The author introduces perception differences as the reason why English learning is challenging.

Eastern thinking tends to move from big to small, while Western thinking does the opposite. Additionally, Easterners tend to focus on the relationship between objects, whereas Westerners categorize similar things and focus on homogeneity. Such cognitive differences make English learning more challenging for us.

To overcome English learning difficulties and excel in the language, the book emphasizes the importance of recognizing and addressing these differences. The book delves into this in chapters 3, 4, and 5, covering sentences, words, and context, respectively.

“Two Methods for Organizing Words”

The author introduces two methods for understanding the meaning of words and offers ways to study vocabulary:

  1. Retre’s “Formal Method”: Organizing word meanings.
  2. Murray’s “Temporal Method”: Tracing the roots of words to understand their origins.

“Understanding English Context”

In the final chapter, the book discusses understanding English context. The author suggests reading poetry, classics, and delving into Western philosophy to enhance English comprehension.

While engaging with such works can significantly improve English proficiency, if one reaches the level of understanding Western philosophical works in their original language, they likely already possess advanced English skills.

“Recommended for Those Who Want to Improve Their English”

In essence, this book is not aimed at English beginners but rather those who have already studied English to a certain extent and reached a decent level. It addresses overcoming inherent limitations of Koreans and offers methods for achieving English proficiency close to that of a native speaker.

While the book introduces effective English learning methods, its depth and complexity make it challenging for everyone to follow. Nevertheless, for those who aspire to excel in English and overcome barriers, this book is undoubtedly beneficial.

“Fluent: The Secret of English Fluency”