How do South Koreans learn

Professor Dr. An interview with Hans-Jürgen Krumm
Multilingualism in Korea

Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Krumm | Photo: Goethe-Institut Korea

Professor Dr. Hans-Jürgen Krumm was one of the first professors for language teaching research and German as a second language. In the interview he explains the advantages of multilingualism, the connection between integration and language and why it is worthwhile to learn German in Korea.

What exactly does “multilingualism” mean?

Basically everyone is multilingual. We talk to grandma differently than we do to friends, i.e. we distinguish linguistically between multilingualism within the language and multilingualism related to dialects, to foreign languages. So there are more like a thousand definitions than one. It used to be said that you can only be bilingual or multilingual if you have a perfect command of the languages. So it's a question of perspective: what do you want to consider multilingual? I assume that everyone is multilingual, but not everyone knows.

What are your main arguments when promoting German as a foreign language?

The arguments change depending on who I'm dealing with. That depends on countries, continents, age, occupation and many other things. My favorite argument is actually that German, especially in contrast to English, is a European cultural language and not a lingua franca for every purpose. The German language is connected with the European continent, with its history, with the German-speaking countries, so that you don't really get to know anything about Europe if you can't speak German.

English as a foreign language is now part of the “everyday qualification”, and a lot is invested in learning English in Korea. Wouldn't the languages ​​of the geographical neighbors, i.e. Japanese and Chinese, also offer themselves as additional foreign languages? So why should German be learned in Korea?

First of all, I think it's the right thing to do in Korea to learn the languages ​​of neighboring countries. One look at the map is enough. I would like to speak of a society based on the division of languages ​​- it's like a society based on the division of labor. So of course not everyone in Korea has to be able to speak German. But every society should ensure that it has enough people in important functions who also speak German. This has to do with the economic situation, as Korea is an export nation. And I firmly believe that the principle, "You have to speak the customer's language" ‘‘ applies perfectly.

How could German as a foreign language be actively promoted in Korea?

My perception of Korea is that questions of quality are very important. And German lessons that do not meet the highest quality standards have - rightly - no chance in a country like Korea. A very important instrument of promotion is a high qualification of the teachers and a modern design of the lessons, which should be adapted to the living conditions of people. If everyone has a cell phone and uses it forwards and backwards, why is a cell phone not part of the German class?

What significance do Asian languages, or especially Korean, have in Europe or in Germany?

That is a very sore point. I admit that I don't speak Korean. My attempts to learn Hindi initially failed due to lack of time. Actually, I am convinced that there has to be something like a balance in the language market. Europe has made up for it. In Hamburg, where I was at university for a long time, there is now finally a Japanese-language school. There, all of the lessons for German students from the third year onwards are held in Japanese. But I think Europe is still far too monolingual and just as English-fixated as other societies. It is quite a pain to overcome. I am of the opinion that languages ​​such as Chinese, Cantonese, Korean, Hindi and Arabic are completely underdeveloped in Europe.

How do you see the connection between integration and mastering the language of the host country?

I would put it this way: Of course, it is desirable and helpful for people to be able to speak the language of the country in which they live. But let's take the situation here in Korea. I meet people everywhere who cannot speak the language of the country. The European Union has freedom of movement within its own borders. So you can settle in any country without being able to speak the language of the country. Every Pole or Spaniard can therefore settle in Germany. The fatal thing about the discussion about the language of migrants is that only those who come from outside the EU have to learn the national language German because it is said that otherwise they cannot survive here. How a Pole or Spaniard can do that, but not a Turk or Indian, that doesn't make sense to me. I am in favor of a very gradual, gradual growing in, not this compulsion.

You once said that there are no concepts for introducing the language skills that migrant children bring with them into German language training. What could such concepts look like? And why is this important?

If a person can speak several languages, then he cannot speak all of them equally well, but each one for a specific purpose. Take Switzerland, for example: Here, migrants are offered the opportunity to teach their own language to the Swiss and those who have already immigrated, who can speak their own mother tongue but have never really learned to teach. In return, you must undertake to attend a German course in the next three years. I think that's a fair rule.

The question of “integration and language” is also relevant for South Korea, as the former “Hermit Kingdom” is developing into a society with a steadily growing proportion of foreigners. Many of the partners in marriage come from Southeast Asian countries and are often discouraged from speaking to their children in their mother tongue, as they allegedly already had difficulties with Korean. What is your opinion on this?

First of all, I would like to say that I was pleased to learn that Korean classes are free for immigrants. I think that's really great. Our first language creates a kind of linguistic foundation in the brain and every language you learn afterwards builds on this foundation. If the foundation is brittle or not finished at all, then the house will be crooked and crooked and nothing will come of it. This means that consolidating the mother tongue also helps to acquire second languages. There are clever theories and studies that show that we transfer a lot from the first language to the other languages. In this respect, it is wrong to say: “They can't speak their mother tongue correctly, so you have to spend even more time on the new language.” Experts call this a “time and task” argument: the more time I spend on something spend, the better. But we know from many processes that it may be better not only to take care of one thing, but also to create the prerequisites, the conditions and the foundations at the same time. Before I attack someone who does not speak their mother tongue perfectly with a new language, a bilingual offer would be much better for such people, in which the mother tongue is consolidated and a comparison is learned. If I have never consciously learned my mother tongue, then I cannot compare, because I am always looking for how what I have learned fits in with what I can already do. For this I need terms and ideas. That is why special lessons are needed in the second language, but it also needs strengthening in the first language.

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