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Interpreting English language ideologies in Korea: dreams vs. realities

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posted on 2022-03-28, 01:49 authored by Jinhyun Cho
This research explores English language ideologies in Korea in relation to the recent phenomenon of “English fever”, or yeongeo yeolpung, which refers to the frenzied pursuit of English as valued language capital among Koreans. The popularity of English in Korea has recently attracted significant scholarly attention in sociolinguistics. Despite a growing body of research on the issue of English in Korean society, the question of how the promises of English translate into lived experiences and life course trajectories remains underexplored. Based on a multi-method qualitative approach, the study draws on three sets of data through which to present a holistic picture of the tensions between dreams and realities in relation to English in Korea: historical textual data, media discourses, and one-on-one interviews with 32 English-Korean translators and interpreters. Historical textual data are used to trace the genealogy of English in Korea since the late 19th century via Japanese colonization, the post-independence period and industrialization, to government-led globalization campaigns. The English language ideologies identified through the historical periodization serve as a baseline for the analyses at macro as well as micro levels. Contemporary English language ideologies are then elucidated through media discourse analyses of news items related to English-medium lectures in higher education in order to examine how dreams about English are sustained and how such dreams contrast with actual classroom experiences. In order to understand the uptake of these macro-level language ideologies by individuals, interview data from translators and interpreters as the most engaged group of English language learners are then examined. This includes an exploration of the ways in which individual pursuits of linguistic perfectionism reinforce linguistic insecurity in relation to dominant neoliberal discourses of desirable language speakers. Disparities between dreams and realities in English as experienced by the participants are examined from a gender perspective to show that the pursuit of translation and interpreting is a gendered career choice in relation to societal norms for females. Particular attention is paid to the recent media phenomenon of “good-looking interpreters”. The analysis demonstrates how English has been remoulded as an embodied capital in which aesthetic qualities of speakers can enhance the value of English. The findings of this study highlight the multiplicity and evolutionary nature of English language ideologies. The historical documentation of the development of English suggests English as multiple forms of capital – cultural, economic, political, social and symbolic – with class mobility as a key driver. In addition to the earlier meanings of English, the micro-level investigations illustrate more diverse aspects of English as a gendered tool to achieve desirable female biographies, as an instrument to enhance individual competitiveness, and as adding value to personal aesthetics. While such diverse ideologies attached to English testify to its enormous value and possibly explain why English is so popular in Korea, the examination of media discourses about English-medium lectures reveals the use of English as a tool to sustain existing societal structures that advantage the already powerful conservative media. Combined with the constant mediatization of the benefits of English, neoliberal influences on English, in which achieving linguistic perfectionism is presented as real and feasible, further contribute to masking the sustained gap between dreams and realities in English. As people blame themselves for lacking individual commitment to the mastery of English as celebrated in popular neoliberal personhood, the substantial costs of the pursuit of English remain hidden, which in turn drives more people to pursuing English and further fuels “English fever”. Overall, the research illuminates historical, mediatized and gendered aspects of English as an ideological construct. The study has implications for future research and stakeholders, particularly related to the need to rethink English as a global language, the diversification of English language ideologies in gender, and the potential of translation and interpreting for interdisciplinary research.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Literature review -- Chapter 3. Methodology -- Chapter 4. The genealogy of English in Korea -- Chapter 5. English as a medium of instruction in higher education -- Chapter 6. The perpetuation of linguistic insecurities in neoliberal personhood -- Chapter 7. Fashioning selves : gender bias in language and mobility -- Chapter 8. Adding value to language proficiency : English and beauty work -- Chapter 9. Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 249-270

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Linguistics

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Ingrid Piller


Copyright Jinhyun Cho 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




Korea (South)


1 online resource (xiv, 280 pages)

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