South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s “unnecessary” use and praise of English has some citizens alleging he has a “complex.”
Yoon has been heard using English terms on several occasions, even when the events did not call for a mixing of languages.
In a meeting on June 10 with the leaders of the ruling People Power Party, Yoon brought up a name change for Yongsan Park, a newly opened former Korea base for the U.S. Forces.
While suggesting a new name, the president said, “When you say ‘National Memorial Park’ in English, it sounds cool, but when you say ‘Gukrip Chumo Gongwon,’” referring to the Korean equivalent of the name, “it doesn’t, so I don’t know what to call it in our country’s language.”
In another incident on June 8, Yoon spoke about how “In advanced countries like the U.S., former ‘general attorneys’ are widely positioned in politics and government,” saying “general attorneys” in English.
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Yoon’s seemingly unnecessary inclusion of English in his official statements have sparked debate in South Korea as to whether the new president is showing bias toward the U.S. and the West more broadly.
Sejong Institute of Korean English Language and Culture Director Kim Seul-ong stated that Yoon had a responsibility as the country’s leader to speak in a way that is most accessible to the public.
“The president represents the country and the public organizations, so he is obligated to use words that are easy to communicate and keep to the Framework Act on Korean Language,” the director explained. “His overuse of foreign languages like English may disrupt the public’s use of language.”
In another speech, Yoon pledged to make Busan Port an international, massive “megaport,” with the last word in English again, despite “megaport” not being a familiar term to most Koreans.
Main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Representative Cho Eung-chun stated on an MBC radio show that Yoon appears to have “some sort of complex about English,” adding that the president had mentioned Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon’s fluency in English as one of the first reasons for picking him.
Despite the controversy, Yoon’s favoring of English is not completely uncalled for in a country that requires most of its citizens to achieve a high level of English fluency in their schooling.
Korea’s College Scholastic Aptitude Test (CSAT), also known as Suneung, has a notoriously difficult English section that has proven to be difficult for even native English speakers.