This article (written by Hyun-Jeong Nam and myself) reviewed recent research published on English language teaching (ELT) in South Korea (Korea, hereafter). Language Teaching provided a platform for sharing the vast corpus of local ELT research with international readers, while also suggesting future research directions to local scholars. Beginning with a pool of 1,200 articles from 60 journals that published research on English education, we bound the review to discuss 95 studies focused on public sector ELT in Korea. Using broad themes from the national curriculum to organize the review, the discussion covered the following topics:
(1) Second language teacher education,
(2) Communicative language teaching,
(3) Language use and interaction in classrooms,
(4) Co-teaching with native-speaking English teachers,
(5) Curriculum and materials analysis,
(6) Treatments of teaching methods, and
(7) Assessment, testing and washback.
One of the main issues discussed is what we termed “the hard problem” for ELT in Korea; that is, finding solutions to the tremendous negative washback caused by language testing in Korea. Despite being one of the more monolingual countries in the world, Koreans face tremendous pressure to learn English. In addition to socioeconomic washback in need of addressing, a central objective in the national English curriculum – communicative competence – is undermined by tests focused on receptive skills.
Another prominent issue arising had to do with the research itself and the incentives, or lack thereof, for publishing high quality research in the Korean Citation Index (KCI). As we concluded:
Lastly, we would like to stimulate discussion regarding research standards in local publishing. The research reviewed above brought a deeper understanding of issues regarding ELT and learning in Korea … but we would like to finish by raising the question of whether or not there is enough research of reasonable quality to sustain the 60 or so journals publishing studies related to English education in Korea. The KCI answered a need to organize and assess domestic research, but an implication from this review is that it would be timely to consider its scope. Since its inception in 2007, the KCI has grown to include over 1,700 accredited journals, with about 400 more being considered … As elsewhere, the publish-or-perish reality for scholars creates impetus for research, but in Korea there is an issue for local scholars in that domestic journals are ranked much lower for workplace evaluations than research published in journals recognized by the Social Science Citation Index. This creates the necessity for local researchers, and especially those writing in Korean, to publish frequently in domestic journals, surely one of the reasons why there have been over 1,200 articles published on English education since 2009. The bulk of these have been relatively small-scale studies and there is a need for further research reviews and synthesis as discussed above, but there is also a need to create incentives for larger-scale research projects to be undertaken and published locally. … We would like to emphasize that this is not an issue limited to our field, or to Korea, but it is one worth consideration by university administrators and by the National Research Foundation, which oversees the KCI, in that it is important to continue to look for ways of improving the quality of research available in local publications so that the hard work of local scholars might have a larger impact at home and abroad.