The Multiple Roles and Functions of English in South Korea

Document Type : Original Article


University of Ottawa, Canada


In the field of language and identity, the subcategory of gender has been an area of growing interest (Pavlenko, 2001; Norton & Pavlenko, 2004; Menard-Warwick, 2008; and Higgins, 2010). Adopting the view of gender as “a system of social relationships and discursive practices” (Norton & Pavlenko, 2004, p. 504), social context is fundamental in understanding how gender relates to foreign language learning. This qualitative study focused on the extent to which gender impacts English language learning and English language use in the context of teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea. More specifically, it investigates how gender shapes self and social identity, and how these identities relate to English language learning and English language use, at present and/or in the future, in both real and/or imagined communities. Four male and four female participants were selected using purposive homogenous sampling techniques based on the criteria of having lived abroad in an English speaking community for over 5 years—a criterion which assumes the formation of self and social identity in addition to their native Korean L1. Data was collected through multiple methods including open-ended questionnaires, in-depth interviews, and focus group discussions. Interview and questionnaire data reveals gender differences in the symbolic meaning of English language, the relevance of English in self and social positioning, and the role of English in shaping future professional trajectories with males situating themselves in international contexts and females in the local.