On November 2, 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade released the result of the English test which was for employees of the department. The results were miserable. 54 percent of them either got the lowest grade which is 5, or refused to take the test. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was quick to act to clear the situation. They explained the test was harder than normal tests and the employees who took, or were supposed to take the test, were not diplomats, but those working in groups. In addition, they showed the criteria of the grade and said that 5th grade which is the lowest are the ones who can still speak English naturally make errors. However, over 300 mistakes on the Korean version of the FTA between Korea and the USA show that deficiency in English among working staff can be an obstacle to Korea’s diplomacy. but seldom
The reason for this situation is mostly in the process of hiring staff. The Foreign Service Examination consists of PSAT-composed of circumstantial judgment linguistic logic, analyzing data-on first round, Korean and English essay on second round and interview on the final round. However, there are people who work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade without taking the test. Those people take civil service examinations like other department workers. These people are the reason for the problem. Unlike the Foreign Service Examination, civil service examination does not require English test results of high English ability because working staff do not have many chances facing counterpart’s representatives. Except specialists on English (2), Russian (1), and Arabic (1), working staff are hired in a same way as the other ministry working staff. Normally people would think that if you work for Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, you would have at least some English ability, but that is not the case. To make matters worse, upper class children are taking the specialist positions due to their personal connections. Also, four out of ten diplomats cannot have English conversation comfortably with their counterpart’s representatives.
As mentioned earlier, English deficiency of both diplomats and working staff means Korea’s diplomacy can be in jeopardy which also can stop Korea from developing. When people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade get the horrible result in English, which almost everyone in the world uses nowadays, the result of other foreign language tests can be predicted very easily. Actually there has been an examination on the ministry which shows the deficiency in foreign languages. It is said that except Japan and English speaking countries, not many diplomats and foreign correspondents can perform diplomacy acts freely in the country’s language. There are some rumors saying that all they do is serve government officials and play golf with them while natives of the country are doing all their work because of the deficiency in the language. Also, some countries complained that employee of the National Intelligent Service can perform their job in foreign language better than the employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
As a self-reflection, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade should arrange fundamental solutions. For example all the new employees should complete two or three week courses of foreign language training, or they could make all employees take foreign language test made by the ministry and give the good ones rewards and bad ones demerits. However, all these fundamental solution cannot disturb their work. Also, when foreign language specialists are hired, interviewers should be the ones who do not have connection with public officers or high class people so that they can have a more objective view towards the future employee for the ministry.
Since the way of hiring new diplomats is changing from taking tests to diplomacy school, which means that they are going to focus more on diplomacy rather than language ability, diplomats’ and employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s language ability especially on English is really important. Current Chinese ambassador Lee Gyu-hyung tries to make a good impression of Korea by performing Beijing Opera in front of Chinese top officials, and writing poems in Russian when he was a Russian ambassador. Thanks to his effort, we have good relationship with China and Russia. As you can see, a diplomat’s language ability is crucial in every aspect of diplomacy. Also, if we have working staff that can perform their work in foreign languages naturally, we might have better offer on agreements like the FTA. Just like economic growth, good diplomacy is the key for our country to become a true developed country, and good diplomacy requires foreign language skills of both diplomats and working staffs. Therefore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade should come up with the solutions that will improve language skills of diplomats, foreign correspondents, and working staff, as well as motivate them to learn the county’s language. < 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >