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Busan unveils roadmap for becoming English-friendly city to host Expo 2030

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The Haeundae River Cruise offers a nightscape perfect for selfies to its passengers, with skyscrapers and gleaming Gwangan Bridge as a backdrop. Courtesy of Busan Metropolitan City
The Haeundae River Cruise offers a nightscape perfect for selfies to its passengers, with skyscrapers and gleaming Gwangan Bridge as a backdrop. Courtesy of Busan Metropolitan City

By Ko Dong-hwan

Busan Metropolitan City has unveiled an official roadmap for becoming the country's first official English-friendly city, where usage of the language will be encouraged and speakers will be better catered to.

The Creative Education Division under the city government's Youth and Industrial-Academic Support Bureau revealed the plan in detail on Monday. Grouped under four different goals, the roadmap consists of 16 individual initiatives, for which the city authority will budget a total of 7.2 billion won ($5.43 million). It is widely expected to help the city win the bid to host the World Expo in 2030, which will be decided at the Bureau International des Expositions' General Assembly in Paris in November 2023.

The budget, however, will likely have to be increased, as the city government is currently discussing with the city's office of education how to push forward with the roadmap together, according to Choi Jeong-yoon from the creative education division.

"The initial roadmap hasn't taken into account the terms of agreement between the city government and the education office," Choi told The Korea Times. "There are now three English villages (local educational facilities dedicated to teaching the language) around the city that are flourishing as the city's main learning centers involving native English speakers. But we are planning to introduce two more by 2026. The transpiring costs and other expenditures in detail will increase the budget."

In a press release, Mayor Park Heong-joon said, "The roadmap will not only be a foundation to host World Expo 2030 but also lessen the citizens' financial burdens of privately learning English and support the city's foreign residents to enjoy living in the country's second-largest city."

The roadmap's first goal is to persuade the local public, part of which is still against the plan based on claims that it could threaten the use of the Korean language. The authority will recruit 40 willing local residents to form a group of advisers, advocates and volunteers who will promote the plan among Busan's citizens. The government, under the goal, will take a closer look at where English-based terms are used unnecessarily in government-produced documents or local ads so that the use of Korean won't be sidelined by English.

The second goal is providing the public with free English education so that those willing to learn it can do so conveniently. The city will promote local schools that offer the best examples of after-school English lessons. Their examples will be adapted at schools as well as local continuing education institutes and cultural spaces frequented by senior citizens. In the process, the city will also woo overseas educational institutes to introduce their branches in the city, such as Royal Russell School in the United Kingdom, of which the city is looking to open a local branch.

Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon, emphasizing his ambition to host the World Expo 2030 in his city, is positive about what his English-friendly initiative for the city will bring about to not just foreigners in Busan but also local Koreans, as the mayor looks to strengthen the city as a global hub. Courtesy of Busan Metropolitan City
Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon, emphasizing his ambition to host the World Expo 2030 in his city, is positive about what his English-friendly initiative for the city will bring about to not just foreigners in Busan but also local Koreans, as the mayor looks to strengthen the city as a global hub. Courtesy of Busan Metropolitan City

Another major goal of the roadmap is laying down a city-wide network for local foreign residents so that they don't suffer any language-based inconveniences. First the city will survey foreign residents to find out their biggest pet peeves about living in Busan. While educating public transport drivers in English and launching a new public consultation hotline to assist English speakers in the city, the city government will also expand the number of public agencies that are operating foreign internship programs from nine to 16.

The last goal is to strengthen the English skills of city government officials, creating an English-fluent workforce and supporting those interested in breaking the language barrier.

The city's official committee of foreign nationals, which consists of over 10 foreign residents, has said that it supports the roadmap but is concerned that it needs more promotion throughout the city.

Coordinated by the city government's Women and Family Affairs Bureau, the representatives, each from different countries and of different age groups, said they are concerned about Busan citizens and other local Koreans who aren't thoroughly aware of the initiative's purpose and misunderstand it as a bad move by the city government.

"We hope various education programs are offered for local Koreans in Busan so that foreigners like us can access broader sides of the city," one of the representatives from Singapore told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity. "There are many examples in other countries that Busan can emulate, too."


Ko Dong-hwan aoshima11@koreatimes.co.kr


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