An impossible question to answer
If we compare Thais to Koreans, Japanese or Chinese, who comes out on top in the English language speaking stakes? Well, exactly how easy are these things to judge and what criteria are we going to base our evaluations on?
Back in Korea again
Korea was the same as when I left it. New swarms of hagwons proliferated like rabbits on viagra and cheap wine. Every street twinkled with the latest corporate offspring – doe-eyed upstarts of whatever educational franchise chain. Small, independent, family owned schools struggled to compete; while saturating the nation themselves oblivious to supply and demand.
Inside a Korean hogwan
A total of seven teachers work at my school. All of them are Korean except for myself. Three of these teachers can speak English with me, but the others are too shy to do so. Staff meetings are held in the Korean language. I seldom understand what is discussed, but that is my fault for not learning to speak Korean fluently. If I want to learn about the meetings I will talk to the director afterward.
Changes in Korean education
Education in Korea has rapidly changed in recent years. Up until the end of the Yi dynasty (1392-1910) Korean education was heavily influenced by Chinese practice. Only a few privileged children were allowed to enter elementary school to study Confucianism, Chinese language, and literature. At age 15-16 elitist students attended secondary school. Graduation entitled them to sit for a crucial lower level civil service examination.
Korea's EFL roots
If you scratch the surface of many English teachers in Thailand, underneath all that fine polish of discount dress shirts and shiny veneer of silk ties, you can often glimpse a trace of Korea. English teachers have either sacrificed their prized cherry of lecturing in a dusty classroom floor of a Korean hogwan, or they are fleeing to the country from Thailand to refill depleted bank accounts with a 2.1 million Won monthly salary.