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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Language Learning as a Struggle for Distinction in Today’s Corporate Recruitment Culture: An Ethnographic Study of English Study Abroad Practices among South Korean Undergraduates

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Young adults in South Korea are encouraged to constantly develop their skills and qualifications to meet the challenges posed by the job market in the country’s neoliberal post-IMF crisis economy. This paper examines the ways in which changes in South Korea’s labor market and corporate recruitment culture have affected the ideologies and practices of the country’s youth with regard to the English language. By drawing on Bourdieu’s concept of distinction and specifying the processes of distinction into replacement, opposition, and addition, this paper clarifies the ideological construction and effects of oral communicative competence in English through an ethnographic analysis of post-secondary learners studying English in a study abroad context. Influenced by South Korea’s recruitment culture, these learners distinguish primarily between learning English for standardized tests in South Korea and learning English for authentic communication while studying abroad. However, the efforts of learners who have studied abroad to develop their oral English skills bear limited fruit in South Korea’s recruitment culture, which does not fully appreciate the value of the job seeker’s experience of having studied English abroad. Thus, the limits of distinction function to impose the burden of English learning on individual learners.

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