Questions of appropriateness and authenticity in the representation of Korean honorifics in textbooks for second language learners

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This paper explores the representation of honorifics in the teaching of Korean as a second language through the analysis of three leading series of textbooks published in Seoul. Despite the fact that Korean is a language with a highly developed honorifics system, these textbooks at times under-emphasize the importance of honorifics and focus around one particular 'level' of honorification. If learners were to apply this 'level' to real-world encounters, it would be 'too deferential' for use towards intimates and also 'not deferential enough' for addressing superiors. Textbook designers may contend that the choice of this level is influenced by a need to simplify the presentation of honorifics and to provide learners with a register that is 'safe' but conversational. However, I argue that this often leads to a presentation of honorifics that is inauthentic, limited in terms of appropriateness and which betrays preconceptions regarding the abilities and social roles of 'foreign' language learners. In effect, the treatment of honorifics in the dialogues appears to be based not so much on an explicit pedagogy as it is on the kind of 'interlanguage' or 'foreigner talk' that native speakers of Korean would intuitively use with learners of the language in order to make it easier for them. Although the problems discussed in this paper are specific to Korean, the wider problem of deciding what registers of language are 'appropriate' for L2 learners is of wider import. This paper sets out to problematize ideologies that may influence language educators in choosing 'authentic' and 'appropriate' textbook language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-50
Number of pages16
JournalLanguage, Culture and Curriculum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Cultural content
  • Foreigner talk
  • Honori.cs
  • Ideology
  • Korean as a second language

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