Korea – the Amsterdam of Asia?

Korean American World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in an interview in the Wall Street Journal
Korean American World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in an interview in the Wall Street Journal

We’ve heard of the Koreans being the Irish of Asia. But in a recent video video interview in the Wall Street Journal World Bank president Jim Yong Kim says that “Koreans have expressly said they want to be the Amsterdam of Asia.” To many, that would mean Korea wants to legalise certain narcotic substances – not something you would naturally associate with Korea. But what he meant was that Korea wants their young people to speak at least two foreign languages – for example Chinese and English. Certainly makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons, and in the ten years or so that I’ve been visiting Korea I’ve noticed English language skills foreign language skills improving. But maybe Oslo or Copenhagen would have fewer confusing connotations than Amsterdam.

4 thoughts on “Korea – the Amsterdam of Asia?

  1. It makes no sense at all. To start with it should be “The Netherlands of Asia”, because Korea = country and Amsterdam = a city.

    It’s not just Amsterdam where certain drugs are legal / or people speak multiple languages, but the entire country.

    The Dutch are good at languages, but the Flemish Belgians are better, because they usually speak Flemish (native), French (required subject in school), English (not sure if it’s required but probably) and German (third official language of the country). Back when I lived in Belgium, you’d go to university in Flanders (not in Walloon part, the Walloons normally only speak French) and get books assigned in these languages without translation and be expected to be able to read them. And all the Flemish I knew spoke those four languages, and often more.

    From what I have noticed from my travels/language learning is that the people who become multilingual are those who speak the language they are learning, no matter how bad they are at it. And this is often a national trait: in places like Belgium or the Netherlands people will immediately switch to a foreign language because they love practicing them, elsewhere, like Spain/Latin America, someone might be fluent but will so much more likely to be speaking with you in Spanish nonetheless because they feel self-conscious. So if Korea wants to be a successfully multilingual country, they’d do well to instil that kind of attitude in people…

    Anyhow, I’m rambling 😀

  2. Ramble away 😉

    Scandinavians I have spoken to make the point that their countries have small populations and so no foreigner is going to bother learning their languages. So if they want to get on in the world they have to speak foreign languages well.

  3. Actually, I know quite a few people that have studied Scandinavian languages – a Singaporean that speaks Danish, a Costa Rican and a Belgian that speak Norwegian, among others.

    I think everyone should learn at least one, if not more foreign languages – not to just ‘get on in the world’, but because it teaches you a lot. But I’m biased, I totally adore languages. I think this guy has the right attitude: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/mar/16/i-speak-50-languages-experience

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