Robertson, P. How to Become a Flight Attendant in Korea: English Skills

| December 2, 2005

December 2005 Volume 1 Article 3.

Article Title

How to Become a Flight Attendant in Korea: English Skills


Paul Robertson

Key words: Business English, Unqualified English teachers, Course materials


Business English skills are rapidly encroaching on the Korean Tourism industry. Yet despite the growing number of native professional business English teachers and companies running such well crafted and designed courses1 a lack of Government Regulation has opened Business English to the vagaries and abuses of the unqualified non native English speakers/business person out to make money from the growing boom of those learning English. Rather than a well run well disciplined area of Education, Korean training schools prey on the fantasies of young women who have an impossible dream.

The dream of hundreds of thousands of young Korean women is to become a Flight Attendant. Each time a position is advertised by the airline companies, up to 20,000 applicants apply. A recent advertisement by A German Airline attracted over 27,000 applications for 3 positions. Many have received schooling and training for this very moment -some even attending college for 2 years to graduate with a major in Flight Attendant Training. However, an examination of the college syllabus shows they have little idea what requirements the airlines really need from prospective students and students have only vague notions of what to expect at an interview, or indeed, how to present themselves.

But why is this job attracting such huge numbers? Escapism? One theory is that is simply the secret desire of Korean women to escape the life of captivity they feel living in Korea, where men are dominant in all walks of life. Others believe that this is a socially elite job, one of the very few that Korean women can aspire to. Of course, the truth is, that very few applicants will ever succeed for this is industry of ESP (English for Specific Purposes) is shrouded in corruption, lies and deception. It is also an industry where students are humiliated at interviews and human rights are ignored by Airline officials.

Training to become a Flight Attendant.

Across the Korean peninsula are 100s of colleges and private Flight Attendant academies teaching tens of thousands of students how to become to a Flight Attendant – and all promising their students that they will succeed. Training courses include such courses as make up instruction, manner and etiquette, English interview skills, plus TOEIC classes.

To become a Flight Attendant, most airline companies, especially the foreign carriers who visit Korea, require their students have good English skills. Yet surprisingly, very few training schools or colleges employ qualified native English instructors. Some do have instructors however their teaching credentials are on the whole without substance. Similarly, Koreans who have atrocious English speaking skills can often be found teaching students how to speak English. An examination of the books used by the students’ shows they have been written by authors who have an apparent lack of English knowledge. Simply speaking, the training books are a disgrace and the instructors are no better. But why is this?

The answer is very easy to arrive at. Less than 0.3% of students will ever succeed in becoming a Flight Attendant. – but the students are never told that. In fact, it is common to see False and Misleading advertisements placed by training schools on the Internet that by western legal standards would breach a variety of Consumer Acts.

Current Materials.

Examinations of materials show a lack of understanding of the principles of English grammar or structures. One leading book used by students provides and interesting glimpse into how such ESP (English for Special Purposes) courses are run. An example of a leading course book which students are taught to repeat in parrot fashion is the following; (Stewardess Interview English: 2004)

Q: Would you please tell me about you?

A: Thankyou for give me a chance to introduce myself. My name is Eun Young Park. I was borned in a little country town named Changwon in 1982, and grow up in Changwon. I graduate from ABC university in February this year. I major in Korean history. I like musics and also likes to playing tennis. (italics mine)

Other examples are common throughout the book. Other materials provided by other schools show similar lack of understanding of grammatical principles – indeed, the suggested answers are not appropriate for the interview at all.

The Airline Interview.

The first thing to realize is that when an Interview for a Job opening(s) is announced by an airline or training school (who interview on behalf of airlines) is that there is a good chance that the interview is indeed a setup – it is fake! There is no vacant position! Of course the students do not know this – they prepare for the vital interview believing they soon will become a stewardess. But in fact, this is an industry that runs on deception and corruption -in this case the interviews are simply ruses by Training schools – this is the way to boost their enrollments. Thousands of applicants apply for the position advertised, many who are not students of that training school — but at the end of the interview they are told they failed the interview – but by joining that training school, their chances of success are immense. One such company who carries out regular deceptions such as this is the ANC Flight Attendant academy. Recently students at another company (AVA) took that company to Court over a similar false interview. Shortly after, the CEO closed the school overnight and ‘disappeared’ with students’ money.

Herein lies the root of corruption. Some airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Emirates Airlines, employ these companies to conduct the interviews. There are two types of interview – the genuine interview, and the false interview. The false interview is merely a means of attracting students to these cash strapped schools. It is also apparent that those doing the interviews have very poor skills. Their English pronunciation makes it very hard for the students to understand the interviewers’ questions. One example witnessed recently was an interviewer, the President of a Stewardess school who could not pronounce the letter /p/ clearly – and whose utterance gave the sound of /f/.

Interviewer. There are many afflicants (applicants) -why should I chose you?

Common answer: (….. pause while trying to grapple with the meaning of ‘afflicant.’ “Well I have never been to Africa but would like to visit there.”

Despite students being taught to ask the interviewer to repeat the question if they don’t understand it, I the Korean Confucian tradition, young women being interviewed will never ask an older Korean male to repeat the question, for that may involve a ‘loss of face’ for the interviewer.

Interviews Examined China Eastern Airline is notorious for the disgraceful way it interviews the young women. The airline officials call them into their interview and are only concerned with the applicant’s appearance. They physically examine the applicants’ skin, looking for any defect or scar. They touch the knees and legs in search of the ideal leg. They have the applicants pirouette and parade like a beauty pageant. All applicants come out of the interview saying they have been violated and deeply embarrassed by the interview. It is also very clear that China East does not care about the applicant’s skills – they will employ applicants with no skills or training if they pass the ‘touch test.’

Another airline, Emirates, employs similar ludicrous interview techniques. They employ a 4 part interview technique, with the ANC school carrying out the 1st of these interviews. And this is where the corruption begins. Thousands apply for the interview, for Emirates is seen as a ‘plum’ job due to excellent wages. The 1st interview will see about 7000 students interviewed by ANC staff. About 10% will pass. It is known that those who pay cash envelopes to the school and whose family has a connection to the school management will pass that test. These are the first to pass.

The remainder are assessed on their appearance and English Interview skills. However, the ANC staff who are Korean, carry out the English interview – and it is well known that the examiners English ability is very poor. Many students who have graduated from foreign universities often comment at the poor English interview skills of the ANC interviewers.

Students then go on to attend further interview assessment skills carried out by Emirates airlines. The interview, again, is well known to be carried by Emirates staff whose English skills are lacking and questionable.

Other Airlines

Numerous airlines employ Korean girls to work on board as Flight Attendant or Translator. However, once again it is clear their employment methods are not satisfactory. Airlines may have vacancies for a few positions, yet find they receive thousands of applicants. Rather than assess all the applications, in itself a huge task, they randomly select applications and discard the rest. Applicants rarely hear that they have been rejected.


There is no doubt this walk of ESP as found in Korea needs Government intervention – and failing that, then Airlines themselves need to develop far fairer methods of selecting applicants – methods that eliminate the opportunities for corruption and abuses of human dignity. The major employers, Korean Airlines, Asiana Airlines, and the foreign carriers, Emirates and Malaysian Airlines must implement systems immediately that take into account these abuses.

In Korea the two major airlines, Korean and Asian have a rule that applicants must have a TOEIC2 score of at least 550. This is so low as to be meaningless – not to mention that TOEIC, at this point in time, does not assess the applicants speaking ability in English. This leads to another major scandalous situation in Korea – TOEIC schools – it is well known these are established by businessmen with no understanding of the principles involved in second language education, and guarantee students’ nothing. Students spend vast sums of money on TOEIC classes, (about U.S$100.00-$200.00 a month for these TOEIC supplementary classes,) Flight Attendant schools, make up and hair grooming, interview clothes – all for nothing. 0.3% will ever succeed. A scandalous industry using the medium of English to deceive hundreds of thousands of young women each year. On average, Koreans are spending about U.S. $1,200.00 for Flight Attendant training courses. They must also spend up to $1000.00 for the interview clothes (standard black and white) as well as make up and hair care expenses. Most students spend over $2000.00 for something that they will never achieve. As well, many Colleges (2 year courses) run Flight Attendant training. These courses are simply for the colleges benefit and earn large amounts from student fees.

It is suggested Foreign Airlines who are intent on hiring Korean Flight Attendants implement the following procedures for both Business Transparency and obtaining good English speaking Flight Attendants.

1. Only interview applicants who have clearly demonstrated in a preliminary screening oral interview that they have the potential to move to secondary more rigorous interviews

2. Under no circumstances should Korean companies be allowed to provide first or second interview screening – this is opening the industry to corruption

3. Only trained Native speakers of English be allowed, in conjunction with Airline staff, to conduct the interview.

4. Applicants should not be made to pay for the interview 5. Applicants must be treated with human decency and respect during the interview and demeaning and abusive body examinations must be stopped.


1. See for example, Time Taylor International who establish Legal English and Business English schools across Asia


Reputable Websites:

Recommended Industry books

1. How to become a Flight Attendant. 2005. English Interview Skills


ATM Stewardess Interview English, (2005) Korea. Jung, J. (2005). How to become a Flight Attendant. English Interview Skills. Pusan. Lulu.

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Category: Volume 1 Issue 3 December 2005