Posted : 2013-05-03 17:11
Updated : 2013-05-03 17:11

Hallyu boosts boom in Hangeul, Korean studies

Foreigners take the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) at Kyung Hee University. The accumulated number of applicants for TOPIK reached 1
million this year. / Korea Tims file

By Chung Ah-young

Hong Su-ji has been teaching Korean to Japanese students for some 10 years in Tokyo. The 36-year-old finds an increasing number of Japanese studying Korean, as "hallyu," or the Korean wave, is enjoying a heyday these days.

"I think hallyu is the biggest reason for boosting the popularity of Korean. Most of my students ask me about what their favorite Korean stars write on Twitter," she said.
In the early period of the hallyu boom initiated by the Korean television drama "Winter Sonata" starring Bae Yong-joon, middle-aged women were the majority of students in the Korean class.

But nowadays younger students are learning the language as K-pop singers flex their muscles worldwide. "It is a good sign because it means that hallyu is affecting a wide range of generations," Hong said.

According to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports, the number of overseas students enrolled in the King Sejong Institute along with the number of applicants for the Korean language proficiency test is dramatically rising mainly, they say, due to the sustained hallyu boom.

More and more foreigners are learning the Korean language as "hallyu," or the Korean wave, is enjoying a heyday these days. / Korea Times file

The King Sejong Institute is the government education facility that integrates Korean
language courses and cultural programs abroad. Classes are offered at overseas Korean culture centers or in universities that have departments for Korean studies.

Sejong was the fourth king of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) who created hangeul or the Korean alphabet. The King Sejong Institute program was launched in 2007 with 12 facilities in major cities such as Tokyo and New York. Currently, 90 overseas branches offer Korean language and cultural programs in 44 countries worldwide.

The popularity of the programs has been increasing since their inception. In 2007, just 740 students enrolled at 13 institutes in three countries; however, the number has been increasing to 2,906 in 2008, 4,301 in 2009, 6,016 in 2010, 9,348 in 2011 and 16,590 last year.

Coping with the soaring demand for learning the Korean language, the government plans to increase the number of the institutes to 200 by 2017.

"The government needs to pay consistent attention to overseas Korean language education as foreigners' interest in Korean pop culture creates demand for language study. The government is preparing a variety of programs at King Sejong Institutes so that students there can learn all about Korean culture as well as the language," a ministry official said.

Along with the language learning boom, the accumulated number of applicants for the Korean language proficiency test reached 1 million this year.

According to the ministry, a total of 82,881 non-Korean natives applied for the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) in preparation for school admission and job searches in Korea in 2007. But the figure skyrocketed to 151,166 last year.
Launched in 1997, TOPIK is conducted four times a year ― twice in Korea and twice in 60 other countries. Applicants take the test to prepare for work or study here as well as working overseas for Korean companies.

Also, some 840 foreign universities operate Korean studies or Korean language departments ― among them, 550 are installed in Asian universities.

Some 700 Korean classes are offered in primary and secondary schools in other countries as of 2011 with more than 64,000 students attending them.

According to the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS), the number of foreign applicants for the graduate school of Korean studies was 35 in 2009 but the figure soared to 141 in 2010, 155 in 2011 and 124 in 2012.

"From 2010, the number of foreign applicants began dramatically rising. While we've been promoting Korean studies both at home and abroad, the worldwide hallyu phenomenon is spilling over into academic fields," an official of the academy, said.

She said that just a few years ago, most applicants came from East Asian countries which share a cultural history in some ways. But nowadays foreign applicants are coming from the Middle East, Africa and Northern Europe where hallyu and Korean studies were almost unknown. "Newcomers from Ghana, Rwanda and El Salvador, for example, are applying for the school. It's proving how Korean studies is getting noticed in the world," she said.

However, due to the rising demands for Korean language education, low-price and low-quality private institutions are mushrooming.

"Nowadays, many cheap private institutions are being created around Tokyo. They are offering low-price lectures for Japanese students. The competition is getting fierce between the Korean language schools. But I doubt the quality of the classes is good enough," Hong said.

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