By Yun Suh-young
The number of foreigners and ethnic Koreans who have taken the state-managed Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) reached 1 million Sunday.
The test was introduced in 1997 with 2,692 taking it that year.
On top of the nation's growing global stature, K-pop and TV dramas have helped draw keener interest in Korea and led to more foreigners taking the test.
"Boosted by the growing popularity of K-pop, Korean dramas and movies, interest in the language has surged dramatically," said an official of the National Institute for International Education (NIIED).
The institute, affiliated with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, said 18,702 applicants took the 29th TOPIK at 18 centers in Seoul, Busan, Jeju and other cities, bringing the total to 1,015,013.
"More foreign students are coming to Korea to study the country's language and culture, while more Korean companies are expanding their businesses overseas," he added.
According to a recent NIIED survey, 44.9 percent of the latest candidates said they applied to take TOPIK in order to study in Korea, while 25 percent wanted to test their language proficiency.
Some 16.6 percent took the test to better understand Korean culture while 13.5 percent said they need the test score to find a job.
The number of test-takers stood at 34,028 in 2006 and surged to 151,166 in 2012.
More schools in other countries are teaching Korean and accepting the certificate acquired from the proficiency test as credits.
In May last year, Tacoma, the third-largest city in the U.S. state of Washington, decided to give credits to middle and high school students who excelled in the Korean-language proficiency test administered by the Korean government.
The city has signed an agreement with the NIIED that 14 secondary schools in the U.S. city will adopt TOPIK.
Federal Way, another city in the state, also signed an agreement with the Korean education ministry in December last year to allow students who demonstrate Korean language proficiency to earn high school credits.
The number of U.S. schools teaching Korean as a second language is increasing. There were 57 schools in 2009, but the numbers rose to 71 in 2010 and 91 in 2011.
The test, which was held once a year in just four countries in 1997, is now offered in 62 nations. The increase reflects the growing demand for Korean language education and testing.
In Korea, the test can be sat in January and July while overseas testing occurs in April and October.
The test is currently divided into four sections _ vocabulary and grammar, writing, listening and reading. The government plans to add a speaking section to the test by 2015.