Posted : 2014-07-30 15:31
Updated : 2014-07-30 18:01

Helping people learn Korean

Dr. Atif Faraz, left, director of the Islamabad King Sejong Institute in Pakistan, and Shin Irina, a teacher of the Tashkent King Sejong Institute in Uzbekistan, speak during an interview with The Korea Times at Seoul Olympic Parktel in southern Seoul, July 17. The two came here to attend the 6th World Korean Educators Conference.
/ Courtesy of the King Sejong Institute

King Sejong Institute teachers promote globalization of hangeul

By Chung Hyun-chae

Dr. Atif Faraz, a naturalized Korean, has a passion for teaching the Korean language to Pakistanis.

"Today many Pakistanis desire to work in Korea and to do so they need to learn the Korean language, as well as the nation's culture," he said in a recent interview with The Korea Times.

Faraz was in Seoul to attend the July 15-18 World Korean Educators Conference in which 230 Korean teachers from 52 countries around the world took part. The state-funded King Sejong Institute hosted the event.

The institute said 37,177 people learned Korean at its branches across the globe in 2013, up from 28,793 in 2012 and 18,508 in 2011.

Pointing out that the number of Pakistanis who now live in Korea exceeds 8,000 Faraz said that ever increasing numbers of them want to learn Korean.

"This can be explained by the rapid growth of the Korean economy. People want to learn about Korea's growth engines and be part of them," he said.

In 1998, Faraz came here from Pakistan to study Korean at Seoul National University. During his eight years of study here, he earned a master's degree and a Ph.D. in Korean studies at Sangmyung University. Then he became a naturalized Korean citizen.

As soon as he got a doctorate in 2006, he returned to Pakistan and established the Korean language department at the National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad.

He also became the director of the Islamabad King Sejong Institute. He has some 188 students.

The Islamabad institute is one of 130 overseas branches of the King Sejong Institute, at which teachers are at the forefront of promoting Korean and globalizing hangeul, the Korean alphabet.

Teaching Korean in Pakistan

"It was my long-time dream to build a Korean language department at Pakistan's national university," Faraz said.

"Unlike other foreign friends who had already learned hangeul before coming to Korea, I had to start from ground zero because we had no institutes where people could learn Korean in Pakistan. I promised at that time to make a better environment for those who wanted to go to Korea," he said.

With the growing demand for Pakistanis to learn Korean, the Islamabad King Sejong Institute decided to divide students into classes of different levels, depending on the purpose of the students' study.

"The goal of the beginners' class is at least to enable students to live a normal life in Korea with minimal inconvenience, while higher-level classes aim to build strong skills for students to continue further study at Korean universities," he said.

He believes that the most important part of learning a foreign language is listening.
"If you can understand what people say, you can easily improve your speaking, as well as reading skills," he said.

He also said the branch has a monthly culture day so that everyone can enjoy Korean films. Teachers also use IT gadgets including tablet PCs and MP3 players in the listening classes.

"When we teach reading, we usually use local fairy tales with story lines similar to those of Korean stories. As students are already aware of the story, they can develop an interest in and familiarity with Korean culture," Faraz said.

"Pakistanis have to master at least three languages _ Urdu, the national language; English, an official language; and the indigenous languages of their own villages. A person who has learned more than one language since childhood has a stronger ability to acquire other languages. It helps people learn Korean more easily," Faraz said.

Riding on Korean wave in Uzbekistan

Enthusiasm for learning Korean is not only occurring in Pakistan.

Shin Irina, a teacher of the Tashkent King Sejong Institute in Uzbekistan, told The Korea Times that people today are no longer scared of learning Korean. The Uzbek branch has 930 students.

"The most popular language in Uzbekistan is Korean, mostly due to the ‘hallyu,' or Korean wave. K-pop has a strong influence on those in their teens and 20s, while Korean dramas have been gaining popularity among those in their 30s and 40s. People can easily access the Korean language through the lyrics of K-pop songs and subtitles of K-dramas," Shin said.

"Considering that Uzbek word order is the same as Korean, Uzbek people come along relatively easily," she added.

She said that she focuses on teaching grammar and helping students improve their reading skills first.

"It is still difficult for us to use Korean honorifics so we make students practice these," Shin said.

As for encouraging speaking of the language, the Korean schools in Tashkent and Islamabad receive help from the King Sejong Institute Foundation.

"When it comes to speaking, the best way to learn and practice is to speak with native people," Faraz said.

Given that the number of Korean teachers sent to local branches is insufficient, the Islamabad King Sejong Institute tries to accept Korean volunteers living in Pakistan, he noted.

"Classes with native teachers are of incomparabe better quality," he added.

Calling for more government support

Faraz and Irina call for more Korean government support for King Sejong schools and less administrative red tape in managing them.

"There are many countries in which the speed and quality of the Internet are poor. It takes more time for us to prepare and be ready to respond to the Korean government through the Internet. I wish the teachers, including directors like me, could concentrate more on education," Faraz said.

He also said that he hopes more students can benefit from scholarships from Korea.
"It would be an enormous help for students to get the opportunity to study in Korea for more than one year, not like a four-week trip."

"Considering that the King Sejong Institute is for foreigners, not overseas Koreans who have been supported in various ways, we have been making great efforts to help them as much as we can," said Jeong U-yeong, an official of the public relations department at the King Sejong Institute Foundation.

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