More Efforts Needed to Globalize Korean Heritage
The country will celebrate the 563rd anniversary of the promulgation of Hangeul, the Korean alphabetic system, on Friday. This year's Hangeul Day has special meaning because children of an ethnic group in Indonesia have begun to learn their own language by using the Korean script. It is the first time that Hangeul has been officially adopted by a foreign society outside Korea.
Korea has recently stepped up its efforts to promote the use of Hangeul and the Korean language around the world, but has often found it difficult to achieve its globalization. Against this backdrop, the Indonesian case is a rare achievement. About 50 elementary school students belonging to the Cia-Cia ethnic group in Baubau, a town on Buton Island, off southeastern Sulawesi, started learning their native language using a Hangeul textbook in July.
This development might not have taken place if there had not been a willingness to employ Hangeul on the part of the ethnic minority, whose population stands at around 60,000. A South Korean woman, Lee Ki-nam, has also played a key role in encouraging the Indonesian natives, who do not have their own writing system, to borrow Hangeul. She said her mission was to honor the legacy of her father, a linguist and professor who secretly taught his students Korean and Hangeul during Japanese colonial rule here.
Hangeul is one of the most brilliant cultural heritages of Korea. King Sejong, one of greatest monarchs of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), spearheaded the creation of Hangeul. At the time, the nation used Chinese characters, not its own alphabet. Hangeul has made it possible for the country to maintain its national identity in the face of calamities, including colonization of the Korean Peninsula by Japanese imperialists. The nation could not have made its rapid economic development without its own alphabet. The rate of illiteracy is less than 1 percent in South Korea.
Hangeul is recognized for its excellent scientific system that enables learners to master it easily. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) created a prize in 1989 named after the ruler of the Korean kingdom. The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize rewards the activities of governments or governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that contribute to the fight for literacy. In 2007, Korean joined the ranks of the 10 official languages of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
It's time for policymakers, scholars and educators to promote the globalization of Hangeul. The government plans to create an integrated Korean learning center named after King Sejong abroad to effectively spread the use of the language and the alphabet. It is also important to take advantage of Hallyu, the boom of Korean pop culture abroad, to share Korea's heritage with people around the globe.