Moving Beyond 'Kamsamnida'

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Moving Beyond 'Kamsamnida'

The first ever Korean Language Proficiency Test conducted by the Korean Language Society will be given around the world on June 2, giving students of Korean as foreign language a chance to objectively assess their proficiency. "Think of it as a kind of TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)," said Kim Jun-mo, an official at the non-profit organization, which developed the test over a one-year period. TOEFL is a standardized test administered worldwide that measures non-native English speakers' English language proficiency.

The Korean Language Proficiency Test will be available in 30 countries and at 20 test centers throughout Korea. The three-hour test will assess proficiency in listening comprehension, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and composition, with each section worth 150 points.

"This is the first internationally conducted standardized test," said Mr. Kim of the significance of the test. The test comes none too soon, as the demand for Korean language instruction among both foreigners and overseas Koreans has been growing over the past few years, he added.

"Despite the increasing need for quality instruction, there is very little systematic teaching available, particularly abroad, and this test will provide an incentive to improve the teaching as well," Mr. Kim said.

While the organizers do not yet know how the test results will be used, because its accuracy in reflecting language ability has yet to be proven, academic institutions and businesses seem to be interested in using the test to evaluate students and employees. "A local university, for example, has expressed interest in using the test to measure foreign applicants' Korean language proficiency," Mr. Kim said.

As with learning any foreign language, learning Korean presents many challenges. "As is true with Japanese and the Chinese, the Korean language is very alien to most foreigners," said Hwang In-kyo, Korean language instructor at Korean Language Institute in Sinchon-dong, Seoul.

While elementary Korean can be grasped easily, because Hangul, the Korean alphabet, is easily mastered, students encounter many obstacles as they progress to more advanced levels. "Grammar and Chinese expressions are particularly difficult. Listening comprehension is also a formidable challenge," Ms. Hwang observed.

Currently, some 20 local universities and their affiliated language institutes offer courses in Korean as foreign language. The following are a few well-known programs.

Korean Language Institute

Affiliated with Yonsei University, about 600 students are enrolled in the 41-year-old Korean language program for foreigners. Its 90 staff, all trained at the institute's affiliated training program for teachers of Korean as a foreign language, teach classes divided into six levels. While Korean is the medium of instruction, the textbooks are available with annotations in English, Japanese, Chinese and a number of other languages. Evening classes are available as well as a five-week summer session and three-week intensive sessions in the summer and spring. For sign-up or information, call 02-2123-3464/5 or visit their Web site (

Seoul National University Language Research Institute

About 200 students from almost every continent attend the Korean Language Program. The maximum number of students in each class is kept at 15 to facilitate close individual attention. The program offers classes in pronunciation taught one-on-one, incorporating specialized learning software. The Advanced Academic Korean class is geared toward foreign students preparing for degree programs in Korea, and is available for those who need training at a more advanced level. All of its 26 instructors hold advanced degrees in languages and linguistics. Contact 02-880-5488 or visit the Web site (

Center for Korea Studies at Sogang University

The program here takes a communication-centered approach, allowing students to quickly gain skills to communicate in Korean. Each class size is limited to 10-12 students. For inquiries, call 02-705-8088/9 or visit the Web site (

For people who wish to learn Korean at their own pace, there are a number of Internet sites dedicated to teaching Korean in cyberspace.

Korean Studies at Sogang

Found at, the site is part of Sogang Multinet Virtual University. The free site currently features seven levels of proficiency and is planned eventually to increase to 11 levels. The introductory lesson starts with vowel and consonant pronunciation. Pages can be printed out to be used for writing practice. The drills include listening and repeating words and phrases. A virtual class is being planned for June or July when instructors will be available online to interact with students.

Korean Study Net

Found at, the site was developed by the Korean government as part of Tel*Lingua, a network-based trans-cultural information project proposed by the Group of Seven. The free site features four courses based on age, from preschoolers to adults. Beginners may find it useful to start off with the preschool course, regardless of their age, if the adult course is too challenging. A major drawback of the site is its snail's pace: for people used to instant connections, lots of patience is a must.

Although online learning is convenient, language-teaching specialists strongly recommend going offline to gain a practical command of a language. "The most effective way to learn any language is to study intensively in that country, immersing yourself in the language and the culture," said Ms. Hwang.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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