Where to go when baby talk gets oldYou don’t need to be Noam Chomsky to know that living in a foreign country comes with the great opportunity to pick up the local language.
You can probably get around Seoul with a smattering of phrases, such as “thank you” and “where is the bathroom?” But for those wanting to carry on a proper conversation with locals, there’s plenty of places to learn Korean.
Both universities and hagwons, or private institutions, offer classes. Universities offer intensive and long-term programs targeting relatively young people whose sole purpose in Korea is to know the culture and learn the language. Hagwons, on the other hand, are convenient for those who work, offering a variety of programs that are usually one month long and able to accommodate different schedules.
Learning Korean, however, can be demanding, especially for speakers of Western languages, with a separate alphabet called hangeul, a different pronunciation system and sentence structure as a syllable-timed language. On top of this, frequent use of Chinese characters and terms of respect are other potential obstacles.
Lee Hyun-jin, who has been teaching Korean for two years, says, “The very first step of getting used to the language is hard to take, especially for English speakers, to whom the Korean language itself is just so unfamiliar. For speakers of Japanese and Chinese, on the other hand, the pronunciation is the biggest hurdle.”
Ha Jung-ja, who has been teaching Korean to expatriates since the 1960s, says the Korean-language education industry has seen incredible growth, especially in the past few years. Ms. Ha recalls that her class in the 1970s had only a few students and no up-to-date teaching manual, just “Speaking Korean,” which was published in 1964 by a missionary group of Koreans and expatriates called the Franciscan Fathers.
By now, however, there are more than 10 publications for foreigners learning Korean, enough to merit its own section at giant bookstores downtown. Universities started to establish institutions teaching Korean, targeting expatriates and gyopos, or overseas ethnic Koreans.
Hagwons also popped up to meet the increasing need. Besides Americans and Britons, Ms. Ha has seen Italian and Spanish students in her classes, whose jobs vary from English teachers to embassy staff.
With all this help available, there’s never been a better time to learn the language, which will make your life in Korea more comfortable as well as more enjoyable.
Drop a few words in Korean and you’ll see an immediate and warm response from your landlady, taxi driver and grocery clerk. Yeolsimi haseyo! (Do your best!)
Hagwons (private institutions)
Last Tuesday morning at a downtown hagwon, three students were learning grammatical patterns that use “after” and “before.”
Scott Finch from Seattle, who followed his friends to Korea, and Scott Adam from Australia, who works for his company’s Korean office, were using Korean nicknames for their English names. Satoko Yamamoto from Osaka said in a decent Korean accent that she’s learning the language for her Korean boyfriend.
When the students cannot quite find the right Korean word, they asked the teacher the word in English. When Mr. Adam asked “[What’s] ‘sometimes’?” the teacher says, “[It’s] ttaettaero.”
For many working students, a hagwon is ideal, offering classes in the morning, lunchtime and in the evening. Classes tend to be small. You can even ask a hagwon to open a class with a certain number of friends or ask for private lessons.
Language Teaching Research Center
Located in the heart of Seoul near the Anglican Church, the Language Teaching Research Center takes pride in its long history. Established in 1976, the institute offers intensive programs at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
Most of the time, the number of students in each class is limited to six. Running on a monthly schedule, the school’s next term starts June 29.
For classes that meet three times a week for two hours each time, monthly tuition is 170,000 won ($140) a month. For classes that meet two times a week for two hours each time, tuition is 120,000 won.
The center is best reached from the City Hall station on subway line No. 1 or No. 2. Find the Anglican Church near the Seoul City Council, and the center sits right across from the front gate of the church, in the Taeseong Building, third floor.
For more information, call (02) 737-4641 or visit the Web site at: www.ltrc.co.kr.
YBM Sisa Korean Language Institute
YBM, established in 1961, is one of the biggest private institutions in Korea that teach foreign languages. From 1993, however, YBM’s Jongno branch started to provide Korean language programs for expatriates.
Each month-long session starts on the first day of the month. Classes are held in the morning, afternoon and evening. Weekend special programs and private tutors are also available.
YBM’s Jongno branch can be reached by taking subway line No. 1, 3 or 5 to Jongno 3-ga Station. Take exit 15 and walk in the direction of Insa-dong. For more information, call (02) 2278-0509 or visit: www.ybmedu.com/academy/kli_main.asp.
Seoul Korean Academy
Located in southern Seoul, home to many companies’ headquarters, this academy has been around for 18 years.
Each class is limited to fewer than 10 students. The first day of every month marks the start of a new session. Teachers have a command of at least one foreign language, but only Korean is used during classes. The academy has six levels and gives a certificate for students who finish all the courses.
Three kinds of classes are offered at the academy. The most intensive program is a five-day-a-week class, two hours each day, starting at 10 a.m. or at 2 p.m. The monthly tuition is 310,000 won. Three-day-a-week classes are available in the evening at 7 p.m. for two hours, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (240,000 won).
For people too busy during the week, a special Saturday program is also available. Starting every first Saturday of the month, this program starts at 10 a.m. or at 2 p.m. and lasts three hours. Monthly tuition is 120,000 won.
To reach the academy, take subway line No. 2 to Gangnam Station, exit 8. For more information, call (02) 563-3226.
After Yonsei University first established the Korean Language Institute in 1959, many local colleges started up their own Korean classes. As they issue visas to foreign students, these institutes are also turning into centers for the young expatriate community.
For those wanting to major in the Korean language or culture, intensive programs are offered.
Colleges also hold many events such as Korean writing and speaking contests or fun activities such as making kimchi. Many universities offer special summer short courses in addition to the regular courses.
Since opening in 1959, the Korean Language Institute at Yonsei has had more than 40,000 graduates of 105 nationalities.
Teachers all have at least a master’s degree. A semester program, with four hours of classes every weekday, costs 1,355,000 won. A three-week program costs 863,000 won, and applications for the summer term are due Monday.
Evening programs are also available at 690,000 won for three days a week. The summer term begins June 28, with applications due tomorrow.
Special summer programs, targeting mainly Japanese students, are also available in July and August every year, but students must register by May.
For more information, call (02) 2123-3465 or visit the school’s Web site at: http://www.yonsei.ac.kr/~kli/, available in English, Japanese and Chinese.
A longtime rival of Yonsei, Korea University also has a Korean Language and Culture Center.
The center also offers special summer programs at 1,030,000 won. The special program includes a field trip, bird watching in Gyeonggi province and an outing to an amusement park. It starts July 5, and applications are due today.
For more information, call (02) 3290-1455 or go to: http://kola.korea.ac.kr.
Korean language centers at other universities:
Seoul National University: (02) 880-5114
Hanyang University: (02) 2290-1663
Kyung Hee University: (02) 961-0084
Sung Kyun Kwan University: (02) 760-1223
Sogang University: (02) 705-8088
by Chun Su-jin