[Sogang University]Language school rides the Korean waveOver the last few years, Korean television shows, films and pop stars have been riding the Korean wave, or hallyu, to foreign shores throughout Asia and, occasionally, further afield. Now the tide is coming in, bringing with it students keen to learn Korean language and culture. And the Korean government and language institutes, keen to capitalize on the trend, are actively promoting Korean to the rest of the world.
Recently, the National Academy of the Korean Language asked Sogang University’s Korean Language Education Center to create a language textbook with visual and audio materials, said Cho Jang-ok, director of Sogang’s Institute for International Culture & Education, to which the language center belongs. Using pop songs, news programs and popular Korean soap operas such as “Winter Sonata,” the center plans to complete a textbook by the end of this year.
“Many people say that if you really want to learn how to speak Korean, go to Sogang,” said Mr. Cho. Sogang’s language center, he explained, focuses mainly on teaching speaking rather than writing or grammar. “If a student reaches level six, out of eight, they can speak Korean fluently,” he added. A full time program consists of 200 class hours per semester, and most students graduate after six semesters, or a year and a half.
Korean is used as the language of instruction, even in remedial classes. The only English-language component is a one-hour orientation conducted by Steven Revere, an American teacher at the center and host of a TV show, “Let’s Speak Korean.”
“We’re trying to generate interest in the language, making students want to speak Korean more,” said Kim Song-hee, program director at the Korean Language Education Center.
Mr. Cho, who has studied in Hong Kong, Canada, the United States and France, said, “Many of the teachers have studied abroad, so they understand the students who are learning Korean here better.”
The language center established its own publishing hosue in December in order to focus more attention on developing Korean language textbooks. It published textbooks for the fourth level earlier this year.
“After the development of textbooks using hallyu material is complete, we plan to provide about 3,000 complimentary textbooks to foreign laborers living in Korea in order to help them in adjusting to life here,” Mr. Cho said.
“Teachers using our textbooks in other nations give us feedback, which we take into account when making revisions,” said Ms. Kim. The center also runs a program for overseas teachers on how best to use the textbooks, which are currently exported to Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States.
Sogang’s language center is expanding its presence overseas in other ways too. It recently formed a partnership with the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, to run one-month immersion programs at Sogang for Americans studying Korean in the United States. The center also has ties with institutions in China and Japan; this summer, about 20 students from the City University of Hong Kong came to study at Sogang for three weeks.
Mr. Cho said that the language institute is planning to develop a new program targeting Japanese students who were born to Korean emigrants. Such students, he said, often have more difficulty forming their identity than gyopo, or children of Korean emigrants, from, say, Canada or Australia.
“Straight language learning can be a bit uninspiring, so it’s better to learn a language through its culture, people, politics and economics,” said Mr. Cho. “Language is used in building up relationships,” he continued. “Thus, [the students should] make more friends here and try to understand the Korean culture and society, so that in the future the language they learn now can contribute to the relationship between their own nation and Korea.”
by Park Sung-ha