There’s by no means been a greater time to be taught Korean.
It’s one of many fastest-growing languages on the earth, outpacing historically widespread rivals like Chinese language in a number of markets – reflecting the worldwide phenomenon many name the “Korean wave.”
In 2022, Korean was the seventh most-studied language on the educational app Duolingo, in line with the corporate’s annual language report. And it’s seeing explicit success in components of South and Southeast Asia, because the most-studied international language within the Philippines, and never far off the highest spot in Thailand, Indonesia and Pakistan.
Though Chinese language – which for years has been thought-about because the enterprise language of the long run – stays the second most spoken language on the earth, thanks partly to the sheer dimension of China’s inhabitants, it has sat in eighth place on Duolingo for the final a number of years, lagging behind Korean.
Korean is the second most-studied Asian language on Duolingo, solely narrowly behind Japanese, in line with the language report. Duolingo, which has greater than 500 million customers internationally, ranks Korean forward of Chinese language, Russian and Hindi, and behind Italian. English and Spanish nonetheless sit comfortably within the high two spots.
This rise in curiosity, consultants and lecturers say, is because of the Korean wave, or “hallyu” – the proliferation of Korean tradition internationally.
The final twenty years have seen South Korean exports sweep the world, from Ok-pop and Korean TV dramas to magnificence merchandise, style and meals. The nation has develop into a world cultural juggernaut – a lot in order that the Oxford English Dictionary added greater than 20 phrases of Korean origin in 2021, saying in an announcement, “We’re all using the crest of the Korean wave.”
This phenomenon has been aided by South Korea’s personal authorities, which has labored to unfold the nation’s cultural affect via music and media because the Nineteen Nineties. Now, the Korean language might be the subsequent export to go world.
“In comparison with the time I began my profession, the perceptions of Korea as a nation, Korean tradition and society, and the Korean language have gone via a major, constructive change,” mentioned Joowon Suh, director of the Korean Language Program at Columbia College. “Now it’s perceived extra fashionable, superior, marketable, cooler, and hipper.”
For many years, East Asian language research abroad have principally been restricted to Mandarin Chinese language and Japanese.
However that started to vary up to now decade after main hits by Korean artists and administrators, reminiscent of Psy’s 2012 track “Gangnam Fashion,” the 2019 thriller “Parasite,” the 2021 Netflix present “Squid Recreation,” and the emergence of BTS, undoubtedly the most important world stars of Ok-pop.
Figures present a surge in curiosity towards the language in the identical interval.
The variety of college students enrolled in Korean lessons at larger training establishments in the USA leapt from 5,211 in 2002 to almost 14,000 in 2016, in line with knowledge analyzed by the Fashionable Language Affiliation.
This leap is placing given Korean isn’t simple for non-native audio system to be taught. The US State Division lists Korean as a “super-hard language,” which means it’s “exceptionally tough” for English audio system and takes on common 88 weeks to realize skilled working proficiency.
Fashionable Korean follows a phonetic alphabet referred to as Hangul, which means the syllables are typically pronounced as they’re written – in contrast to non-phonetic languages reminiscent of Chinese language, which makes use of symbols to characterize particular meanings.
Suh, the Columbia teacher, mentioned she first started noticing an increase in curiosity round 2015 – but it surely has accelerated within the final three to 4 years. The variety of Columbia college students enrolling in Korean programs elevated by 50% from the 2017 to 2021 tutorial years, she mentioned.
Different widespread languages have seen numbers both plateau or drop over the past decade. US college students enrolled in Chinese language lessons, as an example, jumped considerably from 2002 to 2013, a interval marked by China’s large financial progress and world affect.
However enrollments in Chinese language had dipped by 2016, in line with the Fashionable Language Affiliation – coinciding with the deterioration of US-China relations, and the worsening notion of China within the West as a consequence of its alleged human rights abuses.
“College students’ curiosity in international language studying in US larger training tends to rely extra on the notion or status of a rustic by way of financial system and geopolitics, reminiscent of China, Russia or Portugal,” mentioned Suh.
Equally, in the UK, the variety of larger training college students taking Korean programs tripled from 2012 to 2018, in line with the College Council of Fashionable Languages – in comparison with only a 5% improve for Chinese language, and a decline in a number of European languages like French and German.
Korean’s newfound recognition was no accident, with South Korean authorities leaping on the likelihood to advertise their language on the again of its extra profitable exports.
“It’s the Hallyu that has persuaded Asian nations on the societal degree that Korea is actually a part of the developed, western world,” mentioned John Walsh in his 2014 e-book on the phenomenon. This shift in notion has in flip boosted the federal government’s capability to pursue “nationwide pursuits within the areas of diplomacy, funding, training and commerce,” he wrote.
During the last decade, the Ministry of Training has despatched Korean lecturers abroad, together with a number of dozen to Thailand in 2017 to show the language at center and excessive faculties.
In newer years, quite a few nations together with Laos, Myanmar and Thailand have formally adopted Korean as a international language of their faculty curricula, underneath agreements signed with the Korean training ministry, in line with South Korean information company Yonhap.
In the meantime, the King Sejong Institute, a government-founded Korean-language model, has established 244 studying facilities worldwide, in line with its web site.
These efforts goal to “hold the curiosity of Korean language overseas, which has develop into broadly widespread with the Korean Wave,” mentioned the training ministry in a 2017 press launch.
“In the long run, Korean language programs within the native faculty curriculum will function a step to foster Korean consultants, and thereby strengthening pleasant relationships between Korea and different nations,” it added.
Suh cautioned that the Korean wave runs the danger of oversimplifying nuances of Korean tradition and society, reminiscent of regional variations or class conflicts, whereas glorifying “something (Korean) with out absolutely understanding its historical past.”
However, she added, this simplification may truly profit the South Korean authorities because it expands its affect, as one thing “any rising smooth energy may need to undergo.”
Specialists say college students come to the desk with varied causes for pursuing the Korean language – although sure developments have emerged amongst regional and ethnic traces.
“The Korean wave is a crucial issue for non-heritage college students,” mentioned Suh, referring to these with out Korean ethnicity or heritage who’re merely focused on Korean cultural merchandise like films and Ok-pop.
In the meantime, college students of Korean descent are likely to take Korean lessons for extra “integrative” causes, she mentioned – as an example, desirous to reside in South Korea, to raised join with their communities and households, or to discover their very own Korean identities.
Jiyoung Lee, an adjunct teacher at New York College’s Division of East Asian Research, pointed to the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. These have facilitated worldwide cultural exchanges and “largely influenced” the variety of Korean learners, she mentioned.
However Lee, who beforehand taught Korean in Indonesia and South Korea, additionally seen variations amongst college students in numerous components of the world.
US college students are likely to be taught Korean “as a result of they’re extra focused on having fun with tradition … and need to discuss to their favourite singers or actors,” she mentioned.
Against this, college students in Southeast Asia principally examine Korean to get a job in South Korea, or at a Korean firm of their house nation, she mentioned, noting the variety of Korean manufacturers “establishing themselves not solely in Southeast Asia but in addition in varied nations.”
As an example, the Korean leisure large SM Leisure is increasing into Southeast Asia with new Singapore headquarters. In the meantime, the Korean comfort retailer chain GS25 has greater than 180 retailers in Vietnam, and is ready to interrupt floor in Malaysia this yr, in line with Yonhap.
The enlargement of Korean enterprise and popular culture can also be pushing younger Southeast Asians to journey to South Korea. Southeast Asians make up greater than 40% of international college students in South Korea, and 30% of international residents within the nation general, in line with the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace.
Jeffrey Holliday, who teaches Korean linguistics at Korea College in Seoul (with lessons taught in English), mentioned roughly 40% of his college students are change college students, principally coming from the US. These college students are usually undergraduates, solely in Seoul for a couple of semesters, and almost all are avid followers of Korean popular culture reminiscent of Ok-pop, he says.
In the meantime, his international graduate college students – who are usually finding out there full-time and are searching for jobs in Korea – largely hail from China and Vietnam.
“To me it’s so stunning as a result of after I was in school (within the US) from 1999 to 2003 … there was no-one studying Korean who wasn’t a heritage speaker. I used to be the one one who wasn’t Korean American,” he mentioned.
“Whereas now, these college students come right here, they’re very centered, very decided – they actually need to be taught Korean they usually’re right here for that.”
Correction: A earlier model of this story misstated the putting of Japanese on the Duolingo report. It’s the most studied Asian language on the platform.