December 27, 2014 08:14
A growing number of traders in the Myeong-dong and Dongdaemun shopping districts in central Seoul are scrambling to learn Mandarin as Chinese tourists flood the areas.
Some 5.25 million Chinese tourists visited Korea in the first 10 months of this year, reaching 6 million by the end of the year and accounting for half of Korea's total tourism revenues or around W7.7 trillion (US$1=W1,096).
At one language school in central Seoul, around 30 traders are taking Mandarin lessons, and some 20 are enrolled in another down the street.
One 54-year-old trader who sells fashion accessories in Dongdaemun Market said, "It was a bit embarrassing to take classes with young students, but I've been learning Mandarin for the last six months because Chinese customers like it when I speak to them in their own language."
Some language schools have come up with tailor-made classes for traders. There are one-one-one lessons targeting traders and duty-free shop staff.
"We started focusing on practical conversation classes in 2012 after being inundated with queries from traders," a staffer said.
More than 100 traders have taken those classes so far.
A district office in Seoul held eight Mandarin classes in Dongdaemun earlier this year which drew around 400 traders. Those held in September and November attracted another 60.
Japanese-speaking tour guides are also now trying to switch to Mandarin as the number of tourists from Japan declined steeply in recent years due to the weak yen.
Half of the 50 students in one Mandarin class for tour guides already hold Japanese-language tour guide licenses. Lee Han (39), who has been a Japanese-language tour guide for 10 years, said, "Japanese tourists make up only a third of the number of Chinese tourists, but there are 9,000 Japanese-language tour guides and only 6,400 Chinese-language ones. I started learning Mandarin because I'm afraid I won't be able to make a living otherwise."
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