More Americans, Europeans Take Interest in Korean Studies

  • By O Youn-hee, Shon Jin-seok

    October 10, 2018 13:37

    More and more Europeans and Americans are learning Korean and taking an interest in Korean culture.

    The number of schools in France that teach Korean and students learning it is growing quickly. Korean is taught as a second foreign language in some 17 primary and secondary schools there, and last year it became a subject on the baccalauréat, the school-leaving exam before university.

    Six French universities also teach Korean studies, up from four last year, and competition for places is 10:1. Some 1,412 people applied to the Korean program this year at Université Paris-Diderot (Paris-VII), which admits only 130 students. Université Paris-Dauphine (Paris IX), which admits 150 students to the Korean department, had 1,360 applicants. 

    The main reason seems to be the global appeal of K-pop, which then puts students on to other aspects of Korean culture they might find intriguing. Overseas fans can now often be seen singing along at K-pop concerts.

    A 22-year-old girl from Cincinnati was among 40,000 fans who went to see boy band Bangtan Boys or BTS in New York earlier this month, where they gave a sold-out concert at Citi Field Stadium. "I started taking Korean lessons after writing down BTS' song lyrics verbatim," she said. 

    Clockwise from left, a French fan holding a placard supporting Kai of K-pop band EXO, a T-shirt with a Korean slogan sold on global online marketplace Etsy, and a British magazine cover featuring Korean letters.

    According to a recent study by the U.S. Modern Language Association, interest in foreign languages is down across the board, but Korean bucks the trend.

    The number of U.S. college students learning Chinese fell 11 percent, German 16 percent and Japanese 5 percent between 2009 and 2016. But over the same period, the number of students learning Korean increased 65 percent, though admittedly from a low starting point.

    "Korean uptake in U.S. universities rose by almost 14 percent between 2013 and 2016, while overall language enrolment was in decline," the BBC reported.

    In 2016, 14,000 people studied Korean in the U.S., behind Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, Latin and Russian but still just in the top 10.

    In Germany, Freie Universität Berlin, Universität Hamburg, Universität Bonn and Tübingen Universität have set up Korean language departments, while Universität Heidelberg, Universität zu Köln and Universität Leipzig now offer Korean language classes.

    In the U.K., the Center of Korean Studies at University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies admits 40 students a year and the competition rate is usually 4:1. The University of Central Lancashire opened a Korean studies program in 2016 and, to the surprise of school officials, had more than 100 applicants in the first year, compared to 20 to 30 in the long-established Chinese and Japanese programs.

    The venerable university of Edinburgh in Scotland also plans to open a Korean studies program.

    Duolingo, the world's No. 1 online language learning service, started a Korean course last year due to soaring demand that drew more than 200,000 subscribers as soon as it started.

    Growing numbers of foreign students are coming to Korea to study the language. According to Statistics Korea, 30,000 foreigners came to Korea last year to study Korean.

    Park Gil-sung, a sociologist at Korea University, said, "Consumers of the Korean Wave do not just enjoy the content, but are showing interest in Korea as a country and in the Korean language too." 

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