More Diverse Foreigners Come to Seoul to Learn Korean

  • By Baik Su-jin, Ku Bon-woo

    December 06, 2019 08:55

    More and more foreigners are coming to Seoul to learn Korean, and a noticeable trend is that many of them are on short-term visas using their vacations from school or work. The rising demand has resulted in a flurry of Korean language schools opening to cater them.

    There are a dozen such schools in the Gangnam and Hongik University areas alone, which are popular parts of Seoul among foreign visitors, while other private educational institutes are rushing to open Korean classes.

    Lexis Korea, a large language school in Gangnam, had 2,000 foreigners attend it last year, growing 20 to 30 percent each year.

    Learners come for different reasons. Luca (18) attends the language school while living in a boarding house. "I came here a year ago to attend a short-term language course and I signed up again this year," he said. "I have a lot of interest in North Korea-related issues and I plan to work as an intern at an NGO in Seoul."

    Some are older professionals on a sabbatical from work. Jeremy (39), a software engineer from the U.S., takes intensive Korean classes from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and reviews his lessons in a coffee shop in the evening. He said he began learning Korean after he became a fan of the K-pop girl group Loona.

    "Korea is a leader of the IT industry and I want to do blockchain-related work in Korea as a programmer if there's an opening," he said. 

    Foreign students attend a Korean class at Kyunghee University in Seoul on Oct. 4.

    Established Korean language institutes at universities are also seeing more foreign students with serious long-term plans to master the language. According to the Ministry of Education, the number of foreign students at university language schools more than doubled over the last five years from 17,453 in 2014 and 38,740 this year.

    Eille, a Swedish student at Kyunghee University came here to learn Korean thanks to the hit TV soap, "My Love from the Star." Eille describes the Korean alphabet as "artistic" and the sentence structures of the language as "fascinating."

    Daniel from Rwanda likes the use of honorifics in Korean. "I can speak English, French and West African, but none of them use honorifics like Korean," he said.

    The Test of Proficiency in Korean or TOPIK has become extremely popular in recent years. The number of test-takers increased from 121,550 in 2011 to 300,000 last year, and this year it is expected to reach 370,000.

    Lee Ho-jin, a Korean language instructor, said, "Before, mostly young people came to learn Korean for fun because of K-pop, but these days more and more foreigners are coming here to go to university or find jobs, and their age range is getting wider from teenagers to people in their 60s. Some girls come with their mothers."

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