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Interest in Korean Language Study Falls at Home, Rises Abroad

Interest in Korean Language Study Falls at Home, Rises Abroad

Posted October. 08, 2005 07:57,   


“Why do four out of 10 students not know when Hangul Day is?”

On the evening of October 7, members of the “Hangul Wave,” a student club for Hangul (the Korean Language) at Yonsei University, got more and more frustrated while collecting the results of their survey. With the 559th Hangul Day (October 9) drawing near, they conducted a survey among 618 Yonsei students from October 4 to October 5 and found out that 45 percent of the respondents, or 276 students, wrongly believed that Hangul Day was October 5 or October 7.

“Many of these students retorted, ‘how could they remember such a non-holiday like Hangul Day,” said Ban Jin-hyuk (23), the head of the Hangul Wave. “It has been reported that Hangul is all the rage abroad, but it feels so frustrating that students here even do not know when Hangul Day is.”

“The engineering faculty goes on an MT (membership training)! We hope everyone join us.” “Have a great time in your OT (freshman orientation).”

One 28-year-old student at University of Seoul, identified only by his surname, Jo, found himself speechless when he saw placards held on the campus, as expressions used in online chatting were openly being used. “Students these days use these chatting expressions even in formal occasions, for they believe it is fun or unique not to follow grammar and spelling rules,” said Cho.

Hangul, which is poorly treated by young Koreans, is highly appreciated in other Asian countries. In the face of the Korean Wave, learning Korean is the latest fad among youngsters abroad.

According to the Ministry of Education and Human Resources (MOEHR) and the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE), the number of applicants for the Ninth Korean Proficiency Test stood at 26,569, up by 51 percent from the previous year. The Korean Proficiency Test is designed to measure and evaluate the Korean proficiency of foreigners and Korean residents abroad. The test scores are used when applying for domestic colleges or companies.

The number of Asian applicants is apparently on the rise. Chinese test takers increased by a staggering 119% from 2,738 last year to 6,002 this year. The number of Vietnamese applicants rose by 94% from 660 to 1,278.

Last year, the Korean Proficiency Test was held in 16 countries; this year, 25 nations, including nine new countries such as Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Argentina and France, hold the test.

For young Koreans, however, studying Korean is now nothing but a boring task simply done for job-seeking purposes. In July of this year, 13,071 people took the Third Korean Proficiency Test held by the Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), 87 percent of whom were job seekers in their twenties.

“As we concentrate on memorization in order to get a better score, we tend to forget what we tried to memorize right after the test is over,” said Gong Woong-jo (27), a Handong University graduate who is currently seeking a job.

“College graduates often use online chatting expressions in their cover letters and frequently misspell even the easiest words. Many businesses are recently seeking to take into account the Korean proficiency of applicants, because they are skeptical about these applicants’ command in Korean,” stated one official at an online recruitment site.

Hangul study clubs at four-year universities nationwide decreased from some 30 of four to five years ago to slightly more than 10 now.

“In my college, ‘Hangul Loving Club,’ a study club on the Korean language, was disbanded after failing to meet the quota of 20, but other study clubs on foreign languages are highly popular,” said Yeom Gi-seok, the head of the student club association at Konkuk University.

Se-Jin Jung mint4a@donga.com ditto@donga.com