- The Korean language
South Korea, an East Asian nation on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula has the population of 50.22 million (World bank, 2013). Korean language is only used officially in Korea (South Korea and North Korea) and in several regions in China. Korea is a small country in size and has not been recognized by the global world compared to Japan or China. For example, when I first came to Canada in 1995, not many people knew about Korea besides the separation between the south and north. Korea became familiar to many people when Seoul, the capital of Korea was the host of the Asian games in 1986 and the Olympics in 1988. It was a time when there was an increase in foreign visitors and travelers. In addition, the economic success of Korean conglomerates such as Samsung and LG have contributed in publicizing the country.
- Popularity of Korean culture and language
In the 2000s, the popularity and success of K-pop and Korean dramas; the Korean wave (Hanryu; 한류; 韓流) has led in promoting Korean culture and language. Fans of Korean culture worldwide are learning Korean and this is reflected in the increase of Korean language courses in universities worldwide. For example, in my EAST 220 First Level Korean course in McGill University, there are 65 students. The students in this class are very diverse and not limited to Korean heritage students. East Asian Studies department in McGill, undergraduate students are required to take two language courses among three (Korean, Japanese and Mandarin). Therefore, I was expecting that most of the students would be majoring in East Asian studies. However, over half of the students were not in East Asian studies. Rather, students were taking Korean language courses because they simply wanted to learn Korean. Students in this class told me that they want to listen to k-pop or watch dramas without translation, go to graduate programs in Korea or get an internship position in Korean companies. To be honest, Montreal is not a city with a lot of Korean population compared to Toronto or Vancouver in Canada. However, I was surprised to see students voluntarily registering class not because it is required but because they want to learn.
- The Korean alphabet; hangul
The Korean alphabet, hangul; 한글, consist of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. It was invented by King Sejong in 1446. It is the only language in the world which the inventor and the year of invention in known. Before the invention of the alphabet, Chinese characters were used in writing. Since the Chinese characters were difficult to learn, especially to lower class people, the king created the alphabet which can be easily learned (The Academy of Korean Studies). As a Korean language teacher, I think that any person can learn to read Korean within several hours (using youtube tutorials). It is even possible in 30 minutes even though you need more time to know what it means. However, it does not necessarily mean that the Korean language is easy (the alphabet is easy to learn).
The Hunmin Chongum (訓民正音; 훈민정음) manuscript, the only known copy of the manuscript in existence was found in the 1960s and is now on display in the Kansong Museum of Art in Seoul. That copy, listed as National Treasure No. 70, is included in Unesco’s Memory of the World Register from 1997, which looks to preserve, disseminate and call attention to important older documents across the world (Lim, 2009).
- Personal thoughts on Korean language learning worldwide
It is interesting to see that Korean has become a language that people learn as a foreign or second language. I have pride as a Korean descendent and happy to deliver Korean language and culture to people who are interested in Korea. Korean language itself is not an easy language but it is interesting and easy to understand if it is learned through the history of Korea.
Lim, H. and Limb, J. (2009). A historic find, surrounded by controversy. [online] Korea JoongAng Daily. Available at: http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2913607 [Accessed 25 Dec. 2016].
The Academy of Korean Studies. (n.d.). Hangul. [online] Available at: http://terms.naver.com/entry.nhn?docId=795707&cid=46674&categoryId=46674 [Accessed 25 Dec. 2016].
UNESCO. (2016). The Hunmin Chongum Manuscript | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. [online] Available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/memory-of-the-world/register/full-list-of-registered-heritage/registered-heritage-page-8/the-hunmin-chongum-manuscript/ [Accessed 25 Dec. 2016].
World bank (2013). Population, total | Data. [online] Available at: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL [Accessed 25 Dec. 2016].