First lady Kim Jung-sook (center in the second row) and Naraporn Chan-o-cha (left in the second row), the wife of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, on Sept. 2 attend a Korean-language speech contest for Thai students at the Bangkok Chatrium Hotel.

Thailand's interest in the Korean language has consistently grown over the years.

In 2016, the so-called Land of Smiles decided to include Korean as a foreign language subject for university entrance exams, and offered such tests for the first time last year. Learning Korean in Thailand is no longer just a hobby given the language's cultural influence there. An estimated 40,000 Thai middle school students study Korean, the most in any country outside of Korea.

Due to the boom in Korean-language education, the Thai government regularly organizes Korean-language speech contests and administers the Korean government-run Test of Proficiency in Korean aka TOPIK in six Thai cities including Bangkok and Songkhla.

On Sept. 2, the Thai capital hosted an annual Korean-language speech contest for Thai middle school and university students organized by the education ministries of both countries. Attending the event was first lady Kim Jung-sook, who was on an official visit to Thailand with her husband, as well as Naraporn Chan-o-cha, the wife of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

"Thailand has the most students of the Korean language in the world. I want to thank you for learning Korean to connect to our country and its people, and for becoming the bridge between our two countries," Kim said in a speech.

Naraporn Chan-o-cha said, "Learning a foreign language means you can explore a bigger world, experience different countries and form close bonds with new friends. It can serve as a stepping stone for new opportunities. The Korean language will connect Thailand and Korea."


First lady Kim Jung-sook on Sept. 2 takes a selfie with students competing in a Korean-language speech contest at the Bangkok Chatrium Hotel.