Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, was created in 1443 under King Sejong (1397~1450), the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty. One can read King Sejong’s love of the people in the preface of the Hunminjeongum in which he says he decided to invent a new simple writing system since he came to realize that the common people find it difficult to learn written Chinese due to structural differences with the Korean speaking style. Could he ever have imagined his affectionate invention would receive worldwide attention 500 years later?


Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon (Explanations and Examples of Correct Sounds to teach the people) was created by King Sejong in the 15th century (photo: Yonhap News).

The excellence and originality of Hangeul has been well received throughout the world. Following the designation of Hangeul as National Treasure No. 70, the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize was created in 1989 to honor government or private organizations for their contributions to spreading literacy. The academic world was no exception in recognizing the value of Hangeul. In East Asia: The Great Tradition, a textbook used at Harvard University in 1960, Hangeul was described as “the most scientific writing system,” while British historian John Man said that the ‘Korean alphabet shows how far can a writing system evolve and where are its boundaries, and this is why it should be closely observed” in his book Alpha Beta.

Aroused by Korean dramas and K-pop culture, the interest and curiosity in Korean culture was transferred onto Hangeul. The number of people who use or learn the Korean language reaches 80 million, and the number is on the constant rise. The topic of globalization of the Korean language has come to the forefront these days.

The growing popularity of the Sejong Institute, an overseas Korean language education center, provides good evidence of the fact. Korean language classes in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, and also some European nations including France, experience a shortage of seats before the registration deadline. To meet the demand for Korean classes, the Korean government announced the establishment of 14 additional Sejong Institutes by the end of this year, adding up to a total of 90 institutes spread through over 43 countries across the globe.

culturecenter_LA.jpg14 new Sejong Institutes will be opened by the end of this year in response to the growing number of foreign students who have taken an interest in learning Korean (photo courtesy of KCCLA).

Song Hyang-geun, president of the International Korean Language Foundation, says it still has a long way to go in achieving the globalization of the Korean language. “There are more than 4,000 textbooks on the Korean language around the world, but still it is difficult to pick the right book for students to meet the educational demand,” he explained during an interview with the Korea Herald. “A recent study revealed that most students are taking the class for their personal interests so that they can understand more about Korean dramas or send fan letters to Korean stars. This means the level of programs shouldn’t be too academic.”

His dream came true. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, in partnership with Korea Broadcasting Advertising Corporation, announced their plan to introduce an easy and entertaining way of learning the Korean language. The lessons make use of content from K-pop music programs and hit Korean dramas that played a central role in leading the Hallyu craze such as A Tale of Autumn, Winter Sonata, and Dream High through which foreign audiences can understand more of Korean culture, especially youth culture.

korean_drama.jpgKorean hit dramas have become a primary part of Korean language courses as a fun and helpful tool for foreign learners (photo courtesy of KBS).

The traditional way of lessons was a bit too academic, considered difficult to catch up for foreigners. The renewed type of lessons, however, center on expressions for daily use, captured from scenes of Korean dramas and music shows. In the lesson’s beginning, a Korean announcer gives a brief and simple explanation about the selected grammar structures or vocabulary and then replays the scenes several more times to help the audience get familiar with it. As well, students can take advantage of indirectly learning about cultural aspects of Korean life by watching how Koreans have conversations with each other, what they eat, and where they live in the programs.

Starting in October, the new lessons will be aired across the globe via KBS World and Nuri-Sejonghakdang, an online affiliate of the King Sejong Institute.

By Lee Seung-ah
Korea.net Staff Writer