South Korea brought K-pop and K-dramas to the world. The Korean language could be next - CNN

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There’s ne'er been a amended clip to larn Korean.

It’s 1 of the fastest-growing languages successful the world, outpacing traditionally fashionable rivals similar Chinese successful aggregate markets – reflecting the planetary improvement galore telephone the “Korean wave.”

In 2022, Korean was the seventh most-studied connection connected the learning app Duolingo, according to the company’s yearly connection report. And it’s seeing peculiar occurrence successful parts of South and Southeast Asia, arsenic the most-studied foreign connection successful the Philippines, and not acold disconnected the apical spot successful Thailand, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Although Chinese – which for years has been considered arsenic the concern connection of the aboriginal – remains the 2nd astir spoken connection successful the world, acknowledgment successful portion to the sheer size of China’s population, it has sat successful eighth spot connected Duolingo for the past respective years, lagging down Korean.

Korean is the 2nd most-studied Asian connection connected Duolingo, lone narrowly down Japanese, according to the connection report. Duolingo, which has much than 500 cardinal users internationally, ranks Korean up of Chinese, Russian and Hindi, and down Italian. English and Spanish inactive beryllium comfortably successful the apical 2 spots.

This emergence successful interest, experts and teachers say, is acknowledgment to the Korean wave, oregon “hallyu” – the proliferation of Korean culture internationally.

Japanese fans of K-pop radical BTS astatine a cafe featuring BTS goods successful Seoul, South Korea, connected June 15, 2022.

The past 2 decades person seen South Korean exports expanse the world, from K-pop and Korean TV dramas to quality products, manner and food. The state has go an planetary taste juggernaut – truthful overmuch truthful that the Oxford English Dictionary added much than 20 words of Korean root successful 2021, saying successful a statement, “We are each riding the crest of the Korean wave.”

This improvement has been aided by South Korea’s ain government, which has worked to dispersed the country’s taste power done euphony and media since the 1990s. Now, the Korean connection could beryllium the adjacent export to spell global.

“Compared to the clip I started my career, the perceptions of Korea arsenic a nation, Korean civilization and society, and the Korean connection person gone done a significant, affirmative change,” said Joowon Suh, manager of the Korean Language Program astatine Columbia University. “Now it is perceived much modern, advanced, marketable, cooler, and hipper.”

For decades, East Asian connection studies overseas person mostly been constricted to Mandarin Chinese and Japanese.

But that began to alteration successful the past decennary aft large hits by Korean artists and directors, specified arsenic Psy’s 2012 opus “Gangnam Style,” the 2019 thriller “Parasite,” the 2021 Netflix show “Squid Game,” and the emergence of BTS, undoubtedly the biggest planetary stars of K-pop.

Figures amusement a surge successful involvement toward the connection successful the aforesaid period.

The fig of students enrolled successful Korean classes astatine higher acquisition institutions successful the United States leapt from 5,211 successful 2002 to astir 14,000 successful 2016, according to information analyzed by the Modern Language Association.

K-pop radical BTS astatine the 64th Grammy Awards successful Las Vegas connected April 3, 2022.

This leap is striking fixed Korean isn’t casual for non-native speakers to learn. The US State Department lists Korean arsenic a “super-hard language,” meaning it’s “exceptionally difficult” for English speakers and takes connected mean 88 weeks to execute nonrecreational moving proficiency.

Modern Korean follows a phonetic alphabet called Hangul, meaning the syllables are mostly pronounced arsenic they’re written – dissimilar non-phonetic languages specified arsenic Chinese, which uses symbols to correspond circumstantial meanings.

Suh, the Columbia instructor, said she archetypal began noticing a emergence successful involvement astir 2015 – but it has accelerated successful the past 3 to 4 years. The fig of Columbia students enrolling successful Korean courses accrued by 50% from the 2017 to 2021 world years, she said.

Other fashionable languages person seen numbers either plateau oregon driblet implicit the past decade. US students enrolled successful Chinese classes, for instance, jumped importantly from 2002 to 2013, a play marked by China’s monolithic economical maturation and planetary influence.

But enrollments successful Chinese had dipped by 2016, according to the Modern Language Association – coinciding with the deterioration of US-China relations, and the worsening cognition of China successful the West owed to its alleged quality rights abuses.

"Squid Game" prima Lee Jung-jae attends the Los Angeles screening of the deed Netflix amusement connected November 8, 2021.

“Students’ involvement successful overseas connection learning successful US higher acquisition tends to beryllium much connected the cognition oregon estimation of a state successful presumption of system and geopolitics, specified arsenic China, Russia oregon Portugal,” said Suh.

Similarly, successful the United Kingdom, the fig of higher acquisition students taking Korean courses tripled from 2012 to 2018, according to the University Council of Modern Languages – compared to conscionable a 5% summation for Chinese, and a diminution successful respective European languages similar French and German.

Korean’s newfound popularity was nary accident, with South Korean authorities jumping astatine the accidental to beforehand their connection connected the backmost of its much palmy exports.

“It is the Hallyu that has persuaded Asian countries astatine the societal level that Korea is truly portion of the developed, occidental world,” said John Walsh successful his 2014 publication connected the phenomenon. This displacement successful cognition has successful crook boosted the government’s quality to prosecute “national interests successful the areas of diplomacy, investment, acquisition and trade,” helium wrote.

Over the past decade, the Ministry of Education has sent Korean teachers overseas, including several twelve to Thailand successful 2017 to thatch the connection astatine mediate and precocious schools.

A show astatine a bilingual Korean-English connection immersion people astatine Porter Ranch Community School successful Los Angeles, photographed successful September 2016.

In much caller years, galore countries including Laos, Myanmar and Thailand person officially adopted Korean arsenic a overseas connection successful their schoolhouse curricula, nether agreements signed with the Korean acquisition ministry, according to South Korean quality bureau Yonhap.

Meanwhile, the King Sejong Institute, a government-founded Korean-language brand, has established 244 learning centers worldwide, according to its website.

These efforts purpose to “keep the involvement of Korean connection abroad, which has go wide fashionable with the Korean Wave,” said the acquisition ministry successful a 2017 property release.

“In the agelong term, Korean connection courses successful the section schoolhouse program volition service arsenic a measurement to foster Korean experts, and thereby strengthening affable relationships betwixt Korea and different countries,” it added.

Suh cautioned that the Korean question runs the hazard of oversimplifying nuances of Korean civilization and society, specified arsenic determination differences oregon people conflicts, portion glorifying “anything (Korean) without afloat knowing its history.”

But, she added, this simplification could really payment the South Korean authorities arsenic it expands its influence, arsenic thing “any rising brushed powerfulness mightiness person to spell through.”

Experts accidental students travel to the array with assorted reasons for pursuing the Korean connection – though definite trends person emerged among determination and taste lines.

“The Korean question is an important origin for non-heritage students,” said Suh, referring to those without Korean ethnicity oregon practice who are simply funny successful Korean taste products similar movies and K-pop.

Meanwhile, students of Korean descent thin to instrumentality Korean classes for much “integrative” reasons, she said – for instance, wanting to unrecorded successful South Korea, to amended link with their communities and families, oregon to research their ain Korean identities.

Jiyoung Lee, an adjunct teacher astatine New York University’s Department of East Asian Studies, pointed to the emergence of societal media platforms similar Instagram and TikTok. These person facilitated planetary taste exchanges and “largely influenced” the fig of Korean learners, she said.

But Lee, who antecedently taught Korean successful Indonesia and South Korea, besides noticed differences among students successful antithetic parts of the world.

US students thin to larn Korean “because they are much funny successful enjoying civilization … and privation to speech to their favourite singers oregon actors,” she said.

By contrast, students successful Southeast Asia mostly survey Korean to get a occupation successful South Korea, oregon astatine a Korean institution successful their location country, she said, noting the fig of Korean brands “establishing themselves not lone successful Southeast Asia but besides successful assorted countries.”

For instance, the Korean amusement elephantine SM Entertainment is expanding into Southeast Asia with caller Singapore headquarters. Meanwhile, the Korean convenience store concatenation GS25 has much than 180 outlets successful Vietnam, and is acceptable to interruption crushed successful Malaysia this year, according to Yonhap.

The enlargement of Korean concern and popular civilization whitethorn besides beryllium pushing young Southeast Asians to question to South Korea. Southeast Asians marque up much than 40% of overseas students successful South Korea, and 30% of overseas residents successful the state overall, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Jeffrey Holliday, who teaches Korean linguistics astatine Korea University successful Seoul (with classes taught successful English), said astir 40% of his students are speech students, mostly coming from the US. These students thin to beryllium undergraduates, lone successful Seoul for a fewer semesters, and astir each are avid fans of Korean popular civilization specified arsenic K-pop, helium says.

Meanwhile, his overseas postgraduate students – who thin to beryllium studying determination full-time and are seeking jobs successful Korea – mostly hail from China and Vietnam.

“To maine it’s truthful astonishing due to the fact that erstwhile I was successful assemblage (in the US) from 1999 to 2003 … determination was no-one learning Korean who wasn’t a practice speaker. I was the lone 1 who wasn’t Korean American,” helium said.

“Whereas now, these students travel here, they’re precise focused, precise determined – they truly privation to larn Korean and they’re present for that.”

Correction: A erstwhile mentation of this communicative misstated the placing of Japanese connected the Duolingo report. It is the astir studied Asian connection connected the platform.

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