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[Newsmaker] [Hello Hangeul] Yonsei vs Sogang: A closer look at decades-old rivalry in Korean language education

Yonsei KLI has unparalleled legacy and reputation; Sogang KELC rises with emphasis on speaking skills

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Feb. 12, 2023 - 15:14

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Among those considering coming to Korea for language study, two university-run language institutes have long been considered the best options.

Associated with and located on the main campuses of Yonsei University and Sogang University, they take pride in providing the “most immersive learning experience.”

Here’s a closer look at the archrival language institutes, whose competition for reputation has brought about benefits to not just learners but the field of Korean language studies in general.

Yonsei University KLI graduates attend a graduation ceremony for its summer course in 2022. (Yonsei KLI) Yonsei University KLI graduates attend a graduation ceremony for its summer course in 2022. (Yonsei KLI)


Why Yonsei?

The Korean Language Institute run by Yonsei University is the oldest, and arguably the most famous, among its peers here.

Established in April 1959, some 170,000 students from 152 countries have studied the Korean language at Yonsei KLI, according to data provided by the institution.

Among them are celebrities such as former K-pop boy band EXO member and Chinese mega-star Luhan.

Now, Yonsei has around 160 instructors teaching some 2,300 students per term.

Six decades’ dedication to the education of Korean as second language is the source of Yonsei’s unparalleled strength, touts its spokesperson.

“Because we are the oldest Korean language institution here, we have the most data and experience to cater to those who want to learn the language,” the official told The Korea Herald on Friday.

Yonsei’s prestigious reputation is propped up by the finest teachers and staff members and also help attracts the most competent students. “We also hand out scholarships based on their previous academic performances at their respective high school or university,” the spokesperson added.

The institution offers various programs, but its regular 10-week program is the most sought-out one. According to the school, of the around 1,600 people who enter Korea for the purpose of enrolling in the institution, more than a majority attend the regular program.

The classes are divided into morning and afternoon classes and are held from Monday to Friday at Yonsei University’s main Sinchon campus in Seoul. It is divided into six levels and if the students starting at level one want to complete the entire course to level six, it will take approximately 1 1/2 years.

“My time at Yonsei KLI was the greatest and the most fun experience I ever had in my life,” 27-year-old Indonesian Angela Hermawan told The Korea Herald.

Hermawan who lives in Korea, said the program, which she attended from June to November last year, played a big part in helping her adjust to her new environment here.

“I was able to review the lessons they taught so easily because of the cozy and friendly atmosphere. The hardest part about the program was the debate exam which requires you to speak out in front of other people, but the teachers are supportive and encouraging, so it’s not really a tense process.”

Hermawan also said that though the student population is culturally diverse, most of her classmates were from other Asian countries.

The program’s tuition currently costs 1.77 million won ($1,394) for a 10-week course and the application fee is 80,000 won. All applicants must have at least a high school diploma.

Enrollees can live in Yonsei University dormitories, but they must apply as soon as possible as the rooms are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

The institution also offers night classes and there are separate programs for foreign students enrolled at local universities.

The school also organizes extracurricular activities tied to the language program including Korean food cooking classes, volunteer works, K-pop dance team and more.

Why Sogang?

A relative latecomer to the scene, Sogang University’s Korean Language Education Center has emerged as a strong contender to Yonsei, with its curriculum focusing more on speaking skills and less on grammar and writing.

Established in 1990, it has some 4,000 students enrolled in various courses, but like Yonsei, its regular program is the most popular.

The regular program is divided into two courses, “Korean for general purposes” which is held in the morning and “Korean for academic purposes” in the afternoon.
Sogang University KLEC graduates attend a graduation ceremony for a course that ends in spring 2022. (Sogang KLEC) Sogang University KLEC graduates attend a graduation ceremony for a course that ends in spring 2022. (Sogang KLEC)

Each course is 10-weeks long and four hours per day. The classes are divided into seven different levels depending on the level of the students’ Korean language skill.

Sogang’s KLEC is most famous for designing its class around the textbook it developed and in a way to maximize opportunities to improve speaking skills. It provides a total of 69 self-developed textbooks throughout level on to six.

“The most important thing about our institution is that we focus on improving the speaking and communication skills of our students,” Woo Kyung-ok, the center’s general manager said via phone interview.

“We have also recently started including our program as part of the curriculum for exchange students from other countries to Sogang University,” she added.

The tuition, however, is more expensive compared with Yonsei and known as the most expensive among similar programs here. It currently costs 1.83 million won per its 10-week semester with 60,000 application fee.

But unlike Yonsei’s KLI, which canceled its online courses from this year, Sogang continues to offer online classes for students who want to study Korean remotely.

The program offers special group tour programs for its students including trips to the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas, alongside supporting extracurricular activities such as K-pop dance team and Korean film club.

Sogang University is also located in the Sinchon area, within walking distance from Yonsei University, which allows the programs’ attendees to enjoy Korea’s college town lifestyle.

A German college student who came to Sogang University on an exchange program said his time at KLEC was fruitful.

“It helped me improve my communication skills with my Korean peers and professors during my time at the university,” he said.