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[Hello Hangeul] 'Best way to promote Korean language is not through textbooks'

Prof. Sam Richards on how to keep Korean language in demand and Hallyu's momentum alive

By Choi Jae-hee

Published : Aug. 18, 2023 - 09:00

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Prof. Sam Richards Prof. Sam Richards

As a sociologist, professor Sam Richards at Pennsylvania State University has been following Korea’s ascent, before the Korean Wave came crashing onto the US shores like a tsunami, bringing with it groundbreaking successes like BTS, “Squid Game” and “Parasite.”

In an email interview with The Korea Herald, the professor shared some insights on how to keep the Korean language in demand and the Hallyu-driven momentum alive.

Having a perspective from outside the realm of Korean studies or language education, he stressed the need to “stay away from textbooks,” or traditional language learning models.

Richards noted that what motivates people to pick up Korean is their desire to more “deeply connect to Korean culture, because Korea is cool.”

“Young people today have very little interest in traditional ways of learning things such as language,” he added.

Stressing that Hallyu is “the primary” reason behind the Korean learning boom, he predicted that the demand for Korean language learning will continue to rely largely on Korea’s cultural influence.

“As long as Korea's global cultural expansion continues, then so too will Korean language education.”

Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Q. What do you think are the most important tasks in Korean language education around the world or in your region?

Probably the best way to promote Korean language learning is to stay away from traditional textbooks and models for learning. I recommend leveraging new developments in AR (augmented reality) technologies, along with opportunities for people to communicate via easily accessible (and free) video conferencing platforms. At some point what is required is bringing people together face-to-face either on camera in real time or via augmented reality platforms. But young people today have very little interest in traditional ways of learning things such as language.

Q. Hallyu is undoubtedly among the main factors that drove the rapid increase in demand for learning Korean. What should the Korean government, universities or related institutions work on to keep the Korean language in demand, without the help of Hallyu?

Hallyu is more than one of the "main factors" that has fueled the interest in Korean language study; Hallyu is THE PRIMARY factor. As long as K-culture remains popular, then so will learning the Korean language. What the Korean government, universities, and other institutions could do to grow the interest in learning Korean would be to facilitate or encourage more direct links between culture producers and Korean language instruction.

Q. As language and culture are intertwined, Korean cultural education is considered essential in Korean language education. Could you share your views on the role of Korean cultural education and how it should be done?

While a relatively small number of my students are studying Korean with the intention of speaking and writing it fluently, an extraordinary number of them are learning Korean words and phrases today compared to past years. From what I can assess, what motivates them is their desire to more deeply connect to Korean culture because Korea is cool. With this in mind, it is the Korean culture producers who are driving this growing interest in the Korean language and so as long as Korea's global cultural expansion continues, then so too will Korean language education. Other than continuing to produce great K-culture content that people around the world enjoy, I doubt there is a specific strategy to make Korean language expansion more successful.

Q. How do you think the edu tech industry can help the qualitative growth of Korean language education around the world?

The first point of contact for those of us who are trying to learn Korean are YouTubers who offer their excellent language tutorial content for free. For people who don't have the time or inclination to become fluent, these YouTube tutorials are sufficient and will provide people with enough support to get a basic understanding of the language. But what these YouTubers do not provide are opportunities for language learners to practice, and the excitement of learning a language grows exponentially with opportunities to have conversations. If my only job in the world was to figure out how to get more people to want to become Korean speakers and not just fans, I would provide opportunities to practice via video platforms that are easy to use and inexpensive.

The following series is part of The Korea Herald’s “Hello Hangeul” project which consists of interviews, in-depth analyses, videos and various other forms of content that shed light on the stories of people who are learning the Korean language and the correlation between Korea’s soft power and the rise of its language within the league of world languages. – Ed.