The Korea Herald

ssg
소아쌤

[Hello Hangeul] ‘Job opportunities key to keeping Korean language in demand’

'Only a few graduates remain in universities or pursue careers as webtoon or drama script translators. It is essential to establish career paths that link Korean language learning in universities to employment opportunities.'

By Kim So-hyun

Published : Aug. 24, 2023 - 10:27

    • Link copied

Felix Siegmund Felix Siegmund

Korean will continue to be a popular choice for language learners around the world if it leads to ample job opportunities, said a professor and two lecturers at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany.

“There exists a ‘language hierarchy’ where learners prioritize learning languages that offer economic advantages. In other words, if an environment is created where Korean language learners can obtain economic benefits through their Korean proficiency, it will sustain a continuous interest in learning the language itself,” professors Felix Siegmund, Jaewon Nielbock-Yoon and Dorothea Hoppman said in a joint interview with The Korea Herald.

Currently, only a few graduates of Korean Studies remain in universities or pursue careers as webtoon or drama script translators, they said.

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, and why do you think so?

The number of Korean language learners has significantly increased, but the ratio of teaching staff hasn't grown at the same rate, resulting in overcrowded classrooms and difficulties in providing high-quality education. This is especially challenging for conversation classes where the interaction and communication between instructors and learners are crucial. With large class sizes, opportunities for effective communication are limited, leading to conversation classes being conducted in either a lecture-style format or a flipped-classroom-style demanding substantial efforts from both the teaching staff, in providing comprehensive content in advance on online platforms, and the students, in studying beforehand.

Another pressing task is the development of textbooks that align with the local context and learning objectives. This need is especially evident in the fields of Hanja and "hanmun (classical Chinese literature)" education. For that reason, we are developing learning materials to help students master hanja, which is essential for understanding Korean vocabulary. Hanmun is a necessary tool for understanding the Korean past and a basic understanding of hanmun also helps with understanding contemporary literary Korean. Ruhr University Bochum’s inclusion of hanja from the outset reveals immediate benefits when integrated with Korean education, particularly in terms of expanding vocabulary, both actively and passively.

Lastly, currently, only a few graduates remain in universities or pursue careers as webtoon or drama script translators. It is essential to establish career paths that link Korean language learning in universities to employment opportunities.

In the case of Germany, there is a relatively low number of test takers for the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK). This is mainly because unless individuals plan to study in Korea, there is no official use or requirement for TOPIK test results. Furthermore, completing the Korean language curriculum in German universities and passing the TOPIK Level 2 exam is challenging. TOPIK Level 2 is a difficult challenge, particularly in the European region.

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?

To ensure that the Korean language continues to receive attention independently of the Korean Wave's influence, it is essential to create avenues for Korean language learners to pursue employment opportunities after graduation. There exists a "language hierarchy" where learners prioritize learning languages that offer economic advantages. In other words, if an environment is created where Korean language learners can obtain economic benefits through their Korean proficiency, it will sustain a continuous interest in learning the language itself.

Furthermore, a significant number of students initially enter the Korean Studies department due to their interest in the Korean Wave. As Korean pop culture and basic knowledge of Korean become more widespread among young people, a positive image of Korea emerges, fulfilling a long-desired and fantastic development. However, on the other hand, as TV drama and K-pop cater to market demands, it can also foster misunderstandings and misconceptions about Korean culture and society. For instance, when a Korean TV drama portrays an autistic lawyer as the main character, some students may mistakenly assume that Korea is particularly accommodating to individuals with special needs. Similarly, since Korean singers and actors often exhibit a more androgynous appearance and the Korean language lacks a strict distinction between “he” and “she”, this can lead young people grappling with issues related to their sexual orientation to believe that Korea might be an ideal place for them.

However, through in-depth studies of Korean history, culture, and language after enrollment, they develop a profound appreciation and love for the Korean language. Although guiding students to reach this stage requires considerable time and effort, it is necessary to make concerted efforts to provide comprehensive insights into Korea.

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?

Our department offers more than just cultural education; we provide in-depth education on Korean history, culture and even Chinese characters. Additionally, we offer a course called Intercultural Communication that explores the concept of culture from various perspectives. This course provides education that compares and analyzes Korean and German cultures based on cultural relativity. It is essential to equip students with the knowledge and skills to navigate cultural differences, as some individuals may struggle with cultural disparities and ultimately leave their positions in Korean public institutions or companies. Therefore, we need education that enables students to understand and engage with Korean culture accurately.

When teaching German students about Korean culture, it is crucial to focus on enabling them to critically analyze related topics or issues in Korea. Instead of solely highlighting the positive or popular aspects of Korean culture, it is important to foster critical thinking and promote a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. This approach will allow students to develop a well-rounded perspective and a deeper comprehension of Korean culture. Students in Germany are interested in all aspects of Korea, not only in the content that the Koreans themselves may wish to portray. For meaningful cross-cultural discussions and a profound understanding of language-related matters, it is highly important that the teaching staff possesses not only a deep understanding of the Korean language and culture but also of German/European culture and languages.

Q: Korean education businesses are investing heavily in educational technology such as online Korean language learning platforms and augmented reality services, and many of them are expanding their business overseas. How do you think the edu tech industry can help the qualitative growth of Korean language education around the world?

Currently, our students are actively involved in the TOPIK test digitization project. This project involves providing feedback on speech materials and test experiences while directly engaging with the digital TOPIK test. Through their participation in this project, students have firsthand experience of Korea's significant investments in Internet-based education beyond the Korean Wave. They have become direct beneficiaries of these efforts, leading to a significant boost in their motivation to study Korean.

Furthermore, we had the opportunity to accompany students on a visit to booths showcasing augmented reality services by Korean IT companies at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The response from students was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. This experience highlighted the potential impact of Korea's edtech industry, particularly when it understands and caters to the needs of the MZ generation (millennials and Generation Z). By providing accessible Korean language resources, strengthening learning motivation, and offering customized learning opportunities at an affordable price, the edtech industry can significantly contribute to the qualitative growth of Korean language education. Overall, these developments are expected to have a positive impact and pave the way for an enhanced learning experience for Korean language learners.

Lastly, during the time of COVID-19, we have come to realize that students value the experience of real-time face-to-face lessons with teachers and learning together with other students. Sharing the learning experience with others in a safe space appears to enhance students’ mental well-being and stability. Language learning platforms and online language games, although undoubtedly useful tools for learning, cannot replace the dynamism and numerous benefits of real-time classroom lessons.