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00707012
2011.8
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KOREAN

Hallyu Stimulates Korean Language Study in America  16th AATK Holds Annual Conference at Yale University  About 130 Korean language educators got together on the beautiful campus of Yale University to search for ways to teach Korean as a foreign language more effectively, share specific teaching strategies, and learn about new educational materials and techniques. This year’s gathering attracted a record number of participants, due in part to the growing influence of hallyu, or the popularity of Korean pop culture.


Strategy to Upgrade the Quality of Instruction

Some 130 Korean language teachers and instructors gathered at Yale University, from June 23-25, to discuss, share, and learn ideas on how to teach Korean as a foreign language more effectively. The hurricane that hit the U.S. East Coast delayed the arrival of some participants and even forced a few to cancel their trip to New Haven, Connecticut. But it did not prevent the 16th annual conference of the American Association of Teachers of Korean (AATK) from shattering its previous records: out of 149 registrants, the conference had 131 participants, including some from Canada as well as Korea and Australia.

Having meetings for three consecutive days could have felt long and tiring, but it did not. The conference schedule included one and a half days of professional development workshops and another one and a half days of meetings, which were all very fruitful and rewarding. Veteran educators, new instructors, and graduate students all learned so much and were excited about the new perspectives on Korean language education they gained from the new teaching materials and methods, and new strategies presented at the workshops.

The research papers presented at the conference deepened the educational understanding of participants on the particular methodologies and strategies of instruction that have been found to work better, and how students learn the Korean language under varied conditions and situations. Furthermore, the chance to meet with fellow instructors, old friends, and new people was a sheer pleasure, as proven by the big smiles in the hall ways. Even the old and cramped dorm rooms at Jonathan Edwards College, which might have been less than desirable for some of the senior participants, did not detract from anyone’s enthusiasm and eagerness to learn and share their knowledge.

Hallyu Raises Interest in Learning Korean

Korean language education in the U.S., as in many other parts of the world, is taking off to a new level. According to a 2009 report by the Modern Language Association, Korean is one of the fastest-growing languages in the U.S., along with Arabic and Chinese. In 2009, a total of 8,511 students were enrolled in Korean language courses at U.S. universities and colleges, up 19 percent since 2006. Largely due to the combined effect of hallyu, or the Korean Wave, and the vastly improved competitiveness of the Korean economy in the global market, the enrollment in Korean language courses has sharply increased, while a new demographic of Korean learning students has emerged as well.

Until 10 years ago, a large majority of students in beginning-level Korean language courses, or 80 to 85 percent, were heritage learners. But, according to a report by Dr. Hi-Sun Kim of the University of Chicago, presented at the 2009 convention of the American Council of Teaching Foreign Language, the ratio between heritage and non-heritage learners at U.S. colleges has been completely reversed, with 80 to 85 percent of students at beginning-level Korean courses now being non-heritage learners. K-pop, along with Korean films and TV dramas, is more popular than ever, not just among Asian students but a broad range of ethnic groups. The brand power of Samsung, Hyundai-Kia, and LG in the global market now stands at unprecedented highs, in line with Korea’s emergence as a bona fide economic powerhouse.

Hallyu Raises Interest in Learning Korean


Still a Long Way to Go

A student of mine, who had switched his language focus from Japanese to Korean after a short visit to Korea, entered a graduate program of economics at Seoul National University last year. For sure, there must be many more students like him at other colleges and universities in the U.S. But this just shows that Korean is now getting the serious attention that it deserves in the cultural, academic, and politico-economic domains.

Naturally, the role of Korean language educators couldn’t be moreimportant, because language is the most essential element for exploring and understanding any aspect of a country. In this context, the importance of AATK cannot be overemphasized, because it is essentially the only national organization that promotes Korean language education in America, and it provides a valuable forum where Korean instructors can share their visions, ideas, and teaching materials. This is why the success of this year’s AATK conference is particularly rewarding and meaningful.

Still, there was unfortunate news amidst the joyful, earnest, and impassioned atmosphere of the gathering. Some instructors had lost their jobs due to recent budget cuts at their institutions. The bitter irony is that this was happening in the midst of rising enrollment in Korean language courses. It makes us realize the stark reality of the extent to which instructor positions are so vulnerable and insecure, and how the field of Korean language education still has a very long way to go, even though it has come so far over the years.

Korea Foundation’s Support

AATK has rapidly grown in line with the expansion of Korean language education, but its remarkable growth is also attributed to the consistent and generous support of the Korea Foundation, which has provided financial assistance as well as professional encouragement. I would like to note, with much gratitude, that the Korea Foundation’s contributions to the AATK and Korean language education have been a sound investment, which is now paying handsome dividends. We witnessed this success at the AATK conference at Yale this year. And I am confident in saying that the future dividends will be even greater and more impactful.

As the current AATK president, I am deeply gratified that I could witness the association’s successful growth through our annual meeting this year. The AATK annual gathering is an event that I always look forward to attending. This year’s conference has just ended, but I can hardly wait for next year’s meeting at Stanford University.

Hyo Sang Lee, President
American Association of Teachers of Korean

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