LEARNING A new language can be stressful, as it forces learners out of their comfort zones. Yet, a remarkable event occurs in Yonsei University’s Amphitheater annually, where international students gather to compose poetry and prose in Korean. This Annual Korean Language Writing Contest for Foreign Nationals would not have been possible without the persistent effort of the Yonsei Korean Language Institute (KLI). With a special focus on Korean education, the KLI is at the forefronts of teaching all those who wish to gain a better understanding of the Korean language, culture and society.
What is the KLI?
Affiliated with Yonsei University’s Institute of Language Research and Education (ILRE), the KLI was first founded in 1959 to provide intensive Korean language courses to foreign students, missionaries, and diplomats. In the course of 60 years, the KLI has taught more than 150,000 students from 97 countries, and currently staffs 166 lecturers with a master’s degree and above—the largest faculty among all Korean language institutes*. In an interview with The Yonsei Annals, Kim Hyun-cheol, the Director of the ILRE, explained that the KLI is not only a language training institution, but also a gateway to Korean culture and society through its Korean courses.
Like most South Korean universities, Yonsei requires international and overseas Korean students to attain level three and above in the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) to certify their Korean abilities**. In line with this requirement, the KLI provides several programs to help students achieve their desired TOPIK level. However, Kim explained that because it is not only Yonsei that requires TOPIK scores, the KLI hosts students from other universities as well. “Although we are under Yonsei, as an autonomous teaching center, our doors are open to all who wish to learn Korean, as long as they have completed secondary education,” said Kim.
The courses range from the year-long Regular Program to the short but intensive Three-Week Program, from which students can choose based on their needs. All courses provide separate lectures and textbooks on reading, writing, speaking, and listening to fully prepare students on all aspects of the language. The classes are kept small in order to maximize opportunities of interaction between students and lecturers, which the KLI deems fundamental to language education. The KLI students also find this system of teaching helpful. Alexandra Ashimine (Sr., Dept. of Korean Culture) said, “The size of the class made it easier for teachers and students to get to know each other. The teachers genuinely care about you and encourage you throughout the duration of the course.” While the KLI’s main facilities are at the Sinchon Campus, the institute also hosts classes in the Yonsei International Campus (YIC) in Songdo to reach a wider audience.
Besides in-class lectures, the KLI hosts several activities to help students apply what they have learned to real-life situations. “Language and culture cannot be separated,” said Kim, “which is why we include cultural exchanges and programs to deepen students’ understandings of the Korean language.” One prime example of the KLI’s student activities is the Language Exchange Program, where KLI students are paired with Korean Yonsei students. Additionally, students can take a break from lectures by participating in lighter programs like field trips, during which students visit cultural heritage sites to learn more about the history and lives of Koreans. Ashimine said, “The trip to the Korean Folk Village was the most memorable. While touring around the village, the teachers made connections to our learnings in class, which made it easier to understand what we’ve learned by actually using them in real situations. I remember thinking that day, ‘Wow, look at us talking in Korean.’”
One of the major differences between the KLI and its counterparts is language research. As the name of its umbrella body suggests, the KLI has not only focused on Korean education, but also on the study of teaching Korean. Kim said, “Language education without a solid foundation on extensive research is bound to become unsustainable.” Under this principle, the KLI invests much of its resources in formulating more effective and efficient methods of lecturing which are directly reflected in its curricula. Moreover, the KLI hosts annual international symposiums on Korean language education and publishes its findings in academic journals which can be accessed by anyone. Empowered by its studies, the KLI creates, designs, and publishes its own textbooks, which Kim emphasized as an extraordinary feat rarely seen in other language institutes. “As part of our efforts to facilitate Korean language education, we share our textbooks with other universities and countries all over the world,” explained Kim.
Future goals and prospects
With the increasing popularity of Korean culture around the world, the KLI has a new goal: to facilitate the globalization of the Korean language. Acknowledging the dearth of adequate Korean language centers abroad, the KLI is currently focusing on establishing overseas branches to directly reach out to potential students. According to Kim, the KLI and Princeton University has recently formed an agreement to establish the Yonsei Language Institute in Princeton to teach Korean lessons using the KLI’s materials and curricula. Kim added, “We expect to become the forerunners of global Korean education by using our rich and extensive research data and teaching materials. We also hope that this becomes an opportunity for Yonsei and Princeton to have further academic exchanges in the future.”
Likewise, the KLI also hopes to build an alumni network. But because not all of the KLI enrollees are Yonsei students, it is more difficult to establish a sustainable network with the graduates. Despite this difficulty, Kim emphasized, “All of our students are valuable contributors to the KLI’s future global projects.”
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“I can proudly say that the KLI is the best choice in learning Korean as a foreign language,” said Kim, emphasizing its rich history of education. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, the KLI will continue to maintain its position as the most specialized Korean language institution in Korea. Kim added, “For our long-term goal, we expect the KLI to be the pioneer in the globalization of the Korean language.” Given KLI’s extensive programs ranging from basic conversation to academic Korean, learning Korean may not be a scary challenge anymore.
*The Korean Language Institute Annual Report
**Yonsei University Spring 2020 Application Guide