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More US Students Learning Korean


Korean language studies are quickly growing in popularity across the United States. The Modern Language Association says the number of U.S. college students taking a Korean language class rose by almost 45% between 2009 and 2013. The group notes that the increase comes at a time when the number of college students taking foreign language classes has declined.

This is K-pop -- Korean popular music. Many people around the world like the sound of K-pop.

“They do a lot of dancing, yes. And it’s more upbeat.”

“I think it's fun. I’m a little surprised that it’s caught on to the rest of the world.”

People can listen to K-pop music, and watch K-pop videos and Korean drama programs on websites like YouTube.

David Schaberg is Dean of Humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles. He also serves as a professor in UCLA’s Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, where students can study Korean.

“As a dean of humanities, to look at a country that’s creating its reputation globally through cultural production, that’s very exciting. Of course, it attracts students. Of course, it means more Americans who may have had nothing at all to do with Korea will now be gravitating to the study of Korean language and culture.”

Rosemary Feal has worked as the executive director of The Modern Language Association since 2002. She spoke to VOA on Skype.

“Many students say they really want to get inside the culture and they want a better understanding, and so clearly language gives us access into culture and cultural expression.”

Persida Radu is learning Korean. Like many others, her interest in the language started with music.

“I actually first got into Korean pop and then the dramas they show, and then learning it.”

Ms. Feal says there is another reason for the popularity of Korean language studies. She notes that children of Korean immigrants want to speak to their parents and grandparents in Korean.

“We know there is a correlation between the immigration patterns and the new generations wanting to learn a family language.”

She is describing people like John Park. He is taking a special class for ethnic Koreans. The class is designed for those who may speak a little Korean, but not enough to talk with older family members who may not speak English.

“I don’t speak Korean too well, and of course I want to communicate with my parents, my grandparents, and so I took it to learn how to read and write more effectively.”

Professor Sung-Ock Sohn teaches Korean classes at UCLA. She says another reason people want to learn the language is the growing economic power of South Korea.

Professor Schaberg says the popularity of Korean language training is also affecting American culture. He says it shows that American culture is becoming more Asian, or at least opening up to more Asian influences.

Language researchers say the growing number of U.S. students taking Korean language classes shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Their reasons: the popularity of K-pop and the rising number of Korean-Americans seeking to re-connect with older family members.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Reporter Elizabeth Lee in Los Angeles prepared this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

decline v. to drop; to become lower in amount; to worsen in condition or quality

caught on v. (past tense) to become popular

drama – n. a theatrical production or show that deals with a serious subject

reputation n. public image; the opinion that people have on something

gravitate v. to move to or toward something

correlation n. a relationship or linkage

Are you learning a new language? If so, why? And what language are you learning? Have you listened to K-pop or watched Korean dramas? We want to know. Write to us in the comments section.

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