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Korean language courses soar in popularity at U.S. universities

Many Korean language learners said they are inspired to take classes because of their affinity for South Korean pop culture.

By
Elizabeth Shim
The South Korean singer PSY with artist Snoop Dogg in a cross-over music video, Hangover, released in 2014. Korean language learning is soaring in the United States, thanks to the rising popularity of Korean pop music and films. Photo by OfficialPsy/YouTube
The South Korean singer PSY with artist Snoop Dogg in a cross-over music video, "Hangover," released in 2014. Korean language learning is soaring in the United States, thanks to the rising popularity of Korean pop music and films. Photo by OfficialPsy/YouTube

LOS ANGELES, April 6 (UPI) -- The popularity of South Korean music and entertainment has led to an outsize demand for Korean language courses at U.S. universities, and South Korean pop videos feature prominently in the curriculum as a tool for student learning.

Enrollment in Korean language classes has witnessed the largest percentage increase, rising 45 percent from 2009 to 2013. The Los Angeles Times reported 154 institutions now offer Korean – up more than 70 percent from 10 years ago. The number of students in Korean classes now is 12,230. The group includes a mix of Koreans and non-Koreans.

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UCLA student Olivia Hernandez, a psychology major, told the Times she was inspired by her affinity for South Korean pop music and television to enroll in introductory Korean. She also said she plans to use her Korean language skills as a therapist.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, said Korean pop culture in film and music is a driver behind the increased enrollment.

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The boom in Korean language learning comes at a time when campuses nationwide are facing budget cuts and students are under pressure to forgo the humanities for practical classes in science and business.

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The classes are designed to be fun, with K-pop music videos frequently used to segue to a grammar lesson or a topic of conversation.

It is non-Koreans, interestingly, who are leading the trend in Korean language learning.

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Sherri Ter Molen, a researcher and doctoral candidate at Wayne State University, told UPI the Korean language craze also has hit adult Americans.

Through in-depth interviews with 76 non-Korean members of Korean Meetup groups, Ter Molen said most adults had encountered Korean culture through K-pop, Korean television dramas and films. They study on their own, she said, using sites such as Talk To Me In Korean.

Seoul has supported the popularization of South Korean pop culture overseas, and has surpassed Japan's efforts in many countries, The Atlantic reported.

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American singers have also teamed up with K-pop stars in recent years, including Snoop Dogg with the South Korean singer Psy, whose unexpectedly successful hit "Gangnam Style" is the YouTube video with the most views since it was made available in 2012.

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