Hong Kong adds Korean language to university entrance exams

Korea’s soft power is only part of the explanation, with Seoul pumping millions into opening Korean language academies around the world, professor says

June 22, 2022
Source: iStock

Hong Kong will include Korean in the foreign language category of the city’s university entrance exam from 2025, amid growing interest among learners, officials have announced.

“In view that young people’s interest in the Korean language has been increasing, the Korean examination was specially added to meet students’ needs,” Wei Xiang-dong, secretary general of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, told local media.

Foreign languages currently offered on the city’s university entrance exams include French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Hindi and Urdu; the last two will reportedly be dropped in 2025.

Some commentators have suggested that Korea’s soft power might be responsible for the growing appeal of its language.

“We have seen that there has been interest in the Korean language among Hong Kong students due to exposure to Korean culture,” Lee Young-ho, director of the Korean Cultural Centre in Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post.

But Jun Yoo, a professor in the department of Korean language and literature at Yonsei University who spoke with Times Higher Education, was sceptical that the popularity of K-pop and Korean films fully explained the growing popularity of Korean studies.

“One could possibly argue the impact of South Korean soft culture, but…we have to factor in…the active role the South Korean government is playing and will play in increasing the visibility of the Korean language via the King Sejong Institute,” he said.

Named after the inventor of the Korean alphabet, the King Sejong Institute was established by the South Korean government in 2007 to promote Korean language and culture. It now includes 234 branches in 82 countries.

Seoul has earmarked millions of dollars to set up more institutes each year, creating a pipeline of Korean learners, Professor Yoo noted.

“Parents start sending their children to such academies when they are in elementary or middle school, like they do in Korea with English,” he said.

But he did not discount the fact that some learners might simply be going with the flow by learning Korean. The Test of Proficiency in Korean (Topik) scoring system was “pretty straightforward”, making it a “good bet” for students and parents, he said.

Learning Korean might also play to Hong Kong students’ strength in memorisation. Professor Yoo compared Hongkongers’ preference for his native language to his Korean students’ preference for taking Vietnamese and Arabic in university entrance exams.

“When asked why Arabic, they said it’s easier to learn because you just memorise, not how to speak it, [but just learn] the Arabic script. The same for Vietnamese. Perhaps the kids in Hong Kong find it easier to learn Korean,” he suggested.


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