South Korea is sometimes overlooked as a language learning destination, shadowed by nearby China and Japan. But for those in the know, the Republic of Korea (as it’s officially called) is lauded for its incredible talent, amazing cuisine, ancient traditions, and modern pop culture.
The Korean language reflects its home’s uniqueness. The Korean writing system, consisting of 14 consonants and 10 vowels, is arranged in different combinations of stacked and woven, parallel or horizontal symbols that form syllables and then words. This phonetic and almost mathematical writing system is utterly unlike most world languages, and a fascinating study for language students.
So, whether you've just fallen in love with Korean and want to throw yourself into a language immersion experience, or you're already abroad (perhaps, teaching in South Korea) and want to boost your Korean skills, this guide and list of Korean language schools will help you find the right course for you!
For Anglophones, learning Korean can be tough. Many students are intimidated by the unfamiliar sounds, writing system, and grammar. Choosing the right type of program can help hesitant students overcome those fears.
If you need the safety of a team to feel comfortable speaking a new language, take a group course where you can commiserate with the other students.
If you like privacy when experimenting with a new language, find a teacher and take private lessons.
Are you concerned about staying motivated? Consider pairing language classes with cultural activities to keep you engaged with your new language.
Several Korean universities offer Korean language classes to foreigners. In the capital, Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University all offer classes to students who want to learn Korean -- and they have the extra advantage of an international student body that makes for a cosmopolitan learning experience.
In the city of Busan, Pusan National University is the most popular and highest ranked university. Their Korean Language Program reputed to be the hardest (and most expensive) available.
However, most universities have strict schedules and curriculum without much flexibility, and really only an option for study abroad students. If you’re interested in studying in Korea for just a few weeks, but would like a communal environment, consider taking group courses at one of the many language schools in South Korea.
Often the most expensive, but certainly the most accommodating and learn-specific program is a private course. When working one-on-one, students can practice their Korean language strengths and develop their weaknesses.
However, if you're on a budget (looking at you, English teachers...), you might want to consider looking for language exchange meetups. With such a high demand for English learning in South Korea, you should have no problem at all finding someone willing to teach you Korean in exchange for your English knowledge.
Seoul is a city that cranked it up to eleven. The city pulses 24 hours a day, with 11.8 million people streaming to their destination. The Han River bisects the city, bisecting it into Gangbuk, the northern and more historic half, and Gangnam(as in Gangnam Style), the southern, wealthier and more modern half. Many visitors to Korea never make it past Seoul, instead preferring to explore the seemingly endless nooks and crannies of the city.
Language learners will certainly find plenty to occupy them, as well as numerous language schools and universities that are based here.
Busan is industrial, traditional and relaxing all at the same time. Students who wish to move a less frantic, but by no means slower, pace will appreciate Busan’s multitude of diversions, from traditional temples to its annual film festival. The weather is good and the people are kind. What more does a Korean language learner need?
Be warned though, Busan’s accent is quite different from the rest of Korea -- some first time visitors mistake the region’s slang and distinctive staccato for Japanese.
Americans will find that the exchange rate between South Korean Won (KRW) and the USD tilts heavily in their favor. However, while South Korea isn’t terribly expensive, the flight can be. Expect to budget around $1,000 to 1,500 USD for a round trip ticket. Once you arrive, you’ll find that the country is very wallet friendly. Fruit, oddly enough, is often priced like a luxury item. A watermelon can cost as much as $30 USD!
Language schools vary immensely in cost. Don’t be afraid to shop around, but do remember that you sometimes get what you pay for. Cheap programs (while still usually providing high quality instruction) may be bare bones and provide little guidance outside the classroom.
A more expensive program is often all-inclusive and will help organize, housing, transportation or anything else you need.
The Critical Language Scholarship offers funds to student learning languages (like Korean!) that are considered critical to US interests.
Requirements & Qualifications
There are a variety of language schools in South Korea, so whether you’re just starting out, or if you’ve been studying for years you’ll find the perfect program to suit your needs. If you’ve already taken a few Korean language classes at home, be prepared to take a simple language proficiency test when you arrive, to determine your level.
Depending on the length of your language program, you may need a visa to stay in South Korea. If you are staying for 3 months of less, most people won’t need to prepare anything in advance.
If you intend to stick around for a few months and study hard (we did hear it takes 2 years of hard study to become fluent in Korean...), you’ll need to apply for a student visa at the South Korean Embassy before your departure.
Life in South Korea
What are two great ways to learn a language? Relax and listen to some music!
South Korea has a variety of bangs (rooms) that language learners will find cultural enriching as well as an excellent way to practice their budding language skills.
A Jjim jil bang is a traditional Korean bath, with saunas, pools, and a little old lady (or man) equipped with a terrifying and invigorating scrubbing mitt. For the equivalent of 5-10 US dollars, you can pass the day in a lovely and relaxing environment.
If hanging out in your birthday suit really isn’t your style, head to a famous Norabang, or singing room. These individual Karaoke pods will let you belt out you favorite K-Pop tunes without worrying about the musical key. Learning lyrics is an excellent pedagogical tool, and the food and drink at the Norabang is seemingly never-ending. Consider it an educational field trip!