The number of students learning Korean in universities throughout the United States has increased almost exponentially over the past 10 years, and it’s most likely due to the incredible popularity of K-pop.
According to the U.S. Modern Language Association, the number of American university students enrolled in Korean language classes has doubled between 2006 and 2016, Vice reported. The MLA attributes the rise in demand for learning the Korean language to the effects of the Korean wave, which includes the popularity of K-dramas, global sensations like K-pop group BTS, and even the prominence of Korean skin care routines and products.
The increase is the biggest for any language with over a thousand students, with Korean taking the top spot followed by Arabic, Japanese and Chinese, according to a graph by Statista.
Other countries have also experienced the hype of learning the Korean language.
In 2007, the Korean government’s King Sejong Institute only operated 13 branches in three countries, but now, the institute has 172 branches located around the world. They are now teaching 57,000 students in 56 different countries, the Korea Herald reported in March.
The demand for TOPIK, the test that measures someone’s Korean proficiency, has also increased. There were only 2,200 test-takers in 1997, but the number has now grown to almost 265,000.
Kang Hyoun-Hwa, chief of the King Sejong Institute, hopes the curiosity of the younger generation to learn Korean can turn into a comprehensive study experience.
“I want to make self-learning possible from the beginner level all the way to the very high level, with online classes, level tests and evaluations, individually assigned study coaches and even a chatbot,” she told the Korea Herald. “It will be my top priority in office.”
Kang’s vision helped the institute get tremendous support from the government. The King Sejong Institute reportedly received an extra 1 billion Korean won ($878,000) in funding in addition to its annual budget.
Duolingo is one of the many free apps where users can learn Korean. The language was only added in 2017 after many people sent in their requests. There are 300 million people using the app and 3.3 million of them are studying Korean.
The government is reportedly developing a new Korean proficiency test that aims to test one’s ability to communicate as the TOPIK is only applicable to those who want to take up higher education in Korea.
“We have already commissioned a study (for the new test) and are aiming for its launch in two years,” Kang said.