Why Is Learning Korean Online Difficult

If you’re having trouble figuring out Korean and look to learn it via language classes, get ready for a learning curve. Read on to find out why and how to get started.

If you take an introductory course in Korean, it’s easy to see why many institutions of higher learning won’t teach the language. Here’s a quick explanation:

Standard online learning is all about flashing red buttons in your browser. In the textbook, you’re taught the case for testing, cheating, and influencing results. The lessons that appear in Korean conversations — those that occur on Google Translate — are the worst sort of homework.

This approach has proven to be a lot harder for most students to get through than the textbook approach. In particular, there is one phrase that often gets most internet adopters labeled fake Korean speakers: “ge juwon.”

To describe it, let’s say that at a party a friend gets a graphic on Facebook that clearly says, “사회운 심욱의 오호니나” — and you get right back to whatever you were doing with your hands. In fact, it would be great if you could Google that word as soon as you’ve decided you’re at a party in Korea.

But while it’s socially acceptable to Google this word now and then, it would be wildly problematic if you started real-life studying if you were offered it in class. The phrase is problematic on many different levels:

The example of the “ge juwon” showed above applies to a literal situation. In fact, that’s how many versions of the word “celebrity” became an ubiquitous abbreviation — because it appears in the context of “jeonssam,” which means “famous” (which is of course part of being very famous). “Is going to a party and Google [celebrity] of the day,” according to very popular re-iterations of the word.

While learning the standard grammatical expression of using an “is” to end a sentence is simple, it’s hard to figure out how to use the real-life equivalent when you’re online.

The term also presents a sticky situation for teachers in academic environments. Many teachers accept the authenticity of the language as an informational tool; it has become integral to the development of the quality of their instruction.

A simple glance into Korean society — or even the ordinary conversation about something like the 2016 elections — would show that the goal is to get people to understand the Korean language quickly enough to understand how their society works. According to multiple Korean Americans, it’s still that goal that most Korean American professors have in mind.

But if you’re trying to achieve that goal by hooking your students into a comfortable hook, then it’s a hard ask for you to teach an e-course — particularly if you give your students the option to look it up for free.

Generally, people don’t access the internet to figure out if they’re incompetent at English. It’s a bigger challenge to get people into Korean over an American expat online course. Whereas I’ve heard many English teachers justify the fact that they would rather not teach Korean online, the faculty I have talked to say it’s difficult not to do so.

This issue has increased for me over the past couple of years. In fact, I sent this story to many faculty and interested others about an hour after posting it, before I realized how much the entire Korean community was talking about it, including real Koreans and non-Koreans with a particular interest in Korean.

So although my community and members in the US share similar challenges online, I encourage any Koreans who are interested in a serious study to think of taking online Korean or trying a language test to ensure that they’re on the same level as anyone who wants to take it on in a real class.

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