Is Korean a good language to take up as a career?
Korean is an East Asian language spoken by about 77 million people and 5.6 million consider Korean as a Heritage Language. It is the official and national language of both Koreas: North Korea and South Korea, with different standardized official forms used in each country. Of the 3000 languages in use currently, Korean is known to be the 13th most commonly used language. It is a recognised minority language in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture and Changbai Korean Autonomous County of Jilin Province, China. It is also spoken in parts of Sakhalin, Russia and Central Asia. The English word “Korean” is derived from Goryeo, which is thought to be the first Korean dynasty known to Western nations. Korean people in the former USSR refer to themselves as Koryo-saram and/or Koryo-in and call the language Koryo-mal. Historical and modern linguists classify Korean as a language isolate. Modern Korean is understood to have descended from the Middle Korean, that emerged from the Old Korean, which itself, culminated from the Proto-Koreanic language, that is suggested to have its linguistic homeland somewhere in Manchuria.
In recent years, the influence of Korean wave (Hallyu) across the whole globe has exceeded people’s expectations. King Sejong(세종 대왕) was a great king who created a complete Korean language system(훈민정음) with simple horizontal and vertical strokes and circles. Korean learning us tested via TOPIK(Test of Proficiency In Korean) that is divided into two types of papers:
TOPIK I (beginner level,evaluation for TOPIK 1,2) and
TOPIK II (intermediate and advanced level, evaluation for TOPIK 3,4,5,6).
Korean becomes easier to learn if you know Japanese or Chinese, because they share a very similar culture with Korean Peninsula in the past and even now, which brings a lot of connections between Chinese(Language), Japanese(Language) and Korean(Language). There are many Chinese loanwords in Korean. Korean script is influenced by Chinese Kanji and its grammar in the Japanese language.
So, is Korean the right choice:
While Korean itself isn’t a good option if you plan to make a living, learning any language is very enriching. Korea is a good country for many things. The Korean language is and will stay helpful only if you are in Korea or if you marry a Korean. Korea isn’t a country where you can immigrate like those Western English speaking countries. And even a spouse visa isn’t the same as a “real” permanent resident visa.
Objectively Korean language is far away from being a great choice for 99% of non-Koreans around the world. Korea was economically doing much better a few years ago than now.
In fact immigration policies were laxer a few years ago than now.
The Korean language doesn’t have much scope for a career. It isn’t a predominant language in the world and will never become one for few simple reasons:
The Korean population has more chances to decrease than to increase in near future.
The Korean language cannot become an important language because even Koreans themselves learn foreign languages, especially English. Koreans are amongst non-English speakers who spend the most time and money to learn English.
The 4 next growing markets for the future are South America, Africa, and developing countries in Asia. And no one uses the Korean language! In fact, French and Spanish will join English to become the 3 most spoken languages around the world with the largest geographic distribution.
The Korean economy is based on exports, so as long as customers are kings, you will always have Koreans trying to adapt to foreign languages rather than foreign customers trying to adapt to Korean language. The Korean market is very small. The population is ageing. In fact in the last few years, Korea has sent students to Africa and Arabic countries each year, to learn the language and the culture of those countries because those countries represent the future in terms of economic development and partnerships.
The rate of foreign students who stay to work in Korea after their studies is one of the lowest in the world despite President Moon’s changed policies to increase the rate. Most expatriate workers in Korea who don’t marry a Korean spouse, leave Korea.
Teaching English in Korea would be the best use of the language, but with limitations! Not only that, Korea isn’t ready yet to accept foreigners at a higher rate and become more multicultural, or at least less homogenous(Foreigners can renew their contract and visa for a maximum of 4–5 years) but it has also put limits on some professional visas to disable foreign workers from renewing their contracts for more than once.
Korea like its neighbouring East Asian countries isn’t indulgent in immigration, but features in lands of emigration with still very vigorous xenophobic foreign policies towards foreign immigrants to limit the amount. In fact, interracial marriages have decreased in Korea for years now. Korea has also reduced the number of foreign workers in some fields, especially English teachers. Not to reduce the English influence but to favour local workers.
Being an interpreter is also a viable option, but you would need to be very good!
Outside Korea, the only time where the Korean language is useful is when you work for an overseas Korean company or foreign company working with Korea. Some positions need you to, make contact with Korean representatives who can only speak Korean or, directly reside abroad in a Korean speaking country where most of the company clientele is alien to English; in this sense Korean as a foreign language is irreplaceable.
However, 99% of these companies prefer to hire overseas Koreans and with a widespread large Korean diaspora abroad non-Koreans hardly get a chance.
But of course, high-end talents in any market are always in a state of shortage.
Korean, may find use in the tourism industry as a tour guide to service Korean tourists who need guidance or hard-to-obtain information; since English is not spoken by most local people in different countries.
Korean language may also find use in the medical field to be able to help a Korean abroad in an English-speaking country. Official interpreters are the best but should the need arise, who would say “no” to someone who can communicate well with non-English speaking patients? A little goes a long way sometimes.
Being trilingual is still a lot better than being monolingual in today’s competitive job market. Good opportunities do not come every day but when they do, one needs to be ready to be able to seize them.
New generations of Koreans are themselves having a tough time finding jobs in their own homeland despite it being a homogenous country with over 96% of people being ethnic Korean, as of now. Soon there will be a day when the borders will close for Non-Koreans and most expatriate workers who aren’t married to a Korean spouse categorized as temporary people living and working in Korea.
There, however, remain quite a few positions in the contemporary Chinese job market that require the ability to speak non-English foreign languages. I see a lot of big-scale companies like Huawei, TouTiao and so on offering positions that require candidates to be equipped with both professional and non-English foreign language skills.
Korean however is a great choice if:
1.If you live, work, or study in Korea, of course Korean language will help you in your daily life, but there also is the reality.
2. You wish to make international friends. Learning Korean makes you wiser and more open-minded as you get the chance to explore a whole new world and culture that you would not know unless you learn their language. Without learning the native language of your friends, it is usually hard to maintain long-lasting friendship. Through language apps, you can talk to Koreans and share things about your country while educating them.
3. It is indeed possible to use English get away with it but like what Nelson Mandela’s said — “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
4. While a masters seems like a waste of time and money if you aren’t planning to translate or interpret, yet studying Korean can benefit learners from taking up exchange programs in Korea during your undergraduate term. Oriental and Western learning experiences during the undergraduate study, will make it easier for a learner to develop a broader international perspective. Over 80% of Korean universities offer scholarships if you provide them an English certificate such as IELTS or TOEIC. English countries themselves don’t do that.
5. It is never too late to enjoy good books written in the target language. Being able to read books in Korean, without having to rely on translations, will be such a delight for an avid reader like me. Korean language is beautiful and it is always fun to add new titles to your never-ending reading list.
6. I believe you wish to pursue Korean after receiving inspiration from K-Pop. Kdrama or K-Pop fan but because of Hallyu.
7. If you are married to a Korean from Korea, speaking Korean will definitely help you to communicate with his/her family.
8. You can have direct and unlimited access to Korean (contemporary) literature in its original form.
9. Korean language will help you keep a balanced view on the global events that involve any of the two Koreas, and be able to identify fake news in comparison to the actual one available in Korean and/or by having conversations with natives and to find their point of view.
To be honest and objective, knowing Korean does not help you in your everyday life unless you live, research, or work in Korea! Also, best wishes for your future!
Always keep in mind that a grading test is just that: a grading test. Only a realistic implementation of a language will provide you with the full value of the Korean language. Make some Korean friends, visit Korea more often, read Korean original books, and so on..
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