Four Weeks in Seoul: Short-Term Intensive Korean Language Courses

Photo by Lorryn Smit

Learning Korean can be hard. Even for those international residents who have been living in Korea for years, developing fluency in the language can seem like a daunting task, and one that we never quite seem to manage. It does not help that Korea is obscenely easy to navigate with the most minimal use of Korean – English and gestures will do us just fine in most everyday scenarios. The problem can be further aggravated by our differing learning styles and location in Korea. Some of us can easily pick up language by immersing ourselves in the environment, in which case, living in a more isolated, rural locale can have its benefits. However, some of us need more structure in our language-learning environments, with teachers to guide us in our development. In such situations, living in that rural town is less than ideal. Even in large, metropolitan cities like Gwangju that does have classes available, finding what you need can be difficult for working adults, with our various work schedules.

However, there are options available to us to learn more Korean! While self-study through textbooks and such websites as Talk to Me in Korean are perennial favorites, if you want a more intensive experience, heading to Seoul to attend one of the top universities in the nation for their short-term intensive language programs (one to four weeks long, typically) is a definite option.

Yes, these types of programs exist in other cities as well, but the majority of programs are concentrated in Seoul, and some of the most reputable programs are located there. And for those of us who are English teachers working for the majority of the year, these programs are convenient for being short-term (but intensive!), and available during winter and summer vacation periods.

Molly Lockwood, a former Fulbright English Teaching Assistant who worked in Mokpo from 2013 to 2015 and is now a program coordinator at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, attended two such programs in Seoul, at Seoul National University and Yonsei University. She was happy to share her thoughts regarding these kinds of programs.

Why did you choose to study in Seoul, as opposed to someplace else in Korea, such as Gwangju? Is there a particular reason why you chose to study at Seoul National University and Yonsei?

I chose to study in Seoul over other areas in Korea because, frankly, I didn’t know about other programs with a similar intensity and schedule. I chose Seoul University and Yonsei specifically because their university programs were well advertised and easy to navigate online (easier than others at least), and I had already taken a course at Korea University before, so I was interested in trying out all the schools in SKY. In my teaching community, I knew of others who had taken courses at these universities in Seoul before, and they recommended them. Seoul and Yonsei were also optimal to me at that time because they offered courses that fit well with my winter break schedule. I was actually really interested in taking courses at Sogang University because of their focus on the speaking component, but the timeline didn’t match well. Additionally, the winter before, I had taken a month-long course at a Ganada Hagwon in Seoul and was looking for something more intense and was willing to pay for the difference to get that intensity.

What were these programs like? Could you describe a typical day in the program?

Seoul was my favorite program out of all the Korean language courses I’ve taken in Korea by far. At Seoul Dae (sorry, Seoul University just sounds weird to me) we met for 4 hours, 5 days a week for 3 weeks. Each hour focused on a different language skill (speaking, listening, writing, and reading) while covering one chapter in the textbook each day. Culture was a focus in addition to language, which I think is ideal in any foreign language classroom. There were varying exercises throughout the program, and no two days felt like they were being taught the same way. I think this course mirrored my previous experience in language classrooms in the US and met my expectations for desired intensity. At the end of the course, we had truly bonded as a class (maybe 12 students with 3 instructors) and were sad to leave campus.

What are the strengths of these kinds of programs, in your opinion?

The strengths of these kinds of intensive language programs are the access to the mass of information dispersed in an economical time frame, and the immersive environment created by that. Sixty to eighty hours of class in three to four weeks forces one to focus much of their energy on the language, and that creates an environment for immersion regardless of whether or not you are in a geographic area where the language is spoken. For me, progress can be noticed much more easily, which in turn makes me feel like I’ve really accomplished something in a short amount of time.

Are there any drawbacks to participating in these programs?

There are many drawbacks to participating in these programs, one of which is the lack of support for further study post-program. Many times, a textbook will be completed during the course, and students have to pursue the next level in that program or get the next textbook on their own to continue studying. Alternatively, if the student has easier access to another program’s textbook after the course, the material may not be in line with the skills previously learned, which could be beneficial to the student if they don’t mind reviewing, but it could also be difficult if another textbook or program expects the student to have learned material that they haven’t. This, of course, is a minor issue.

Why were you interested in taking intensive Korean language programs?

I was interested in taking intensive Korean language programs mainly because I thought it was important to learn to communicate in the language of the country that was hosting me. I was committed to bridging the communicative and cultural gaps between myself and others in my community, including my co-workers at school, my homestay family, my students, and my local friends as well as those whom I’d only meet once. My relationships with each of these people was central to my life, and I was highly interested in bonding with them. Additionally, I love learning languages and deeply value the lessons learned and skills gained in the process.

For more information on specific programs, a quick Google search will bring up popular choices, including Molly’s favorite at Seoul National University. Some programs may suit your needs more than others. Molly noted that while Seoul National University was more like what she was used to in the US, Yonsei was more traditional in their teaching methods, which was personally less engaging for her. Do your research, and happy language learning!

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