Korea is considered an “English Crazy” country. They spend unbelievable amounts of money having their children learn English in private hagwons, or specialty schools, their tee shirts have nonsensical English written all over them, and foreigners get shouts of ‘HELLO!” from passing school children. You see English everywhere, but the amount of English actually spoken in Korea is very little. It is necessary to pick up enough Korean to get by, but usually this only take a few weeks of learning useful phrases and applying them to your day to day life.
Luckily, “Konglish” is widely used and many words are the same in English and Korean. If you speak very slowly and use actions, you will almost always be understood – don’t worry!
If you wish to learn Korean in a formal setting, there are several ways to do it:
First, you can take a course offered by the government. These typically take place in community centres and are free of charge. Usually, though, the entire lesson is in Korean and your classmates have already studied before coming so they will probably be ahead of you (even if it’s a beginner class). These classes usually attract people from developing countries who immigrate to Korea to work. You can find community centres all over Seoul. Try the Galwol Community Welfare Centre (http://kongbubang.wordpress.com/), the Hannam/Itaewon Global Village Centre or the main Seoul Gobal center located near City Hall.
Probably your most enjoyable option is partaking in a one on one or group language exchange, in which you teach someone English in exchange for learning Korean. This is a great way to make Korean friends and is the most fun way to learn Korean – it comes highly recommended! You can find language exchange ads in Seoul’s expat magazines “Groove” and “Eloquence” (you’ll find them in expat bars and cafes around Seoul – they come out once a month and are free), as well as online. Try http://www.conversationexchange.com to pick out a specific language exchange partner, or if you want to learn in a group environment, you can join the Myeongdong Language Exchange Club (website: http://cafe.naver.com/korean05exchange.cafe) or the IluvKorea Language Exchange (website: http://iluvkorea.ning.com/).
If you spend enough time at any cafe in the Hongdae, Itaewon, or Gangnam areas you will undoubtedly be offered to do a language exchange by one or more university student. You can also check Seoul craigslist (http://seoul.craigslist.co.kr/) for language exchange opportunities.
If you are interested in taking a Korean language course at an accredited institution, Yeonsei University offers evening classes for 788,000 won. If you are already living and working in Seoul, this program is made especially for you – you can work during the day and study at night and you don’t need to have a special student visa. Yonsei also offers three-week-long intensive courses at 975,000 won, as well as summer programs for up to $2480.00 USD, and for these a C3 visa (short term student visa) is required. For more information, visit:
Yonsei is considered one of the best universities in Korea and their language program is very well established.
While Yonsei is considered one of the best universities in Seoul, Seoul National University is considered the best (no contest). They also offer an intensive Korean course and have taught over 13,000 students from over 70 different countries. Seoul National University is located in Gwanak-gu; a beautiful, mountainous area of Seoul. SNU offers four or ten week intensive Korean courses. To be accepted into the program, you must have a high school diploma and pass the placement test. Tuition costs are comparable to Yonesi’s program.