Korean language on the rise in Vietnam

By Binh Minh   July 12, 2023 | 11:00 pm PT
Korean language on the rise in Vietnam
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and his wife take a photo with students at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, June 22, 2023. Photo courtesy of the Office of the South Korean President
Vietnam currently leads Asia when it comes to the education of the Korean language, with over 60 schools teaching the language and 50,000 learners.

Thuy Ngan, 25, is a graduate in International Relations at the Academy of Journalism and Communication. She has spent over a decade learning Korean for an opportunity to study abroad in country much admired for is economic development.

Ngan came to love Korean through her love of pop idols.

As a fan of DBSK, a K-pop boy band, since she was in 5th grade, Ngan often copied their songs onto CD before listening to them on the computer, in a time when social media had yet to thrive as it does now.

"Every single item I had, from my bag to my pencil case, all had image of my idols. At fan club meetings, I was often the youngest," Ngan said, adding that she learned Korean herself to understand the songs’ meaning, as there were few schools or language centers teaching Korean at the time.

Not until she got into high school did Ngan ask her parents to let her "officially" study at a Korean language center.

Tran Thai Thi Tu Anh, 22, a fourth-year college student majoring in Korean Culture and Language at the University of Languages and International Studies, said she studies Korean because of her mother's advice.

"My mother saw the appearance of several South Korean corporations and companies in Vietnam, so she predicted there would be many jobs as well," Tu Anh said.

By her second year in university she was regularly freelance teaching the Vietnamese to Korean people in Vietnam.

She is now working for a South Korean company making VND13 million ($550) a month.

Ngan and Tu Anh are two among over 50,000 people studying the Korean language in Vietnam. Whether wishing to learn more about Korean culture, or to seek opportunities for work or studying abroad the number of Vietnamese people learning Korean is likely to increase over the next few years, according to analysts.

Vietnam has the largest-scale and most comprehensive Korean language training and program in Asia, according to the office of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who visited the country recently to talk about this phenomenon and other strengthening ties between the two great nations.

"I know the Korean language has become popular with young people in Vietnam. Not just university students, but also with many in high school and middle school students," he said.

In 1993, Vietnam only had two universities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offering a major in the Korean language. Today, 60 universities and colleges in Vietnam offer the major, with the number of students at around 25,000.

Vietnam also leads when it comes to the number of international students in South Korea. There were 200 Vietnamese students studying in the country as of February. Around 40% of them came to South Korea to study the language.

Tran Thi Huong, head of the Korean Language and Culture Department of the University of Languages and International Studies, said people started to study Korean in large numbers ever since Vietnam and South Korea established diplomatic relations in December 1992.

Dang Thieu Ngan, director of external relations for Naver Vietnam, said more people are learning Korean thanks to the Hallyu wave, which introduced Korean films, cuisine, fashion and music to the population in the 1994-1996 period.

Huong young Vietnamese are studying Korean also for job opportunities.

Strong investments by South Korean corporations like Samsung, LG, Hyundai or Lotte Group into Vietnam has massive amounts of Vietnamese employed by Korean companies. By April, South Korea was the largest foreign investor in Vietnam, with total registered capital at $82 billion. The country also ranks second when it comes to ODA, and third when it comes to trade with Vietnam.

The starting salary of students graduating from Korean language major is around VND9-15 million a month, and can increase to VND20 million in 2-3 years, Huong said.

"Freelance interpreters with strong skills can be paid $3,000-5,000," she said. The average monthly salary of a Vietnamese is currently at around VND6.7 million.

A 2019 survey by the University of Languages and International Studies revealed that the rate of language graduates securing jobs after graduation is highest among those studying Korean, at 98%.

But all the Korean craze also comes with certain consequences, including a shortage of teachers. Huong said the shortage is most prominent at the high school level due to low salaries for teachers.

The work market is also getting more competitive. Students studying Korean used to find it easy to get jobs at South Korean businesses, but over the last few years, they have had to compete with more students who are transferring their majors to Korean after studying law, economics and finance, to boost their job prospects.

Ngan however said the shift is a good sign, forcing students to invest more in different skills and specialties to stand a better chance on the competitive job.

Tu Anh said she plans to seek a scholarship so she could study in South Korea after graduation. Ngan said she had been invited to interpret at several events for cultural and arts exchange involving the Korean language, and she also helped South Korean students move to Vietnam for work.

"The Korean language has changed my life and brought me opportunities I never expected," Ngan said.

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