Updated Oct.10,2004 14:11 KST

Korea Marks 558th Hangul Day
A thousand foreign nationals residing in Korea participated in a Korean language writing contest held at Yonsei University's open-air theater, writing essays on the topics of light and family.
This Saturday marks the 558th anniversary of the founding of Hangul, the Korean alphabet. In a commemorative speech, Prime Minister Lee Hai-chan said that the country will overcome difficulties in inter-Korean relations through the common language and culture. He pitched the message that Korea shall become a strong nation with its unique alphabet and rich cultural heritage.

Hangul was created by King Sejong of the Chosun Dynasty in 1446 and is included in UNESCO's World Heritage List for its originality and practicality. Growing Number of Foreigners Learn Korean Language

As Korean pop culture makes waves across Asia, more people in the region are taking up the Korean language. The number of foreigners attempting to learn Korean is on a rapid rise, and not just among Asians.

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon, but the students and the teacher are all very eager for class to begin. No, it's no ordinary class, with an American instructor teaching Korean to fellow foreigners. The first non-Asian to obtain a masters degree in Teaching Korean as a Second Language, Steve Revere enjoys conversing in and sharing his knowledge of his non-native tongue that he first encountered almost ten years ago.

"Being fluent is being able to speak a language quickly. Although I can communicate myself, I want to be able to speak Korean just like any Korean. And that, a well-educated and cultured one. Since there's so much room for improvement, I am going to continue learning." Steve Revere said.

More and more foreigners are taking up the Korean language. This year, the number of applicants for the Korean Language Proficiency Test exceeded 17 thousand, up 44 percent from last year, and a sevenfold increase since the exam was launched in 1997.

"I like Korean songs the most. I really wish I could learn more songs so I always ask my instructor to transcribe some lyrics for me. I want to be able to sing Korean songs," said one student.

Though intimidated at first with a whole new set of letters and pronunciation, many say learning Korean became more fun and interesting after grasping the basics of the phonetic language which has a reputation for being difficult to master.

"Once I learned how to read, it seemed to be easier because I learned it's like a,b,c,d like we have. Not like China's characters, you have to learn the character. It's just you put together the letters. So it got easier."

Learning a foreign language from scratch no doubt is a task that requires a great deal of effort and persistence. But those who take up the challenge say it's the joy of being able to think and communicate their ideas in a different form and sound that makes the experience all the more rewarding and delightful.

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