Korean is spoken by around 80 million people in the Korean Peninsula and worldwide. With the rapidly growing popularity of and interest in Korean culture across the world, the number of people learning Korean is also growing fast in many countries in Asia, Oceania, the North and South Americas, Europe and Africa. In Australia, Korean is spoken by more than 150 000 people, and the presence of the Korean culture and language, together with Korean brands of high-technology products, is increasingly evident in various sectors of society.
The Korean language has its own alphabetic writing system called Hangeul. Hangeul consists of 24 basic letters, comprising 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels. Learning Hangeul involves learning how to combine consonants and vowels to produce a syllable in Korean, which corresponds to a syllabic block in its written form. As students learn Hangeul, they also learn about its philosophical, scientific, linguistic and cultural underpinnings, where the three elements of vowel letters (•, ㅡ, ㅣ) symbolise the three respective elements in oriental cosmology – heaven, earth and human – and consonant letters symbolise the shapes of the speech organs: lips, teeth, tongue and throat. Students’ learning is enhanced by understanding the importance of Hangeul’s creator, King Sejong the Great, who, in the 15th century, believed that his people’s wellbeing was directly related to literacy and could be enhanced through the creation of a writing system that would represent their spoken language.
Korean is an agglutinative language. Students learn how to agglutinate various particles or suffixes to nominals or verb stems to express a range of grammatical, semantic or pragmatic information. The word order of Korean is subject–object–verb (SOV); however, learners also learn that word order in Korean is flexible as long as the verb-final rule is observed, and that contextually understood elements may be left unexpressed in Korean discourse. Honorifics are one of the important features of Korean. Students learn how to use Korean to express their thoughts with cultural bearing through the systematic use of honorifics and through non-verbal behaviour that corresponds to the chosen honorific. The Korean language easily incorporates words from other languages. Students learn about Korean culture as well as how to use the language in culturally appropriate ways.
Understanding the diverse language backgrounds and competencies of students, as language learners, is the starting point for developing their language learning. The changing pattern of migration to Australia is extending the range of languages students bring with them to school.
Learners of Korean in Australia can be identified in three major groups: second language learners (learners who are introduced to learning Korean at school); background language learners (learners who may use Korean at home, not necessarily exclusively, and have knowledge of Korean language and culture to varying degrees); and first language learners (learners who have had their primary socialisation as well as initial literacy development in Korean, and use Korean at home as their first language).
In the Languages curriculum area the focus is on both language and culture, as students learn to communicate meaningfully across linguistic and cultural systems, and different contexts. This process involves reflection and analysis, as students move between Korean and their own existing language(s). It is a reciprocal and dynamic process which develops language use and intercultural awareness and understanding.
For students learning Korean for the first time in a school language program, a key component of their learning is to understand the cultural dimension that shapes and is shaped by the language. The curriculum is designed with an intercultural language learning orientation to enable students to participate meaningfully in intercultural experiences, to develop new ways of seeing and being in the world and to understand more about themselves in the process.
Students use a wide range of texts designed for language learning, such as textbooks, teacher-generated materials and online resources. Their learning is enriched by exposure to a range of authentic Korean texts, such as websites, films, stories, songs, television programs, advertisements and magazines. The texts and resources will become increasingly sophisticated and varied as students progress through their schooling.
Students are encouraged to use Korean as much as possible for classroom routines, social interactions, structured learning tasks, and language experimentation and practice.
Students will have opportunities to engage with members of the community who speak Korean, which in some cases will be facilitated via digital technologies.
English is used for discussion, explanation and reflection, enabling students to develop a language for sharing ideas about language and culture.