Language Schools: Yonsei University

This was written in August 2006 after my experience at Yonsei University as an exchange student, so some of the information may be out-dated now.

There are two main programs at Yonsei – DIEE and KLI.

DIEE (Division of International Education and Exchange) is what I was involved in. It is a general exchange student program where you take normal university classes and optional Korean language classes. Should you choose to take language classes they are run for 2 hours per day in the afternoon, Monday to Friday. The fact that the classes were in the afternoon didn’t agree with me; 4-6pm didn’t really allow for doing much other than waiting for class once you’d had lunch. I would have much preferred a morning class, but maybe that is just me.

KLI (Korean Language Institute) is operated much the same as the DIEE program with regard to language classes, although they are 4 hours per day and the students are generally more serious since their sole purpose is for language learning. Students don’t have to be university students or graduates, I think a high school certificate is all that is needed.

As a side note, there were some students DIEE that took their general university classes in the form of KLI classes for a total of 6 hours instruction per day.

About the classes:
Most teachers are only monolingual Korean, or give that impression. My teacher only spoke Korean in the classroom, but after class if we had things we wanted clarification on that we couldn’t grasp only in Korean, she could explain things in English and Japanese, or write an explanation in Chinese characters for the couple of Taiwanese students we had.

Class size was dependent on level. The earlier levels seemed to have up to about 14 students, whereas the upper levels only had about 5. My class had roughly 8 from what I can remember. Whilst the class size was a little large at times, it was good in the aspect that you had some different points of view to certain grammatical situations. I found this helped me understand some things I had difficulty with because some of my peers would ask things that I hadn’t considered.

The method of the class was basically covering a situation with the relevant grammar and vocabulary per academic hour. This would entail going through a dialogue (listening, repeating) and after clarification of the grammatical points we would have to attempt reciting the dialogue without the text. This would take close to the 45 minute lesson, and then during the second hour we focused on the grammatical patterns that had been introduced. We would use the drills in the text as examples and either work alone or in pairs to prepare some examples. The class would usually finish with a discussion or a game of some description. Word games where we would select a series of words at random from our vocabulary list and then have to describe them to the class with them trying to guess were quite common and proved effective for speaking practice and vocabulary acquisition.

That was the class structure for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday we had a different teacher and we had what were deemed Reading Lessons. We used a different text that was filled with just paragraphs, like a graded reader. Basically we just read these aloud, listened to them being read by the teacher, and undertook dictation. Our teacher was quite new – first year I think – and our main teacher was worried about how he conducted himself. Most of the students didn’t like his methods since he was a truly monolingual Korean and couldn’t explain anything in English (oh no!). I actually enjoyed his class quite a lot since he would go off on extreme tangents from the section we were reading and tell us his thoughts or some colloquial beliefs. It was really interesting and great for listening comprehension; especially considering that when he started telling a story he would get pretty excited and talk so unbelievably fast – I mean, even fast for a Korean! On top of the stories and the like, we would also play word games and stuff like in the other class.

한국어 (hanguko) 1, 2, 3 – bilingual Korean with either English, Japanese, Chinese, or Russian.
한국어 (hanguko) 4, 5, 6 – monolingual Korean.

The downside of the texts is the lack of audio. Other than that I think they are fantastic. They are structured somewhat like FSI; each book contains 10 units, with each unit being broken into 5 sections. Each section has a situational dialogue that simulates natural usage, grammar points that explained in details, and substitution/pattern drills. For the first 3 levels there are practice books that are a bunch of ‘answer the question’, ‘fill in the blanks’, etc.

To go with the texts are the readers, also in 6 levels. These are ok, but I wouldn’t recommend them. They are a little unnatural I think, but other may get some usage from them. After the first two I would suggest switching to children’s books, comics, newspapers, and then onto Harry Potter, etc.

(I believe the texts have been updated since I attended Yonsei and now come with audio as well)

The main competition for language learning in Korea seems to be between Yonsei and Sogang University. I enjoyed Yonsei, but I wouldn’t say I learned a significant amount in the classroom. The general consensus is that Yonsei will teach you how to write and read to a higher level than Sogang, and Sogang will give a greater benefit with regard to speaking and listening. Of course, I haven’t attended Sogang so can’t really comment but I have heard this sort of thing from a few people that switched to Sogang after attending Yonsei and not liking it. At the end of the day, it probably just comes down to your preferred learning method. For instance, I have tried the Sogang course books and I didn’t like them much. Other alternatives are Korea University and Seoul National University, but I haven’t heard much about their language schools.

(I will also add Ganada to this list now as I find their texts quite well-produced and their language school would be one of my personal picks should I choose to study formally again)

Would I go to Yonsei again? Definitely… for post-graduate study. Although at the most I would only take the 2-hour language class and not the 4 or 6-hour alternative. The ‘KLI Kids’ all seemed a little too stressed out for my liking. Don’t take that comment as the golden rule though. I personally wouldn’t opt to take group classes for Korean anymore as I would benefit much more from just being there, having a language exchange, or private lessons.

For resources I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest the 한국어 series – provided you can get access to a Korean native for pronunciation and listening practice.

Yonsei University (KLI)
Sogang University (Korean Language Education Center)
Seoul National University
Korea University
Ganada Korean Language Institute


Author: Andrew

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