Korean is the language of one of Australia’s important neighbours in the Asian region and 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.
Australia and the Republic of Korea have established and reinforced people-to-people relationships through cultural and educational exchanges for more than half a century. The first recorded contact between Australia and Korea took place in the late 19th century through Australian missionaries visiting the Korean Peninsula. In the early 20th century, there was a period when contact between the two countries was not possible due to the Japanese colonial rule over Korea. With the end of World War II and Australia's participation in the United Nations Commissions on Korea (UNCOK) in 1947 and in the Korean War (1950–1953), the two countries formed a strong bond and have established a strong trade partnership. With an increasing awareness of the need to expand the partnership to other sectors, awareness of the need to better understand the country and culture, and to learn the language, has also increased as opportunities for exchanges and collaborations are expanding to education, science and technology, culture, media, sports, leisure, tourism and community activities. Visitors from Korea, including primary-aged students on study trips, may provide young Australian learners of Korean with opportunities for rich cultural and linguistic experiences.
There have been a number of government policy initiatives that have supported the teaching of Korean in Australian education since it was introduced to Australian schools in the early 1990s. During the 1990s, with growing national interest in trade with Asia, the Australian Government introduced the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools (NALSAS) Strategy. Later, the aims of NALSAS were reignited through the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program, which ran from the late 2000s until the early 2010s with a renewed economic and strategic focus on Asia, encouraging young Australians to study Korean, one of four targeted Asian languages. In recent years, the commitment of the Australian Government to the teaching and learning of Korean in schools has continued as is evident in documents such as South Korea: Country Strategy (Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2013).
With the support of the Australian Government for learning and teaching Korean in Australian schools and growing interest in Korean culture and opportunities to encounter Koreans and Korean products, there is an increasing demand for Korean language education from the community. Among young learners in Australia, there has been a significant increase in the popularity of Korean culture, including traditional and youth/pop culture, as seen in frequent performances of traditional Korean dance and music and in the surge of popularity of K-pop (Korean pop). There is also an increasing awareness of possible career opportunities for those who have attained a high level of proficiency in the Korean language and a sound intercultural understanding.
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.
Australian students have multiple, diverse and changing needs that are shaped by different individual, personal and learning histories as well as personal, cultural and language backgrounds. 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).
The Australian Curriculum: Languages, Foundation to Year 10 for Korean is pitched to second language learners. The curriculum has been developed according to two main learning sequences for these learners: Foundation – Year 10, and Years 7–10. Teachers will use the Korean F–10 curriculum to cater for learners of different backgrounds by making appropriate adjustments to differentiate learning experiences for these students.
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.