An Approach to the Use of Literature in the Korean Language Class

An Approach to the Use of Literature in the Korean Language Class

Alvaro Trigo Maldonado
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3379-6.ch007
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During the last years, the Korean language has been gaining popularity worldwide as a second language. This is partly due to the international success of the so-called Korean wave or hallyu-related cultural products. This increase of interest in learning the language has produced a new market for Korean language books, and the past years have seen a lot of specific-purpose materials for Korean learners being published. However, it is possible to argue that literature has been underrepresented in this new wave of publications. In the following chapter, the author examines a series of the most relevant materials oriented or dealing with Korean literature in their curriculum trying to offer an approximation on the state of question and reflecting on the reasons behind proposing ideas on how to improve literature teaching in the Korean language classroom.
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Due to its proximity to China, Korea has traditionally received a significant Chinese influence on almost every aspect of Korean society. The Joseon dynasty (1392-1897) in Korea adopted neo-confucianism as the state´s ideology and according to their cosmovision the Chinese Empire was the center of world´s civilization and the example to follow. Joseon dynasty also maintained a vassal relationship with mainland China in which Koreans would pay tribute to them in exchange of official recognition of their kings by the Chinese Emperor. This alone provides a hint about to what extent Chinese culture influenced Korea. In fact, when the Manchu established the Qing dynasty, Korea refused to recognize its legitimacy maintaining that barbaric tribes had usurped the center of civilization until Chinese invaded the peninsula military to re-establish political order. After that, Koreans boasted about being the country that followed Confucian rule the most protecting its tradition with zeal, even more than the new dynasty in China.

The writing system is just another example of Chinese influence on Korea which is closely related to literature. Korea did not have a script of its own until the fifteenth century when king Sejong invented hangul (SONG: JAE JUNG. 2005: 47), the Korean alphabet and even after its creation it did not become widespread until much later. For that reason, Koreans used imported Chinese characters to record their history and write their literature which greatly emulated the Chinese forms. Koreans who were able to read and write Chinese were unable to speak or understand spoken Chinese which means it was merely a written language in old Korea. Characters were also not read in the same way as in China. They were pronounced in a Koreanized approximation of Chinese at the time of borrowing. This approximation that later formed the basis of present-day Korean pronunciation of Chinese characters is different from the original in many cases because Chinese has undergone a series of changes since then. For that reason, as we will discuss later, it is necessary to distinguish between premodern literature written in Chinese characters and modern/contemporary literature which uses the Korean alphabet. It is also important to note that a relevant portion of Korean vocabulary comes originally from Chinese language.

Korean language is currently spoken by about 77 million people in the Korean peninsula. Roughly two thirds of those native speakers are located in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) while the rest live in the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (North Korea). It is also important to note that due to historical migrations there are sizeable communities of Korean native speakers in other countries such as China (2 million), the USA (1.9 million), Japan (700.000) and the former territories of the USRR (500.000) (SONG, JAE JUNG: 2005:14). More recently Korean communities have been appearing in other countries where Koreans tend to migrate. All this makes Korean language the eleventh or twelfth in number of native speakers among the languages of the world.

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