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Reflections on a Korean Language School

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Reflections on a Korean Language School
A teacher conducting the Korean language class at Miracle OK Language School in Pocheon City of South Korea

A meaningful trip to Miracle OK Language School in Pocheon City of South Korea that teaches Korean language to foreign students

By Nasir Aijaz

During my first trip to Republic of Korea in 2007, on the invitation of Asia Journalists Association (AJA), I had asked a friend, “How much time it takes to learn Korean language?”

“It depends on a person how deeply he is interested to learn the language, but normally it takes at least six months to learn the Korean language,” he had told.

In another trip, I was surprised to see a young Turkish guy conducting a ceremony in Korean language. He spoke the Korean fluently. I felt myself regretful why I couldn’t learn, or even understand, the Korean language, despite being keenly interested, during my half a dozen trips to this country.

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AJA group photo with Miracle OK Language School staff and students

In fact, it was owing to English language, always used to communicate during the formal meetings or trips to different cities of Korea. I never got any opportunity to stay longer and attend any language class. However, on May 27, 2024, the second day of my 7th journey to Korea, I learnt from the AJA plan of activities that we are scheduled to travel to Pocheon City to visit a Korean language school. The trip to this school was organized by AJA for its members drawn from South Asian, Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

Besides my mother tongue – Sindhi, I can fluently speak and write Urdu and English languages while understand, and a little bit speak, Punjabi and Siraiki, the native languages of Pakistan. I have always favored learning more and more languages as a new language helps one to understand other people and see the world through their eyes. One will experience a new way of living, learn new customs and cultures.

As per schedule, the AJA delegation drove from Incheon Metropolitan city to the Pocheon city, located between Incheon and Seoul (Some 85km from Incheon and 50km from Seoul). During the travel, some of the old saying emerged in my mind, which say, “Those who know many languages, live as many lives as the languages they know,” and “One who speaks only one language is one person, but one who speaks two languages is two people.”

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Group photo with foreign students learning the Korean language. The flags of different countries are painted on classroom wall.

During one-hour journey, I also recalled a decades-old TV comedy serial – Mind Your Language. Back during late 1970s to mid-1980s, this comedy series was telecasted by a British TV Channel. The story was based on a diverse group of immigrants and foreigners learning English at an adult education school in London. The characters were drawn from different countries like India, France, China and many other countries, with different social background, religions, and languages in the same classroom, while Jeremy Brown was their language teacher.

Learning a foreign language in a foreign country can be quite a hard experience, but in ‘Mind Your Language’, the foreigners’ efforts were shown in quite the humorous light! ‘Mind Your Language’ was one of the most innovative and unique comedy shows I have ever watched. It was heartwarming to see the classmates’ bond. Their fight over petty little things, catchphrases and incorrect pronunciations or misunderstood statements were part of situation comedy, enjoyed a lot by the viewers.

Finally, we reached at the institution, named as ‘Miracle Operation Korean Language School’, or simply called ‘Miracle OK Language School’. Housed in an apartment, the Miracle OK Language School was established initially for the Afghan refugees who were airlifted from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO and other international forces, but later, this institution turned into a great facility for the foreign workers seeking to acquire the skills to overcome communication barriers in the Republic of Korea.

The AJA delegation was received warmly by the Principal and other female staff of the school who briefed on working of the school. At that time, the teachers were conducting two classes. Through the glass doors we observed the students sitting around the table in each class many placards inscribed with Korean words lying on tables in front of the students. The teachers used to write something in Korean on white board and the students would pick a placard and pronounce the Korean word.

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I was astonished how the foreign students were able to understand Korean words, as neither the teacher nor any student spoke English word to explain or ask question for better understanding. Again I recalled a young man from Pakistan, who had enrolled at a Korean language school in Seoul, but soon had to quit as according to him the teachers didn’t know the English and he was unable communicate with them.

I put the same question during the briefing to a lady who could speak English. And the answer was ‘That’s the main point. When there is no way to communicate, one has to focus more on learning, so that become able to communicate with others in a country where he is staying as foreign worker.”

“The curriculum has been tailored to meet the needs and fulfill the requirements of workers coming from Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines and others,” she told.

Later, the AJA delegates were taken inside the classrooms to observe the teaching process closely and by the end of classes, interact with the students. All the foreign students were keen on learning the Korean language, as their main purpose was secure job, and have a stable life and a better assimilation in the Korean society.

The students’ enthusiasm was matched by the passion of their teachers to ensure the foreign students deserving a chance to move forward in a society that valued education and cherished learning.

Miracle Ok Language SchoolA teacher said that at the heart of the school vision lies a deep commitment to offering tailored language classes that adapt to the needs of the students and to the preferences of their careers.

We noticed the flags of different countries painted on the white wall to help boost their morale and to display the school’s mission of fostering diversity while teaching the Korean language.

The AJA delegates were told that over 300 students have benefitted from the school since its inception as a proactive step towards assisting the foreign workers achieve occupational and social security and serving the community.

Donna, a Filipino female student, was studiously working on her assignment, oblivious to what was happening around her. Her focus was interrupted only when she wanted to consult with her friend and fellow citizen Irish.

Miracle OK Language School-3The Miracle OK School is one of three learning facilities in Pocheon city in Gyung-gi province, where workers can enroll, often at times that are convenient to them.

Around 150 charitable individuals from across have been offering support to the three schools and the teachers have joined in the selfless efforts by volunteering to teach, Oh Taeseok, General Manager of Miracle Operation Korean Language School, said.

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According to brochures provided to the visiting journalists, under the school policy, illegal immigrants are not accepted and only workers with a legal status and a valid work visa for six months could be enrolled. The list also includes international students and those wishing to learn Korean. Korean language class levels include introduction, beginner, intermediate and advanced. A semester lasts 10 weeks with class hours varying between 60 and 90 minutes. The curriculum includes social integration programs and career preparation, Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) preparation, Korean conversation, reading forum, study guidance for children and youth and intercultural exchange.

The staff of the Miracle OK School told that students can apply for admission by personally visiting the school and by submitting the Google Form. “Yes, we also have introduced online Korean classes under the International Zoom School for those who wish to learn Korean, both in Korea and all other nations,” they told on a question.

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Nasir Aijaz is a senior journalist based in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province of Pakistan. He is author of nine books and hundreds of articles on language, literature, history, and other topics. He can be reached at nasir.akhund1954@gmail.com

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