Application of Understanding of Korea Materials
Whenever the sound of the song "Arirang" turns up, not only Korean people but also foreign people who love Korea feel the strange enthusiastic feeling drumming inside their souls. South Korea is known for its long and proud history, its rich culture and the myths about its locations and people. For that reason, many foreign learners are attracted to the idea of further understanding the Korean peninsula generally and South Korea specifically. Many universities all over the world have actually added subjects and even established departments on the study of Korean Culture, Korean Literature and Language, etc. As a way to support enthusiastic foreign learners, The Center for International Affairs at the Academy of Korean Study of South Korea has been introducing a list of online English textbooks called "The Understanding Korea Series."
The series, which was started in 2013, includes nine publications with the latest one published in 2018. The series is written by Korean experts in national history and culture of the Academy of Korean Study, with an aim to "provide in-depth understandings of Korean culture and society" to foreign researchers and learners. Each online textbook consists of approximately two hundred pages on a specific topic with demonstrating pictures, interesting stories as appendices and a glossary collecting all Korean words and phrases stated at the end of the book. In five years, the Academy has published textbook materials on different topics that catch the learners' interest the most, including Hangeul (Korean official language), Old Printings, Confucianism, Seoul, Korean House, Religious Places, Geography, Economy and Education.
The Understanding Korea textbook series has shown much of its strength at both visual and content. The text is written in readable fonts with proper size and space. There are many visual aids in each book such as photos and tables with full description below. The information is presented on a clear and bright template, which makes it easier for learners to read through a computer screen or using a smartphone or tablet as the publication is provided online as a pdf file. Aside from its visual clearance, the books are of high quality in content as the series is written by experts from the Academy of Korean Study, who clearly have shown their deep knowledge and interest in their own national heritage through what they have written. The topics are presented in an order of importance that gradually lure the readers into the attractiveness of Korea. The authors' enthusiasm that readers can read between the lines is a valuable source of enthusiasm for learners, blowing the fire of inspiration into readers to learn more and love more.
As a critical reader and also a Korea enthusiast, however, I wish to present some suggestions to this wonderful academic series in hope to possibly assisting the Academy in introducing Korean national heritage to the world. Suggestions of mine include two parts: suggestion on existing contents, and suggestion for future topics.
As the time is limited, I unfortunately was not able to read all nine textbooks very carefully. Nevertheless, I would like to offer some suggestions that I have after reading the "UK1: Hangeul" closely. Firstly, several parts in the textbook may be immensely complicated for general readers. The author stated in the Acknowledgement of "UK1: Hangeul" that the book was "written with general readers in mind" (Lee, 7). The content, however, is a combination between history and phonetics, which might be a little overloading for readers. Furthermore, phonetics is a complicated field itself with a large terminology, making it even more difficult for readers without a background to get familiar with many terms mentioned in the book. With that being said, I would like to suggest that the book "Hangeul" is divided into two separate ones in the series; one focuses only on "Hangeul" with fewer historic details and a glossary of phonetic terms included, and the other tells the History of South Korea, or the History of the Korean peninsula, including history of the national language. Secondly, the use of visual aids is effective for learning, but how photos are inserted between texts makes it confusing to follow the flow of the passage. Photos often disrupt the flow of a paragraph as they are inserted in the middle of a paragraph. Hence, I suggest that photos and other types of demonstration should be inserted before or after a whole paragraph to maintain the flow of the paragraph.
Last but not least is my suggestion on topícs for the upcoming publications. I recognize that among nine topics that have been written on, there are five topics that are significant elements making up a nation. They are: Hangeul (Language), Confucianism (based on its content I would like to understand it as Culture), Geography, Economy, and Education. The other four topics are about locations or smaller traits of culture. According to the above analysis, I would like to suggest new episodes on significant elements of a nation, such as Arts, History, etc. As mentioned above, readers would be interested in a whole episode on The History of Korean Peninsula, to explore the origin of the Peninsula, the history of establishment and development through eras, the division and relation between the North and the South of the Peninsula. In addition, as the K-wave is spreading faster and wider than ever, a lot of people including both expert and general readers would love to know more about Korean Arts, other than just K-pop or K-dramas. South Korea has a rich development history of Literature and Visual arts; South Korea has traditional trot music, meaningful cinematic films attending reputable international awards, excellent writers with best-selling books, etc. All of these cultural heritages should be introduced. After going through the big elements to create a general background for learners, the series can dig through smaller cultural topics such as the Development of National Cuisine or Famous People of Korea, etc. according to the interest of readers.
As imperious as it may sound in the above suggestions, I would like to express my genuine gratitude to the effort and intelligence that the experts of the Academy has put into the Understand Korea series. Although the textbooks are given for free, the value of the series and its contribution is priceless. I hope that through this essay, I have been able to shown my enthusiasm for the Korean study as well as my effort to assist bringing the true beauty of Korea to the world.
Ngo Minh Hang
(Country of Activity : Vietnam)