As from September, the Community College of City University's Division of Language Studies (LS) became the first officially approved education centre in Hong Kong to hold the Korean Language Proficiency Test (KLPT).
"Our aim is to nurture a new breed of multilingual professionals," says Wanda Lau, acting head of the division, which plans to introduce preparatory courses for the KLPT next year. "People have speculated that we're cashing in on pop culture and the interest in hit television dramas, but that's not the case at all," she explains. In fact, elective Korean courses have been offered to all students at the university since 2001 and now around 400-500 students enrol a year.
"Successful Korean TV dramas can certainly create new interest in learning," says Hyewon Kang Kim, who is lecturer and coordinator of the Korean Programme. "However, the most important thing is for people to know their studies are leading them to a higher plane."
To engage and motivate students, a wide range of activities has been arranged, including traditional music and dance workshops, martial arts demonstrations and cuisine workshops. "Besides academic knowledge, we also want students to be equipped with a good foundation in Korean culture," says Ms Kang Kim. "We also regularly organise lectures by prominent speakers to give students a wider perspective on current social and economic issues in Korea. These activities will definitely help students who work for Korean companies or multinationals after graduation."
The KLPT Certificate is recognised by South Korea's Ministries of Justice and Labour, and those who hold it are eligible to study or seek employment in Korea. In Hong Kong, over 4,000 people study Korean every year, many of them seeing it as a way of enhancing their career prospects. "In our courses, we also emphasise studying the language for specific purposes, particularly in the context of business and tourism," says Ms Kang Kim.
Ms Lau adds that most students keep employment opportunities in mind and are aware that trade links between Hong Kong, Korea and mainland China have led to increasing demand for professionals able to speak Korean, English and Putonghua. "That's why we're offering two options, combining Korean with English or Chinese, under our programmes in bilingual communication studies," she says. To ensure proficiency in practical situations, final-year students do bilingual research, media production or translation projects, which involve working with organisations that require translation and interpretation skills.
Besides Korean, the Division of Language Studies also teaches Japanese, Spanish, French, Putonghua, English and Chinese. KLPT is the fourth internationally recognised language proficiency test the division is offering, following the Diploma de Espanol Lengua Extranjera (DELE, Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language) of the Instituto Cervantes for Spanish, Test de Connaissance du Francais (TCF) and Test de Francais International for French. An agreement has been signed with the State Language Commission of China for City University to offer the National Putonghua Proficiency Test. "We have a multicultural team of 48 full-time academic staff from Hong Kong, mainland China and countries around the world," notes Ms Lau. "We are in the best position to offer a quality multilingual education and to become the hub of internationally recognised proficiency tests for foreign languages in Hong Kong."