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Korean language learning has been on the rise at UH, years before the 'Squid Game' boom

Sae-byeok and her marble game partner Ji-yeong.
Courtesy Netflix
Sae-byeok and her marble game partner Ji-yeong preparing for their fourth life-or-death challenge in the popular K-drama "Squid Game."

Since the Korean drama "Squid Game" aired on Netflix, language learning website Duolingo has seen a 40% increase in Korean language learners.

But at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, there's been a steady increase in popularity for Korean language classes over the past decade.

What used to be a major with 50 students has now more than doubled. Last year about 120 UH Mānoa students were enrolled in Korean majors.

Mee-jeong Park, chair of the East Asian Languages and Literature department at UH Mānoa, said the increased enrollment began after the Korean Language Flagship Center started offering a "Korean for Professionals" bachelor's degree in 2008.

If some of the references in the hit Netflix series <em>Squid Game</em> are going over your head, we can help.
Courtesy Netflix
"Squid Game"

"I have so many friends teaching in Ivy Leagues on the East Coast. They’re experiencing an increase in enrollment, but that has something to do with the recent Korean wave including BTS. And that was like three or four years ago," Park said.

"We kind of started a bit earlier. I think in part Korean culture has a lot to do with it, but at the same time, it was around this time that we started this Korean Flagship program. An increase in Korean faculty in the program might have affected it too, because if you have more faculty, you’ll be able to offer more courses," Park told HPR.

The Korean department has never seen a decrease in enrollment for Korean majors or Korean language classes in 10 years, and it will likely continue to increase.

Park said she expects to see a similar increase in Korean majors for the spring 2022 semester, with or without "Squid Game."

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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