Korean as a Foreign Language (KFL) programs in higher education in North America are experiencing unprecedented growth, placing Korean as the 11th in the midst of steady decrease of overall foreign language enrollments. Korean enrollments show the highest increase from 2006 to 2016 (MLA Report 2017). Currently more than 80 institutions offer three or more years of language instruction, and over 50 schools provide Korean studies (KS) courses within an Asian or a world languages department. In this era of quantitative expansion and content development, KFL courses are often considered a “service” component, and KS scholars rarely deal with primary materials in courses on literature, history, cinema and popular culture, thus completely putting aside the Korean language in the undergraduate program. Recent research findings, however, urge us to move from such a strict division towards integrated curricula that simultaneously promote linguistic and disciplinary proficiencies in foreign language programs.
This paper reports on one such pedagogical attempt with a connections-based course at Rutgers The State University of New Jersey. “Korean Traditional Poetry: Sijo,” a content course offered in 2017 and 2020, examines one of the most prominent and enduring poetic forms of traditional Korea in the larger context of East Asian traditions and explores its unique structural and thematic properties through the lens of the language, religion and culture of Korea. In addition, the course analyzes the historical backgrounds of sasŏl sijo of the 18th century and modern sijo of the 20th century. In the process, cultural and linguistic implications of sijo translation and the current popularity of sijo in North America are also discussed.
Some of the pedagogical implications emerging from the analysis of the course content are as follows. Firstly, it is possible to design a course according to the principles of Individualized Instruction and accommodate students with a wide spectrum of KFL proficiency and cultural/linguistic backgrounds. While mostly relying on English translations of sijo, it was possible to tap into the students’ prior knowledge of Korean language by foregrounding translation issues and providing Korean original texts throughout the semester. The exploration of sijo’s unique structural and thematic properties was seen to be handled most effectively when language was the integral part of learning. Secondly, the instruction, based on the integrative curricular model, was not limited to acquiring knowledge but includes analyses, interpretations, and appreciation of sijo across time and space. In addition, the students were able to relate sijo to KS disciplines other than literature such as music, painting, calligraphy, religion, political/social history, and even botany, ultimately enhancing their overall understanding of Korea, which would have been difficult without a multi-faceted integrative syllabus. Thirdly, we were able to identify the educational value of translation and personal creation. Comparing multiple versions of published English translations against the Korean original text and producing one’s own translations, as well as exploring English language sijo and Hip-Hop style experiments inspired the students to reflect on the empowering role of language as a critical medium in poetic and musical forms. The course demonstrates that it is possible to build content as an invaluable resource for language learning, as much as to utilize language proficiency in acquiring knowledge of Korean literature, thus creating a true two-way bridge in language and content in KFL education.