Trans-Pacific Language Exchange: The Increasing Popularity of Spanish in South Korea

By | August 05, 2022 | No Comments

Ten years ago, Uk Heon Hong highlighted the importance of and potential for the increased study of Spanish in South Korea. Today, while the explosion in the study of Korean all over the world is well known, the so-called hallyu or Korean wave has also had a somewhat unexpected and unintended effect – as South Korea’s cultural power grows stronger, more and more Koreans are looking to connect with the world, and the Spanish-speaking regions of Latin America have become an object of interest for travel-hungry Koreans. This, in turn, has led to an increased interest in the language of Cervantes and Gabriel García Márquez among Koreans.  


Language in growth: how has the teaching of Spanish in South Korea evolved?[1] 

The rapid emergence of K-pop and K-dramas has turned the Asian country into a cultural superpower in Latin America, a region that in turn has set itself up as a promising tourist destination for Koreans. 

Over the past decade we’ve seen a formidable growth of Korean culture in Latin America. Thanks to the broadcasting of a variety of K-dramas and the music industry’s outsized presence in the world, led by BTS, it is possible to witness artists from Asia crossing the ocean all the way to the Americas. 

For a few years, when second-generation K-pop groups such as Super Junior, SHINee or Big Bang began growing popular in the region, it was quite a stretch of the imagination to think of the teaching of a distant language like Korean. Equally so was the thought that people in the East Asian country would be learning Spanish. 

Currently, however, the opposite holds true. According to Ángel Badillo, a researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute of Spain,  the Republic of Korea is a cultural superpower today. 

The way in which Korea has changed from being a rather unknown country in the cultural realm to becoming an indispensable reference point in global culture is a Korean cultural miracle, because [Korea] has learned to take advantage of its fascinating cultural production” he asserts.

This detail has turned the Asian giant into a point of interest for many Latin American professionals to travel to Korea in search of opportunities to work or study. 

In turn, argues Badillo, there has been a sharp rise in Korean tourism to Spanish-speaking countries.

Likewise, commercial exchanges between both territories has helped foster a growth in the teaching of Spanish in South Korea. 

According to the South Korean Education Ministry, there are some 15,000 Koreans learning Spanish, most of them women. Nevertheless, the lack of an official institution for the teaching of Spanish has detracted from opportunities for growth for the language, which trails the most popular foreign languages to study in South Korea, namely English and Chinese.

Yet in spite of these limitations, the market for teaching Spanish has become an open door for new opportunities for Koreans, who increasingly find the diversity of the Spanish-speaking world appealing.


Original article by Arantxa Pozo. Translated by Anthony V. Rinna


[1] Source: Language in growth: how has the teaching of Spanish in South Korea evolved? [Idioma en crecimiento: ¿cómo ha evolucionado la enseñanza del español en Corea del Sur?], La República, July 28, 2022,


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