Back in February, I signed up for my first Korean class. Cody had found out about it in one of the expat Facebook groups, and suggested that I try it out. It was a course designed for foreigners living in Busan to learn the local language, hosted by the Busan Foundation for International Cooperation. The center offers three semesters a year, and you can find the specific times and dates here.
I was nervous at first. What level would they put me in? Would the class be in English at all, or just Korean? Would I even know enough to get into the class?
At the time of writing, I’m currently at the end of what should be my second semester (I ended up dropping out, but Ill explain later on). I’m so glad I took the plunge and signed up for that first class. And today, I’m going to share with you my official review of the first two semesters of the BFIC Korean classes.
Price: First things first, lets talk price. This class is super affordable! The class itself only costs 10,000₩ (about $10 USD), which is a steal compared to most other options (like a college course or paying for a private tutor). You do have to purchase the textbook for the class, which at the time of writing cost about 20,000₩ (about $20) depending on which level you get put in. The textbooks are, in my opinion, amazing and worth every penny. (I’ll be writing a review of them soon.)
The only other price factor to consider is your commute. The classes are held in the National Pension building, which is at the City Hall (시청) subway stop. If you live in that neighborhood, great! You have immediate access to the class. But if you’re like I was, you might have a serious commute to consider. The class is 2 times a week, so you will have bus or subway fair each way. Not to mention the price you pay in your own precious time. It was 40 minutes each way for me, and for the first semester, it was totally worth it. The commute time wasn’t a deterrent for me, because I was learning so much. YMMV.
Time: The classes meet twice a week for two hours each class. They currently offer both morning and evening classes, depending on which works better for your schedule. I took the evening one, which ran from 6:30-8:30. There was very little, if any, homework ever assigned so the amount of time you put in outside of class would be entirely up to you.
Class Structure: There are currently 5 levels offered through BFIC. I have completed Level 1 and like 90% of Level 2. You can check out their website to see exactly whats on the syllabus for every level, but basically Level 1 starts off teaching you how to read and write Hangeul (한글) while also teaching tons of vocabulary and some basic grammar type stuff. Then Levels 2 and beyond teach you more and more complex grammar and vocabulary topics.
During the class, the teacher would typically lecture/teach for a while on whatever topic we were covering, with the students getting in some “repeat after me” type speaking practice. After each topic was introduced, we would then do the related pages in the textbook (usually a listening, conversation, writing, or reading exercise).
I have two very different opinions about each of the classes that I took, so I’m going to divide the next part so I can talk about each of them separately.
This class was fantastic! I already knew how to read Hangeul when I signed up, but I wanted to start at the beginning of the program. I figured at the very least it would be lots of listening practice while the teacher taught stuff I already knew. I’m honestly really glad I did because I got tons of pronunciation tips and practice as the teacher introduced all the characters.
Once we finished the Hangeul textbook, she had us purchase the Level 2 textbook and we slowly started going through the first few chapters.
I seriously cannot express how much I enjoyed learning with this teacher (I am withholding her name, and the name of the other teacher, for privacy reasons). She spoke at a speed that matched the learners in the room (as in, if the struggling student happened to be absent then she would speak faster, but when he returned she would slow back down so he could follow); she would demonstrate the sound shifts that are so prevalent in Korean; and she just always made sure that all the students were up to speed and understood what we had learned. This woman made me so excited to learn to speak Korean!
But all good things must come to an end. Once Level 1 was done, I was so pumped to start Level 2. I had heard some whispers about the class being hard to keep up with, but I still went in with an open mind.
The point of Level 2 is to develop a bigger understanding of Korean grammar. You will learn present, past, and future tenses; several important particles; dates and telling time; and a fair bit more. There is a ton of insanely useful stuff covered in this class.
But, the class was insanely fast paced. Unlike Level 1, this class moved on regardless of whether the students understood or not. It seemed like the class structure was designed to cover a set number of pages in each class, rather than be designed to actually make sure the students were understanding the material covered. I constantly struggled to understand what was being said, and I always felt extremely lost and confused.
Long story short, I felt like I was back in my high school calculus class, sitting there not understanding a damn thing that was going on no matter how hard I tried. I was putting in numerous hours outside of class to try and teach myself the material as best I could. But the class was going so fast, I felt like I wasn’t actually learning anything. I was just always behind the ball.
The stress of feeling that way 2 hours a day, twice a week was just too much. I reached the point where I could not learn more from that particular class style, so it was time for me to move on. I dropped out of the class, and have been continuing to study on my own. For me, it just wasn’t worth the effort to work uphill against a class whose style didn’t jive with mine.
At the end of the day, I think this is a really good program. It is an incredibly affordable way to get a structured start in Korean if you love in Busan.
I HIGHLY recommend that pretty much everyone who is interested in this program start in Level 1. You end up with a much more detailed knowledge of Korean pronunciation that just is never properly explained anywhere else. Even if you can already read Hangeul, I personally feel that its a great primer for the language. As for Level 2, I think you should give it a shot, it just really didn’t work for me.
Have you taken any language classes before? How did your experience go? Let me know in the comments below!