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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

TOPIK: Korean Language Testing

What can I say about my Korean language ability, as a long time resident of Korea? I usually say “I speak a little…” and I think that is what most people can say as well. The big question is, could I put that on a resume? No, probably not. With the time that some of us have put into learning the culture and the language, we should be able to take something home with us that clearly says “I can speak Korean at this level…” The “Test of Proficiency in Korean” (TOPIK) does exactly that.

The biggest question that I get asked about this test is {insert snarky tone here} “So do you get a gold star or a prize for passing? What’s the point?” Well the TOPIK people say that ” This comprehensive test is intended for non-native speakers of Korean, such as Korean language students, international students who want to study in Korea as well as individuals who would like  to work in Korean companies and public institutions.”  They also state that it is a great way to receive a formal certification in Korean, which you can use part of your resume.

For me, the reason for taking this test is the fact that it is one of the few formal certifications in the Korean language that I can use to improve my career while in Korea. In a conversation, one of my Korean friends asked “How many foreigners do you know that can speak Korean well?” I said that there were many, especially in Seoul. Her response was: “Are they teachers? Mostly likely not. They usually work in companies, the entertainment industry or working a good job because of their language ability”. She was right. A foreigner that knows about Korea is good, a foreigner that can speak Korean well has many more opportunities in Korea other than just teaching English.

Recently, Korea increased the requirements for international students to a level 3 TOPIK score. Also if you want to get a F5 visa, thus freeing you from your school (and your binding E2 visa), you have to be able to pass a level 4 TOPIK scork, along with some other requirements. Frankly speaking I am of the mind that, if you are looking at staying in Korea long term, these scores are important. You can argue the point that you don’t need Korean to survive in Korea, but I am not talking about simply “surviving” I am talking about being a productive member of society.

Another reason to take this test is to simply learn the language. It is a great way just to see where you are at, in terms of your Korean knowledge. The biggest let down of the test is the absence of a speaking component. This is the main argument made by my Korean friends against this test. Without the speaking component, it is no better than the English TOEIC. The trick is to use the test to “improve” your Korean skills.

The test is divided into 4 parts: vocabulary & grammar, writing, reading and listening. Each exam has multiple choice, listening and composition questions. As I mentioned earlier there is not a speaking component. However, if you are in Korea, you should get out and speak more to your friends or simply anyone interested in chatting with you in Korean.  The test consists of two 90 minute exams with a half hour break in between. The first half of the exam is the vocabulary, grammar and writing part.  The second half of the exam consists of reading and listening.

Level 1 and level 2 make up the beginner level and thus make it a difficult exam as there is a wide variety of questions that need to be answered. To qualify for a certificate you must score at least 50 points in each one of the 4 sections. The expectations of the beginner level are as follows:

Level 1 : Use of basic Korean commands needed for ‘basic survival’, such as greetings, expressions used for purchasing, ordering, etc.

Expressing and understanding oneself in simple everyday conversation by making sentences from 800 basic words.

Level 2: Discussion of familiar topics employing a vocabulary of about 1,500 ~ 2,000 words.

Distinguishing correctly between formal and informal situations.

The application for the test can be found on the web at from where you can also download previous tests. The problem is that most of the menus are in Korean, even on the out of date English site. When signing up for the exam, keep in mind that the exam itself will be in Korean. The exams are held around the world and across Korea. The closest one to Ulsan is in Busan.

The deadline for applying for the next exam time has now passed but that only means, that those interested in taking the exam have a lot of time to study for the next one. The next exam is on April 18th in Korea. If you are intersted, keep checking the TOPIK website for updates on the next exam time.Brian in Jeollanam-do often reports on the test and you can get some good information from his posting here.

I will be taking the test in April, so you can ask me any questions about it, especially after I take it. I will try and up date this entry with my experiences to hopefully help those who are interested in taking the exam.