English Hagwons & Study Rooms in Korea – Explained


So you’ve decided to be an English teacher in Korea or are planning to apply for English teaching jobs in Korea. You might have come across a few confusing terms regarding the English teaching industry here.

Or you might be curious about opening up your own business in Korea and are now confused about the difference between the different categories of learning academies in Korea.

Regardless, be prepare to be even more confused!

English academies in Korea

If you are already or have ever taught at an English academy, known as a 학원 ‘hagwon’, then you know that the quality can be inconsistent at best and criminally bad at worst.

The best English teacher in Korea

It can definitely seem like the Wild West. Despite this, the language institute industry in Korea is actually highly regulated.

English teaching visa requirements in Korea have gotten much harder from being non-existent 10-15 years ago to downright difficult today. Even the E2 teaching visa requires an apostilled criminal background check, apostilled university diploma, and many other things.

Further, English hagwons and academies in Korea are separated into several groups, and that is what you will learn in this post.

Hagwons and English Academies in Korea

There are several differences between the types of English language learning businesses in Korea. The key thing to know is that the Korean Ministry of Education (교육청) heavily regulates the number of students, location, and price caps of each type of English language institute.

Also, each municipality or 동/dong sets their own rates/caps on what you can legally charge. The types also differ in terms of initial investment, overhead, lead time, and curriculum/schedule.

Study Room – 공부방

Also known as a “gongbu bang”. This is a home-based learning school that features private/group lessons. It only has one teacher.

What does home-based mean? Study rooms are in apartment complexes or where the instructor lives (or a 2nd apartment). They cannot be in a commercial space or officetel.

Korean study room: Located in an apartment. Notice the communal study hall nature. The wide windows are a typical Korean living room.

Study rooms operate as after school study halls. They are a place for kids to stay on task and do homework, with the help and under the supervision of a “teacher”.

Study rooms pop up where moms living in these apartments can easily send their kids to trusted environments. That’s because the owner/operator/teacher of these study rooms are moms who live in the same apartment.

It’s also quite popular for foreigner-Korean married couples to start these, as it’s an excellent way for the foreigner spouse to work and make use of their English skill and marriage/mom/dad network.

English Teaching Center – 영어 교습소

Pronounced “Gyo-seup-so”. These are also private/group lesson environments but are located in a commercial space. Gyoseupso can only have one instructor and can have up to two subjects (과목) in total.

They are subject to different regulations than apartment study rooms. Since they must be in a commercial space, there are size restrictions (0.3 people per m2). There is no upper limit on size.

The key advantage is that commercial space allows a wider demographic of students, but your taxes are much higher as a result.

Hagwon or English Academy – 학원

This is a language school with at least one teacher and/or multiple classrooms in a commercial space. These are also by far the most popular type of institute in Korea, and “hagwon” has become a part of the lexicon for everyone living in Korea.

Now let’s dive deeper: Did you know there’s different types of hagwons or English academies?

Types of Hagwons in Korea
That’s a lot of academies

As you live in Korea, you will see there’s such things as “language institutes”, “foreign language institutes”, “supplementary English academies”, and “English academies”.

Foreign Language Institute

  • Foreign Language Institute – 외국어학원
  • Language Institute – 어학원

A foreign language institute or language institute is a place that teaches practical foreign languages, not school subjects, for infants, elementary, middle, and high school students. Students are divided according to their language level.

The presence of a native English speaker is not relevant here, as it is highly dependent on the institute.

As I mentioned before, the Ministry of Education (MOE) regulates the “hagwon” industry (although it often seems like it doesn’t). For example, in Seoul, the minimum size is at least 45.4 pyeong/평 (150 m2), whereas the minimum size in Gyeonggi-do is 27.2 pyeong (90 m2). If you’ve seen small hagwons, then they are NOT classified as 어학원.

Examples include famous institutes like Cheongdam, Avalon, Jeongsang, Polly English, SLP, English kindergartens, Korean University Korean Language Center, and CYJ English.

These are all very famous and very commercial businesses that many Korean adults attend. On a side note, adult language hagwons that prepare job seekers or test takers can be very expensive and competitive.


English Academy or Hagwon

This is the one you are likely most familiar with as someone looking for an English teacher job in Korea or moving to Korea.

  • English language institute – 영어보습학원
  • English Academy – 영어학원
  • English Specialty Academy – 영어전문학원
  • English Subject Supplementary Academy- 영어보습학원

Not sure about the translation of the last one, but these are all terms that fall under the hagwon category.

English academies collectively teach elementary, middle, and high school students English, math, and science. You can see the name confusion, but they’re all pretty much the same thing. The key thing to note is that these CAN teach school subjects, whereas simple language institutes 어학원 above cannot. Again, most hagwons in Korea foreigners teach at will be these ones.

As I mentioned above, these types of academies can be operated on a much smaller scale as well, further establishing them as the most popular. The minimum size is about half that of a language institute 어학원 (> 21 pyeong in Seoul).

These academies can teach grade level subjects, college entrance exam prep, and general test prep.

As a result, many Korean parents depend on these academies when their kids need supplemental 보습 help in certain subjects and tests. They’re especially popular once Korean kids hit mid-elementary up to high school.

Private Tutoring

Many foreigners graduate-pun intended- from teaching at academies to private tutoring once they live awhile in Korea.

You should know that teaching privates is strictly illegal for hagwon teachers on an E2 visa, although many people do anyway.

If you have the right visa and properly register yourself with your local Education and tax offices, then teaching adults is legal anytime, anywhere, and you can charge whatever you like.

If you’re looking for ways to get privates, then be friendly with Korean moms. You can also check out sites like Soomgo, which is a curated Korean version of Fiverr or Upwork.


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