While scrolling through my social media (as everyone does 25/7) I came across an article written by BBC about how the hallyu wave (a word for the spread of K-pop) has caused many people to take up to studying Korean so they can understand K-pop songs, interviews, variety shows, and random other Youtube videos or written content produced only in Korean. I read the article and thought to myself, well duh! I’ve witnessed this phenomenon for over ten years! Way back when, during the days when Super Junior, Shinee and Girls Generation reigned supreme, fans proclaimed all over chat forums that they have decided to take up the sacred responsibility of learning Korean because they just loved K-pop that much. But is it in vain? Is it worth it to learn Korean? Is Korean as easy as all these new learners assume? Will they even be able to use the language.
I’m not going to lie to you, I am no stranger to K-pop. Over the past ten years, I have seen groups in concert, fought girls tooth and nail for signed albums, followed the stories and news of groups, knew everything about the members from what color is their favorite and what is their deepest darkest fear. However, the difference between me and all the girls (and boys) who learn Korean because of K-pop is that I did not learn Korean because of K-pop. That’s the key issue here.
I learned Korean because I knew it was the next logical language in the natural sequence of language learning. First, I learned Chinese, then Japanese, then I thought to myself, “hmmm, maybe Korean would be easy to learn since I have some similar languages under my belt.” And I was right. I picked up the alphabet (because it’s objectively super easy), learned some vocabulary, grammar and enrolled in a local Saturday morning immersion school to really hammer in that nail. It wasn’t till AFTER all this that I learned what K-pop was. My friends in Korean school told me all about their favorite bands and songs, and we watched music videos more than should be legal in order to understand the choreography. I fell in love.
Now a days, however, K-pop has become synonomous with BTS. I’m a huge fan too, but who knew that after thirteen years of being a fan K-pop (the thing people called me weird for loving) would become so huge! Everyone is finding K-Pop first then learning Korean after. Well, if you’re learning Korean from K-pop, here is your guide to Korean with language learning tips, tricks and helpful material! If you’ve found yourself Googling how to learn Korean fast, then google no more!
Is Korean Easy?
For those of you who fell in love with K-pop FIRST, be warned. Though I completely understand that you want to understand what your oppas are saying, be warned. Korean is not an easy language. Ignore what is being marketed to you to get you to purchase language learning software, because in my own experience, Korean has been the hardest language I have ever learned. Is the alphabet easy? YES! Is it easy to learn to read and write? YES! But that’s where all the easy parts of the language end. Learning to actually spell is quite difficult as many different syllables sound the same, so you can’t just sound it out. You just have to memorize the spelling of every single word. The grammar is spawned from the pit of hell, and those accursed politeness levels CHANGE THE WORDS YOU CHOOSE AND THE WAY YOU CONJUGATE VERBS! For example, instead of just conjugating the word ‘do’ to the past tense, you must conjugate it in the past tense with the correct politeness level. Korean also requires that you think differently to speak it. Erase everything you know about thinking and expressing that thought, because in Korean you will have to re-learn how to think and express your ideas completely. More so than any other language I’ve ever seen. It’s as if it’s a secret code or something!
So is Korean easy? Absolutely f*cking not.
How Should I Learn Korean if I’m Only Learning For K-pop?
I don’t mean to write this post to discourage anyone from learning Korean. Instead, I want you to approach Korean knowing what you’re getting into. It’s a bit of a nightmare (you know it’s serious if it comes from a person who studied Chinese, Japanese and Arabic at the same time) but there are some unique ways you can study Korean and not get scared away by all the,… well,… Korean.
- SHADOW, SHADOW, SHADOW
Since you are more of a casual learner and don’t need to dig into complex grammar, you should base your ENTIRE studies on shadowing speakers. What does that mean. It means that you learn the language by repeated sentences after native speakers over and over till you fully understand it and can reproduce it. It is a HIGHLY effective method for if you want to avoid the complicated approach to learning the giant sh*t show that is Korean grammar. You will learn the grammar through EXPERIENCE instead of through textbooks (which sucks anyway). To do this you have two options: 1) find random K-pop videos online that have both Korean and English subtitles. So basically, you have to stop the video after every sentence and learn the vocabulary and grammar in each sentence then repeat it over and over. By the end, you will have memorized the video, so choose something short and simple or 2) use a language learning program. The only one I know of that does this is Pimsleur.
2. Use Music to Learn Vocabulary NOT GRAMMAR
Do NOT. I repeat. DO NOT use K-Pop music to learn grammar. You will be left confused and disoriented. Some of it is pretty advanced and shouldn’t be touched unless you’re sure you can tackle it. If you’re a beginner or low intermediate, just let it go for later. Instead, just learn the new words. Sure some of them are a little advanced, but it’s easier to learn tougher words than tough grammar. On a side note, the more Korean vocabulary you learn, the more you realize how wrong some Korean to English translations are. That way you get the REAL meaning of the song.
3. Use VIKI To Learn K-Dramas
If you can find a K-drama that has your idol in it, then PERFECT! If not, try to find a stimulating K-drama on VIKI to help you learn Korean. Read my post about how to use movies to learn a language, so that you know how to use VIKI to learn Korean. You can also check out my ETSY shop for a Movie Tracker printable to keep track of the vocabulary you learn and such.
4. Never Just Use a Dictionary to Look Up a Word
Ever. Korean words are EXTREMELY contextual. Just because you saw the English definition does not mean that it’s used the same way the English translation suggests. You have to know how EXACTLY to use that word. So use the NAVER dictionary to look up new words. Why? Because it will not only give you an English translation, it will give you context, example sentences, and most importantly VIDEO BASED EXAMPLES FROM VLIVE (you know the place where K-Pop stars stream live videos), interviews and variety shows. They usually have a list of video examples to choose from, so you can see exactly how a word is used and some sentences you can try to memorize if you like. So yeah, use Naver.
5. Don’t Get Too Serious
You’re learning a language for fun! K-pop is fun! So don’t make it too serious. Put down any grammar books and textbooks and just use songs, movies, shows, music videos, VLIVE and fun materials! You can learn all the essentials without a textbook and it’s actually better that you do. You can use children’s songs and stories to learn the alphabet, colors, shapes, prepositions, and everything else!
Happy learning Armys, iGot7s, EXOLS, Onces, etc!