Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Learning Korean Through Kpop and Kdramas

Are you a language learner and find yourself "burned-out" from the usual studying techniques from time to time? Flashcards and quizzes are helpful but sometimes they can make you stressed or bored. Language-learning can be challenging and intensive but it doesn't always have to be that way. It can be fun while also being educational. You should try to find a proper balance between intense studying and fun studying techniques. Why not try mixing in some music and movies in your target language during study time?

For the Korean language learners out there, this article will hopefully help you find some resources, information, and encouragement for finding unconventional ways to learn the language. You can learn Korean through Kpop and Kdramas!

Korean Pop:

Like many Asian languages, the Korean language is often imagined to be difficult because it does not follow the Latin alphabet and it's often mistaken to be similar to Chinese characters. Actually, Hangul (the Korean writing system / alphabet) is a syllabary, which means the shapes of the letters are related to the features of the sounds they represent. So once you've got the alphabet down, you can very easily start reading Korean even if you don't know what you're saying. The more you read Korean out loud, the better your pronunciation and accent can get. You can use these new skills to read some of the Korean novels and comic books we have in the LRC (on the leisure shelf) or to read the lyrics of your favorite Korean pop songs!

How to follow along with Korean pop lyrics:
  1. Find a song on Youtube, play it, then in another tab search for the lyrics (ex. to find SNSD's "I Got a Boy", Google "I Got a Boy Hangul"), and follow along by trying to sing as much out loud as you can.
  2. Just find the lyrics/hangul (without the music) and if you know the tune of the song sing without the music. This approach is a good first step.
  3. Search for the karaoke or instrumental version on Youtube. For more popular songs (like SHINee's "Lucifer") you'll probably be able to find a version that has the lyrics on-screen (sometimes in both Hangul and romanization). But for other songs, I'd just recommend pulling up the karaoke/instrumental in one tab, and in another tab focusing on the lyrics. Note: This approach only works if you're very familiar with the song, just as with any English karaoke song.

I don't recommend relying completely on the romanization but if you're having difficulty keeping up with the song, maybe glance at the romanization first to get an idea of how it sounds. (Romanization is the Korean language via the Latin script; i.e. seonsaengnim vs 선생님 for the word 'teacher')Unlike Chinese romanization, I feel that Korean romanization is not very accurate or helpful but it can be when singing along to Korean songs. 

Another approach is to pick a song that you like and print out the Hangul lyrics (not the romanization). Keep it with you wherever you go, and when you have free time you can read through it to the tune in your head. After time, you'll become very familiar with it and possibly even memorize it. If you're taking Korean languages at MHC or one of the 5-Colleges, you can work with your tutor to try and translate it. That way you do know what you're singing when you're singing along. 

A simpler approach is to listen to Korean music every day/night. It doesn't have to be Korean pop per say (if that's not your thing), but Korean pop tends to be very catchy (as with any pop) and therefore can stick in your noggin better. I used to listen to the song "Life" by SHINee every night while I was falling asleep and now I know the entire song by heart. I'm not even an auditory learner! That's why I believe this is the best approach even though it's so simple and obvious. The more you listen to the song, regardless of whether you read the lyrics or not, the better you will know it. 

Korean Dramas:

If you get your homework done and find yourself with some free time, you should grab a snack and a drink, make a nice, comfy spot on your bed, and find yourself a Kdrama to watch. Technically, you could claim that this is part of your homework, since watching Kdramas is a fantastic way to learn the Korean language (and culture!). Not only are you listening to the language but you are following along with the subtitles. It won't be long until you recognize certain words or sayings. This learning strategy also helps train your mind to lose your native accent and pick up the Korean accent when speaking Korean.

Where to find:

There are many sites that have free, English-subbed Korean dramas for your viewing. Here are a few-
  • Viki (Watch FREE global TV: K-dramas, K-pop, J-dramas, Taiwanese dramas, Telenovelas, Anime & more -- all subtitled in your language by fans just like you!)
  • DramaFever (Watch Korean Dramas, Telenovelas, TV Shows and Movies for Free. Subtitles are in English. No registration required.)
  • MySoju (Watch Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese Drama, TV Series and Movies.)
  • Netflix (Not free, but if you already have access to a Netflix account, Netflix offers lots of popular Korean dramas -- all English-subbed!)
  • Youtube (Many Korean dramas appear on Youtube either with clear English subs or the option to choose subtitles or not.)

What you learn:

  • New vocab! If you're taking a Korean class at MHC or one of the 5-Colleges, you should be learning Korean vocab weekly. However, if you regularly watch Korean dramas, you'll find yourself picking up more vocab and phrases--oftentimes things that are helpful in the classroom (like "I don't know", "Help me", and "Wait a minute"). You'll probably also pick up common/popular sayings that you otherwise probably wouldn't learn in class (i.e. the jokingly-said phrase "죽을래"/jug-eullae which means "Do you want to die?"; kind of like how English speakers will jokingly say "I'm gonna kill you!" when their friend embarrasses them). You'll also find that sometimes you'll receive vocab to learn one week and it's already stuff you know from watching Korean dramas!
  • Culture! Even if you have no plans to ever travel to Korea, learning the culture of the language you're learning is always important. By watching Korean dramas, you'll become familiar with daily life in Korea. You'll also learn about birthday traditions, holidays, habits, etiquette, etc. Warning: You shouldn't completely rely on Korean dramas to represent the Korean culture. That would be like relying on American soap operas to represent the American culture. (I'd recommend that if you're interested in learning more about Korean culture, try throwing in some Korean variety shows in with your daily Korean dramas).

What to watch:

I've run into some people who claim they don't like Korean dramas but when I ask them why that is they'll say something generic like they don't like how "over-dramatic" it is or how "fake" or "childish" it is. Oftentimes they'll bring up one of the popular Korean dramas they attempted like Boys Over Flowers or Playful Kiss. Of course, some people really just don't like Korean dramas, but if they can't give a real excuse then usually I assume they just didn't know what to watch. Saying "I don't like Korean dramas" is like saying "I don't like Disney". There are too many different kinds to just hate them all! 
Here are some genres-
  • Action/Thriller - ex. City Hunter, IRIS, etc.
  • Comedy - ex. Personal Preference, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, etc.
  • Family - ex. Just Like Today, More Charming by the Day, etc.
  • Food - ex. Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, 1st Shop of Coffee Prince, etc.
  • Historical/Period - ex. Faith, The Moon Embracing the Sun, etc.
  • Medical - ex. Brain, General Hospital, etc.
  • Melodrama - ex. 49 Days, The Snow Queen, etc.
  • Music - ex. Beethoven Virus, Dream High, etc.
  • School - ex. Boys Over Flowers, Playful Kiss, etc. 
  • Sports- ex. Punch, To the Beautiful You, etc.
  • Romance - ex. Secret Garden, You're Beautiful, etc.
Some of the above are interchangeable (as in, some that are listed as romance could be in the comedy section or like some of the melodrama could be in the romance section, etc). Either way, it just shows how many genres of Korean dramas there are and that you're bound to find at least one that you like. Depending on what you're interested in, whether that be romance, comedy, or history, with some patience and determination I can bet you'll find a drama that fits your fancy. And each different genre will give you a different supply of vocab and culture (i.e. Medical dramas will probably give you lots of medical vocab and Historical dramas will give you some information about Korea's history--though I wouldn't rely totally on this as they are historical fiction dramas). 


Now that you've become used to both Korean pop and Korean dramas, it's time to tap into the wonderful resource of soundtracks from your favorite K-dramas! If there's a Korean drama or movie you saw that you liked very much, I suggest you find the OST (Original Soundtrack)--which can be found in playlists on Youtube--and listen to/learn those songs! Soundtracks are nice because they have a great mix of upbeat pop songs and mellow ballads. Another great plus to discovering soundtracks is oftentimes they'll open you up to bands and groups you otherwise wouldn't have known. For example, after watching Boys Over Flowers and listening to the soundtrack, I really loved the song "Because I'm Stupid". After some research, I realized that song was by a K-pop group called SS501 and one of the members, Kim Hyun Joong, was one of the main characters--Ji Hoo--in Boys Over Flowers. Over time, I fell in love with SS501 and I'm thankful that I saw Boys Over Flowers because I'm sure I probably otherwise wouldn't have found SS501 or at least wouldn't find any connection to it. (And SS501 has some great songs that I've since learned and memorized). 

Other Languages:

Now the best part is, these techniques don't only apply to the Korean language. You can apply these techniques and approaches to any language you're learning. Every language has its own music, movies, and culture. Movies in some languages may be harder to find than others, but if you're dedicated I'm sure you'll be successful. (Even if not, you still have other alternatives like music and cultural games).

A great resource for learning other (non-Korean) languages via movies is Mango Languages Premiere. Mango Languages is one of the language-learning softwares we have available at the LRC. After you make an account, you can pick a lesson. Now they are adding movies to their lesson lists. With these movies you can choose to watch it in two modes: "Movie Mode" and "Engage Mode". Movie Mode lets you watch the movie normally without any interruptions or distractions. However, I'd personally recommend Engage Mode, as during the movie it will help teach you the dialogue, grammar, and culture in parallel with the movie in short lessons and interactive content. Currently, Mango Languages Premiere offers movies in Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish (Latin America), but if you check back regularly, you'll find it's slowly adding more. Here's a great intro video about Mango Languages Premiere: So if you want to sign up for a Mango Languages account, just come into the LRC and speak with the consultant who's on duty! 

If your target language is not one of the above, there are still many fun learning techniques available all over the internet and the world. Here are a few links of sites that are very helpful for any language you're learning: 

  • - Learn vocabulary through mnemonics--little snippets of imagination/humor that makes things easy to remember.
  • - Have Native speakers correct your writing.
  • - Get any foreign language text read aloud for you by a native speaker.
  • - All the words of the world pronounced.
  • - Another free site for finding language exchange partners.

I'd also recommend looking through Benny Lewis's blog Benny Lewis is a polyglot (knows several languages) who now writes a blog packed with encouragement and “hacks” about speaking languages as quickly as possible, as he travels to learn and speak the languages himself. Beyond busting several myths about language learning, he also offers many insightful and incredibly efficient techniques to learn your target language all completely free and available all over his website! As a language learner myself, I have absorbed so much knowledge and confidence from Benny Lewis and would recommend his blog (and new book!) to any language learner out there!

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