Don’t stop the music
Tired of studying with books all the time and not sure whether what you are learning right now will be useful in your everyday life? How about listening to a nice song in Korean and humming along?
If you want to know the song better, you will naturally want to understand the lyrics. And having a natural desire to know something that you don’t know now is one of the best motivations you can have in learning.
The popularity of K-pop in many parts of the world needs little explanation. As K-pop becomes loved and enjoyed by more and more people, an increasing number of them have started to learn the Korean language because of the songs and the artists they like.
Even if you are just a beginner in Korean, if you have been listening to a lot of K-pop lately, you may already be familiar with many words and phrases used in Korean songs.
But if you had already been studying Korean, would listening to K-pop be useful in learning Korean, too? Or if you do listen to a lot of K-pop and know all the lyrics by heart, why might you still feel less comfortable when speaking Korean?
It all comes down to the question of how to learn a new language effectively. If everybody could learn a new language just by memorizing hundreds of song lyrics and watching a lot of movies in the language, there would be millions more fluent Korean speakers all around the world.
While that doesn’t seem to be the case, there are still ways you can use K-pop to learn Korean faster and enjoy the learning process a lot more.
K-pop can make learning Korean less frustrating.
Let’s face it. Learning a new language is obviously a lot of work. In order to go from not knowing a single word to being able to understand and speak a new language comfortably, you need to put in a lot of effort and stay motivated to continue learning, forgetting, learning again and practicing. This is where K-pop comes in handy.
Having some songs in Korean that you enjoy listening to or having a band that you like can be a very strong motivation. Once you are really curious about a certain word or a phrase, it stops feeling like studying and starts feeling more like learning the song.
So if you’ve been learning Korean through educational material so far, using K-pop as an entertaining element in your study can be a good idea. In a single song, many expressions are repeated, which makes them easier to remember than the phrases you see in a textbook, because there is a melody attached to each of them.
Enjoy K-pop, but don’t forget to actively learn, too. Even though many popular K-pop songs are very catchy and addictive, the biggest drawback of learning with K-pop is that a lot of the lyrics have incomplete sentences or expressions that would not be used in real-life situations.
Try writing down the full lyrics of any popular song and show it to a stranger in the street. They will know right away that you took those sentences from a song because they are usually very poetic, and sentences are often shortened or fragmented.
For example, the word for telephone is 전화 (jeon-hwa), but instead of the correct “I called you,” 전화를 걸었어 (jeon-hwa-reul geo-reo-sseo), you will often see 전활 걸었어 (jeon-hwal geo-reo-sseo), even in the official lyrics of a song. 전활 is a shortened form of 전화를, and you can look it up in Korean dictionaries all day long but you will never find it. Similarly, 그럴 땐 (geu-reol ttaen) is also a shortened form of 그럴 때에는 (geu-reol ttae-e-neun), meaning “at such times/in that case/when that happens.” Again, you can look up 땐 to no avail.
While K-pop is definitely useful for staying motivated and enjoying learning Korean, as far as learning to speak the language is concerned, the most you can get out of K-pop songs are some new vocabulary words and fixed expressions. If you really want to learn a lot of Korean through K-pop songs, however, you need to keep learning actively.
If you’ve been wanting to finally speak better Korean for a while now and have been looking for ways to be more motivated, listening to good K-pop songs that you enjoy will definitely help. It will also be a good source of new words and expressions.
But don’t forget that you still can’t skip the less exciting parts - learning how sentences are formed, how verbs are conjugated and how to use different parts of speech.
Let’s suppose that you’ve just heard a certain word in a song and you’re sure that you’ve heard it in other songs. If you still don’t know the meaning of the word, it’s likely you’ve been listening only to the melody, or you’re genuinely not interested in knowing what the word means.
If you listen to K-pop and work on your grammar at the same time, you will find yourself understanding more and more of not only the words used in the lyrics but also the rich and subtle nuances in the songs that a direct translation can’t express.
TalkToMeInKorean is a website and community that offers free Korean-language lessons. In a little more than three years, it has built a following that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Learning Korean may not be easy, but if you find a way to make it fun and exciting, you’ll get more out of it and learn faster. TalkToMeInKorean will submit a monthly column on studying Korean. —Ed.