Close your eyes and imagine that you’re completely surrounded by Korean language and culture.
Where are you? Are you in downtown Seoul? At a famous historic site like Gyeongbokgung Palace?
Now imagine this: The place where you’re surrounded by Korean could be your own home.
Still think that the only way to learn Korean by immersion is to go live in the country?
Well, not so much anymore. Your best bet could actually be staying put and not leaving the house at all!
Here, we focus on home-based learning opportunities, so you can get full Korean immersion at home.
But what does home-based immersion even look like?
I thought you’d never ask.
What’s Home-based Immersion?
It’s a Cheaper, More Creative Kind of Immersion
The two biggest barriers to in-country immersion are time and money. You can’t just pause the life you’re living to go live in Seoul. You have a family and a great job, and let’s admit it, the cost of upping and living abroad isn’t cheap. But that doesn’t mean your passion for learning languages has to take the hit.
Home-based immersion is a more approachable alternative. It’s more approachable because it doesn’t involve purchasing a plane ticket and lugging half of your stuff halfway around the world. It’s definitely much cheaper and it has many more awesome benefits to offer.
You do have to be more creative and more proactive about it—that’s the trade-off. You’re going to have to make changes in your home, as we’ll discuss later, but they’ll definitely be less dramatic than spending 6 months or years overseas.
You’re going to have to be proactive because, unlike living in Korea where all the experience is right there, just waiting for you to soak it in, home-based immersion requires you going after the experience yourself.
With in-country immersion, you’re waiting with open arms for a huge wave of Korean to hit you, then you just go with the flow and doggy paddle to stay afloat. With home-based immersion, you’re resolving to run towards the open ocean and dive in headfirst to get the experience.
It used to be that the only kind of immersion available was the kind that involved plane tickets and passports. Today, we live in a time where passports aren’t needed. Only passwords.
Home-based immersion, as much as it involves creativity, often gets a boost from technology. That is, we use TV, computers, tablets, smartphones and iPods in this quest.
The Internet provides an endless supply of authentic materials that make it feel like we’re actually sitting at a café in downtown Seoul. Koreans talk, blog, write comments, make movies, drama series, talk shows and podcasts, and you can access all that goodness through an Internet connection from the other side of the world. You can even chat up native speakers via Skype.
The Web also provides a plethora of Korean language learning products, sites and content to make you realize that you’re really getting spoiled.
For home-based Korean immersion to be effective, your brain should be firing on all cylinders while you’re absorbing your Korean materials. That is, Korean should be hitting all the different sensory receptors in your body—eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin—and you should be prepared to stay receptive to all this Korean input.
This way, there’s very little difference whether you’re actually in the country or not.
Think about it. Expats who lived in Korea for years but never opened their senses to the whole experience never really learned the language beyond the basics. They stayed in expat enclaves that shielded them from the rich culture around them, and they maybe even came home being more entrenched in their native culture’s identity—be it “American” or “Western” or whatever else—than when they left.
Immersion should be a barrage, a flood, a torrent of language coming your way. You’ll have your smartphone and social media profiles set to Korean, a Korean playlist softly playing in the background while you work and Korean words always in sight. Everywhere you look, there’s Korean.
It’s sure disorienting at first, like any true immersion experience should be, but it will slowly grow on you until the language gap doesn’t matter as much. Over time, it will become your new normal and your senses will become more attuned to the Korean language.
It’s an Active Process
Another key factor is how actively you’re learning. Passive input is good to a certain extent. Always hearing and seeing Korean is a natural boost, but if you’re not really paying attention, processing and actively practicing the language, then it’ll all go in one ear and out the other—just like it did for expats in Korea who never really learned Korean.
All that said, let’s look at some of the clever ways you can implement home-based immersion.
7 Chill Ways to Experience Korean Immersion Right at Home
1. Change the language settings of your gadgets, devices and social media accounts to Korean
As I’ve said before, one of the simplest things you can do is find the “Language Settings” of your devices and change them to display in your target language. The same goes for your social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
You can do this not just for Korean but for any of the major languages like German, French and Mandarin Chinese. These devices and websites are made for international distribution and their creators foresaw usage by native speakers of different languages from around the world.
This can bog down your device use initially. You may find yourself hopelessly going back and forth between displays in Korean and English, just so you can get stuff done. In a way, this is still helpful because it forces you to explore the device interface to find those language settings again. Before long, when you least expect it, you’ll be operating your gadget like a Korean maestro. Hang in there.
For advanced learners, switching to Korean will provide you with plenty of opportunities to practice your Hangul, the Korean writing system.
2. Label the different objects around the house in Korean
Remember when I told you that you’ll need to be extra proactive for home-based immersion to work? Well, this is one of the things that you can do.
Label all the everyday objects that you use with their Korean names. On your coffee cup, for example, you’ll find a Post-it note that reads “컵 (keob)”. In the bathroom, label the toilet, the mirror and the places where you store the soap and shampoo.
You’ll see these labels on a daily basis and they’ll become second nature to you. Over time, you can slowly take off the labels. When you see the cup, you’ll immediately think “컵 keob.” To reinforce your lessons once the labels start to disappear, be sure to say the words out loud as you see the items. Alternatively, create more advanced labels with full Korean phrases and sentences about the items.
If you’re diligent about it, you can have a more immersive experience than those huffing and puffing in Seoul right now.
3. Get Korean video lessons from FluentU
If going to Korea isn’t a practical option, FluentU will get you where you want to go with its broad selection of videos. You’ll have the opportunity to watch and listen to Korean music videos, movie trailers, interviews, newscasts, commentaries and plenty more authentic Korean clips.
This multimedia resource doesn’t just give you something to passively look at or to listen to while you’re in your pajamas. It’s all about finding that perfect blend of immersion and active learning.
All of the videos here feature faithful transcriptions of what the native speakers are saying, and the subtitles are actually interactive—meaning you can go deep with every individual word and discover more about it. Clicking or tapping on any word yields a definition, audio pronunciation, usage insights, full sentence examples and more video clips from FluentU where the word is also used.
The best part of FluentU is perhaps the learn mode where each video clip becomes, in itself, a language lesson. Flashcards, playlists, review exercises and vocabulary lists make for a totally interactive immersion experience. Your FluentU subscription will give you endless hours of lessons that you can repeat as many times as you like at any odd hour of the day or night.
4. Tap a language exchange partner and use Skype
Staying at home doesn’t mean you never get to experience interaction with Korean native speakers. Believe it or not, home might just be the best place to meet native speakers.
Technology has developed so far that you can have meaningful and immersive experiences with Korean native speakers while sipping your own delicious creamy coffee made by your own coffeemaker just a few feet away.
A “language exchange” is exactly that—a trading of languages. Let’s say you’re an English speaker out to learn Korean. You would need to find somebody, a Korean native speaker, who wants to learn English. It’s the purest win-win situation.
You can go and register on the italki language exchange site to find Korean speakers trying to learn English. Once you’ve hunted them down, which is as easy as typing in a search box, you migrate the interaction to Skype and voila! You have a native speaker ready to teach you Korean, and you’ll help them out with their English.
Another advantage of Skyping a language partner is that you can learn more than just the language. You’ll see their gestures and expressions. You’ll even get the insider’s guide to the culture, so don’t forget to ask about cultural nuances and social etiquette for conversations.
By using language exchange websites and Skype, home can easily be the perfect place to meet native speakers. You’ll have the privacy, comfortable environment and time to really engage with your language buddy.
The next logical step, if you really want to kick up your Korean progress, is to hire a private Korean tutor on the italki platform.
The tutors on this website are every bit as friendly as the exchange partners, and paying a bit extra for private tutoring comes with all kinds of benefits—for one, the tutor will always be there for you (whereas a language exchange partner might be more casual and flake from time to time) and you save time that you might otherwise have spent speaking English since you’ll be 100% focused on Korean.
5. Surround yourself with Korean audio
If you’re in Korea, you’ll find yourself hearing a cornucopia of, what else, Korean sounds. You’ll hear the giggles of schoolchildren on their way to classes, the chatter of Korean TV in the background, K-Pop blasting everywhere you turn. And this happens 24/7 without letting up.
Why don’t you try to mimic the experience with your home-based immersion? Listen to whatever authentic Korean audio or Korean audio lessons you can get your hands on.
Leave all this great audio on in the background so you can soak it up passively, tune in for a while and pay attention to learn actively, then sing along and take notes for more interactive learning—all three options are great for immersion, and it’s ideal to spend some time doing each!
Remember how you sang children’s songs when you were just a shy little kid? And notice that you never seemed to forget them? Well, that’s because music is one of the most effective ways to learn any language—especially when it comes to vocabulary.
All the elements in K-Pop click to make language learning inevitable. Listen to Big Bang’s “Loser” or Girls’ Generation’s “Party.” You’ll instantly be immersed and feel like you’re driving your car and stuck in Seoul morning traffic, or out rocking at a nightclub or live concert.
Korean songs have great melodies and catchy tunes so that the lyrics accompanying them become highly memorable. The words don’t exist in a vacuum but are instead part of a working whole, so you’ve got context to help you anchor the meanings of words.
Lastly, the visuals in many Korean music videos are top notch. They’re immersive in and of themselves.
When you’re at home and going through your daily chores, you can have audiobooks playing on your device. This way, whether you’re down in the basement busy with something or in the kitchen trying to figure out how to load the dishwasher, you can create a perfect multitasking opportunity and get in some good Korean lessons as well.
Audiobooks are especially useful when you’re learning and honing your Korean pronunciation. Being at home, there’s nobody to give you a curious stare when you’re talking to yourself in fluent Korean.
Podcasts come in all shapes in sizes, and many are designed specifically for language learners. These are often so sweet and simple that I’d recommend that you listen to them while you’re lying in bed and resting.
For example, you can listen to the KoreanClass101 podcast (from Innovative Language). It’s one of those podcasts that’s fat with language learning content while staying fun and relevant, dealing with topics like “Must-Know Korean Sentences” which are perfect for Korean beginners. And with a membership, it goes above and beyond to teach you Korean lessons with tools, PDFs and interactive features.
The main difference between audiobooks and podcasts is that podcast creators come out with new episodes on a regular basis, unlike audiobooks where the product is already complete. With podcasts, you have new material coming your way all the time.
For advanced learners, listening to authentic Korean podcasts (made by native speakers for native speakers) can really enrich your Korean. You can search for podcasts that are about showbiz, business, politics and economics, and consequently improve your storehouse of vocabulary.
Attune yourself to the pacing and delivery of the language and listen to native speakers discussing specific topics as if you’re eavesdropping on them in a warm and bright coffee shop.
6. Surround yourself with Korean videos
Visuals must be a big part of your home-based immersion process. Good thing that the Internet holds almost an unlimited number of movies, dramas and TV shows that the Korean language learner can take advantage of.
These are authentic materials, the very same ones consumed by native speakers. By surrounding yourself with Korean videos, you have the triple whammy of being entertained, learning the language and witnessing the culture in action.
Movies and Dramas
When Korean movies and dramas started taking over the world, many became endlessly fascinated with the Korean language.
You can level with us—you’re probably learning Korean now because you fell in love with the language after watching a Korean movie or drama. It wouldn’t be a surprising story!
Thank goodness the home-based Korean language learner has an endless supply of visual stories that conveniently come with subtitles. They make your Korean journey more thrilling, more suspenseful and more romantic.
Talking of falling in love, you might want to watch the Korean film “Windstruck,” a classic tale of love lost. Or, if comedy is more your genre, perhaps you can cuddle up on the couch with “Penny Pinchers,” a movie about two characters who have completely opposite spending habits. Now, if horror is more your thing, then “Train to Busan” takes the cake.
If Korean dramas tickle your fancy, good thing the Korean TV industry never tires of releasing dramas of the top caliber each year. Of course, “Boys Over Flowers” should be your first stop. The rest you can find on Drama Fever—start exploring now.
You don’t need to step a single foot on the Korean peninsula to see places and witness the culture of Korea. Hit reality shows like “Running Man” take you around city centers and the countryside to unique places and hidden corners you’ve probably never seen before—even if you’ve done the whole in-country immersion thing. “Running Man” in particular features celebrities taking on all sorts of crazy and exciting obstacles and challenges. If you’re up to seeing your favorite celebrity in his or her most unguarded moments, this is the show for you.
In “Happy Together,” astute learners can take away many cultural, social and personal insights from the show. Yes, all that from a comedy show. You’ll have to be very sharp because the show is draped in funny stuff, so you might be laughing your guts out and miss the educational moments.
Language learners will do well to listen and learn from the dynamics of interaction, the to-and-fro of words and the friendly banter in talk shows and reality shows. You can’t get more authentic and spontaneous than that.
7. Cook and eat Korean food
Imagine this: You’re slurping on ramyeon or chowing on instant jjamppong while watching “Running Man.”
A few minutes later, you run to the fridge pour yourself some cheongju. Can you be more in Korea?
With food, our multisensory journey comes full circle. To learn as much Korean as possible from the whole food experience, stay intent on doing a forensic reading of food packets and wrappers (which is actually a good idea). You’ll learn tons of fun vocabulary from the wrappers’ advertisements, and you’re bound to learn plenty of ingredient and nutrition vocabulary.
Beyond that, you can explore Korean recipe websites and start following their instructions in complete Korean. To get yourself started on this road, try reading a blog like Maangchi, where there’s minimal Korean—basically only the dish names are written in Korean, and they’re also in English. Next, amp up your studies with a food blog that’s completely in Korean.
No matter what you choose to do when it comes to buying or cooking Korean treats, food really can get you in the mood. It can fly you to a different place even though you’re standing still at home. It can gift you with the insight that Korean isn’t just a different language, it’s a whole culture altogether, sharing many features similar to yours but truly unique in its own right.
You now have seven smart ways to get to Korea without ever stepping out of your house.
Immersion has never really hit this close to home. You’ve got technology ever ready to lend a helping hand. It can stimulate your eyes, ears and mouth to get you truly learning the language. Now you only need to do your part and be proactive and creative with the strategies and resources offered here.
Home-based immersion isn’t only possible, it’s gosh darn fun!
And One More Thing...
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Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
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