Many language learners look at “immersion” the wrong way.
They think that it’s all about going to the country where the language is spoken.
They have this idea that if you surround yourself with native-level content, then you’ll simply absorb the language almost by osmosis!
The thing is, you don’t need to travel far in order to get language immersion. That is, you don’t need to go to Korea. Hey, you don’t even need to go to the other side of the tracks.
You can just simulate Korean immersion online.
Let me tell you how.
Why It’s Possible to Get Korean Immersion Online (for Free)
To create an immersive Korean experience online, you first need to understand what “immersion” is… and what it isn’t.
Korean Immersion is not about the place
In the old days, we used to think of “immersion” as actually going to the country where the language is spoken. In our case, you’d have to go to Korea. That way, you’d get a baptism by fire and hear Korean as spoken by Koreans—in the market, on the streets, at your homestay family’s dinner table.
Well buckle up—or rather, don’t. Because you can experience that type of immersion at a fraction of the cost. Spearheading this “online Korean immersion” possibility are videos, which have become so immersive that they can make you feel like you’ve actually landed in Seoul. (A simple YouTube vlog can have that effect!)
And guess what? They’re getting better each day. The audio is getting sharper and the colors, brighter.
You’re getting more accurate depictions of realities on the ground without ever leaving your room.
Immersion isn’t about going places anymore.
Korean Immersion is not about a class
Another challenge to our concept of immersion is that it just happens in a physical language class where L2 is being used as the medium of instruction. So if going to Korea is too expensive for you, a language class is a much cheaper alternative.
But why don’t we bring down the costs to zero? Today’s online offerings get you virtually unlimited authentic materials. And it’s not just videos: You get Korean books, audiobooks, short stories, magazines, newspapers, blogs, radio programs, even restaurant menus. You can have a full Korean ecosystem where you feel like you’re inhaling fumes from a Seoul crosswalk.
Immersion isn’t just about a language class anymore, either.
Korean Immersion is about personal use of the language
Because technology has made “immersion” location-agnostic, we’ve had to refine our thoughts about it. But there’s one thing about immersion that’s stayed the same: Immersion is really about the regular use of the language in daily communicative activities.
Being in Korea will be of little help if you only stay in English-speaking enclaves where you can get a drink without a word of Korean. A language class won’t do much if you passively while away the time.
Immersion is really about doing the hard work of using the language in daily activities. It doesn’t matter where you are: If you’re working with Korean material, then you’re immersing in the language. You can chat with a native speaker, you can write comments on a Korean blog, you can message your favorite K-pop star. That’s all immersion!
That means you can be immersed in the Korean language right about, well, now. In fact, why don’t I give you some online resources so that you can already get your feet wrinkly wet with Korean? Let’s dive in!
Achieve Korean Immersion Online with 17 Clever Resources
Udemy is an online learning platform that offers a massive range of courses from coding to cooking. Korean is also on the menu and there are plenty of courses that promise to teach you the language for a very modest fee—and some even for free.
“Learn From Scratch!” and “Learn Korean Pronunciation in 30 Minutes” are two of the courses you can find here. The best thing about these courses is that the immersion will cost you $0. Enrollment is free!
“Learn From Scratch!” is anchored by Korean tutor JaeHyeon Seo. The course comes with 1.5 hours of on-demand video covering the basics of Hangul—from vowels to syllable structure.
And you’ll be happy to know that “Learn Korean Pronunciation in 30 Minutes” is taught by K-pop star interpreter, Miss Li Carman who has worked with groups like Exo and Shinee. So if you want to vicariously hobnob with the stars and get a quick lesson in Korean pronunciation, enroll now. She really means what she says: You’ll learn Korean pronunciation in 30 minutes!
Coursera is another big name in online courses. It works mainly with top-caliber educational institutions like Princeton, Stanford and the University of London, bringing classroom lectures to the cloud and opening up the world of learning to anybody with an internet connection.
The free course “First Step Korean” is the brainchild of Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious and oldest schools in Korea. The course is anchored by Associate Professor Seung Hae Kang, who’s as decorated as the institution she hails from.
After completing your “first step,” you’re expected to have the wherewithal to carry on a basic conversation in Korean, introduce yourself, talk about your family or give a summary about how your day went. Along the way, the lessons will immerse you in the different nuances of Korean culture especially on the hierarchical nature of their daily communications.
This course not only takes you virtually to the country, but it also lets you experience one of its best educational institutions. So if you want to be schooled in Korean, (without reviewing for the dreaded University entrance exams), take your first steps with “First Step Korean.”
YouTube: The World of Dave
“Dave” here is David Levene—an American content creator based in Korea. His videos cover the full range, from the comedic to the cultural. No matter the topic, Dave puts his spin and perspective on things… which is that of a curious, “Happy to be here!” expat who just happens to be buddies with everyone he meets.
He has a playlist of relatable skits where you’ll see what it’s like to be living in the country.
His wacky videos often come with subtitles so you can follow in the madness. If you immerse in Dave’s world, you’ll also definitely be learning your share of the Korean language and culture.
YouTube: Korean Englishman
How would two Englishmen fare in the Korean culture? What started out as a channel to introduce Korean food to English friends has grown to over three million subscribers and is beloved even by native speakers.
Live vicariously through the antics of friends Josh and Ollie as they try Korea’s weirdest food, visit the country’s best-kept secret spots and hey, they even do makeup.
Who knows, your favorite celebrity might just drop in for a bite.
Want more variety in your videos? FluentU will give you authentic content with the click of a button.
With this program, you’re literally watching the same videos that native Koreans are watching—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks. But FluentU does more than just compile the best authentic videos for learning: It enhances them with features designed for learners and turns each video into a personalized mini-lesson.
Every word in the subtitles can be clicked for an instant translation, pronunciation, part of speech, usage examples and even other videos that use the word.
FluentU also has smart flashcards, review quizzes, exercises and more. So even though you’re dealing with native-level content, you get all the language tools to make it accessible to you at any level. It’s like being in Korea and coming in with a friendly native-speaker guide.
Best of all, FluentU can go where you go with the iOS or Android apps and it has a free trial so you can check it out before you commit.
“Let’s Learn Korean” is presented by KBS. For the uninitiated, KBS stands for Korean Broadcasting System, which brings beloved Korean-language TV programming to the world.
This podcast is an audio course for beginners, divided into three main parts. The first one, expectedly, talks about pronunciation and honorifics.
The second and third parts are really the more interesting lot. The second part feels as if you’ve actually stepped off the plane and are now going through Customs. Literally: There are dialogue lessons on what you’ll most likely experience at the Customs, at the currency exchange booth, at the airport’s information booth, in the taxi or at the hotel reception. There’s even a lesson on how to request room service.
The third part deals with activities you might encounter if you’ve decided to actually live in Korea. You’ll learn practical lines to use when looking for houses or making an appointment.
The audio dialogues have Romanized transcripts and English translations so you can follow along. Note that you’ll be needing Adobe Flash for this one.
In the old days, radio broadcasts didn’t go very far. The further you were from the broadcast source, the buggier your signal became. With digital technology, you can listen to just about any radio station in the world. TuneIn is an internet radio that offers audio streams from anywhere—including, of course, Korea.
Want to listen to exactly the same thing native speakers are listening to on their drive to work? Go to TuneIn’s homepage and click on “Podcasts.” Then, on the left side of your screen, select “By Language.” Scroll down to “Korean” and voilà, you’ll be given the “Talk” and “Music” categories.
Click on “Talk” and you’ll have the chance to explore podcasts that deal with topics such as “News,” “Art & Culture,” “Entertainment” and more. You’re sure to find something here that interests you!
Eggbun’s folksy charm will undoubtedly captivate you. The app’s graphics, fonts, colors, layout and illustrations ensure that your immersion into Korean is as easy and seamless as it can be. You’ll have “Lanny,” a sunny-side-up wearing mascot and your personal tutor, to guide you through over 1,000 lessons.
You’ll have everything from survival Korean for travelers to business Korean for professional communications. There’s a whole section that deals with the culture, fat with content concerning Korean idioms, K-pop slang, funny Korean acronyms and more. The app is refreshing, light and makes Korean learning less daunting.
Eggbun is Korean on-demand immersion that you safely carry in your pocket.
If you’ve ever found yourself in Korea (or a nearby Korean neighborhood), unable to fathom the inscrutable Hangul characters plastered in storefronts and window displays, just whip out your phone, fire up Google Translate and use its language detection technology.
Aim the phone’s camera to that enigmatic Hangul character and boom: instant translation! You can do this for any text, whether it’s from a menu, a newspaper headline or a chapter in a Korean children’s book.
In addition to this cool feature, you also get Google’s robust translation capabilities, which are able to translate voices, dialogues and even handwriting. With the app, your little trip to Koreatown becomes a venerable language learning experience.
Language Exchange Sites (and Apps)
The HelloTalk app connects you with Korean native speakers for that “augmented” language exchange. I say “augmented” because the app is packed with features that help facilitate the exchange of languages between partners.
You can choose to chat using text, voice or video. These are scaffolded by intuitive language exchange tools like voice-to-text, text-to-voice, translation and even transliteration.
If your Korean friend throws you something you don’t understand, the app will help you decipher it. If it’s a text message, you can use the translation feature and have the text translated. If it’s a voice message, you can have the voice-to-text feature work on it first. You can then have the resulting text translated if needed.
HelloTalk offers a safe environment to have a tête-à-tête with a native speaker—something many language learners would balk at in real life.
In the real world, you can select which friends you want and which ones you want to block off from your life. Although Tandem may feel Facebook-y or Tinder-y at times, it’s really so much more than that. (And you’re quickly reminded during account setup that the app isn’t for flirting but for language learning.)
Tandem is a language exchange app that gives you micro-targeting options so you can really find those native Korean speakers you click with and talk about things that you love to talk about. In the real world, you don’t have the help of powerful algorithms nudging and pairing you with like-minded souls and kindred spirits. You get that much-needed assist here.
You can chat via text, voice and video, and you can have text translations to lend a hand. If that’s not enough, the app can connect you with qualified language tutors who totally focus on teaching you Korean, without expecting you to teach them some English in return.
An online Korean immersion experience isn’t complete without diving into webtoons, which are digital comics that cover every genre imaginable. Webtoons are big in Korea, especially among the younger generation. But make no mistake, these online comics are often beautifully drawn, fun to read and draw fans from all ages and persuasions.
You might already know Line (of the Naver Corporation) as a popular chat program in the Korean-speaking community. It’s also a giant producer and host of webtoons.
One of the most popular titles on the platform is “Noblesse,” which got so big that it’s even getting adapted into an anime. It’s about a powerful man named Rai who wakes up after sleeping for 820 years. He finds himself in a world totally different from the one he remembers. But some things never change… like his power.
“Noblesse,” which was concluded in January 2019 after a long run that started in 2007, was one of the first webtoons to receive English translations. That means you can read the Korean version, then check out the English translation to make sure you understood everything.
Daum is another big name in the webtoon game. It also has virtually every story arc you can imagine. If these webtoons were actually printed, you could literally immerse yourself in paper containing some of the most artfully developed sketches ever produced.
“Red Storm” is one of the titles you can find in Daum. You’ll follow the exciting adventures of Yulian, a warrior who dreams of becoming the greatest warrior the Red Desert has ever known. But before that’s even remotely possible, he must meet a being from another dimension who’ll teach him a different kind of martial art.
These webtoons really take you into a different world (…where Korean is still spoken, somehow. Don’t question it!).
LibriVox is a group of international volunteers who record readings of books that are in the public domain. What you get, as a result, are thousands of free audiobooks. Although most of the content here is in English, there’s also a small selection of audiobooks in Korean for all your online immersion needs.
For instance, you can find a collection of short stories by the writer Jin-geon Hyun, who wrote fiction in the 1940s.
In order to make the most out of works like this, you’re encouraged to work and wrestle with the language. Listen to it, preferably while reading along with a copy of the text. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything: The important part is that you expose yourself to the Korean language and try to intuit the meaning from the words and sentences you hear.
This is a YouTube channel which hosts audio recordings of some public domain books.
Books in the public domain are generally those whose copyrights have expired or those whose authors have died a good number of decades ago. So what you’ll see here are derived audiobooks from old works.
Here, you can again find the works of Jin-geon Hyun. You’ll also have something from authors Do-hyang Na and Guk-seon Ahn. Each writer has at least an hour of audio for you to get lost in.
Korean Unnie can actually be listed with the other YouTube channels earlier. Unnie has loads of videos for the beginning language learner. She can teach you about must-know Korean phrases or immerse you in Seoul by showing you 360° vlogs about her daily activities—like walking around Gangnam station or taking the bus.
But I decided to list Korean Unnie here because of the series of videos where she reads “The Little Prince” in Korean. It’s not very common to see the faces of audiobook readers, especially classics like “The Little Prince.” So enjoy!
Listen to it as you sleep and who knows, you might just dream in Korean and transport yourself to the land of kimchi.
If “orange is the new black,” then BLACKPINK members are the girl-lords of the K-pop world. According to Billboard, they’re the best-charting female Korean group of all time. In April 2019, they performed at Coachella, becoming the first Korean female act to do so.
Their hits “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” and “Kill This Love” are lording over the airwaves. The group, composed of Rosé, Jennie, Lisa and Jisoo, is a cultural phenomenon and has a loyal following called “Blinks.” And if you want to immerse yourself in what’s hot and relevant in the Korean music scene right now, you just can’t pass on BLACKPINK.
If you’re wondering how BLACKPINK made it big, YG Entertainment probably had a lot to do with it. YG is the record label that handles groups like BLACKPINK, 2NE1 and Big Bang. It’s even handled Psy in the past.
So it won’t take long for your day to become intertwined with some Korean music. You might listen to Big Bang on your drive to work, or the food you’ll have for lunch might have Korean beats fused into it.
These are just 17 of the resources you can use to create a Korean immersion experience online.
But in reality, there really are millions of Korean apps, blogs, books, movies and so many other kinds of resources available online that can just as easily provide you with authentic learning experiences. As mentioned before, immersion isn’t about location or a formal language class. It’s about a learner’s willingness to use the language in daily activities.
The content is all around you.
Now that you know “immersion” isn’t about just going to Korea, you have no more excuses. Start learning, now!
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