Those ubiquitous K-pop videos are God’s gift to Korean language learners.
You know why?
Because they’re hyper-effective at teaching you Korean!
You just have to look at them in a certain way.
Before long, they’ll be converted into high-powered Korean language lessons.
Want to learn what that certain way is?
Let’s get started.
How to Turn Music Videos into Language Learning Material
Use the Music
Do you know why you still haven’t forgotten the nursery rhymes you learned decades ago? And did you notice that it’s much easier to memorize large swaths of rap lyrics than a short poem?
It’s the music. It’s the melody, it’s the rhythm and rhyme of the lines that stick in your head. That’s why it’s very difficult to forget the lyrics to your favorite rap songs, even if Vanilla Ice retired a long time ago.
So use the music in the video to learn Korean. It sounds simple enough, but many language learners are actually missing a very important point here. They listen to easy-to-understand Korean songs intently, nodding their heads to the beat, appreciating the genius of the artist. Good. But when the time comes to commit the words and phrases to memory, they read them like a monotonous poem devoid of any melody! It’s like stripping away all the meat and just being left with lifeless, tasteless bones.
You should actually sing the song. Get those Korean songs into your memory, not just their lyrics.
And hey, don’t worry about perfect diction or perfect pitch. Your only concern should be to let the melody guide the flow of the words, and let the cadence and the syllabication help you with the phrases. The genius is in the music, so don’t strip it away from the lyrics.
Use the Video
Video is a very powerful linguistic tool. Whether it’s Korean movies, Korean TV shows or language learning videos you choose, you’ll benefit from every second’s worth of watching. With FluentU’s Korean platform, you can access authentic videos served up in a super-convenient format, so you won’t even have to spend time looking for the right videos on YouTube anymore.
A music video is a very visual medium, and with the number and type of Korean music videos being released these days, you’ve got an uber-visual feed coming your way. And you shouldn’t waste a single drop of it.
Use the video to help you learn Korean. Again, this statement sounds deceptively obvious.
But how many language learners actually “see” the important visual cues in the video when trying to learn some of the Korean vocabulary throughout the song? How many see the hurt in the singer’s face as he’s expressing pain? How many remember the gestures of the artist as she tries to interpret the song? Like when she waves her forefinger at a boy and sings, “아니” (no).
How about the dance steps? How about visual cues—like some cute park or playground—that perfectly sets up the lyrics you need to commit to memory? Do you see these cues when you’re watching a video?
You need to!
All of these cues make Korean ripe for the picking. They all help you store the words, phrases and whole stanzas of the song someplace in your brain, ready for recall.
Use the Story
First, we’ve got the music, which is the auditory component to learning. Then, we have the video itself, which floods the brain with visuals it can use. Finally, we have the story, which puts all the music and the video into a unified context.
And context is a biggie when it comes to language, because nothing is ever spoken in a vacuum. We draw the meaning of what was said by looking at context.
The music videos that we feature in this post have a story: a tale of love lost, of friendship found, of family tested, etc. In short, music videos have an inherent context. So use the story to help your Korean.
Storylines and plots help the mind to accommodate more language material, that is, words and phrases. Woven together, these become memorable parts of the whole. Use the story as the anchor point to embed those Korean words and phrases. Use the story to animate the vocabulary and make vivid its meaning.
When looking at these videos, be attentive to things like timing and motivation. When are certain words used in the song and what are the characters’ motivations for saying them? For example, when the lyrics go, “I was wrong,” try to contextualize it. (As mentioned in the previous section, look at the artist’s face as he’s saying it, for instance, and put yourself in his situation.) Your emotions will be engaged and the word or phrase will have an emotional impact. That’s a much better way of internalizing vocabulary than just memorizing a list of words from a piece of paper.
Learn Korean and Feed Your K-pop Habit with 7 Cool Music Videos
1) “I Was Wrong” (2AM)
Have you ever known someone who you know is emotionally bad for you, but you just can’t help yourself from going back to her/him?
Well, multiply that four times and you have the story of four high school friends—a hockey player, a motorcycle rider, a basketball player and a disc jockey—pining for the affections of the same woman. They’ve had crushes on her since childhood. Problem is, she’s been masterfully toying with all four of them and just wants to be friends, nothing more.
Korean language learners can turn the emotional underpinnings of the song into a memorable anchor for the words and phrases in the lyrics. (And it helps that the artists are great in playing up the emotions in the video.)
Try putting yourself in the shoes of the guys and singing the stanzas. I can’t stress this enough: The only way to maximize benefit from this video is to sing and gesture away. You’ll notice many things about the song and the video that you would never notice when only passively digesting it.
You’ll notice that both the music and the lyrics are regularly structured, and that there are brief rap interludes that makes syllabication of the words more instinctive. There’s just the right amount of melodic and lyrical repetition, which is really perfect for beginners and intermediate learners.
2) “A Guy Like Me” (Lim Chang Jung)
If the previous song was about a love that never was, this one is about love that has ended. I don’t mean to bring you down with this song selection here, it’s just that by putting words in context, and injecting that context with an emotional charge, the whole thing becomes stickier.
This song is a master class in enunciation. If you want to learn how to properly pronounce Korean, this is the song for it. Lim Chang Jung is spot on, and the audio is crisp and clear. The cadence is not too fast, and the simple piano accompaniment lets you listen clearly as the lines are brought to life.
The visuals are also very easy on the eyes, with no hard cuts or jarring camera movements but plenty of macro shots, making the correspondence between what you see and what the song talks about that much more emphatic.
3) “Wedding Dress” (Taeyang)
You’re going to have to watch ’til the last second of this video to understand the story. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but suffice it to say, you’ll let out a sad, “Awww.”
This song, by Taeyang of Big Bang fame, is for intermediate learners. The lyrics are a little bit more advanced and nuanced, and the beat is a little bit up tempo—which means more syllables covered per second. There’s also a killer dance solo by Taeyang, which probably won’t do much for language learners but is still worth a watch.
What is worth mentioning, though, is that K-pop artists often pepper their songs with English intros, words or phrases. This could mean a single line or a repeating phrase, like “wedding dress” in this case. Be on the lookout for these interspersed bits of English because they’ll help you contextualize the Korean. Often, the English will tell you so much about the song or surrounding lyrics. Language learners should consider this a leg up.
4) “Napal Baji” (Psy)
We’re halfway through this list and it’s probably high time to take a break from all the heartache and get lost in Psy’s song about bell-bottom pants.
As is expected from any Psy venture, surreal colors explode onto your screen. There’s that irreverent and playful signature reminiscent of the artist’s former megahits.
But more importantly, for language learners, the song is an excellent resource for Korean vocabulary items. You’ll get a wide variety of Korean nouns and verbs in this one.
And they’re embedded in lines that are short, sweet and simply structured, perfect for Korean beginners. You can actually study the song and learn some basic sentence construction.
Who knew there was so much to learn from a song about bell-bottom pants? Oh Psy, you clever chap, you.
5) “As a Man” (Gummy)
Imagine yourself lugging some stuff up several floors and about to turn the knob of your newly rented apartment when suddenly a man’s hand beats you to it. Thank the real estate gods for seeing fit to double-book you with a handsome stranger who looks like your next love interest.
But wait, who gets the place? (Of course, you both eventually decide to share it!)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this one’s a teaser or trailer for an upcoming Korean romance series or movie. The video has that look and feel. And as a language learner, you’ll definitely benefit from the “wholeness” of it. Unlike other videos where you mostly see the singer on the screen, this one just features the couple in medium to macro shots and is therefore intensely immersive.
The lyrics are written from a woman’s perspective and talk about the sting she feels because of a man’s insensitivity. The clamor behind the song’s lines pulls you even closer, giving an emotional tinge to the whole video and making it highly memorable for language learners looking for Korean vocabulary, phrases and expressions.
6) “One Shot” (B.A.P.)
This video has an underground, gangsta or mafia feel, with grungy visuals and jarring cuts. Those cues are perfect for learning some dramatic Korean vocabulary like 어두운 (dark), 실패 (failure) or 혼동 (confusion), a testament to the power of videos to serve up language lessons, no matter how unassuming.
It also has other things going for the advanced beginner and intermediate language learner. It features a challenging rap interlude that can put your Korean listening and speaking skills through their paces. And like many K-pop songs, it has English interspersed all over, so you do get some handholding every once in a while. The English lines can help you orient to the other Korean lines immediately surrounding it.
7) “Please Don’t” (K. Will)
We round out this list with K. Will’s hit “Please Don’t.” And yes, you’ll have to watch it 2-3 times just to savor the plot or storyline. If you think this is another version of “Wedding Dress,” then you’re in for a wonderful surprise. (Watch it after reading this post and you’ll realize why I included the song in this list.)
The first thing you’ll notice with this song is the beat. It”s actually quite catchy and will immediately get that head of yours bobbing up and down. The tempo is just really right, and is right on target for Korean beginners. The singer enunciates the words quite clearly, and in no time, you’ll be drawn in and nod your way through the rest of the song.
The above are examples of the awesome power of videos to condition, lead and teach our minds.
Videos make language lessons stick. We may forget what’s written on a piece of paper, but we find it hard to escape the “senseless” nursery rhymes we learned as kids.
We also remember the lyrics to the songs of our youth, even when their singers have long since stopped touring.
With these music videos, you’ve got music, visuals and storyline going on for you.
What more can a language learner ask for?
Hit that “Play” button and let the language lesson begin.
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