Music is a crucial aspect of any culture.
Which is why it makes plenty of sense to use it as a way to learn a language—especially Korean!
You can add an educational flavor to your interests and learn bits of the language itself.
In this post, we will explore how you can harness the power of Korean songs, and look at 11 great ones to start you off.
First, let’s establish why music is so utterly fantastic for learning Korean.
The Greatness of Music in Learning Korean
We all love music, but how can it be such a good tool for learning?
- Naturally, it offers a taste of the culture. Certainly, as the acclaimed “universal language,” music can connect across cultures in a special way some other things can’t. There’s much to learn about Korea just from the “sound of the country.”
- When learning with music, the rhythm and repetition help to ingrain vocabulary and encourage memory recall. With a good beat and some bouncing lyrics, we can absorb a lot of information from one song.
- And, if you take it seriously, music can improve your pronunciation. Korean isn’t easy to speak, but the shifting intonations and tones of different singers can aid you in practicing proper enunciation.
- Lastly, once you really know the music, it can serve as a great icebreaker. Even if you’re not an expert in the language, you would be surprised at how much of a bridge one song can be between you and a fluent speaker. You may just find a chance to impress Koreans at any given karaoke room by effortlessly belting out a trendy tune.
Going for a Step-by-step Challenge
Before you rush into your Korean music playlist, you might want to consider getting organized with your education. Our suggestion is to study with a step-by-step method. That is, start with a small goal and advance with challenges that get progressively harder. You can’t expect to understand an entire song from the get-go; this is why you should take it slow.
Here is an example of a test-like learning process that starts small but ends big.
Starting point: Listen to the song with lyrics and translations right in front of you. Follow along and focus not on the beat, but on the words.
Test #1: Take out your mic and record your singing. Yes, actually sing the song to the best of your ability. Play it back and compare your version to the original. This is to hone your pronunciation and pick out any problem spots, for which you can listen again to get it just right.
Test #2: Look away from the lyrics as you listen to the song. In the first round, pick out words you recognized and give yourself a pat on the back for them! Note and review what you missed or didn’t understand, and listen to the song again to see if you can catch them. Do this for a couple of rounds.
Test #3: Write out the lyrics and/or translations by yourself, with no reference besides the audio itself. This one will be tough, but it actively encourages memory recall and truly tests what you know. The method of retrieval is powerful in ingraining information in long-term memory, so this test will be honing just that for your Korean language skills.
Test #4: Sing the entire song to an instrumental, vocal-less version of it (aka a “karaoke” version). The only help you can have are the entirely Korean lyrics. This is a fun way to end things, but this time, you will be supplied with actual knowledge of what and how you are singing.
The process may be tweaked a bit for different songs. Aim for songs of different genres so you can get exposed to different beats and lyrics, and thus, different vocabulary.
Also, if you’re really into using music as a tool for learning Korean, then FluentU Korean will be perfect for you.
If you struggle to find Korean music, FluentU has you covered by handpicking a great bunch of music videos and audio clips, then providing captions, transcripts and learning tools for each. By making use of authentic videos, it’s a resource that truly takes away all the tediousness of typical studying, leaving behind a fun and reliable way to learn something as complicated as Korean.
Start using FluentU on the website or download the app.
11 Korean Songs to Strengthen Your Vocal Cords and Language Skills
“인연” (Fate) — Lee Sun Hee
Used as the theme song for the well-known Korean film “The King’s Clown,” “인연” (pronounced in-yeon) tells the bittersweet story of a destined love that comes with wistful promises and lingering sorrow. Although it vows reunion between two lovers, you can sense that there is a kind of impenetrable obstacle in the way. This ballad, written and sung by one of the country’s most beloved female singers, is a celebrated hit with beautiful lyrics that can teach you some of the more poetic elements of the language.
The song fits under the traditional folk genre and is thus sung in a manner ranging from tempered to striking. The slow and powerful enunciation of each word will make it easy for you to listen and repeat, following a beautiful melody. It is highly likely that after the first listen, you won’t forget much of what you heard due to the emotional weight (which is great for your recall of the lyrics themselves).
“눈,코,입” (Eyes, Nose, Lips) — Taeyang
Here’s one for the heartbreak lovers, and certainly, this song is good at more than just teaching you how to say “eyes,” “nose” and “lips” in Korean. As popular as this song is, the lyrics are surprisingly digestible even for Korean language beginners.
Story-wise, Taeyang belts a song of a man yearning for a girl who has already left. The ghost of her presence haunts him, and so he imagines her physical features that he has memorized.
The vocabulary itself is not very difficult and the phrases are simple. Moreover, there are plenty of words that are used repetitively, so you won’t be struggling as much in absorbing new information. There is also the use of the imperative in certain parts that you might want to note. While this song is not as up-tempo as Taeyang’s other songs, it is still reasonably speedy. It would be best to start learning this song with a good look at the written lyrics first, before catching up to the beat.
“어디니? 뭐하니?” (Where Are You? What Are You Doing?) — B.A.P.
In this fluffy song, B.A.P. tells a tale lit by curiosity, of meandering days that feel awkward because of the absence of a certain other. The catchy country-like tune, however, lessens the sorrow to a quiet nostalgia.
The easygoing melody is matched with uncomplicated lyrics, interspersed with a few English words. What’s great about this song is that it also contains some proper grammar, which can be quite lacking in the world of music. Moreover, as the title makes obvious, it includes a core component of any language: the ever-important “where” and “what.” It even uses them in phrases that are near-essential for casual conversation.
The song would be good for beginner learners edging into intermediate level, since there are some parts that are faster than others.
“봄봄봄” (“Bom Bom Bom” / Spring, Spring, Spring) — Roy Kim
If you’re tired of all the woebegone, heart-wrenching love songs, this cheery tune of spring and love is for you.
“Bom Bom Bom” uses some clear-cut Korean in simple structured sentences, making it great for beginners. Roy Kim also offers some mellow, clean pronunciation, so you can easily follow along with the words and the uplifting beat. Besides that, you get a brief encounter with the past tense in the lyrics “봄이 왔네요” (pronounced bomi watneyo — “spring came”).
The song is also pretty good overall for learning some easy, endearing Korean, especially if you’re all with Shakespeare in comparing your loved ones to seasons.
“양화대교” (Yanghwa Bridge) — Zion.T
Written as a kind of musing autobiographical account, the R&B/soul-styled “Yanghwa Bridge” reflects on Zion.T’s growth as a successful singer capable of supporting his parents and his visitation to a place that his father used to frequent in the past. It is the song of a child who wishes for familial happiness and health.
Learners of all levels can enjoy this song for its relaxed beat and mild singing. There is nothing overwhelming about the lyrics or the tempo. The Korean itself is prose-like, so what you hear and read are properly structured. In a way, the song is like a letter, so you can certainly approach it as one when you are analyzing its contents. You can also learn how to say some pretty common phrases (“Let’s be happy” and “Don’t be sick”) in Korean.
“Fantastic Baby” — Bigbang
This is a must-know for any K-pop lover. With Bigbang’s penchant for bumping beats and fast-paced action in their music videos, “Fantastic Baby” includes all the hallmarks critical to the genre.
If you’re into learning Korean spoken at a fast pace, this song is certainly for you. You will definitely be polishing your Korean listening skills if you take this song seriously and dissect it thoroughly, as there are some pretty common phrases and cool action verbs to be found. Be advised that the rapping section requires a bit of a honed ear, so you might want to tackle the slower parts of the song first.
Luckily, there is enough English speckled in the song to help you enjoy singing it. It’s best for intermediate to advanced learners, but beginners can have a good time picking the lyrics apart nonetheless. Once you learn it entirely, get ready to start blasting it in the karaoke room with your friends.
“태풍” (The Eye) — Infinite
Infinite combines the hyperactivity of pop with the mellowness of traditional instruments in this song about a breakup that fails to keep the protagonist truly away from their lover. The title refers not to a particular body part, but to the “eye of a storm” that continually sweeps the protagonist back to their ex.
With all the passionate weight of the song, the Korean used is both poetic and casual. There is some difficulty in catching some of the metaphorical stuff, so it is advised that you get an idea of what the words literally mean before venturing into the figurative realm.
Another pro is that there aren’t any rapping interludes, and the whole song is sung at a relatively consistent tempo at average speed. The enunciation of the words is very clear, even if the entire theme is quite emotional. You can also pick up on the multiple declaratives used in the song and analyze them yourself.
“시간아” (Time) — Nam Woohyun
Sung by a member of boy band Infinite, “Time” detracts from the fast-paced anguish of pop love songs. It is slow and melancholic as it reflects on a character who longs to be reunited with their beloved. However, he is overtaken with pain as he recalls that his dear one was the one to say that they should separate.
This is a song to learn if you wish to convey genuine romantic angst in Korean. You won’t have trouble singing along to the swaying melody, so it is a great way for newcomers to Korean music to ease into the heftiness of Korean-styled sorrow. The lyrics are very heartfelt and include some vocabulary commonly used to communicate more complicated aspects of sadness in Korean. The connective phrasing also will help you build a sense of fluidity in your speaking.
“아파” (It Hurts) — 2NE1
The title itself is a must-know term, but the rest of the song is also rich with learning potential. Girl group 2NE1 provides a reflective account of an individual wondering about the state of one’s ex-lover. The speaker laments how much they have changed and wishes for a reunion, though it seems that the pain from the breakup is one-sided.
Much of the song’s theme of loneliness is portrayed as questions, so the lyrics can teach you the elements of how to phrase an inquiry in Korean. Overall, there isn’t too much advanced vocabulary, and the idioms and expressions used are helpful to know if you want to convey some good, plain bitterness in an observational manner.
“U&I” — Ailee
Here’s one from someone considered the “Korean Beyoncé.” Ailee herself is Korean-American, and her songs reflect both of her nationalities.
“U&I” is definitely a bumping song, having risen to the top of charts literally within minutes of its release. It takes on the perspective of an empowered female who stands strong even after a breakup, steadfast in her refusal to give in to the pleas of her former significant other.
The lyrics feature questions and casual language, including the ever-critical expression of annoyance towards another person: “왜 이러니?” (pronounced weh eeruhnee? — “Why are you being like this?”). It also makes extensive use of pronouns and possessives in close range of each other, which can help you learn how they work in general Korean.
Another great trait is that there is a good amount of English included. This makes it easy for you to tune in even if you just started listening, but it also gives you a gist of what the song is about. It can serve as a good guide even when the Korean gets a bit fast-paced.
It is easy to get attached to this song after hearing it only once. Even if you memorize this song in its entirety, Ailee is a good artist in general to listen to if you want to keep up your song-learning curriculum.
Considered the unofficial Korean anthem, “Arirang” is definitely a song you should know for its cultural significance. Despite its age and resonance with the country, there is little certainty of what “Arirang” itself literally means.
The folk song recounts the labors of a fair maiden as she crosses a certain mountain pass called “Arirang.” She laments the disappearance of her lover (her love itself may be unrequited), and the lyrics imply that she is attempting to meet with him someplace beyond the trail.
There are not many verses, but the lyrics are wondrously nostalgic and dripping with feeling. It is written from the perspective of a traveler, so you can encounter some vocabulary specific to navigational context. The intonation and manner in which the song is sung is classically drawling and slow, which can help you learn the nuances in pronunciation of syllables and build up the eloquence of your own articulation.
Indeed, you may not be a young lady hailing from old Korea, but the bucolic, dream-like nature of this timeless song makes it easy for any listener to slip into the shoes of a wandering, lovestruck traveler on a rugged trail.
You’ll be shocked to see how much a single Korean song can be brimming with learning opportunity.
So what are you waiting for?
Get those headphones and speakers out and start your journey into the world of the Korean language!
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