Hey there, Korean language learner!
Would you like to know your K-pop idol’s innermost thoughts?
Would you like to hear their darkest, best-kept secrets?
And, while you’re at it, learn Korean on the side?
I give you, Korean talk shows.
These “gossip on steroids” programs are some of the most underrated language learning material out there. They’re bursting with language gems, and after reading this post, you’ll never look at talk shows the same way again.
Yes, you’ll get to the heart of all those showbiz rumors, but you’ll also get to the heart of the Korean language. It’s a potent two-fer!
First, we’re going to learn how talk shows specifically help your cause as a Korean student and why they’re vital components to your learning. Then, we’ll look at seven Korean talk shows that you should get glued to.
So let’s begin…
How Talk Shows Can Help You Learn Korean
They Acclimatize Your Ears to the Sounds of the Language
You happen to be living in such an amazing time in human history. And no, not because of Cardi B. Because with a simple tap, you can hear just about any spoken language on the face of the earth… without ever leaving that chair you successfully cornered in your local Starbucks.
As a language learner, you get to hear Korean as Koreans living in Seoul experience it. You don’t have to walk to your city’s Koreatown and eavesdrop until you start receiving worried stares from complete strangers. With talk shows, you get your own seat at the table.
This is a vital experience for a language learner, because listening to conversations attunes your ears to the true speed of Korean. If you’ve ever used Korean language video lessons, you may have noticed that the teacher purposely slowed down their pronunciation, sometimes even enunciating with a little exaggeration so you could follow along.
This does not happen in the real world. If you talk like that to a native speaker, they might think you’re having a stroke right before their eyes.
Korean talk shows give you the normal back-and-forth of dialogues, the volleys between speakers who send and receive information.
At first, this will sound like a long unbroken paragraph where you can’t even make out a single word. But as you get more experience under your belt, you’ll begin to come out of the haze and notice individual words, as well as how they flow together.
You’ll also hear the general rhythm and melody of Korean. And before long, with constant imitation and repetition, you’ll be speaking like a native.
They Have Predictable Formats
Unlike movies where each one starts with a different plot, Korean talk shows have a repeated premise. So, for example, a talk show might focus on the life of a celebrity guest. “Segment 1” might always be about their personal and family life. “Segment 2” may then turn to their professional pursuits, like the projects they’re busy with. Then finally, “Segment 3” could be truth-or-dare questions that keep viewers entertained till the very end.
The similarity in format from one show to the next helps language learners get their context set early on. You already know what to expect, so you can focus on the language.
And unlike with Korean dramas, you don’t have to watch every episode of these programs. Each show is an independent entity and you can learn from it even without seeing the earlier episodes. You don’t even have to consume a full episode. You can do 15 minutes today and come back tomorrow.
By watching many episodes of the same show, you can get increasingly familiar with what’s going to be talked about, what the general tone of the conversation is and what sort of guests are being interviewed.
Having this info at the back of your head ultimately helps you absorb more of the content that’s happening right in front of you.
They Show You an Interesting Part of Korean Pop Culture
By the way, we’re defining “talk shows” here a little more broadly than what you may be used to if you’re not familiar with Korean pop culture. Korean talk shows are a mixed bag.
Many times, you’ll see an interview for a group of people (like a girl group) that will be arranged in a way that might remind you of “Hollywood Squares.” Sometimes, after the chitchat, they’ll be engaged in outrageous games and tasks that, let’s just say, could turn viral online if they have lousy eye-hand coordination.
And unlike U.S. shows where hosting duties are usually carried out by one individual, Korean talk shows are often anchored by a core of three or more people who contribute their own flavor to each episode. During the course of the show’s lifespan, hosts come and go—maybe one of the three hosts decides to take a break, and somebody else will be brought in. The show doesn’t stop, the format continues.
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They’re Produced with an International Audience in Mind
Korea has become a major exporter of pop culture through their movies, dramas, music and fashion. Since the Korean cultural wave of the ’90s and early 2000s, when every other horror movie had a “Mr. Park” or a “Mr. Kim” in it, content producers have been mindful of an international audience.
And so, when they release something online, it’s almost always with the thought that it will be viewed by some non-native speakers, in the backstreets of London, in the schools of America or in the suburbs of Thailand or Australia.
And talk shows give you the most language “hand holding” of the lot. Some of them really seem like they’ve been produced for language learners, like they’re language lessons posing as talk shows, even.
You get several features that make for easy learning. First, depending on the platform, you often get accurate subtitles that come in English or Korean. So maybe you can watch with English subs first, then with Korean later.
Then there are those colorful graphics that come and go throughout the show. Say a guest says something funny or interesting—the word/phrase that was said will be plastered on the screen and flash repeatedly in eye-catching bold letters.
These and other purposeful features make Korean talk shows a virtual mine for language learners and ensure that non-native speakers are able to follow along.
All that being said, we now turn to the Korean talk shows that’ll light up your path to learning the language.
Chitchat and Chatter: 7 Korean Talk Shows to Help You Speak the Language
What do you get when you cobble together a comedian (Shin Dong-yup), a film critic (Heo Ji-ung), a singer (Sung Si-kyung) and another comedian (Yoo Se-yoon)?
You get “Witch Hunt”—a risqué Korean talk show that tackles the ins and outs of dating, relationships and sex.
The program is really a break from tradition because such topics, especially sex, are not typically openly discussed in Korean culture. But viewers, especially those in their 20s and 30s, have positively supported the show, the hosts of which have to carefully maintain the balance between being interesting and not being vulgar.
The hosts are typically given a situation, like some relationship problem from a viewer—say, a guy whose girlfriend never wants to be kissed. They then hash it out (“Maybe she has bad breath?”), whip out their opinions, are funny and maybe even end up being helpful to viewers who find themselves in similar situations.
The repartees come fast and furious, making this show perfect for advanced language learners who needed to sharpen their comprehension of Korean. It’s safe to say that with this show, you’ll learn words, phrases and idiomatic expressions that are not taught in textbooks.
It’s worth mentioning that Sam Hammington, an Aussie comedian, used to be a cast member on this show, having since been replaced by Yoo Se-yoon. Seeing an Australian confidently speak Korean should be an inspiration for all learners. It really is possible, so hang in there.
Speaking of foreigners, how about an international panel of fellows from all over debating issues in Korean?
“Abnormal Summit” is like a UN General Assembly (thus the standard coat-and-tie worn by the hosts) with Korean as the medium. The program showcases Korea through the eyes of men from other countries.
With some “grease” provided by some native-speaking hosts, the show discusses the latest political, cultural and economic issues in the country. For example, laws that are unique to Korea or technology that a Korean company is spearheading might be talked about.
But make no mistake, the show is often more of a lighthearted banter between friends. As usually happens with an all-male cast, talks descend into stories about how, for example, one host saw this beautiful girl one night and two minutes later ended up totally embarrassing himself in front of her.
If you want to learn language, as well as pick up a few cultural notes along the way, “Abnormal Summit” is the way to go. Episodes are perfect for beginner and intermediate language learners. Pay special attention to the international panel when they speak. Their communication often comes in simple and short bursts that pack a lot of punch.
How familiar are you with your favorite K-pop stars? Fancy yourself a hardcore fan who knows everything there is to know about them?
Well, “Strong Heart” begs to differ. You’ll come away from it knowing even more. (This show is no longer being made but may still feature celebrities you know.)
Guests come on to tell their stories—often of hardships and struggles that happen behind the cameras that very few people know about. For example, they tell about difficulties debuting, suffering rejection in the hands of an ultra-competitive entertainment industry.
You’ll see real people on this talk show, not stars. You’ll get to know them better. You might even experience a personal revelation or two!
To keep the show from being a total cry-fest, the hosts often inject their own humor into the stories, jumping in every now and then to keep the conversation rolling. This program is suitable for intermediate language learners who want to develop their vocabulary and grammar chops.
Listen to how the guests put out their narratives and mimic how they speak. This skill will come in handy when it’s your turn to tell your story.
“Happy Together” is a talk show… and so much more.
A mixed batch of Korean actors and actresses are invited to come on, flanked by show regulars or hosts who’ll ask them lots of questions and make them do all sorts of stuff. In short, anything goes.
You’ll see your favorite K-gods in a very natural setting, telling stories about what their daily lives are like, or what happened behind the scenes while shooting your beloved Korean drama. They’ll be grilled with a whole array of questions—from what their favorite food is, to if they think they’re good drivers, to what their childhood was like.
Then, a few minutes later, they’ll be engaged in a funny game where you see metal trays fall on their heads. It’s a very lighthearted show, and a chance for you to see your favorite actor with their hair down and not playing a role.
“Happy Together” is very different from the types of talk shows you see in the U.S. where there’s just one interviewer and one interviewee. This one actually has many members on each side and sometimes the hosts even just talk to each other instead of the guests.
Beginners of Korean can use this show to observe the natural dynamics of the language as it’s used in a group setting. Listen to the banter between guests and hosts. Observe the back-and-forth of language as they tease each other, share a laugh or react to a surprising piece of information. This makes for a very authentic language learning experience.
What if you stayed at a bed and breakfast for a few days, and the couple taking care of you was a famous K-pop diva and her husband? That’s what this show, starring the couple Lee Hyo-ri and Lee Sang-soon in their home on Jeju Island, is more or less about.
If you don’t already know, Jeju is a famous island resort and Koreans’ favorite vacation spot when they want to escape hustle and bustle of the city. It’s nature’s paradise—with white sand, blue ocean, yellow sun and lush greenery.
The couple treat their guests to yoga classes, surfing lessons, a morning about town, a harvesting experience, a trip to the market and a fresh glass of watermelon juice. They meet some locals on the island and learn what their normal days are like. And oh, while you enjoy all these activities, IU (a famous Korean singer working for the B&B) is on hand to help make your stay even more special.
We’re expanding our definition of “talk show” here a bit, but you’ll find great interactions between Hyo-ri, Sang-soon and their guests. You can take a listen to what they talk about while making breakfast or on the way to the beach, for example. There’s something about the setting that makes these conversation go deep but at the same time remain simple.
Language beginners who are overwhelmed with the fast pace from the other shows can take refuge in this one, where dialogues are simple, short and relaxed, but very meaningful. Not only are there fewer people involved in the conversations, but there’s just something about the setting that makes people relax and go a little slower.
This show is also known as “Life Bar,” and the idea is, if the alcohol flows, so does the conversation.
Everybody is welcome at the bar. Be yourself, let your hair down. Celebrity guests talk about basically anything under the sun—from the littlest thoughts, to their weirdest fears, to their biggest dreams. Listen to a funny anecdote or two, be delighted that the icon you idolized to the high heavens is actually more human than you thought—plagued by worries, with their own quirks and eccentricities.
No topic is taboo. Guests can talk about relationships, dating, falling in love with costars, etc.
All this happens as guests are plied with food and drinks.
The show is anchored by comedians Kim Jun-hyun and Shin Dong-yup, the singer Kim Hee-chul and the fashion model Han Jin. So you can be sure that the conversation, regardless of the topic, will always be interesting, funny and educational.
Advanced language learners will find the conversations stimulating, and not just because of the things talked about. The episodes are an enriching tool, giving quality exposure to the language. You’ll pick up more nuances, more idiomatic expressions, more complex and nested sentences that are the hallmarks of native speakers.
Well, hello indeed! From Korean celebrities talking about their lives, we turn to ordinary Koreans talking about their personal struggles—from being in debt, to experiencing a midlife crisis, to being not appreciated at home.
This time, the celebrity guests listen to ordinary folks (three cases per episode), empathize with them and dish out some serious advice.
But not so fast. To get all the pieces of the puzzle, the other side of the story is actually heard!
So if a woman comes in to complain about a negligent husband, a few minutes later, the husband steps out and gets his moment to be heard. Guest celebrities mediate and try to bring their own experiences to the issue. They try to sort things out. In the end, they give their advice to the “helpees” and wish them the best.
All language learners can really benefit from listening to regular native speakers with this show. Watching your stars, your seasoned talk show hosts, might give you the impression that Korean native speakers are always that fluent and that polished. Not so. These are, of course, professionals who have honed their craft.
Watching regular folks fumble about lets you realize that everyone is still learning. Even native speakers make mistakes, even they are sometimes unsure of what to say, even they sometimes mumble and lack confidence. So really, you’re not doing so badly yourself.
These are seven Korean talk shows that can really give you hours upon hours of authentic Korean speech.
And really, like I said earlier, you don’t have to watch every single episode to get the gist of things. Individual episodes are practically independent of the others.
So just keep on watching and keep on listening. These talk shows will help get your Korean to a level you won’t believe.
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