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9 Topical Korean Talk Shows

Korean talk shows or “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 six Korean talk shows that you should get glued to.

So let’s begin…

Contents

1. 마녀사냥 (Manyeo sanyang) — “Witch Hunt”

Year: 2022

Genres: Comedy, Romance

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It’s worth mentioning that Sam Hammington, an Aussie comedian, used to be a cast member on this show, having since been replaced by Yoo Se-yoon.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.

Watch it on Apple TV

2. 비정상회담 (Bijeongsanghoedam)  “Abnormal Summit”

Year: 2014

Genres: Life

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.

Watch it on KissTV

3. 강심장 (Gang Sim Jang)“Strong Heart”

Year: 2009

Genres: Music, Comedy

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.

Watch in on YouTube

4. 해피투게더 (Haepitugedeo)“Happy Together”

Year: 2001

Genres: Comedy

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.

Watch in on YouTube

5. 효리네 민박 (Hyorine Minbak) — “Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast”

Year: 2017

Genres: Life

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.

Watch it on KissTV

6. 안녕하세요 시즌 (Annyeonghaseyo)“Hello Counselor”

Year: 2010

Genres: Comedy, Life

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.

7. 범인은 바로 너 (Beomin-eun Baro Neo)“Busted!”

Year: 2021

Genres: Comedy, Mystery, Suspense

Imagine a reality show where a group of celebrities turns into a team of amateur detectives, solving crimes in an escape-room-like setting.

Well, that’s “Busted!” for you!

This Korean variety show combines elements of mystery, comedy, and reality TV, making it an entertaining watch for language learners.

The show follows the celebrity cast as they work together to solve intricate puzzles and unveil the identity of the culprit in each episode. What sets “Busted!” apart is its interactive format, allowing viewers to engage with the mystery-solving process.

The use of Korean in real-life situations, combined with the comedic banter between the cast, makes it an enjoyable and educational experience for language learners at various proficiency levels.

Watch it on Netflix

8. 1호가 될 순 없어 (1Hoga Doel Sun Eopseo)“Don’t be the First One!”

Year: 2020

Genres: Comedy

In this hilarious reality show, participants compete to avoid being the first one to laugh in various absurd and comical situations.

The catch? They must maintain a poker face while their fellow contestants try everything to make them crack up.

“Don’t be the First One!” is a rollercoaster of laughter, surprises, and outrageous challenges that will not only tickle your funny bone but also expose you to diverse conversational styles and comedic expressions in Korean.

The show’s unpredictable nature and the contestants’ attempts to resist bursting into laughter create an environment where you can pick up colloquial language, slang, and cultural references. It’s a great choice for language learners looking to add a dose of humor to their Korean language skills.

9. 투게더 (Tugedeo)“Twogether” 

Lee Seung-gi, and Jasper Liu embark on a bumbling road trip to exotic asian countries – in search of their biggest fans. Hop on this trip TWOGETHER.

Year: 2020

Genres: Travel documentary

“Twogether” takes two popular Asian celebrities, Lee Seung-gi from South Korea and Jasper Liu from Taiwan, on a globe-trotting adventure to meet their fans.

The twist? They must overcome language barriers and cultural differences to complete missions that bring them closer to their international fan base!

This heartwarming travel-reality show not only showcases stunning destinations but also provides an authentic glimpse into cross-cultural communication.

As a language learner following the duo’s journey, you’ll encounter diverse linguistic situations, from navigating local customs to attempting conversations in different languages. The camaraderie between the two stars and their interactions with fans create a lighthearted and engaging atmosphere, making “Twogether” a delightful choice for language enthusiasts looking to enhance their comprehension skills while enjoying a travel-themed Christmas adventure.

Watch it on Netflix

How Talk Shows Can Help You Learn Korean

  • They Acclimatize Your Ears to the Sounds of the Language. As a language learner, you get to hear Korean as Koreans living in Seoul experience it. With talk shows, you get your own seat at the table.

    Listening to conversations attunes your ears to the true speed of Korean. 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. If you’re really struggling with this, I recommend trying out a language learning program like FluentU.

    FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

    You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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  • 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. 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.

  • 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.

 

These are nine 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.

Good luck!

And One More Thing...

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