Want to become fluent in Korean without ever spending a dime?
Then look beyond epic fails and prank videos, and see YouTube for what it can be—a truly amazing, accessible resource for learning the Korean language.
Wish you could apply that new grammar pattern to your conversational Korean? Still trying to grasp how native speakers use that vocabulary word? Working on pronunciation?
With the right active watching strategies and the right types of YouTube channels, you can master any aspect of Korean without leaving your house and without picking up your wallet.
But before we get to some of the incredible Korean resources available on YouTube, let’s take a look at how language learners can get the most out of this platform.
How to Use YouTube for Maximum Korean Learning
I’m guessing this is how you ordinarily watch videos on YouTube:
Maybe you’re munching on chips or wiping the cookie crumbles off your T-shirt. You click on any video that seems like it might entertain you, make you laugh, make you cry or shock you into amazement. You giggle at the cute cat, wait for the poor guy to fall on his behind or anticipate that spark of recognition by the teacher being pranked. Maybe you get distracted, stop the video halfway through and forget to finish it later.
That’s not how to watch Korean-language videos on YouTube—at least not for language learning purposes. Generally speaking, you don’t want to just sit back and let the video wash over you.
Using YouTube for language learning means you have to strategize, focus and review. You decide what language elements to watch for, re-watch difficult videos and take down notes. You make use of annotations, subtitles and video descriptions.
You divide the clip into logical parts. (You never do that with cat videos!) You hit pause, rewind and re-listen when you don’t understand what’s being said.
Learn to notice things like pronunciation, gestures and usage nuances.
You can also watch thematically, depending on your learning goals. For example, watch five Korean videos that deal with numbers in one learning session.
Don’t forget, you can always do additional research outside of YouTube! If there are unfamiliar words or concepts in a video you’re watching, head over to Google to explore the topic more.
YouTube contains thousands of Korean videos. The natural temptation is to view them like you would other clips: once, then moving on to other videos.
Plus, YouTube is excellent at suggesting related videos for you to watch. But you really have to temper this particular feature because it can prove to be overwhelming. Before long, you’ll find yourself in a rabbit hole, aimlessly being led from one video to another, without really absorbing the lessons contained in them.
Fight the urge to click on as many videos as possible. You’ll only be scratching the surface and won’t catch all the precious gems contained in them. Don’t think that because you’ve seen plenty, you’ve learned a lot.
Instead, focus on prioritizing. When you find an especially engaging or effective Korean language learning channel, stick with it. And repeat a few of its videos as many times as possible—‘til the cows come home, ‘til you get sick of them.
And I don’t just mean repeating it for repeating’s sake. As mentioned above, watch actively, so that you’re reinforcing and retaining the concepts in the video.
Repeat the clips with a specific purpose in mind. Maybe you’ll watch with subtitles on a few times, then turn them off for the next few playbacks. Maybe you’ll focus on pronunciations for five repeats, then focus on sentence structure for the next five. These specific approaches allow you to milk every video for all it’s worth.
I know I mentioned writing down notes in the first tip, but it’s so important I’ve dedicated a special space for it here.
A video is a moving target. It’s a galloping horse that you need to catch up to. It’s moving pictures and the host/teacher/presenter is spewing a stream of concepts, insights and lessons each second the video is running.
Writing notes helps you solidify this fluid stream of information. It helps you crystalize new words or grammar rules in your mind. It’s especially important if you’re confused by anything and will need to research more or review later.
And don’t just write what the teacher said. Write about what you’ve written (in Korean!). Comment on your notes, annotate and draw arrows. Write in your own voice. Bullet-point some reminders for yourself. That way, you won’t just be picking up new language skills from the video—you’ll also be getting essential practice writing, responding and thinking in Korean.
Writing makes you notice things you would otherwise not have. It focuses your mind. The time may come when you’ll learn more from your notes than from the video itself.
Speak Along with the Video
We go now from just “knowing” about Korean, to actually “speaking” it.
No amount of watching, culture lessons, note taking or vocabulary review will get you speaking fluently in Korean—until you actually try it out for yourself.
So when the teacher in the video tells you to say a word out loud, do it! If he or she introduces a new word, repeat it! Not later, when you’re in bed, but right in that instant. Say it, and then say it again. And then again.
For this to work, you have to be numb to your pronunciation mistakes and the discomfort of your tongue undulating in unfamiliar ways. It’ll be awkward, that’s a guarantee. You’ll make a flood of mistakes, that’s another guarantee. But you have to get past them and do it anyway. No one has ever become fluent in a foreign language without making mistakes.
Speaking Korean, or any language for that matter, is a physical skill. You need to get your tongue, mouth and lips moving in certain speeds and directions. You have to get used to it. And there’s no other way to do it than to actually do it.
YouTube can only do so much. It can only present you with the material. It can’t reach out to your lips and get them moving. Only you can do that.
Make Connections Through the Comments Section
You’re not the only one using YouTube to learn Korean. It’s a virtual certainty that there’s somebody out there—in fact, scores of others who are doing the same thing.
And you can often find them in YouTube comments sections.
After watching a video, scroll down to see what’s written in the comments. You’ll no doubt encounter some trolls or read comments that you know shouldn’t be within 1,000 meters of the video, but you’re also likely to find interesting questions you hadn’t thought of, language learning tips or even just moral support from other language learners.
Another thing you can do is write something related to the video yourself. Do you have a question about what was covered? Looking for some additional resources and content? You can post your queries and cries for help in the comments section. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get an answer, but throw it out there anyway. At the very least, you can use it as an opportunity to practice your Korean writing skills. At most, you could strike up a new connection and study partnership with somebody who answers your comment!
If you read a question that you know the answer to, help the commenter out. Spend a few minutes writing the answer, and then pat yourself on the back. You know you’ve understood a language concept when you can actually explain it clearly to others.
8 Korean Learning Gems You Can Find on YouTube
Now it’s time to get watching! Here are some awesome YouTube resources you can explore to boost your language skills, loosely grouped by genre.
And hey, if you enjoy learning with YouTube, you might want to check out FluentU.
Basically, FluentU takes YouTube videos and turns them into learning powerhouses by adding learner-oriented features. Each video comes with interactive dual-language subtitles, the ability to add any word to your vocab list for later, video-enhanced flashcards, adaptive quizzes and oh so much more!
Try it out with a free FluentU trial.
In my opinion, this YouTube channel is hands down one of the most useful Korean language learning resources available.
There are hundreds of professionally-produced videos to choose from. Think of any Korean language or culture topic you’re interested in, and they probably have a video for that. They’ve got videos covering everything from pronoun usage to Korean superstitions. They also have a video series on listening and writing skills.
The teachers or presenters are friendly and likable, and the videos are typically quite visually engaging. If you’re enjoying this resource, there’s more where it came from! Outside of YouTube, KoreanClass101 also offers focused Hangul, vocabulary and grammar learning tools, discussion forums, language note PDFs and more. It’ll take what you learned on YouTube and push it up a notch. Check out the full offerings on KoreanClass101's website.
Sound like an unexpected title for a Korean learning channel? That should clue you into the kind of lessons Professor Mina Oh is bringing.
In her videos, she covers both Korean language and culture. She’ll take you around Korea with travel videos that make you feel like you’re actually in the country. It’s really quite an immersive learning experience.
But her language lessons are even better. They’re short but substantive. And you can tell that she really spends a lot of time creating and editing the dialogue and skits to illustrate the lesson. Her characters include a grandma, a dude, a young lady and anyone else required in the script. (The makeup and costume changes alone make this channel worth it!)
Here you’ll find some classics of Korean cinema. Some of them are in black and white, but are still examples of the most engaging storytelling in film.
You’ll not only be learning the language but also witnessing how Korean movies have evolved through the decades. See movies such as “The Red Scarf,” a heavy drama set during the Korean War, and on a lighter note, “The March of Fools,” a story about youthful relationships and college antics.
It’s an engaging way to practice your listening comprehension skills, but it’ll also give you common ground with native Korean speakers. Get to know the movies they’ve been watching for years, and you’ll have plenty to talk about in Korean conversations!
The title says it all. This is actually a playlist of Korean movies. The owner has done the wonderful job of searching through YouTube and compiling those Korean movies you’ll love.
Don’t forget that you do need to actively digest this content. Don’t just watch the movies, study them. Watch them actively. Use the tips mentioned earlier in this post!
Because you have the benefit of subtitles on this channel, it’s a great way for early intermediate learners to get their feet wet in authentic Korean content. The subtitles can help you get acclimated with the plot and characters. It’s also a super easy way to get introduced to new vocabulary without having to run to a dictionary every five words.
After a few viewings, watch the movies in their authentic, subtitle-less form, and gauge how far your listening skills have come!
Korean dramas have captivated the world, but also hold incredible benefits for Korean language learners.
Dramas are very similar to movies, but they’re a lot longer, which means there’s more material to digest. Plus, the pacing of the story is a little slower and you have the chance to really luxuriate on the character development and the plot.
For a given series, I advise that you watch the whole thing, from start to finish, with very little language learning in mind. You watch it like you would any other series. Get it out of your system. Familiarize yourself with the characters.
Then, go back and re-watch, focusing on the accents, the language and anything you may have missed the first time around. Grab your headphones and critically listen to how certain words come out of the mouth of native speakers. Listen for repeated terms or common expressions.
This time, don’t watch the whole series through. Focus your study on one scene or one dialogue at a time. You can glean plenty of vocabulary that way.
Popular dramas featured on this channel include “Chicago Typewriter” and “The Liar and His Lover.”
You’ll not only be entertained with this one, you’ll also get a firsthand account of what it means to be Korean. A comedic cast interviews their guests, often an actor or actress, and then later in the show challenges them to some funny task. It’s really no mystery why the show has been a hit for so long. It’s feel-good, stress-relieving TV.
While you’ll find English subtitles on this channel, there’s also lots of fast speaking, story telling and jokes—so it’s fantastic for submersing yourself in Korean culture and humor, if you’re ready for it. Upper intermediate and advanced learners might get the most out of this show.
This is a reality game show that features Korean celebrities engaged in some nail-biting challenges.
The mission is all set, and the guests have to get through the different urban obstacles and win the challenge. It’s become so popular that the show’s format has been copied in many other Asian countries. Again, this is a good option for intermediate learners and up due to the relatively quick-paced, informal speech.
K-pop on YouTube
Songs lend themselves really well to study by language learners. And you’ll never run out of Korean songs to explore on YouTube.
If you want quick bits of vocabulary, then songs are your best bet. You not only have the advantage of visuals, context and story, just like the movies, but also the catchy tune, rhyme and repetition that make the phrases and lines really hard to forget.
Plus, since songs are generally only a few minutes long, you can keep on reviewing and repeating the track until you’re able to sing along or have the lyrics memorized by heart.
Here are two acts you can follow on YouTube:
- Big Bang: This boy band from YG Entertainment has grown to become a global phenomenon, so much so that it was awarded Best Worldwide Act at the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards. You can find their songs on YouTube and become a fan, pronto.
- Girls’ Generation: The group, also known as SNSD, is composed of eight very talented ladies who can sing and move and groove. Their third album, released in 2011, became the best-selling album of the year. Their video for “I Got A Boy” won Video of the Year for the 2013 YouTube Music Awards.
Korean music is a great portal into the language. Big Bang and Girls’ Generation aren’t just top international acts, they can also teach you a thing or two about Korean.
As you can see, YouTube isn’t just a purveyor of viral videos, it can also be your Korean language learning content provider. Use the tips given here and invest your time into the language. Oh, and did I mention that it’s completely free?
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Korean with real-world videos.