What’s as Korean as hamburgers are American, Oktoberfest is German and the Eiffel Tower is French?
KakaoTalk is the leading messenger app in South Korea.
It’s ubiquitous there.
South Koreans do practically everything on it—talk to friends, catch up on the news and find out the latest about their K-idols.
They even do online shopping and play games on the Kakao platform.
KakaoTalk also happens to be an awesome language learning tool.
In this post, we’ll look into why that is, and the different ways you can employ it for learning.
Why Is KakaoTalk the Perfect Tool for Learning Korean?
It’s where the natives are.
KakaoTalk is not only the leading mobile messenger of South Korea, it’s a serious deal. Simply put, everybody is there. South Korea is one of the most connected countries in the world, and native speakers connect to each other using KakaoTalk. They spend 94.4% of their messaging time on the platform.
So if aspiring app developers want to see what virtual 100% market penetration looks like, they should look at KakaoTalk.
And if a language learner wants to get connected to a Korean native speaker with a smartphone, they only need to know that person’s KakaoTalk ID.
Its features cover all different types of language learning needs.
KakaoTalk is well known for its endless array of emojis that have enthralled the South Korean population. For example, many just really love using the “Kakao Friends,” an adorable gang of animals that even have their own personal backstories.
Although emojis are certainly part of that authentic experience language learners get when they dive into KakaoTalk, KakaoTalk features definitely go even further than that.
The platform covers the full range of multimedia messaging that learners can use to their advantage. In addition to text chats, which already allow you to send images, videos, links and files, Kakao has free voice calls and video calls to really help you closely interact with a native speaker friend. If you want to sharpen your pronunciation chops, for example, you can use their voice services. If you want to develop your Hangul, you can fire up text chatting, or get involved in comments. And if you simply want some live interaction with a native speaker, you can do video calls.
With KakaoTalk’s features, you can not only pick up a new language, but pick up new friends as well.
7 Super Smart Ways to Learn Korean Through KakaoTalk
1) Find a language exchange partner.
In this context, a language exchange partner is a native Korean speaker who’s interested in learning English. It’s called “language exchange” because you’ll be helping the other person to learn your language. In essence, you’ll be trading your English (or another language you know) for their Korean. It’s a win-win set-up where you don’t spend any money for the language help you get—as long as you hold up your end of the bargain and teach your partner English.
There are a number of websites dedicated to the purpose of language exchange. You can go to sites like ConversationExchange.com or MyLanguageExchange.com. You can simply indicate in their search boxes that you’re looking for a Korean who wants to practice English, for example, and you’ll have your pick of potential partners.
Drop someone a “Hi!” and let them know how cool you are. Migrate the conversation over to KakaoTalk and experience Korean language learning at its finest.
But before you do all that, don’t forget to download the KakaoTalk app onto your phone (Android | iOS). It’s free. You’ll need a verifiable mobile number to set up your account. Make sure you do a little spicing up of your profile. You want your profile and pictures to say, “Hey, I’m definitely normal (or at least approachable!).” Write something funny or disarming.
Adding a new friend to your KakaoTalk account is very easy. You just need your language partner’s KakaoTalk ID. Here’s how to start adding friends to your account:
1) Tap the “magnifying glass” or search icon.
2) Search for your language partner’s ID.
3) When the app pulls up your friend’s account, tap on “Add Friend” and they’ll automatically be added to the list of lucky people you call “Friends.”
Now you’re ready for language exchange.
2) Join an “Open Chat.”
An “Open Chat” is a KakaoTalk feature which allows you to join special interest groups with a simple tap or click of a link. No need for an invite, a special code or mobile number. You can simply locate a group and join the conversation and immediately feel right at home.
To check out the existing language learning groups on Kakao, tap on the “magnifying glass” search icon. Type in terms like”learn Korean” or “Korean language exchange.”
Every Kakao search will yield different categories of search results. There’ll be “Plus Friends” (which are dedicated homepages for brands, bands and celebrities), “Open Chats,” “Videos” and “Posts.”
Tap “Open Chats” and you’ll immediately see the list of relevant open chats.
You can make the most out of chats by being part of the conversation. Don’t just lurk-and-learn. Dive into the conversation. Introduce yourself. Tell people something interesting about yourself and let the group know how you’ve come to love the Korean language. These groups are generally very welcoming, and in a minute or two, somebody will likely give you a life-changing “Hi!”
Keep the conversation flowing. Ask some questions. Not even necessarily language questions. Admit that you’re a KakaoTalk noob and the group will probably gladly take you under their wings. Be grateful and you’ll win more than a few language tips.
If you find somebody interesting, you can add them as a friend and perhaps turn them into a language exchange partner or a learning buddy.
3) Write in Hangul as much as possible.
KakaoTalk is known for its full range of cute emojis—so use them to better understand the texts that are written in Korean. But the platform is really the perfect place to practice writing Hangul.
Hangul is the Korean writing system. The characters will start off looking like an unintelligible bunch of lines and circles, but with continued use, they’ll gradually take on meaning for you.
So gradually integrate them into your chats and communications. You can write both in English and Hangul—switching languages, even in mid-sentence, when you want to. Switching languages happens all the time on KakaoTalk. So don’t worry, the language police aren’t out to get you.
Learning to write in Hangul will really unleash the platform’s potential. You’ll get tighter search results, find more authentic material and become a more active participant in public conversations.
If you need practice typing Hangul before diving into KakaoTalk, try the quizzes on FluentU.
Here's a quick look at the variety of video choices available to you:
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
Don't stop there, though. You can use FluentU’s unique quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions.
FluentU even tracks your progress and remembers all the words you've learned, making for a 100% personalized experience.
Review sessions use video context to help embed the words in your memory. The best part? You can access the full FluentU video library with a free trial!
Start using FluentU Korean on the website or download the app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
You don’t have to wait till you’re ready to perfectly string together a complex sentence before you actually begin. The key is familiarizing yourself with the Korean keyboard and typing in smaller chunks. You can start with Korean slang and short expressions like 대박 (daebak), meaning “amazing.”
This will slow down your chatting rhythm, but hang in there. All the work will pay off. Because soon, you’ll graduate to longer and bigger chunks of Korean. This will continue until one day you find yourself writing only in Hangul and exclaiming, “대박!”
Note: It depends on the phone you’re using, but you can usually activate the Korean keyboard through the “Language and input” section of your Settings. You can also download Korean keyboard apps both in the App Store and Google Play.
4) Use the “Voice Note” option.
Kakao, gifting you free voice and video calls, helps you with your pronunciation and comprehension skills. But this can be pretty intimidating for language beginners. You’re put on the spot and expected to blab in passable Korean.
Thankfully, there’s a “Voice Note” option. This is essentially a recorded voice message you can send to anyone on your friends list. You can say anything about anything without being placed on the spot. It’s sort of a hit-and-hide-behind-the-sofa strategy where you send a Korean voice message to a native speaker and hope to God it meant something in their language. You can send the same or different messages to all your friends, giving yourself plenty of practice and creating interesting conversations for yourself.
Here’s how to do a “Voice Note”:
1) Tap the “+” sign found on the lower left corner of a friend’s chat screen.
2) Next, choose “Voice Note.” This will give you a round red button.
3) Press once to start recording, and press again to stop.
4) You can listen to the message before hitting “Send.” If it’s a no-go, simply hit the “X” and the recording is deleted—no harm done. Try again.
Once you hit “Send,” your recorded message shows up in the chat box where your friend can press “Play” to listen to it.
Hopefully, you use this feature for longer and longer messages until you find the groove and confidence to interact with a native speaker via voice or video call.
5) Scan profiles, places and posts.
As mentioned before, your search results will be put into categories like “Friends,” “Plus Friends,” “Videos,” “Places” and “Posts.” So for example, if you search for “food,” the “Places” category will give you a lineup of relevant places like restaurants, bars or food corners you might be interested in.
KakaoTalk can really get you deep into authentic Korean content. With your searches, you can get the same results that native speakers get and be immersed in Korean brands, bands and online culture. Look more closely at the results that come in under the “Posts” category. It will feature recent and high-quality content relevant to your search terms.
And if you really want to take this authentic immersion further, you might as well get the app KakaoStory (Android | iTunes). It’s a social media platform that’s heavily integrated with KakaoTalk. If you’re not too familiar with it, think of it as the Korean baby of Facebook and Instagram. KakaoStory wants you to share your day with the world… through pictures. You can edit and caption them, and let your friends comment and give their seal of approval.
KakaoStory and KakaoTalk are so integrated, you can access KakaoStory through your KakaoTalk login details.
Once you have these apps, there’s no telling where they’ll lead. Imagine the flood of authentic content you’ll have from a simple search. You can do a complete examination of the profiles you find, the posts, their captions and the comments they generate. If there’s something you don’t understand, you can easily use the Naver Dictionary to generate some meaning by copying and pasting the target words. (This is one of the advantages of using the KakaoTalk PC version over mobile.)
6) Immerse yourself in Kakao TV.
Some KakaoTalk search results are herded into another category under “Videos.” These babies are perfect for language learners. They can be a big source of memorable authentic content. By watching and listening to authentic material, your eyes and ears become more acclimatized to the normal speed of the language.
The kind of videos you’ll get here are more K-pop in nature, snippets of things you’d probably see when you switch on the TV in Korea. So for example, if you search for “song,” you get a bunch of short clips featuring your K-pop idol singing or a segment of some relevant TV show. Language learners can turn these videos into mini-language lessons, listening to them over and over, actively absorbing the content by, for example, singing along or studying the lyrics, etc.
Sure, many of the things you’ll be watching might go over your head at first. Things might get spoken too fast for comfort. But as long as you keep actively and mindfully perusing authentic material, things will seem “normal” over time.
These videos are short enough to be digestible. You can have a crack at them over and over, and you can even watch them on the go—on the bus, on the train or standing in line.
7) Express yourself in the comments.
There’s really nothing like learning a language by actually using it to express your thoughts and ideas. Once you learn how to write in Hangul, no matter how rudimentary your skills are, you must consciously make an effort to write in as many areas of KakaoTalk as you can.
Remember, native speakers of Korean tend to be particularly forgiving of non-native speakers’ language use—just as you become more generous and patient when dealing with non-English speakers. (Think of that when you’re writing anything on KakaoTalk.)
Let’s say there’s a pic of a puppy that you like. Getting yourself in the comments section will really do wonders for your Korean. Because then you’ll have to go through the process of using the language to communicate something. First, you’ll probably be more cognizant of what the caption is saying. You’ll go through the text and seek to understand it. Then you’ll read what others are saying about the pic. All that before you throw in your two cents. (That sure beats rapidly scrolling past all those language insights you’d otherwise have.)
You don’t have to write anything epic. Just a simple 심쿵 (sim-kung) in response to the puppy pic, which would indicate that your heart just skipped a beat, is more than enough.
You probably won’t get a response from anybody, anyway. But the fact is, you’re getting your Korean practice.
If the comments section is too intense for you or makes you feel very vulnerable, start practicing writing in the KakaoTalk search box—pounding away search after search in Hangul. Think of it as a virtual sandbox where you can play around. The more search hits you get, the more confident you’ll feel with your Korean.
So that’s KakaoTalk for you! Get the app today.
There’s really no other platform in the world where you get as much authentic Korean.
Use it, explore it and get into those secret corners and spots. You’ll find that, beyond tightening your grasp on a new language, you’ll be able to build friendships that will last a lifetime.
And of course… you’ll also find those cute emojis!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Korean with real-world videos.