Can’t stop rocking out to the latest and greatest K-pop hits while combing through your textbook?
If so, you’re about to take that musical enthusiasm to a whole new level!
Learning Korean is incredibly fun as it is, especially considering Korea’s vibrant and colorful culture.
You may already love using Korean movies as entertaining learning tools, but that’s nothing compared to how much you’ll enjoy working with K-pop!
Learning Korean through songs is pretty much the ultimate way to study while having fun, but sometimes you need a little guidance to get started—and to make all your favorite hits approachable to you at your current linguistic skill level.
So, we’ve prepared a roundup of some of our favorite resources and strategies to learn Korean with K-pop.
But first, we need to understand why K-pop makes us tick!
Why K-pop Is Such a Powerful Learning Tool
Knowing the source of K-pop’s power will help us tap into our brains and make the most of the music.
So, take a look at these reasons to love K-pop before moving forward.
K-pop songs are sweet, simple and impossible to forget
You’ll definitely want to give K-pop a try, especially if you’re just getting started with your Korean studies. You might be surprised by just how easy these jams make it to really learn Korean.
K-pop songs include a lot of repetitions that make it easy to learn and follow. Don’t be mistaken: Repetition isn’t a bad thing—it’s precisely these repetitions that make K-pop songs so effective for anyone who’s trying to learn Korean. The extremely catchy music, basic lyrics and constant returns to the chorus mean that it will all quickly get stuck in your head, in turn helping you to memorize long Korean texts almost effortlessly.
In addition, K-pop songs incorporate lots of simple words, common expressions and popular idioms, suitable for students at all levels. The lyrics love to use 반말 (informal speech) prominently, which is helpful if you’ve been relying on old-school Korean textbooks that focus largely on teaching you 존댓말 (polite speech) and you’re ready to learn how to speak in a more casual manner.
K-pop songs are ridiculously fun
K-pop songs are youthful and carefree. They’re notorious for their signature catchy melody and lively beats, making them the Korean songs of choice to learn while also having a blast.
As an added bonus, K-pop songs traditionally feature simple choreographies that’ll keep you entertained if you watch their accompanying music videos or recorded live performances. Take it a step further and learn the moves as well. Research shows that you’re more likely to learn by engaging your whole body, and K-pop songs will let you go ahead and do just that!
It’s all these elements (and more) that make singing K-pop songs an engaging, active way to learn. When you’re both singing and swaying, you’re more directly involved in the immediate activity and your brain memorizes new information, including words and phonemes, more easily.
K-pop improves your knowledge of modern Korean culture
If you’re interested in learning Korean, knowing the culture is a must.
This music doesn’t just reflect and represent some elements of Korean culture. Oh, no.
K-pop songs, in and of themselves, are a full component of the Korean language and modern culture. Meaning, they’ve become such regional (and global) sensations that you’ll often hear people reference artists, lyrics and music videos in casual, everyday conversation. Some songs, like PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” become so iconic that they’re must-know cultural references all on their own.
In addition, the K-pop culture and industry has a tremendous impact on the Korean language. Listening to K-pop songs, you’ll come across plenty of cultural expressions that you won’t necessarily find in your Korean textbooks. There are also numerous industry-specific expressions that you’ll discover by being interested in the music, browsing fan sites and watching Korean dramas about the world of K-pop and K-pop idols.
How to Learn Korean with K-pop in 3 Steps
1. Listen up: focus on the music
K-pop songs are the perfect combination of merry dancing songs and great stories. Think of them as global pop music with a modern Korean flair. This makes it easy to not only love K-pop songs, but also to be easily moved by them and to relate to them.
When playing K-pop, keep in mind that the lyrics generally tend to have a strong storytelling component. Try to understand what it is on your own. First, start by asking yourself what about the song and the music inspires you. How does it make you feel? What’s the singer expressing? What’s the story behind the lyrics? How does the music reinforce the message being sung?
K-pop singers are also very expressive: you can almost think of them as actors in character. Focus on the ranges of emotions they showcase in their songs, the cheeky pauses, intonations and inflections of their voices to guess the song’s overall meaning and story.
2. Follow along with the lyrics
K-pop songs are incredibly fast-paced, but the lyrics are catchy and easy to follow. They include a lot of rhymes and occasionally incorporate English—although the English isn’t always used appropriately—which adds to their unique flavor and global appeal to learners from different nationalities.
Yet, every learner is different and you may need to look for the song’s lyrics to help you sing along. The lyrics will also help confirm and clarify certain elements you may not have identified or missed. To find the lyrics, you can find YouTube songs that include the lyrics or run a quick Google or Naver search.
3. Become a singing sensation
Considering K-pop’s widespread use as the 노래방 (Korean-style karaoke) songs of choice, you’re almost guaranteed to find videos incorporating interactive lyrics that will make it easy for you to sing along even if you’ve never heard the song before. This will greatly improve your pronunciation and Hangul reading speed.
Use the lyrics and/or the original music video first, and try to memorize the song and sing it by heart. You’ll quickly find yourself not even needing the lyrics after three or four takes. These songs are that catchy!
Once you’re able to sing most of the song with confidence, go to the karaoke version and try to sing solo. Rehearse the parts you miss, and keep going.
Optionally, record yourself and listen to your voice. You’ll catch mistakes, notice mispronunciations and identify areas of improvement. Focus on them and practice until you’ve fully mastered the song.
The 4 Hottest Online Resources for Learning Korean with K-pop
This fantastic blog is run by a native Korean teacher and K-pop lover who also shares her love for the genre on her YouTube channel. The woman, only known under the 11newcon moniker, is a bright and diligent instructor—she attended Korea’s prestigious Seoul National University and considers this blog a hobby.
But make no mistake, Learn Korean Through K-pop is a dream come true for learners looking to study the Korean language using authentic pop music. Regularly updated with fun, dancey songs, the blog turns K-pop songs into structured courses and some songs even include flashcards, quizzes and grammar points.
The blog does a lot of the groundwork for you and even includes bilingual translations, but don’t take this as a replacement for actual study. It can be awfully tempting to read the English lyrics alone. Rather, try to stick to the Korean lyrics, sing along with whatever you can read of the Hangul and use the 단어 (vocabulary) sections to create your own flashcards.
FluentU is an entertaining, personalized and highly effective way to learn a language through a variety of authentic video and audio content that native speakers actually enjoy watching (including K-pop) and listening to on the regular.
What’s most unique about FluentU is the use of interactive subtitles in English and your target language (so, in your case, Korean) to help you focus on learning and save you precious time replaying the video to identify difficult words or search for them in a dictionary.
The videos are deftly combined with structured, content-rich lesson plans, multimedia flashcards, a clever SRS (Spaced Repetition System), smart vocabulary lists and the ability to customize your own curriculum based on your interests, learning style and fluency level. All in all, you’re guaranteed fun yet focused Korean sessions.
Here’s just some of the great content FluentU has on offer:
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.
You can use FluentU’s unique Learn Mode to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions.
FluentU keeps track of what you’re learning, and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Review sessions use video context to help embed the words in your memory.
You can even try FluentU for free with a 15-day trial.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Be sure to try taking it on the go. This is a great way to turn your downtime, or any time spent waiting around for something, into an opportunity to learn Korean.
Based in Seoul, Talk to Me In Korean is a fantastic website to elevate your Korean studies.
The site features a resource-rich K-pop section that uses colorful music videos as a support system for mini-lessons. While this particular section hasn’t been updated in quite some time, past lessons are incredibly well-made and target a wide range of songs and groups that are notoriously famous. It’s worth digging into, and you could always try to contact them and request more updates.
If you’re more interested in the learning aspect and less on getting the latest K-pop songs, then this will make your day.
To best use TTMIK, go through the archives and find a song that arouses your interest (or simply choose one at random). Each post features an introduction of the story behind the song, a description of its content as well as ample explanations of the grammar and vocabulary you’ll find in the song. Most importantly, each song-based lesson includes instructions on how to best use the particular song and what to watch out for.
Make sure that you don’t just quickly speed-read the post. Really pause when you don’t understand what’s being said. If you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to ask your questions via the TTMIK Facebook page. The community is generally responsive and helpful.
Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) does wonders to spread the Korean wave. It has an entire site and channel dedicated to K-pop songs and the K-pop culture.
On KBS K-pop Square, you’ll find the latest K-pop songs that are all the rage in Seoul at the moment. The site also includes articles about emerging talent and K-pop news in English that will help you immerse yourself in the idol culture.
KBS K-pop Square lets you browse songs by date added and lets you search for your favorite songs. It also displays the latest ranking of K-pop songs so you can quickly see what’s making Korean natives dance right now.
To make your studies even more interactive, tune in to their YouTube Channel for fresh music and live videos of your favorite K-pop songs. It’s fun, lively and it offers a refreshing view of the songs you love. While K-pop Square doesn’t include subtitles, you can easily do a quick search on Naver for the lyrics so you can sing along!
How fun that you know just how to use K-pop to learn Korean, as well as where to find the best K-pop songs.
You’re on your way to Korean fluency, making progress one hit pop song at a time.
How good does that feel?
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Korean with real-world videos.