Want to supplement your Korean learning with some catchy tunes?
You’ve come to the right place!
That’s right, we’re bringing the words “Korean,” “songs” and “learn” together in one convenient post.
This is one to bookmark for your studies.
Here you’ll find everything you need to know about using songs to teach yourself the beautiful Korean language.
Why Korean Songs Make Great Language Learning Material
It’s their beat and melody
Korean songs, or any songs for that matter, are great language learning staples because they by definition have this insane musicality that easily gets stuck in the mind.
In short, they’re excellent memory aids. Melody leads you to recall the lyrics and the beat draws words right out of your mouth. Words imbued with a catchy tune are way easier to memorize than some lines that just drone on from one to the next. A children’s song can be about dry material like numbers, days, weeks or months of the year, and it will still take you a lifetime to forget it.
It’s their story
Another reason songs are great for learning Korean is that they often actually tell a story. A love song, for example, can tell of happy times, of love lost or of eventual regret. Other songs can tell of dreams, of experiences, places or things.
What this effectively creates is Korean vocabulary, phrases and sentences held together by an interesting context. So in a song, you get an actual, powerful example of how different parts of the language reinforce each other in order to form a unified whole that gives a coherent message. The story as a whole renders the individual components highly memorable, which is great news for language learners.
It’s their clever repetition
Remember Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” or The Beatles’ “Let It Be”? It’s not just the story, it’s not just the beat, it’s the clever repetition that helps language learners eventually mine songs effectively for their lessons.
Songs are partly composed for structure, so they usually repeat some of the words in the lines, or even whole sections—like the words of the chorus, for example. It’s this artistic repetition that gives language learners multiple opportunities to learn not only the words but also to note how the words relate and build on each other.
Tips for Singing Your Way to Korean Fluency
- Start by getting the big picture first. As you start learning a song, don’t dive immediately into details of vocabulary, verb forms or even pronunciation. Learn the context of the song first. Find out what it’s all about. What’s the story behind the lyrics? This will give you a jumping-off point for all the linguistic lessons that are to follow.
- Love songs are slower—start with them. Listening to Korean rap as a beginner would put you in a headspin. It would all sound Greek to you, so to speak. So start your studies the right way with some easy love songs to acclimatize yourself to the starts, stops and general flow of Korean.
- Sing along even when you miss a lot of the words. After listening to a song two to three times, start singing along. Don’t worry if you’re out of tune, or if you haven’t mastered the lines or their pronunciation. By singing along, you’ll get both the tune and the lines. (If you’re not having much luck with the tune, well, that makes two of us.)
- Try translating songs. Nowadays, many Korean songs have already been translated. But why don’t you do a translation of your own? It may not be perfect or as good as the official one, but there’s something about working with the language and wrestling with it that makes you learn more. (Share your work on your blog, if you have one, and encourage other language learners to do the same. They might even help you polish up your translations.)
- Add the element of dance. Add a kinesthetic element to your language learning by not only dancing to the beat, but also gesturing in a way that expresses the words of the song. This will make the words easier to remember and it’s fun. Try it!
- Make use of music videos. Look for music videos of songs or any accompanying great Korean movies and shows that make the songs’ stories come alive. Watching them can make the lyrics more vivid and meaningful, and it’s a great way of getting in some online Korean study. For example, there’s nothing like watching Psy’s video antics to learn what the song “Gentleman” is all about.
- Listen on the go. This is another way of saying, “Listen to a song as much as you can.” Listen to it on your commute to work or school, before you sleep, when you’re in line for anything. A song will not give up all of its linguistic gems if you only listen to it once or twice.
- Deconstruct the lyrics, one line at a time. Speaking of linguistic lessons, if you want to really mine a song for all it’s worth, you have to do a line-by-line study of it. Look closely into how all the different words relate to each other in a given line. Check out their English translations and work out the structure and grammar rule differences between English and Korean.
- Use FluentU. With FluentU, you’re not just watching Korean music and other authentic videos. You get to turn each song into a powerful lesson!
Learn Korean with Music: 7 Addictive Songs for Learners to Crank Loud
1. “Because I’m a Girl” by KISS
This is the ultimate tearjerker, if ever there was one. The song’s about a young woman who met a dashing photographer, fell in love with him and ended up blind and with a broken heart. Actually, the song is so much more than that, but I would deprive you of the full experience if I revealed the agonizing twist.
“Because I’m a Girl” readily lends itself to study by language learners. It’s a moderately paced ballad that hooks you with a wonderful story and setting for learning a good deal of Korean words and phrases. It’s perfect for the beginner. The melody, though simple and subtle, can actually grab you by the collar.
2. “Hello, Goodbye” by Hyorin
“Hello, Goodbye” is a theme song from “My Love from the Star,” one of the most popular Korean TV series of 2014. It tells the story of a Korean mega actress who hopelessly falls for someone from another planet. (That should clue you in that the “goodbye” in the title involves some sort of nebulous interstellar travel.)
So now that you’ve got the plot down, you’re ready to pick up a lot of Korean from plainly worded and simply structured lines. Watch out especially for phrases that you can readily use when talking with native speakers. There are plenty of these in the song—phrases that can really beef up your casual Korean conversations.
3. “I Don’t Care” by 2NE1
Ever been involved with a bad boy or a player who imagines himself at the center of an adoring harem? Ever wanted to teach him a lesson? Just act like you don’t care. Well, at least that’s what this song seems to want to convey.
We’re moving on from love songs and picking up the pace with this one. The melody is quite catchy and you’ll find yourself swaying to the beat. You know what? This is one of those songs that could use some dance moves or some strikingly clever hand gestures. Those would really help you more efficiently absorb the vocabulary contained in this song.
4. “Growl” by Exo
This one is a smash hit of the Seoul-based boy group Exo. The song contains mainly informal Korean vocabulary, the type that you can throw around with peers and people of similar status or age. Remember that Korean, like many other Asian languages, makes discernible distinctions between formal and informal communication. The lyrics are on the edgier side and are great for language learners looking to add well-rounded, punchier material to their arsenal.
5. “Gentleman” by Psy
Of course you know who Psy is. He’s the house-dancing phenomenon behind the mega blockbuster “Gangnam Style.” He released this song with the full knowledge that it would never be bigger than GS. But mind you, the video’s visuals are just as striking, if not more so.
This is important, because when learning Korean, as mentioned in the tips above, you need to employ the virtues of visuals and stories in order to scaffold learning and memory. Unlike the Romance and Germanic languages, Korean has very little in common with English. It has a very different linguistic provenance and using lots of sensory material to make up for this will do you a whole lot of good.
6. “I Need U” by BTS
Proving Korea to be a prodigious boy band factory, this one is from BTS, 2014 Seoul Music Awards’ recipient of “New Artist of the Year.” That may not mean much for language learners, but you can look to this song, “I Need U,” for studying the basic structure of Korean sentences.
The lines are simple and will prove advantageous for beginners: You can learn how to build Korean declarative statements as well as interrogatives (questions) just by modeling from the lyrics on this one.
7. “Loser” by Big Bang
We save this one for last because of the rapping interludes in the song. Not only does the song contain more material to be mined by the language learner, but the rap sections will give your Korean skills a thorough polishing. The rapping is not so fast as to be indiscernible or inaudible, so any foreign ear listening intently will be able to learn from it.
“Loser” will both gauge and grow your listening skills as well as your comprehension ability. If you begin to understand the lyrics of this one, then you can honestly say that you’ve been acclimatized to the distinct sounds of Korean.
So what are you waiting for?
Take your Korean to the next level by getting ahold of Korean songs and repeatedly studying them like a law student for the bar exam.
You won’t believe the insight into the language an unassuming K-pop song can give you.
If you open your eyes as well as your ears, these songs can provide a whole new way of looking at learning Korean.