Categorized | slider, South Korea

Hallyu Immersion: Learning Korean through Pop Culture


By Jenna Gibson

Hallyu fans who have always wanted to be able to understand their favorite stars when they speak in Korean now have a new tool – Viki’s Learn Mode.

Viki, a streaming website dedicated to dramas from around Asia, calls themselves a “video wiki” because they crowdsource the subtitling for many of their shows. Now, with their Learn Mode, Viki has hit on one of the next horizons of Hallyu – fans who have dedicated themselves to learning the Korean language because of their pop culture obsession.

Through Learn Mode, drama watchers can see subtitles in both Korean and English, and can hover over words to see definitions, hear pronunciations, and repeat short segments of the show to practice comprehension.

“At Viki, we appreciate the tremendous passion that our fans have for the shows they watch and how that passion often translates to an enthusiasm for learning new languages,” according to their website.

Viki Image

This is not the first company to capitalize on the Korean language craze’s ties to Hallyu – famous language-learning website Talk to Me in Korean has several k-pop as well as k-drama based lessons.

While it’s hard to say that the increase in people studying Korean around the world is directly caused by the popularity of Korean pop culture, there is some evidence that Hallyu fans tend to spend more time learning the language.

According to a survey of students studying at the Korean government-run King Sejong Institutes around the world, 34.3 percent said they were taking classes because of their interest in Korean pop culture. In fact, the King Sejong Institute Foundation was explicitly founded in part because of the “Rapid increase in the Korean language education thanks to the spread of Hallyu.”

Further, a recent study asked a group of foreigners about learning Korean, they were able to find a statistically significant link between pop culture fandom and the decision to pursue language study. These fans also tended to attain a higher level of fluency than non-fans.

But it’s not just that fandom can pique someone’s interest – it can actually be a more effective way to help them learn a foreign language. According to a study of students who used manga to learn Japanese, this kind of pop culture material “provide an effective means to recruit more new students, to retain more learners, to provide authentic materials to students, and to provide more motivation and more opportunities for self-directed learning.”

With both Hallyu and Korean language study on the rise, it’s interesting to see how organizations like Viki as well as language teachers tie these two interests together.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Cover image from from Alfonso’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons. Internal image screen grab from Viki’s Learn Mode.

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The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.