Motivation for studying Korean: how much weight does Korean culture hold?
Updated: Oct 29
An insight into the Korean learning experiences of students at various proficiency levels, and how their interest in Korean culture has helped them with Korean language study motivation.
Ever since the early 2000s, Hallyu or the Korean Wave has taken traction outside of Korea. In recent times, it would not be exaggerating to say that Hallyu has become an international phenomenon.
With this rise in interest in Korean popular culture, the Korean language is also becoming increasingly more popular, with many fans deciding to learn Korean because of their love for K-Culture and K-Entertainment.
I interviewed three university students, Jane (alias), William and Karina about their Korean learning experience, and how their interest in the popular culture of the nation has impacted their motivation throughout their learning journey.
Jane is a beginner Korean learner who has studied Korean for 10 weeks, William an intermediate learner who has studied for 2 years, and Karina is a proficient learner who has studied Korean for almost 3 years.
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Q. How much weight did your interest in Korean popular culture have in your decision to study Korean?
"My decision to study Korean was almost 100% because of the popular culture. I remember being interested in Korean popular culture from a very young age, and I remember wanting to sing along to the Korean songs, and understand what the Korean idols were saying."
“When I first started studying Korean, I was not very interested in Korean popular culture – it was actually because I was already studying Chinese and Japanese, and I wanted to study another Asian language. However, I do think that I knew more about Korean than any other language because of Korean popular culture, so I do have to thank the popular culture for bringing the language to my attention.”
"Korean popular culture was my sole reason to learn Korean. The popular culture was my only exposure to Korea – I’m not Korean, and I didn’t know any Korean people. I thought Korean music was really cool, and I wanted to understand what the people were saying in the Korean dramas, and so I began my learning journey."
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Q. How did your interest in Korean popular culture motivate you during your language studies?
"Korean entertainment makes Korean learning fun, and gave me a lot more exposure to Korean. I would pick up new vocabulary and phrases from the songs, variety shows and dramas – for example, I love how there are burnt-in captions in variety shows, and I could read the captions whilst listening to the people speak, which helped a lot with learning. The Korean idols themselves are also portrayed to be very likable and inspiring people that were a source of comfort and motivation through difficult times."
"My interest in Korean popular culture grew as I began to know more about it whilst studying the language. I would catch words I learn in class in K-Pop, and then I would look up the lyrics and learn more vocabulary. It was very satisfying to be able to understand music in a foreign language."
"Korean popular culture is a means of ‘studying without meaning to study’. It gives me a way to immerse myself in Korean culture and be exposed to the language outside of the classroom. I think Korean dramas helped me learn how to interact in Korean, and pick up how a native speaker speaks much quicker than I would have with just classroom activities."
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Q. Do you plan to continue your Korean studies into the future? Is this reason because of your interest in the popular culture?
"Yes! On a scale of 1-10, I would say Korean popular culture has an impact of around 7. This is because, in the time that I have been exposed to the popular culture, I have also come to learn about many other aspects of Korea, like the history and politics, which now also serve to motivate me."
“Yes, I do plan to continue. I think Korean popular culture has been an important stepping stone for me to start learning Korean and continue through to an intermediate level. But to pursue long term study, I believe there needs to be other reasons that transcend the popular culture in order to maintain that motivation.”
"Yes, I do want to! My career goal is to become a Korean teacher, and that is now a major incentivising factor in my Korean studies. I have also made many Korean friends, and I want to maintain these relationships through being proficient in their language. I think that, I definitely wouldn’t have even started studying Korean if not for the popular culture, but through my learning journey, I have found many more reasons to study it besides just the popular culture."
Photo from Unsplash
Korean popular culture does have a considerable impact on fans’ desire to learn Korean, as well as affecting their motivation in their learning journey.
K-Pop, K-Drama, K-Variety Shows and other content forming a part of the popular culture can even be resources that can help in the learning journey.
After being inspired to study Korean thanks to their love for Korean popular culture, many seem to also discover more about Korea, and find more reasons and passion, which consequently serves as the purpose for long term Korean study.
Korean is a beautiful language, and it is great that more people are able to discover and pursue it through Korean popular culture.