Learning a new language is hard, especially if it’s one that’s significantly different than your native language. Even if you’re advanced in the language, it can be hard to get any practice in if you don’t live in Korea or a heavily Korean area.
Well, watching K-Dramas is a perfect tool for listening and learning! It immerses you in Korean culture and mannerisms while also being extremely entertaining. Here are 5 K-Dramas that are an easy way to kick-start your Korean language learning journey.
1. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
Bok Joo (Lee Sung Kyung) is a college weightlifter who is pursuing her dream of winning the gold medal but then finds love for the first time in her life. Although she is a woman who lifts heavy weights, she is very feminine when it comes to relationships. Focusing solely on weightlifting would affect her relationship but leaving her weightlifting career for love would keep her from her dreams.
Most school-related K-Dramas are a perfect place to start. They portray every-day, relatable scenarios that will most likely use vocabulary that you’ll actually need. This drama in particular also has some “sporty” words for those interested in that. Overall, this drama is amazingly entertaining and has useful vocabulary for you to use (along with the occasional fun slang words). The comedic tone will actually have you memorizing some of the lines to laugh about with your friends. “Hok-shi, Messi jo-a-ha-se-yo?”
2. My Love From Another Star
Do Min Joon (Kim Soo Hyun) is an alien who arrived on Earth 400 years ago during the Joseon Dynasty period. He has enhanced physical abilities such as his vision, hearing, and speed. Later, he discovers that he has only three months left on Earth. That’s when he meets Cheon Song Yi (Jun Ji Hyun), the biggest Hallyu star in Korea and things get complicated.
While you should generally avoid sci-fi/fantasy genres when learning a language, this one is fairly human. Not to mention, it’s very interesting to see how Min Joon’s language transforms as he gets more comfortable with modern humans. He goes from a formal speech to more casual as time goes on, which is very useful to see the difference between the two tones. He also speaks quite deliberately and clearly, as he is sort of learning the language himself, making him easy to understand.
3. Drinking Solo
Jin Jeong Seok (Ha Seok Jin) and Park Ha Na (Park Ha Sun) both work at a private institute for people preparing for their civil service examinations. Jeong Seok is an arrogant, but popular instructor and Ha Na is a rookie instructor who struggles to survive.
Apart from featuring the hilarious Key from SHINee, this drama is another example of learning everyday language and slang. It follows along with the biggest exam in South Korea so you can learn quite a bit about what Korean youth go through and say.
4. Coffee Prince
Choi Han Gyul (Gong Yoo) is the grandson of a major company and is hung up on his first love, Han Yoo Joo (Chae Jung Ahn). Go Eun Chan (Yoon Eun Hye) is a hardworking tomboy who needs to provide for her family. When Han Kyul and Eun Chan meet, he (not knowing that she is a girl) hires her to pretend to be his boyfriend so that he can escape the blind dates arranged by his grandmother.
Later, Han Gyul takes over a rundown coffee shop, to prove that he’s capable to his grandmother and Yoo Joo. To attract female customers, he only hires good-looking male employees. Eun Chan continues to hide her gender to get a job at Coffee Prince.
Sure, this drama is a must-see no matter what, but the way it uses language makes it a must-see for learners as well. Yes, this drama has casual speech, cafe speech, romance speech, and more, but what really makes this drama interesting is the gender behind the words.
Eun Chan is a girl pretending to be a boy, and with that comes very subtle differences in language that most foreigners probably wouldn’t pick up on. While gendered language isn’t as important in Korean as, say, Japanese, it’s still interesting to see how Eun Chan makes her tone more masculine and then drops it later in the show.
Chefs Oh Bong Joo (Kwon Oh Jung) and Lee Sung Chan (Kim Rae Won) were raised like brothers after Sung Chan was orphaned and taken in by Bong Joo’s family. Bong Joo’s family owns a famous traditional Korean restaurant and claim that they descend from the last royal chef of the Joseon Dynasty. Bong Joo assumes that as the eldest, he will be the one to take over his family’s restaurant and marry Joo Hee (Kim So Yeon), but his father makes an announcement about a surprise cooking contest!
This one is mostly for fun as it teaches you about many traditional Korean dishes. While you learn more about Korean culture and food, you pick up on some of the terms that are important staples.
- Watch kids’ shows! It’s slow and simple plots with easy-to-learn vocab! Some show recommendations: Pororo, Tayo the Little Bus, On Story, Tobot, Canimals
- Get into Variety/Reality Shows! While these are sometimes faster and wilder than kid’s shows/dramas, it gives you the Korean language in its natural state—no script attached. It could help you sound more authentic and learn words you may not find anywhere else.
- Rewatch dramas! Some may find it hard to focus on the language when just starting a new drama. You immerse yourself more into the plot than the vocabulary. So, rewatching a drama is perfect because you already know what’s happening and can focus more on learning.
- Learn through context! This happens to a lot of people by accident already. If your vocab maybe isn’t that advanced (or even if it is) or if you have trouble following quick sentences, focus on the plot! See what words they’re using a lot and in what conditions they’re using them in. For example, if you see someone making constant mistakes and you hear the CEO in the drama saying “바보 (babo)” a lot, eventually you’ll make the connection that this means “idiot/fool”.
- Avoid historicals and high fantasy. These genres are fine in their own way but if you’re just beginning, these are not the dramas for you. Period dramas could have antiquated language that would be useless in the modern world and sometimes high fantasy dramas could have too many ‘magical’ words. There are many historical and fantasy dramas that are useful for learning but stay away from them as a start.
- Find Korean subtitles! If possible, turn on the Korean subtitles! You can read along with what they’re saying and understand them much better. Some common tools to use is the Viki “Learn Mode“ and the Language Learning with Netflix extension.
- Don’t make this your main way of learning. Watching dramas and learning from them is a fun activity, but you shouldn’t make it the main way you learn Korean. It’s not nearly intensive enough. After all, dramas are originally made for entertainment—not school.
- Realize that this learning activity isn’t for everyone. We know it seems like many people use this activity, but you don’t have to. If you have a hard time picking it up or feel as though it makes you enjoy dramas less, that’s okay! Learn any way that works best for you.