People around the world typically celebrate the New Year from the thirty-first of December till the first of January, but the Korean New Year, or Seollal 설날, doesn’t begin until late January; giving Koreans extra time to sort out their plans and goals for the coming months. This year, Seollal will begin on January 25th, and the celebrations will span over three days.
For those who are interested in Korean culture—whether it be music, movies, dramas, food or all of the above—and want to improve their language skills and overall understanding of Korea, why not include them in your Seollal resolutions?
There are many easy and accessible ways to increase your language skills and acquire a better understanding of Korean culture whilst enjoying the different branches of the Korean lifestyle; all at the same time.
By incorporating some of the following tips and tricks into your life, you can fulfil your Seollal resolution to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of Korean culture and—no matter where you are in the world—bring a slice of Korea to your life.
Start your day the way most Koreans do
South Korea has a strong, thriving coffee culture that’s spread all around the country and has been recognised as a big player in the international coffee scene. So it comes as no surprise that coffee is deeply rooted in Korea’s modern culture; being the backbone of people’s school, work and social lives. Although Korea is famous for its myriad cafés, many Koreans settle for the convenience of instant coffee.
Many hardcore coffee-drinkers might look down on instant coffee but in Korea, these thin packets of mixed coffee are considered to be just as good as “real coffee”. One popular brand of instant coffee, Maxim 맥심, promotes itself with the description; The world’s smallest café—implying that a cup of their instant coffee is like being in a real-life café.
Not only is Korean instant coffee relatively cheap and easy to find it also comes in a wide range of flavours, strengths and styles, becoming a go-to drink for coffee-lovers as well as those who never liked coffee that much.
Enhance your awareness of Korea’s
past and present social issues
For many new and even longtime lovers of Korean entertainment, most of their understanding of Korean culture is limited to the entertainment industry — and this is absolutely fine. A deep awareness of Korea’s history and culture isn’t necessary to enjoy listening to K-Pop or watching dramas. It is, however, the next step for those who want to attain more than a shallow appreciation for Korean culture.
A great method for expanding your awareness of Korean culture is to learn about events that shaped Korean history and society, and a brilliant way to do this is by reading books by Korean authors.
Many Korean authors use their country’s history and tragic events as the backdrop of their novels and thread current social issues into the fabric of their stories; making them a simple, enjoyable way to learn about Korea’s past and present.
Books such as Princess Bari by Hwang Sok-Yong and The Surrendered by Lee Chang-Rae explore the devastation of the Korean War and those who were affected, whilst The Old Garden, also by Hwang, takes place in a post-Cold War South Korea and its political revolutions in the eighties.
Pachinko by Lee Min Jin and Drifting House by Krys Lee explore the experiences of Korean families living as foreigners in Japan and the U.S. and the hardships they had to face as expats. And Han Kang’s internationally famous novel The Vegetarian explores some of Korea’s contemporary taboos as well as the prevalence of domestic abuse among Korean families.
For those who aren’t much of a bookworm, Korean news sites are a quick and handy way to stay informed about what’s going on in Korea; offering the latest stories on entertainment, lifestyle and politics, all in English.
Develop your Korean language skills
and build on your knowledge
There are many traditional ways of studying a language, but classes and expensive textbooks may not be an option for those who want to begin learning or improve their Korean. There are, however, easy ways to expand your language skills via websites and free apps.
Many have found that using NAVER—a Korean search engine which also acts as a portal for the countless branches of Korean news, entertainment and blogs—is a useful way to boost their language-learning methods.
Although the NAVER app is in Korean, the website itself can be translated to other languages, albeit with the occasional misinterpretation, and is ideal for Korean beginners. This learning route is also beneficial for intermediate and more advanced students and can help you track how much real-life Korean you can understand—all the while informing you of Korean news stories and events.
Step aside Google Translate, there’s a more trustworthy translation service called Papago; available online and as an app, Papago is a NAVER-run service that provides free and highly-accurate Korean translations of English and other languages; from spoken words to images. A common use of Papago is its website decoding feature which can provide translated versions of entire Korean sites such as NAVER and any website that is only offered in Korean.
Papago also offers an in-app phrasebook that has hundreds of sentences and conversations that range from travelling, shopping and transportation to entertainment, phone calls and daily expressions. This app has been a life-saver for many and is a must-have for those studying Korean.
Another dependable app is NAVER Dictionary, which offers translations of words and phrases, teaches slangs that wouldn’t be found in any textbooks and provides examples from sources such as K-Dramas, variety shows, song lyrics, book quotes, audio clips and native speakers.
Korean language students can also go back to basics with the traditional and timeless study item — the pocket vocabulary book. These handy little items can be found pretty much anywhere and are a reliable way to memorise new vocab and some of your favourite slang and phrases.
If you really want to go the extra mile, we highly recommend EGGBUN; an educational app that’s tailored for beginner-level learners. It comes with a ton of beginner content that includes both cultural and survival topics. We’re rather fond of it!
Turn your favourite Korean-entertainment into learning opportunities
You may have heard many past and current Korean language learners suggest watching K-Dramas as a way to improve your Korean skills, and you may have asked yourself, “How could watching something for entertainment possibly help you learn anything?”, “How can I study while I relax?”, or “why would I want to ruin my ‘Me Time” with studying?”
Despite their apprehensions toward using K-Dramas to study, most Korean students have found that it’s actually helped them to gain a firmer grasp on the many facets of the language.
Although it may not seem like it, our brains pick up on a lot of things without us even realising it — so when a non-Korean speaker watches Korean shows, their brain naturally takes in and memorises information.
Some things you can learn from K-Dramas include; correct pronunciation of Korean words, useful and regularly-used phrases, idioms and common slang terms that might otherwise be difficult to find as well as regional dialects or satoori (사투리) and how to exaggerate certain words and sounds.
A helpful way to see how much Korean spoken at a native speed and level you understand is to have a go at watching a part or even a whole episode of a K-drama without subtitles. Try beginning with one of your favourite dramas or one that you know the plot of really well, so it’ll be easier to follow and understand. You might be surprised with how much Korean you know just from watching dramas.
Another less time-consuming path is to get your hands on some popular Webtoons (or online comics) that have Korean versions so you can switch between the two and read both as you go, seeing how much of the Korean translation you understand then checking it with the English version.
You can read more about some must-read KoreanWebtoons here.
For fans of K-Pop, you’ll also be happy to know that regularly listening to Korean music is one notable way of learning Korean. It may not be the same as sitting hunched over a textbook with your highlighters and pens flying everywhere, but listening to K-Pop often—or in most cases, every day—gives you a chance to familiarise yourself with Korean vocabulary.
This is especially helpful if you research the songs you listen to most frequently and have a go at memorising the lyrics; you’ll find that this can be quite easy if you already know the songs really well but don’t necessarily understand what the artists are saying.
Over time, maybe without realising it, you’ll become more fluent in Korean to the point where you automatically understand lyrics to songs that you’ve been listening to for years.
Experience more of Korean culture
If you’re desperate to experience even more Korean culture without actually having to travel there, the next best thing is to try out our own Inspire Me Korea Culture Boxes. Each new month brings different themes, items and goodies that bring a slice of Korea straight to your door — helping your exploration of Korean culture, history, lifestyle, entertainment, food and more.
Special thanks to Longen Shi for the photographs.
Feature Image Source: ©Photo by Longen Shi, 29.10.2019, Instagram: shi_shoots