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The Hit Netflix show ‘Squid Game’ sparks interest in learning Korean

Tutoring services reported that interest in learning Korean has increased since the release of the hit Netflix (NFLX.O) show “Squid Game,” highlighting a growing global obsession with South Korean culture ranging from entertainment to beauty products.

Duolingo Inc (DUOL.O), a language learning app, said the nine-part thriller, in which cash-strapped contestants play deadly childhood games for a chance to win 45.6 billion won ($38.19 million), had inspired both beginners and existing students looking to improve their skills.

Over the two weeks following the show’s premiere, Duolingo reported a 76 percent increase in new users signing up to learn Korean in the United Kingdom and a 40 percent increase in the United States.

South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, has established itself as a global entertainment hub thanks to its vibrant pop culture, which includes the seven-member boy band BTS and films such as Oscar winners “Parasite,” a black comedy about growing inequality, and “Minari,” about a Korean immigrant family in the United States.

Just this week, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) added 26 new words of Korean origin to its latest edition, including “hallyu,” or Korean wave, a term widely used to describe South Korean music, film, television, fashion, and food’s global success.

President Moon Jae-in welcomed the additions this week, referring to “Hangeul,” the Korean alphabet, as the country’s “soft power.”

“Language and culture are inextricably linked, and what happens in pop culture and media frequently influences trends in language and language learning,” said Duolingo spokesman Sam Dalsimer in an email.

“As Korean music, film, and television become more popular around the world, there is a greater demand for learning Korean.”

According to the Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange, there are approximately 77 million Korean speakers worldwide.

Duolingo, based in Pittsburgh, claims to have more than 7.9 million active users learning Korean, the company’s second fastest growing language after Hindi.

Last year, the King Sejong Institute, which is run by South Korea’s culture ministry, had around 76,000 students from 82 countries, a rapid increase from 740 students from three countries in 2007.

Milica Martinovic, a Sejong Institute student from Russia, stated that she wanted to learn the language so she could watch K-dramas without subtitles and listen to K-pop without having to translate the lyrics.

Catarina Costa, a 24-year-old Portuguese woman living in Toronto, Canada, said the language has grown in popularity since she began learning it two years ago, despite the fact that most of her friends don’t understand why.

“People are amazed when I tell them I’m learning Korean,” said Costa, who is learning the language through the e-learning platform TalkToMeInKorean.

The program has 1.2 million members studying in 190 countries, learning words such as kimbap, a cooked rice dish wrapped in seaweed; mukbang, a video, often livestreamed, showing someone eating a large amount of food; and manhwa, a Korean cartoon and comic book genre.

“There were thousands of people who wanted to learn Korean before Squid Game or the BTS craze, but they were often studying alone,” said Sun Hyun-woo, founder of Talk To Me In Korean, a local e-learning platform with 1.2 million members studying Korean in 190 countries.

“They are now part of a ‘global phenomenon,’ and learning Korean has become a much cooler pastime,” he said.

Read on Reuters
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