How the Korean Wave Has Taken India by Storm

With the massive success of the Korean TV series Squid Game and All Of Us Are Dead, K-dramas are smashing records and dominating Netflix’s streamers’ top 10 across the globe.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a massive surge in the popularity of K-culture in India. From Korean skincare to cuisine, the immense popularity and success of K-pop and K-dramas have amplified curiosity in everything Korean.

Korean dramas and Korean pop’s burgeoning popularity has also led to the Korean language becoming the fastest growing language in India. A survey of 1,013 Indians conducted in December 2021 by Duo Lingo, a popular language learning app, concluded that Korean has emerged as the fastest-growing foreign language in the country. The sudden increase in the enrolment numbers in the language course can be attributed to the Gen-Z. According to the survey done by Duo Lingo, people within the age group of 17-25 are the major contributors to Korean language popularity, claiming the fifth spot in the top five languages. Karandeep Singh Kapany, Duo Lingo’s Marketing Manager in India said, “With a young India wanting to stay connected to the local and global culture we have witnessed most traction on Duolingo from the 17 to 25 age bracket, across languages.”

In an interview with the media outlet Al Jazeera, Rathi Jafer, who heads the Indo-Korean Cultural and Information Centre in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, said, “Earlier, when people used to take language courses it was linked with employability… however, the scene has changed now. We have people learning the language because they want to understand what their icons are saying; what the singers are singing. They want to have a direct connection with Korea through the language.”

Farha, an undergraduate student of the Korean language at Jamia Millia Islamia said, “I was in Class 11 when I first watched a K-drama. Since then I have always been fascinated by the culture, the country and that was when I decided that I’ll pursue my graduation in the Korean language.”

Also read: Where Socio-Economic Class Meets K-pop

There has been a boom in private online platforms that provide Korean language classes. South Korean government-run language centre in New Delhi, the King Sejong Institute, has also provided an online platform for all language lovers to enrol in the classes for free. “I want to learn Korean because after watching K-dramas, I find K-culture very intriguing. Henceforth, I decided to learn Korean to learn more about them,” said Azma Juned, an online language student at King Sejong Institute.

The Korean alphabet, also known as Hangul, was personally created and promulgated by King Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. The main purpose was to design a new writing system, that even people with little to no education could easily learn. A popular Korean saying about Hangul goes: ‘a wise man can acquaint himself with them [the characters] before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.’ Even though Hangul is easy, the sudden surge in the number of language enthusiasts is majorly due to the meteoric success of BTS and K- dramas in India. When the unprecedented pandemic struck and the world came to a standstill, K-dramas provided the required escapism to many.

Greeting this writers with Annyeonghaseyo (‘hello’ in Korean ) in a telephonic conversation, a Korean language enthusiast Shadia said, “I listened to K-pop sensation BTS’ first song in 2020 and then I became an ARMY (Adorable Representative MC for Youth), a term the K-pop band’s fanbase use to describe themselves. To understand the lyrics, I started taking Korean language classes.”

“The pandemic unwittingly brought this companion into my life. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the time to learn the language,” she added.

Followed by the phenomenal success of Squid Game and Oscar-winning movie Parasite, 26 Korean words including ‘Hallyu’, ‘Korean wave’ and ‘K-drama’ were added to the Oxford dictionary.

“We are all riding the crest of the Korean wave, and this can be felt not only in film, music or fashion but also in our language, as evidenced by some of the words and phrases of Korean origin included in the latest update of the Oxford English Dictionary,” the Oxford English dictionary stated.

Khansa Juned is an Independent Journalist and a master in Convergent Journalism student at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. 

Featured image: Members of K-Pop idol group Girls’ Generation perform during the Korean Pop Culture and Art Awards at the Olympic Hall in Seoul/ Photo: Reuters