‘I want to learn just enough Korean so I can watch unsubbed Korean dramas’

OH REALLY? *cues tirade*

This is something that I hear often and it irks me sometimes. There is nothing inherently wrong with the goal, but it’s the way people interpret it.

‘I’m not interested in learning all the grammar, conjugations etc. I just want to learn enough to understand Korean dramas’

‘I don’t want to be fluent or proficient or anything. But I want to be able to understand dramas’

This is probably why a lot of people end up giving up foreign language learning. Because they realize that they couldn’t attain their goal even after after 2 years or so. Most people who say that don’t know what they are talking about.

The immensely satisfying ability to watch an unsubbed drama comes with a lot of hard work, working from the basics and slowly slowly getting better – in terms of grammar, vocabulary, listening, spoken style vs written style, nuances etc etc

There is NO SUCH THING AS DRAMA KOREAN that is separated from ‘normal Korean’.

My friend and I were discussing about this and we agreed that there are a lot of people who don’t want to be bothered with the basics such as the 습니다 / 읍니다 form in Korean and straightaway want to learn phrases (or whatever it is) to be able to understand Korean dramas.

People who can’t be bothered into learning the grammar and getting their conjugations right. People who are not willing to put in the hours and time to improve their vocabulary. People who sigh over the ‘useless’ and ‘textbook’ Korean taught in lessons.

If you are not willing to learn the foundations, how can you expect to watch unsubbed dramas? And this is also the reason why I’m so dubious of Korean crash courses that is designed to help you understand dramas. :/ I don’t know how teachers teach that.

There is nothing wrong with just wanting to learn a few phrases or learn it leisurely ( as a hobby). But it’s just _____ (insert own word here) to see people EXPECTING to be able to watch unsubbed dramas after a few courses.

I’m not sure if I’m putting across this in the right way. I don’t want to sound like I’m snubbing people who learn Korean just to watch dramas. x.x

I hope I don’t sound too overly pissed off. Blogging at past midnight and coughing for the past one week or so adds on to that tirade you know. ^^

Let me know what you think!!!


  1. Reply

    Reminds me of college Japanese. “I just want to be able to read manga / watch unsubbed anime / translate anime” @_@ Really disliked those people. It just felt like they didn’t care about culture, heritage, depths of language, just idle consumption of the stuff (excuse my turn of phrase) people wipe their butts with on the shinkansen.

    But I don’t like that bitter feeling either.

    1. Reply

      ㅋㅋㅋㅋ not everyone is a serious language learner like us 😛

  2. Reply

    Not sleeping yet?

  3. Reply

    1st..hope that you feel better!! Attempting to understand Korean Drama’s has been only one aspect of learning Korean for me. I watch them to try to grasp a word here or there and sentence construction. But refer back to the books I have for the bulk of learning Korean. Unfortunately in my city no formal classes are offered so I have to rely on internet among the books. Plus I would love to be able to practice conversing too. I guess those who want to learn purely to watch without subs are missing out on a lot of the “gems” of the Korean language.

    1. Reply

      thanks Denice! Internet is an awesome source of resource! Self studying may end up being better too. At least that’s in my case. ^^

  4. Reply

    I think the same as you do, i aslo heard poeple saying they want to learn korean just so that they would understand the Korean Dramas, i feel bad for those people -they should use thier passion -trying to understand Korean Dramas – and take it to a higher level -learning korean to be fluent!

  5. Reply

    I was guilty of this. I first started learning Korean with the goal of wanting to be able to understand dramas and Korean articles on my favorite celebrities. But as time passed by, my goals have changed. I still want to be able to understand dramas. I can now understand and translate articles but I feel like it’s still not enough. Understanding Korean alone doesn’t seem to bring me satisfaction. I want more than just being able to pick up a few words and phrases here and there. I don’t want to just be able to understand Korean, I want to be able to speak it too comfortably. I’ve met some really nice Koreans who have been really patient in teaching me their language. Sometimes I even feel like I’m no longer learning Korean just for k-drama and k-pop. I want to be able to maintain the good friendship I’ve built with my Korean friends and to be able to do that, I need to continue learning Korean so I can get to know them even more and I feel like I’ll learn more about Korea and its culture from them than from the textbooks.

    1. Reply

      I know how you feel! As you learn, you feel like you want to learn even more!

  6. Reply

    aha! I have to say, I laughed really hard when I saw the title. The only way to learn enough of any language to watch movies, shows, or read. Is to learn all of it.
    That made my day <3

    1. Reply

      LOLOL!! Leslie, I did the same thing! This blogpost was sooo eyebrow-raising that I couldn’t help but chuckle. I definitely have to say though, that I couldn’t agree with you more! I started learning Korean back in May 2010 and whereas the interest to learn the language, learn about the culture and then eventually realizing that I wanted to live in Korea, stemmed from being introduced to K-pop and then Korean Dramas, the thought NEVER crossed my mind to learn Korean to be able to understand as miniscule as K-dramas. The very idea is sad and, as you said, impossible. I have come to respect and understand, through my years of studying this language, that there is ‘no way out, but through’ and as she said, ‘no crash course’. Any language is such a blessing to this earth and it’s people. It’s filled with rich history and understanding it helps you to understand a bit more, the way/culture and everyday lives of the people who speak it. Frankly,

    2. Reply

      LOLOL!! Leslie, I did the same thing! This blogpost was sooo eyebrow-raising that I couldn’t help but chuckle. I definitely have to say though, that I couldn’t agree with you more! I started learning Korean back in May 2010 and whereas the interest to learn the language, learn about the culture and then eventually realizing that I wanted to live in Korea, stemmed from being introduced to K-pop and then Korean Dramas, the thought NEVER crossed my mind to learn Korean to be able to understand as miniscule as K-dramas. The very idea is sad and, as you said, impossible. I have come to respect and understand, through my years of studying this language, that there is ‘no way out, but through’ and as she said, ‘no crash course’. Any language is such a blessing to this earth and it’s people. It’s filled with rich history and understanding it helps you to understand a bit more, the way/culture and everyday lives of the people who speak it. Frankly, those people who make such comments MUST be drama fanatics. It is kind of sad though that they would make such kind of statements. Hopefully they’ll grow up to understand and appreciate ALL that the Korean language has to offer instead of trying to achieve this impossible fallacy.

      1. Reply

        A little while after I got into K-Dramas and K-Pop I really wanted to learn, but I have bad studying habits, so I pick up now and again, but I haven’t been able to retain much. BUT my Boyfriend is Korean, and his Mother doesn’t speak too much English. She always asks if I will learn, Thank heavens I’ve only met her once. <3

      2. Reply

        Thanks for the comment Anon! 😀 ‘ Any language is such a blessing to this earth and it’s people’ totally agreed 😀

    3. Reply

      LOL! 😛 Your comment made my day too, Leslie!

      1. Reply

        😀 You’re welcome Shanna and thanks too for posting~ ^^ I ALWAYS enjoy reading ur blogposts! 🙂 P.S. I’m anonymous :3 (I was typing that long epitsle on my phone and I wasn’t until I was almost done that I realized the page didn’t load properly so I couldn’t put in my name and email. TT.TT) Sorry about that… N srry abt the message being doubled.. Though the first one was incomplete but yea.. :3

  7. Reply

    I started learning Korean in 2010 because I wanted to understand lyrics and to be able to one day talk to idols, it wasn’t because of dramas, but it’s not so different.

    I don’t know if it’s because I’m kinda perfeccionist, so when I learn some new thing, I want to learn what it literally means, why it’s in that way, such things, I really need to know the “behind” to really learn something, or it’ll be only memorizing.
    And I think it goes this way (just memorizing) with people that want to learn just to be able to watch unsubbed dramas. To me it doesn’t make sense, because there are those things like the nuances in phrases and emphasis in words and structures and it seems to me like you’re activating your memory, but not exactly making a connection with the full understanding of the whole thing, the whole context.

    Oh, and I hope you get better! 😀

    1. Reply

      thanks! lol I just learnt because I had free time and I wanted to try a foreign language xD hahahaa. and picked korean only because I was watching a Korean drama at that time. Worse right? 😛

      1. Reply

        hahahaha but, well, you made it into a great thing, since you’re now almost fluent and you’re studying in 한국 and love there, right? 8D

  8. Reply

    totally agree! but i must admit i once said that too >.< i guess something changed along the way while studying the language, especially because i wanted to travel back to Korea. after a while, it was more of 'i want to communicate better' rather than 'i just want to understand them'. i felt handicapped when i could understand what they were saying but i had no means of getting them to understand me.

    1. Reply

      hehe! there’s nothing wrong with that as a goal! If you work hard, its awesome. but some just have unrealistic expectations and refuse to put in the effort and then putting the blame on useless lessons O.o

  9. Reply

    Seriously? learning language without grammar, vocabulary?
    I think it’s like learn from “you can speak korean in 60 hours book” which finally they can learn nothing….

    1. Reply

      don’t get me started on such books…

  10. Reply

    Absolutely, totally agreed with you!

    Language is a complex system of communication.
    A system of signs, codes, information, culture, history, life-style…

    It took me years to learn English, till now, I am still learning… hahaha…

    1. Reply

      hahaha we are always learning for languages – even for our native tongues

  11. Reply

    I have a few people around me say the same thing & I become unhappy when I hear that sentence. When you learn a language the correct way , the understanding that a person derives when hearing that language is different. You can understand the perspective Koreans are coming from when they speak. It’s totally different. A different depth of understanding the language. If you don’t learn the grammer, the culture & etc that encompasses the learning process of a language, it’s really a pity.

    1. Reply

      I think its alright if people just want to learn a few phrases but i wished they wont blame the lessons /teachers for not delivering what they wanted. Instead they should either work harder to achieve it or simply set another goal.

  12. Reply

    I dunno what you’re talking about. Obviously K-dramas and K-pop are the only reason to learn Korean duh.

  13. Reply

    at first yeah, but i really hope people will also learn to love and learn the language itself, history, culture and everything that comes with learning Korean as well 😀

    1. Reply

      yeah ^^ But of course, not everyone are like us xD

  14. Reply

    I don’t really know how to put in words what I am trying to express. Have to apologize for my non ability in trying to explain. For me, I learn korean not just to understand Kpop & Kdrama only but really have the interest in learning the language. The feeling that I get when I can talk korean & can communicate with koreans in their language is different. It’s gives me a different kind of happiness & satisfaction. I wish I have answered your queries, If not, my apologies

    1. Reply

      Thanks for the comment! 😀 Everyone learns for a different reason ^^

  15. Reply

    you sound really grumpy just like you always do…

  16. Reply

    I don’t know Korean (just some basic stuff, and I mean BASIC) but this matter is really similar with Japanese.
    I often hear people say they don’t need to learn kanji. Ah, forget the kanji! They don’t see the need to learn kana! Often, it’s almost impossible to make them understand how important it is!
    But they ‘just want to watch anime/drama/movies without subs’! Who cares they’re cutting off they own legs while trying to climb a mountain? It’s OBVIOUS there are tons of great dictionaries and reference books in romaji, RIGHT?! And after all some people can’t read or write – but they’re still alive, so that means this ability is not necessary for survival.
    But please, don’t misunderstand – in my opinion learning the language to be able to watch your favourite anime/drama or read manga is a reason as good as any other. As long as you learn the LANGUAGE and not just a few, set phrases (‘I will destroy/defeat/____ you! You *****’) and do it with passion – anything goes. I can’t say there are better or worse reasons to learn a language – it always comes down to passion and motivation anyway.

    1. Reply

      lol!! I think we have the same opinions 😀 That was exactly what I had in mind!

  17. Reply

    Personally, I always assumed that people like that mean that they don’t neccessarily care about being able to write/speak Korean, or in other words, they know that they *only* need passive skills in order to reach their goal of consuming native media without subtitles/translations. I guess the reasons for that vary, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is due to a missing desire to interact with native speakers/no desire to visit Korea, and/or not having the time or budget to travel. Some people are really just satisfied by consuming the pop culture. It’s not really a surprise that reasons for wanting to learn a language, as well as priotities, differ.

    Naturally, there’s still a flaw in that logic. There is no such thing as only learning passive skills. Unless a person is some kind of genius with the ability to learn grammar/vocab without practising them through active usage, they will acquire active skills (writing/speaking) to some degree, whether that’s part of their goal or not.
    While it is certainly not unusual to be stronger in one set of skills compared to the another set of skills, it usually doesn’t take more than a bit of practice to even out the different levels of said skills.. and I do think that most people will realise this once their studies advance, even if their initial reasons and goals may have been a bit naive in the beginning.

    Quiet frankly, even though such statements can be rather amusing to a *more serious* learner, I try to refrain from passing on judgment. I have and have had a lot of interests and hobbies in the past. Some of them I had a strong interest in, yet I still gave them up for one reason or another. Other hobbies started out with very little initial interest, and yet my interest and desire to learn more grew stronger the further I practised them.

    What I mean to say is that there’s not shame in either, as long as you try~ ^^ I don’t know, I just think it’s great if someone tries to learn a language. I’ve had so many people make excuses to me about why they can’t learn a language and it’s just frustrating to know that they’re saying it without ever having tried to do so in the first place. I mean, why deny yourself the experience of learning something new just because you think (!) you can’t do it?

    P.S.: I hope your cough gets better soon!! :)) And sorry for writing up such a long comment, but I wanted to offer another standpoint of view to you and people who read your blog. Hope you don’t mind!

    1. Reply

      Hi Julie! I always welcome discussion here 😀 I agree with you. Most of us (myself included) did not start out learning Korean (or any other thing) with a clear goal and objective in mind. Our goals change while we learn more and for me, I started Japanese with more of the attitude of ‘I want to see how similar /different it is to Korean’ but as I learn, I grow to love the language and I want to see how far I can take it.

      Similarly, a lot of my friends started learning because of the pop culture and in the end, they grow to love it etc. There are people who just want to learn a few phrases here and there and it’s perfectly alright – not all of us aim for the same kind of fluency.

      I was just referring to people who says that their goal is to watch unsubbed dramas yet refuse to make the effort to do so, and instead blame the lessons for being uninteresting and not offering them what they wanted to get out of it. :/

      I agree with what you said about passive or active skills. It is really hard to separate the both! 😀 😀

      1. Reply

        Ah~ I can certainly agree with that. 🙂 No point in starting something if you’re not going to put any effort into it!

  18. Reply

    […] for all the comments on the previous post. Love seeing […]

  19. Reply

    Isnt being able to understand korean drama and music means you have to be fluent in korean? and dont that mean learning all the grammars, conjugations and formal languages?
    I dont think a person can fully appreciate a drama or understand it fully without all these..

  20. Reply

    Although the world described in Korean dramas has as much to do with the real world as Disneyland, the language they use is “just” plain old Korean (even if a little stilted sometimes). To be able to understand dramas you need to be f*cking fluent in the language. Vulgar language here intended, as long-time watchers or K movies will have noticed how foul language and swearing — unheard of 20 years ago — has now permeated movies and dramas.

    1. Reply

      haha! Somehow I always look forward to your comments. K movies are definitely a notch up dramas when it comes to language (:

  21. Reply

    I also want to learn Korean to watch my dramas unsubbed. Okay, ONE of the reasons. And I’ll probably dance in the rain once I’ll get to do that. But seriously!!! I also know some people who wants to learn Korean JUST ENOUGH for them to be able to watch unsubbed dramas (or talk to celebrities/friends). Some doesn’t even want to bother learning 한글!!! I don’t know where they get the idea that there’s such a thing as k-drama language?!! For how can it be possible? K-drama language is Korean language for christ’ sake! And I also don’t get why I’m so affected. Let them be! I wonder when will they be able to completely understand an unsubbed drama ㅎㅎㅎ!

    1. Reply

      hahahhaha i’m always very 열 받아 about this issue too LOL. I doubt they can progress beyond the few sentences and set phrases ><; if they don't even learn hangeul

  22. Reply

    To be honest, It would be unfair to belittle or criticize others in terms of their desires to learn Korean, but I do agree that it’s huge misunderstanding to think that there’s a seperate section of the language desired to fully comprehend K-Drama.

    We all take interests in different cultures, ranging from many things (food, art, music, traditions, etc.). For instance, the K-Drama lovers might simply like those films from Korea and nothing else. In other words, they’re uninterested to be fully immersed in different aspects of Korea. However, we all have our differences and its best to understand that others don’t evaluate things in the same way that we do.

    Now, to think there’s shortcuts to understanding K-drama without subtitles is outrageous but in most cases, some just don’t know any better. I appreciate the fact that you’re spreading the awareness in a constructive manner! That’s the best way to learn.

    To be honest I’m not perfect either: For some things that are obvious, it took me a while to understand. Like I used to think that you would turn into a fruit of you eat one of those fruit gusher candies ( the commercial messed me up haha).

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