We interviewed Sahie Kang, the Director of the School of Korean at Middlebury Language Schools, to learn more about the impact of K-pop on language learning and cultural exchange.

The Rise of K-pop and its Influence on Korean Language Learning

The rise of K-pop has contributed significantly to the global popularity of the Korean language. College enrollment in Korean courses in the US increased by 95% between 2006 and 2016, with even greater growth in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and China. K-pop is undoubtedly a factor in this increase, alongside Korea’s rapid economic growth and booming tech industry, which includes global companies like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.

About 150 US colleges offer Korean courses, many of which offer Korean major and minor programs. Online Korean language programs are also available for non-native speakers to learn the language (MLA, n.d.).


Immersion Programs: The Ultimate Pathway to Mastering Korean

The skyrocketing global popularity of K-pop, Korean dramas, and Korean culture has undoubtedly sparked a surge of interest in the Korean language. However, language learning isn’t merely about understanding grammar and vocabulary; it encompasses a holistic understanding of the culture and its nuances.

Middlebury Language Schools offer an innovative 8-week Korean immersion program as well as a Master of Arts in Korean, embodying a comprehensive approach to learning that transcends traditional classroom boundaries.

Learning a language through immersion is an exceptional way to grasp linguistic aspects and intimately understand cultural dimensions. The Korean immersion program at Middlebury Language Schools exemplifies this philosophy. The program’s approach, embodied by the Language Pledge, has students immersed in the Korean language all day, every day, in both formal and informal settings. This encourages students to interact, think, and even dream in Korean, enhancing their proficiency more effectively and naturally than in conventional language courses. This is crucial in mastering Korean, a language known for its distinct syntax and expressive vocabulary.


is Korean hard to learn
Students in the School of Korean at the Middlebury Language Schools sign a Language Pledge to speak, read, and write in Korean.

K-pop’s Multilingual Approach and its Impact on International Appeal

K-pop artists often incorporate English and other languages into their music, enhancing their international appeal. Korean remains the primary language in K-pop songs, but mixing English and other languages in the lyrics reflects the modern-day paradigm of being local and global simultaneously in an ever more connected world. This multilingual approach has led to the trends of ā€œtranslanguageā€ and ā€œtranscultureā€ among international fans.

Korean Culture’s Influence on the Rise of K-pop

Koreans have a long tradition of enjoying performing arts, such as singing, dancing, storytelling, poetry recitation, and musicals. This love for music and entertainment, combined with Korea’s unique entertainment companies and online video-sharing apps, has contributed to K-pop’s rapid rise on the global stage.

Korean entertainment companies offer comprehensive support to entertainers, including casting, producing, marketing, and financing, which is different from the US entertainment industry.

K-pop’s Impact on the Global Music Scene

K-pop has influenced the global music scene by fusing with a variety of music genres such as pop, hip-hop, R&B, funk, rap, and rock. K-pop is even considered its own genre, as BTS famously claims. Many international singers have joined K-pop groups through worldwide auditions held by Korean entertainment companies, and some K-pop groups include one or two international artists. In 2020, the first European K-pop girl group ā€˜KAACHI’ debuted, and their lead music video has since garnered 10 million views on YouTube.

Challenges Faced by K-pop Artists in the Industry

K-pop artists face several challenges in the industry, both in Korea and internationally, mentions Kang. One challenge is South Korea’s mandatory military service for men, which disrupts education and career development. Additionally, artists may face challenges in gaining recognition, regular performances, and liveable earnings, all of which can impact their creativity and well-being.

K-pop’s Impact on Korean Society and Cultural Perceptions

Interestingly, K-pop’s impact on Korean society may not be as significant as its impact on the outside world. While K-pop artists are popular in Korea, there are other popular music genres, such as Trot, a more traditional ballad style. In fact, top Trot singers often rank higher than K-pop singers on the Korean Billboard chart.

Nevertheless, Koreans take pride in their country and culture, and K-pop artistsā€™ international success is a source of national pride.

Traditional Korean Cultural Elements in K-pop Music

K-pop performances often incorporate elements of traditional Korean culture, such as the nation’s long history of performing arts and storytelling. As per Kang, Koreans are generally open to embracing new ideas and cultures, and this openness is reflected in K-pop performances, where traditional and modern elements are combined.


k pop song

K-pop’s Contribution to the Spread of Korean Culture and its Global Perception

K-pop has undoubtedly contributed to the spread of Korean culture worldwide and positively impacted global perceptions of Korea. Through artistic music videos and movies, K-pop showcases the beauty of the Korean language and culture. Kang recalls that American perceptions of the Korean language have evolved over the past three decades, with more people now recognizing its beauty.

K-pop Lyrics, Music Videos, and Cross-Cultural Communication

K-pop lyrics and music videos contribute to cross-cultural communication and understanding by simultaneously reinforcing the modern-day paradigm of being local and global. Translanguage and transcultural practices enabled by K-pop allow fans from different backgrounds to communicate and connect with one another. However, this form of cultural exchange may have challenges and limitations, as misunderstandings and miscommunications can still occur.


The interview with Sahie Kang concludes that K-pop has had a profound global impact, transcending linguistic and cultural barriers to create a new form of cultural exchange. Its unique blend of catchy tunes, captivating performances, and eye-catching music videos has captured the hearts and minds of millions of fans worldwide. As a driving force behind the increasing popularity of the Korean language and culture, K-pop has played a significant role in fostering global understanding and appreciation for Korea’s rich heritage.

For those drawn to the allure of K-pop and the rich Korean culture it emanates from, Middlebury Language Schools offers a unique opportunity. Our 8-week Korean immersion program is meticulously designed to take students on a linguistic and cultural journey. By ā€˜living in the languageā€™, students can grasp Korean comprehensively, contextualistically, and effectively.

Unlock the vibrant Korean world ā€“ apply for our School of Korean!


Korean dancers from the Korean School!