According to the Korea Foundation, the wave of Korean culture, also known as hallyu, increased its global fanbase by 11% in 2019—and leading the charge has been K-pop.
Groups such as BTS and Blackpink have not only dominated charts worldwide—they’ve also sparked a surge in demand to learn the Korean language, according to Korea Foundation president Lee Geun.
Picking up on the intersection of this particular trend is the language learning app Drops and its new program featuring K-pop idol Amber Liu.
Available starting Tuesday, October 6, the “Study with Amber” category will feature a curriculum personally curated by Liu across 40 topics ranging from Korean food to music and more. Drops already offers Korean, and cofounder and CEO Daniel Farkas says that because of hallyu, it’s actually become the app’s most popular language.
“One of the biggest motivations for our Korean learners was actually K-pop, and we wanted to capitalize on that,” Farkas says of the app’s first celebrity partnership, with Liu.
Farkas says they had a few K-pop idols in mind, but Liu stood out not only because of her multicultural background—she was born in Los Angeles to Taiwanese parents—but because of her own journey learning Korean from scratch in just three months after being selected to join the K-pop group f(x) in 2009.
“I was always stressed out learning Korean,” Liu says. “I did do a couple of months in a Korean school, but most of my Korean was learned on the job.”
What appealed to Liu about the offer to partner with Drops is the app’s approach to learning a language.
“It’s like a game. You can actually have fun learning,” Liu says. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, like ‘why can’t I remember this word? Why can’t I like get the simplest things?’ I think the reason why I was able to learn Korean so fast was because me and my friends who were not native Korean speakers started making it fun. It became something that was easier to retain rather than studying whole list of words.”
Farkas says something such as “Study with Amber” is an experiment, but he’s willing to scale it depending on well it’s received.
“If this works, I can see this celebrity approach scaled up to other languages,” he says. “Just imagine the Icelandic language narrated by Björk.”