India greets Annyeonghaseyo

Arts & Culture International

Television shows, music and fiction have made Korean and Japanese the most popular South Asian languages in India.

Annyeonghaseyo is popular among K-drama fans. Konnichiwa is popular among anime fans. Saranghae is the go-to word for secret lovers. All thanks to the entertainment, art, and culture that came all the way from South Korea and Japan.

According to the 2023 Duolingo Language Report released in December 2023 and a special report on ’Which Countries are Most Interested in Asian Languages,’ released in September 2023, Korean language with a 75 percent year-over-year growth is the most popular South Asian language among Duolingo learners, in India, followed by Japanese.

According to the report, the popularity of Korean and Japanese is driven by culture, music and entertainment. Television series, Korean pop (K-Pop) songs and anime have fueled the growth of these South Asian languages in India. 

According to Duolingo, Korean has seen a 75 percent year-over-year growth in India. Image Source: Pinterest

Experts say that the most probable reason for the growth of Korean language and culture in India, is the South Korean boy band, BTS, also known as Bangtan Sonyeondan in Korean.

Madhumitha Thulasi, a linguist based in Bengaluru explained that the increasing popularity of Korean and Japanese can be attributed to pop culture influence, economic opportunities, education opportunities and globalisation. She added that the Hallyu wave, also known as the Korean wave, which popularised the South Korean culture across the world has played an important role in promoting the growth of Korean language.

Ponnu Liz Malieckal, Asst Professor in English Language and Linguistics, said that the major reason for the growth of Korean is the popularity of K-pop and K-drama. She added, “Young adults are quick to learn languages.”

Prateekk Kothari, Director of ITESKUL, a foreign language institute, said that the increasing popularity of Korean is due to a combination of reasons. “Korean got popular during the pandemic, especially among children and young adults. They are attracted to Korean TV shows and K-pop music and learning Korean helps them understand the cultural nuances and references made in these,” he said.

He said that the institute has over 45 students learning Korean. He added, “Korean is a recent addition to our training service, which was started after Covid-19, but the trend is generally increasing.”

Abhigna, a class 12 student from Mysore, said that she learnt Korean because of her interest in K-drama and K-pop. “I learnt Korean by watching them and using Duolingo.”

Indians learn Korean through K-drama as well.

Uma, a 24-year-old, said, “I learnt Korean language as I am a huge fan of BTS. I wanted to understand what the members of the band were speaking. I learnt the language through Duolingo and through the Korean dramas I watched. Now I can figure out what they say.”

Krishna, an IT professional, said, “My girlfriend is a big fan of BTS. I started learning Korean to impress her. Now I can also watch K-dramas without subtitles.”

Kothari added that Korean companies like Kia, Hyundai and other firms in India prefer employees with Korean language skills. He said that these job opportunities are also a reason why people study Korean.

Rasul, who works in a Korean automobile company in Chennai, said, “I had to learn Korean as almost all of my higher officials were from Korea who were not really fluent in English.”

The growth of Japanese in India is also attributed to the penetration of anime and increased job opportunities.

Expert says that Japanese is more popular among working professionals. Image Source: Pinterest

Ponnu said that the most probable reason for the increasing popularity of Japanese is anime and manga series.

Sandra, a 24-year-old, said, “I have been watching Japanese anime from seventh-grade and that’s how I got interested in learning Japanese. I used Duolingo, Google Translate and anime to learn Japanese. Now I can understand Japanese and speak a few words as well. I can also watch anime without subtitles.”

Ganga, a commerce graduate, said, “I am interested in learning foreign languages. I learn them for fun. I learnt the Japanese Kanji script through Duolingo, YouTube videos and Japanese series.”

Derin, an engineering graduate, said that he learnt Korean and Japanese out of interest. He said that he found it interesting to learn alphabets and vocabulary every time he watched a web series of a different language. He added, “I learnt Japanese as it was really challenging. There are three main scripts in Japanese – KanjiHiragana, and Katakana which are difficult to learn. I wanted to challenge myself.”

Translated Korean and Japanese books are also popular in the country.

He added, “Learning a new language makes me more confident. I can identify the meaning of many terms and I can also tell which language these terms belong to. It also helps me understand the culture and history of a country.”

Kothari said, “The shift in geopolitics and economic scenario have created a lot of job opportunities in Japan. Japan which was earlier dependent on China for manufacturing and exports is now closer to India. There are a lot of Japanese companies which invest in India. Also, there is a shortage of skilled workforce in Japan, especially in the field of engineering and hospitality.”

He added, “Working professionals aged between 20 years and 30 years are more inclined to learn Japanese because of the great work culture and lifestyle Japan offers.” He added that Japan also attracts students with fully-funded scholarships.

He said that there is a 12 to 15 percent increase in the number of students enrolling for learning Japanese every year at his institute.

Rinsha, who works in a Japanese company said that she learnt Japanese to communicate with her colleagues. “English is not a popular language in Japan and knowing Japanese has really helped me here. Though I am not proficient in Japanese, I manage to have basic conversations.”

Experts say that the popularity of Korean and Japanese in India, contributes to the cultural diversity and economic growth of the country.

Thulasi said that the contribution of these languages ranges from enhancing cross-cultural exchange to increasing economic opportunities and investments. She added, “The recent establishment of Korean and Japanese industrial cities in Noida, is an example of this. They are a boon to the country’s economy.”

Kothari said, “Learning a language is an extension to the cultural aspects of a place or community. It can help you understand the culture, history and etiquette. Learning South Asian languages like Japanese acts as a reminder of our own culture which is now influenced by Western culture.”

He added that language learning will continue to grow as we are in a globalized world which knows no geographical restrictions.