You won’t spend 15 minutes in Korea without hearing KaTak KaTak coming from someone’s mobile phone. This is the sound of the ubiquitous Korean texting app, KakaoTalk, or as it’s abbreviated in Korean, 카톡.
The KaTak KaTak sound:
KakaoTalk is a really useful tool for learning Korean. Besides having the most cute emoticons of any messaging app, it is actually helpful for learning Korean for several reasons.
First, pretty much all Koreans use KakaoTalk. According to a survey, 93% of smart phone users in Korea use KakaoTalk – I guarantee you the remaining 7% are people you don’t want to talk to anyways. I don’t think any other messaging app has this much market penetration. With basically all Koreans using KakaoTalk, you have about 50 million potential friends to chat with. While people are sometimes hesitant to give out their phone number, in my experience, Koreans are generally happy to give out their KakaoTalk ID. Many people I’ve met through conversationexchange.com include their ID on their profile page and are content to exchange languages via text without ever meeting face to face.
Second, learning to use the Korean keyboard on your smart phone is easier than learning to write Hangul by hand. Simply put, pushing a button is easier than learning to draw a Hangul character. When learning anything, it’s helpful to avoid delays. Eventually you will be able to write by hand, but since you can learn to text more easily, you will get to the interesting part of actually expressing yourself more quickly, and that will keep you motivated to continue learning. This brings us to the 3rd point.
Third, learning is about getting motivated and staying motivated. Once you start texting with people, you are motivated to learn how to introduce yourself, to express your interests, and to ask your friend about their interests. With texting, you have as much time as you want to form your sentences, so you can double check a grammar rule or look up a word if you want.
In the 3 months I’ve been living in Korea I have added 40 people to KakaoTalk. Most of these people I have never met in person, but the practice I received, especially while just starting to learn, was invaluable. I have introduced myself 40 times, said how old I am 40 times, ask someone what they are up to 40 thousand times, …. It’s really a good way to practice forming sentences.
Of course, texting won’t directly help you to learn to have a conversation. It will help you practice making sentences, but it won’t help with speaking and listening skills. There is also the usual drawback to texting which is that the other person is usually doing something else so they might respond slowly. You can always ask the other person if they are busy, 시간 있어요?
However, I really recommend texting as a language learning tool in addition to having actual conversations. If you’re waiting for the bus or riding the subway, message someone hi, 안녕?, and ask someone what they are up to, 뭐해요?, or how they are feeling, 기분이 어때요?
If you don’t believe me, the popular Korean Englishman, 영국남자, cites texting as a way that he learned, and now he’s texting on TV commercials!
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