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I Learned Korean Because of 비티에스/BTS

On Saturday, October 9, TV channel KBS1TV released a one-hour documentary special on Hangul (한글), the Korean language script, which included a segment on BTS and their impact on spreading the language globally through their music and other forms of integrated content. But what’s so special about this simple language script that it warranted a national holiday in South Korea? Let’s dive into the BTS (pun intended) of this script that everyone wants to learn right now!

The Story Behind Hangul

The creation of Hangul goes way back to the Joseon Dynasty in the 15th century when Korean people (Korea was undivided at that time) used Chinese characters and letters, known as Hanja, in their daily life. Since the Chinese language’s script consists of many characters, people had difficulty learning and writing the characters, causing a division between the elites and the lower class’ literacy. To solve this problem, in 1443, King Sejong decided to formulate a language script that would be easier to understand for the people. The King completed the alphabet system in 1446 in the form of a document titled Hunminjeongeum (훈민정음).

Despite King Sejong’s noble initiative, Hangul almost got wiped out during the Joseon Dynasty’s rule. To preserve the elite’s status quo in Korea, King Yeonsangun banned Hangul from being used, and the schools that taught the script were closed. Hangul witnessed a resurgence in the 20th century during the Japanese colonial rule over Korea, with the Korean National Society celebrating the 68th anniversary of the declaration of Hangul on the last day of the ninth month of the Lunar calendar. The Society’s founder, Ju Si-gyeong, coined the term “Hangul” for the written system between 1910 and 1913.

Hangul Day’s date has meandered a lot since its inception in 1926. Still, it has been officially celebrated as a National Holiday on October 9 since 1949 (to mark the proclamation of Hunminjeongeum on October 9, 1446), excluding the years 1991 to 2012, when it was no longer an official holiday for economic reasons.

BTS and HYBE’s Role in Spreading the Korean Language

Ever since BTS’ unprecedented rise in popularity in 2017, the group has been breaking barriers with their music, and as a result, achieved remarkable feats which no one thought they could do. But beyond BTS' significant musical achievements, one cannot understate their role in spreading the Korean language to the world. According to Statista, BTS accounts for $4.65 billion of South Korea’s GDP at 0.3%. The most famous examples in which the boys promoted Hangul, are episodes 86-88 of Run BTS! where BTS played games related to their language. When SUGA, as Agust D, released the music video of his song, 대취타 (Daechwita) in May 2020, it piqued the curiosity of ARMYs across the world regarding South Korea’s history. Apart from appearing in KBS1TV’s documentary, seven individual clips of BTS members writing in Hangul were released by Hyundai to mark the occasion.

HYBE Entertainment’s subsidiary, HYBE EDU has been releasing educational content, like videos and books since March 2020, starting with two to three-minute videos of “Learn Korean with BTS.” As of September 28, 2020, there are 30 episodes of LKw/BTS on Weverse. HYBE EDU has also collaborated with universities from the US, France, Vietnam, Egypt, and other countries, to use “Learn Korean with BTS” textbooks as supplementary material for Korean classes. Eight days before the 575th anniversary of Hangul, the subsidiary released fun videos related to the alphabet system, like the lyric video of 가나다 (Ga Na Da/Ganada), a clip of RM’s poem ㄱ한다 (I Remember), which he dedicated to his members in Episode 56 of Run BTS! and a video of popular YouTuber, Korean Unnie, teaching seven out of 14 consonants in Hangul.

Moving Forward

These recent years have been incredible for South Korea, as not just music, but TV dramas, movies, webtoons, food, beauty products, and so on have been seeing a rise in popularity. This surge of interest in Korean entertainment and culture has indirectly led to the growing curiosity about the Korean language to understand their favorites better. Two weeks after Netflix drama Squid Game premiered on the OTT platform, language learning app Duolingo reported a 76% increase in new users from Britain and 40% from the United States.

The King Sejong Institute, run by South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, witnessed a rapid expansion from 740 students from three countries in 2007 to around 76,000 students from 82 countries last year. It comes as no surprise that President Moon Jae-in called Hangul the country’s “soft power.” Seeing such growth, one can hope that in a globalized world, people would, in director Bong Joon-ho’s words, “overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles” and get introduced to Korean language and content.

Written by: Anugya

Edited by: Ren

Designed by: ThornToHisRose

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