This is nothing new: pop culture greatly influences our leisure activities, our decisions, our consumption habits and even, more generally, our lives. For example, The Lady’s Game brought chess back to center stage, The Bridgerton Chronicle aroused an interest in embroidery or Lupin helped boost sales of the literary adventures of the gentleman-burglar.
So, it’s no wonder that the growing interest in Asian culture, thanks to anime / manga or even K-pop, is causing an increase in people studying Japanese or Korean.
Pop culture, at the origin of an increase in the learning of Japanese and Korean
For several years now, Asian culture has been highlighted thanks to pop culture. Animes have never been so popular, more accessible than ever thanks to streaming platforms like ADN, Wakanim, Crunchyroll but also Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Manga is in the middle of a golden age, with nearly 29 million copies sold between January and August 2021, an increase of 126% compared to the same period in 2020. The release of a collector’s edition of the hundredth volume of One Piece the past month ignited crowds with nearly half a billion copies sold worldwide and stockouts across bookstores.
Results ? Japanese is the fifth most learned language in the world on Duolingo. But it goes even further since universities are seeing an increase in students of this language. So it is indeed serious. According to the University Council for Modern Languages (UCML), the proportion of universities offering learning Japanese has increased from 19% in 2018 to 39% in 2020.
In the same way, Korean is entitled to a dazzling success that we qualify as Hallyu (which means “wave”). For once, we can thank K-Pop which unleashes passions. BTS and Blackpink, to name a few, dominate this global music industry. Webtoons, Korean comics to be read specifically on smartphones, are also booming.
But South Korea is also found on our screens, large and small, with K-dramas and cinema. Do we still have to quote Squid Game ? The South Korean series released in September 2021 has established itself as Netflix’s best series launch of all time. More than a series, we are talking about a real phenomenon that caused a lot of talk at the beginning of the last school year. Before her, we had been able to discover Parasite, the film by Bong Joon-ho which pocketed the Palme d’Or of the 2019 edition of the Cannes Film Festival and won 4 Oscars in 2020, including that for best film. A first for a foreign language film.
Like Japanese, learning Korean has been boosted by this rise in popularity of Asian culture. In 2021, the language found itself seventh of the most learned languages in the world on Duolingo. But here again, the enthusiasts then take the direction of the school benches to improve and deepen their learning.
“They started to learn Japanese casually, for fun and they said ‘it’s nice’ so they wanted to study more seriously either by choosing a specific diploma or an optional subject in their course”, explains Kazuki Morimoto, professor of Japanese at the University of Leeds. Of course, this is also valid for learning Korean.
Of course, pop culture is not the only reason that prompts students to learn Japanese or Korean, but it undoubtedly has a key role. The latter opens a door to a culture that is now more accessible than a few years ago. To arouse curiosity and interest. Mastering Japanese, Mandarin or even Korean will be a major asset in a decade in the economy and commerce (and not only) sectors.