If you hear that a Korean celebrity has a good grasp of English, you'd expect that he or she is a Korean-American (hello Steven Yeun and John Cho). However, more and more stars are picking up the language and striving to be fluent not only to broaden their career opportunities, but also to communicate with foreign fans, following the Hallyu wave.
And frankly, it’s a pretty big feat, considering they didn’t start young – a government ban only allows South Koreans to start learning English when they’re in Primary Three. The reason? They believe that exposing the children to a foreign language when they’re young would erode their Korean roots.
Well these are nine male K-celebs who can hold a conversation with you.
1. Gong Yoo
Although he has never studied in a foreign country, the actor is pretty fluent in English. In fact, he even had a radio show when he was serving in the army, where he taught basic conversational English through scenario-based lessons. He even nailed a full BBC interview in English, impressing everyone.
2. Lee Byung Hun
The actor revealed in a previous interview that he started learning English when he was younger because of his relatives in America. He started sprucing up on his skills when he made his Hollywood debut. He told the Korean media at the press conference for G.I.Joe: Retaliation that acting in English was difficult and different from speaking English. He added that when one of the staff pointed out a mispronunciation, he ended up focusing on pronunciation instead of acting.
3. BTS' Rap Monster
Judging from how fluent he is, you would have thought the BTS leader has lived in an English-speaking country for at least a few years, but in fact, he picked up the language just by watching Friends! He told Yahoo Music, "The show is really good. It's kind of like the show of my life. Firstly, I had no interest, because I cannot understand a word. But [my mom] thankfully let me watch it in Korean, like, subtitled. So as I watched the show, and I was so into the show - the characters, the love stories. She bought the DVDs, 1 to 10 Seasons, and I repeated it like a dozen times. I think that's why [I learned English so well]. Their speech is clear and easy to understand."
When Rain enjoyed explosive popularity in Asia, he was offered a leading role in a Hollywood production, Ninja Assassin. But unlike most actors who broke into Hollywood, he wasn't fluent in the language. In fact, he honestly admitted that he had only started learning the language, but his performance in the movie impressed moviegoers. His secret to picking up a new language? He revealed that he practised by talking to himself - he would sit at a coffee shop, ask himself questions and answer them himself.
5. SHINee's Key
Although Key was in America for only six weeks for an exchange programme, he continued to learn the language until he became proficient in conversational English. He sometimes uses English in his Instagram captions to communicate with his international fans.
6. Yeon Jung Hoon
In his first year of junior high, the actor moved to America to live with his aunt and studied in California. He attended high school there before returning to South Korea for university. He revealed in an interview that his fluency in English was one of the reasons his now-wife actress Han Ga In was attracted to him. He said that she had overheard him talking to his cousin, who lives in the US, on the phone and thought he looked charming while speaking the foreign language.
7. Super Junior's Siwon
The Super Junior member is often the appointed speaker whenever the K-Pop group visits an English-speaking country. His fellow members revealed in a variety show that Siwon tends to slip in English words whenever he's angry.
8. Song Seung Heon
Although he's native Korean and didn't study abroad, the actor reportedly speaks English fluently. He showed off a bit of his linguistic abilities when he greeted the media in English when he was in Singapore earlier this year. Another testament of his fluency: he communicates with Chinese actress girlfriend Liu Yi Fei in English.
9. 2PM's Taecyeon
Taecyeon studied in America from middle school through high school, hence it's not surprising that he's fluent in English, and even speaks with an American accent. He revealed on a variety show that sometimes his agency's staff would enlist his help to check English lyrics to make sure they're grammatically sound.
This story was originally published on Cleo.