Let’s be honest: How many of us started learning Korean just so we can better understand what our favourite Korean celebrities are saying? It’s pretty uncommon to hear Korean actors and singers speaking English, and fluently at that. It’s typically the odd English sentence in K-drama conversations or a few phrases dropped into K-pop songs.
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And when they do speak fluent English, it’s presumably normal to assume that he or she is a Korean-American. However, more and more celebrities are picking up the language and striving to be fluent not only due to broaden their career opportunities, but also to communicate with their foreign fans, thanks to the Hallyu wave.
And we must say, some of them are so fluent that it’s a pretty big feat, considering they didn’t start young – a ban by the government 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 are young would erode their Korean roots.
Here are 15 male K-celebs who can definitely hold a conversation with you in full English:
Born and raised in Seoul, the Encounter actor recently surprised fans by speaking fluent English during a fan meet in the Philippines. His efforts to communicate with international fans definitely impressed the crowd, especially as he came onstage with a translator in tow. The 26-year-old heartthrob spoke in English for almost the entire two-and-a-half hour event, where he also sang and danced to BTS’ hit song “Boy With Luv”.
Check out the sweet video below:
Photo: TPG News
2. Lee Seung Gi
Not a lot of people know that Lee Seung Gi (Vagabond, A Korean Odyssey) is fluent in English until he filmed Sisters Over Flowers, where he expertly navigated Istanbul, Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik while leading a group of veteran actresses. After receiving praises from netizens, his company revealed that he has been regularly picking up English, but that he’s more fluent in Japanese – apparently, he speaks Japanese like a native!
Here’s a clip of Lee Seung Gi speaking English at KCON 2014:
3. 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! While we don’t have a clip of the interview, here’s a clip of him speaking English for a Louis Vuitton ad:
4. Sung Joon
Best known for his leading roles in Korean dramas like Flower Band and High Society, the actor and model, can speak English pretty well as he’s studied in New Zealand and England. But in an interview with 10Asia, the 29-year-old revealed that he’s better at understanding English than writing in English, saying, “People who study in English-speaking countries write good essays, while for me, it’s not like I can pick outstanding vocabulary when I write them”.
Here’s a compilation video of Sung Joon speaking English:
5. Kim Ji-seok
The comedic Seoul-born actor and former boyband member, who shot to fame for his leading roles in romcoms like Another Oh Hae-young, actually has teaching certificates for English and German! The 38-year-old studied in England when he was a teenager, which explains why he’s so fluent in the language.
Watch this clip of Kim Ji-seok speaking English in K-drama Personal Taste:
6. Lee Byung Hun
The actor revealed in a previous interview that he started learning English when he was younger because of his relative in America.
He started sprucing up on his skills when he made his Hollywood debut. He told 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.
Watch him show off his English skills in this interview for The Magnificent Seven:
7. Super Junior's Siwon Choi
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.
Here’s an adorable video of Siwon with his Super Junior bandmates – watch as he switches from English to Korean effortlessly:
8. BTS's RM/Kim Namjoon
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 the US sitcom 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 mum thankfully let me watch it in Korean, like subtitled. So as I watched the show, and I was into the show — the characters, the love stories. She bought the DVDs, seasons 1 to 10 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.”
In 2018, the rapper also delivered an empowering speech at the UN in English, watch it for yourself below:
9. Lee Seo Jin
You might recognise the actor from variety shows such as Grandpas Over Flowers, Three Meals A Day and Youn’s Kitchen. He graduated from New York University Stern School of Business, which explains why he’s fluent in English. In Grandpa Over Flowers and Youn’s Kitchen, he was tasked with interacting with the locals because of his fluency in the language.
Check out this clip of him in Wonderful Days:
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.
Watch this interview he did – in English:
11. 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 international fans.
Here’s a compilation video that will impress you:
12. 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 though he looked charming while speaking the foreign language.
13. 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 while in Singapore earlier this year.
Another testament of his fluency: he communicated with Chinese actress and ex-girlfriend Liu Yi Fei in English.
14. 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.
Watch him flaunt his linguistic skills in this compilation video:
15. Kang Dong Won
When the actor was in Singapore, he impressed the press with his fluency in the language. He told The Straits Times, “I’ve been learning English for the past five years. I wanted to travel by myself and wanted to communicate without the help of a translator. I hope to get a chance to work abroad one day!”
Here’s a clip of Kang Dong Won when he was in Singapore in 2018: