When learning a new language, practicing conversation with native speakers is a fun and exciting challenge that lets you reap the rewards of the language learning process. Sure, learning new phrases is fun at home, but it’s way more fun to use those phrases when conversing with a native speaker who can understand what you’re saying!
As you continue on your journey to speak and practice Korean, you may not be lucky enough to visit Seoul right off the bat and dive completely into Korean culture. However, there may be a Korean community in a city near you that makes practicing Korean possible in your own backyard!
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Read on for our list of the top cities to practice Korean in, and why we think you should visit these cities as soon as possible.
1. Beijing, China
Unsurprisingly, Beijing has a very large Korean population due to its proximity to South Korea. As many as 200,000 Koreans live in Beijing at any given time. As such, if you’re visiting Asia (or living in China on a more permanent basis) but can’t make your way over to Korea to practice Korean, Beijing is a great place to visit – Beijing boasts two separate Koreatowns, or areas where Korean expats live in enclaves, so there’s plenty of opportunity to converse with native Korean speakers and experience Korean culture.
2. Los Angeles, California
Short of taking the plunge and flying to Korea, spending time in Los Angeles is the next best thing. LA boasts the reputation of having the most Korean residents barring Korea itself. LA’s Koreatown is massive, sprawling over several neighborhoods, and it has a rich and vibrant history that has made it the place it is today. Undergoing massive development immediately following the 1992 riots, LA’s Koreatown is now packed with restaurants, movie theaters, and other Korean businesses that give visitors the opportunity to have a truly authentic Korean experience. As somebody practicing Korean living in LA’s Koreatown, you can increase your exposure to Korean food and culture, and you can increase your chances of widening your network of Korean friends. Who knows – maybe you’ll even score a date hanging out on Wilshire Boulevard!
3. New York city, New York
If you’ve had the opportunity to spend time in New York, chances are you’ve spent time in Koreatown without even realizing it. New York Penn Station, one of the most common ways to get into the city, is located right on the cusp of Koreatown. New York’s Koreatown is a destination for speakers of Korean as well as tourists (and locals) who don’t know much about the language or culture – the Korean restaurants and shops centered around midtown Manhattan are undeniably fun for anyone and inclusive of everyone. Korean shops, nightclubs, restaurants, and offices are stacked high within a radius of only a couple of city blocks, reminiscent of the dense and bustling setup of Seoul. Stop by Miss Korea BBQ for Korean BBQ and try the delicious soju watermelon cocktail. It’s enough for several people, so be sure to bring some of the friends you’re bound to make during your visit!
4. Tokyo and Osaka, Japan
Japan has several sizeable cities that have prominent Korean populations, two of them being Osaka and Tokyo. Osaka and Tokyo have a combined total of 170,000 Korean residents between them. Seek out the Koreatowns in either city for a chance to have an authentic Korean experience outside of Korea!
5. Atlanta, Georgia
The Korean population in Atlanta has grown considerably in the last ten years, and there’s no sign of that growth slowing or stopping. Currently, there are 50,000 Korean residents living in the Atlanta area. Though this number is considerably smaller than some of the other cities on this list, Atlanta should not be overlooked – if it continues growing at the rate it has been, ten years from now there will be 100,000 Korean residents! If you live near Atlanta, spend some time in the Koreatown off of highway I-85 and order a traditional dish at Takorea or So Dong Kong Tofu House for a chance to practice Korean with native speakers!
6. Sydney, Australia
Considering its proximity to Asia, it should be no surprise that Sydney hosts a population of 150,000 Korean residents. Sydney is unique in that while there is a central Koreatown within the city’s limits, there is also a considerable number of Koreans who live and work in the suburbs immediately surrounding the city. If you live in Australia and want to increase your opportunities to practice Korean but don’t necessarily want to commit to city life, living in one of the suburbs around Sydney may be a good compromise for you. You’ll still increase your chances of interacting with native Korean speakers on a day to day basis who can help enrich your language practice, but you don’t have to deal with the hustle and bustle that comes with urban living.
Studying Korean in your home will get you far – especially in an age where it’s possible to easily converse with people on the other side of the globe through Skype and web forums, anybody can practice Korean from the comfort of their living room. However, as you get more deeply immersed in your journey to learn to speak Korean, you may feel the inclination to visit (or move to) one of the cities on this list to increase both your exposure to elements of Korean culture and your chances of socializing with native speakers who can help you on your way to fluency.
Experiencing the aspects of Korean culture that are only available when you’re visiting or living in an area densely populated with native Koreans is part of the thrill of learning the language – there are movie theaters playing movies in Korean, stores within which the clerk will address you in Korean, and restaurants in which you can order in Korean. These give great opportunities to practice reading Hangul, the Korean alphabet. If you can’t read Hangul yet you should definitely study it before visiting a Koreatown, it only takes about 90 minutes. Plan a trip and have fun with it!
Have you visited the Koreatowns located in any of the cities on this list? What about a city not on this list? Let us know in the comments below!
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