Among the wealth of websites and other online resources for learning Korean, Talk To Me In Korean is steadily carving out a niche.
Sun Hyun-woo set up TTMIK with two co-workers in 2009 to teach people around the world how to speak Korean.
“Today, there are eight full-time workers in the office and we have made huge progress since then, especially since the Korean Wave started (booming) around 2010.”
|Talk To Me In Korean founder Sun Hyun-woo (right) and colleague An Hyo-jin pose with the company’s Korean textbooks. (TTMIK)|
According to Sun, more than 1.5 million people are learning Korean with the help of TTMIK, measured in terms of people who have visited the website more than 200 times.
Sun said that TTMIK was working toward opening a coffee shop in Hongdae with Simon and Martina from K-pop site Eat Your Kimchi.
Sun says it will not only be a place where good coffee and food is served, but a meeting spot for like-minded people. The staff of the cafe will be bilingual, allowing visitors to approach them both in Korean and in English.
Tourists and new expats will get insider information about what to do in Seoul, while friends of TTMIK will be able to engage in live Korean lessons and meet up with the creators of the site.
“A lot of visitors just go on Facebook to check on information and plan their trip ... They spend too much time indoors and don’t experience an authentic Korean lifestyle. We want them to step out of that and provide them with everything they need at our coffee shop,” Sun said.
The exact location of the coffee shop will be announced in the next few weeks.
TTMIK delivers tools to get people interested in learning Korean, including podcasts, YouTube videos and PDFs to look through during the audio lessons.
To deepen users’ proficiency, the team has published a dozen books to date, teaching basic grammar, essential verbs and idiomatic expressions. A variety of e-books are also available.
TTMIK posts daily in social platforms, and videos from their own studio are uploaded at least once a week.
“We try to reach people either through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram or email, so our followers don’t have to change their habits and can use TTMIK in their own most comfortable way,” said Sun.
Most of the interest comes from people in the U.S. who hope to one day visit Korea or work here.
“It is a great feeling when you receive appreciation for doing the things you love,” Sun said.
“People we don’t know just talk to us while we walk the street and ask us to take pictures with them. Some people even refer to us as ‘teacher,’ which is a huge honor.”
TTMIK is Sun’s first business, but he gained useful experience from other projects in the past.
“I had … a lot of experience with the online community during my years in college. I had a personal blog with over 12,000 followers and quickly learned how to deal with organizational tasks. All that influenced Talk To Me In Korean, in what it is today. But the listeners’ feedback also reshaped my original idea which would have been totally different from what came out.”
Sun can speak English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese.
“I always liked to encourage people to learn languages and I’m very happy to do that for the language I know perfectly,” he said. “I wanted to find a way to combine entertainment with studying and the result was Talk To Me In Korean.”
“I help people to learn Korean but I’m also benefitting from them, for now I have friends all over the world and I can contact them for a meeting,” he added.
The company consists of TTMIK, Harukorean and TalkToMeInEnglish. Harukorean is a platform of native Korean-speakers answering questions from Korean-learners and making corrections of sent texts, while TTMIE is a platform for Koreans who want to learn English.
Sun also founded Languagecast, a meeting place to study Korean with others in a casual surrounding. He and his team attend the meetings regularly.
His message to everyone interested in learning Korean: “Learning new languages has helped me broaden my life much more than anything I ever knew, and you can do it, too. Our team is working very hard to make it as easy and comfortable for you as possible.”
The podcasts, online PDFs and videos are all free. Access to the Harukorean correction service is $49 a month. The published books are available in any major bookstore and the prices range from $13-$28.
For more information on TTMIK or the opening of the coffee shop, visit talktomeinkorean.coms.
By Bileg Tsedensodnom, Intern reporter