Korea Times

Stars help Korean language learners through app

A Korean language app is gaining popularity through the help of South Korean Hallyu stars like f(x)’s Luna and Cha Eun-woo of Astro

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 November, 2016, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 November, 2016, 2:30pm

By Kim Ji-soo 

The app “Danbi” launched by Kim Hyun-sun, CEO of Do More, has top Korean pop stars and actors helping users to learn Korean, and may well have been something that many could have thought about.

But Kim followed through with the thought. Danbi, which roughly translates into welcoming rain, became available early last month.

“There are others that have put into fonts Korean stars’ writings. But my idea was to personalise it more, by carrying the stars’ penmanship, cursive writing on the app. I believed that because K-pop and K-stars lead the Korean wave, many would-be learners of the Korean language can learn it in a fun way,” said Kim Hyun-sun, 30.

Danbi was launched in early October, to teach basic Korean language through the handwriting of five top stars such as Luna of the girl band f(x), singer Irene of Red Velvet, Cha Eun-woo of Astro and actors Jin Goo and Han Ji-min.

Danbi offers steps on how to write the Korean vowels and consonants, the syllables, writing one to three letters, audio and visual learning and 100 core conversations. The application has since seen 4,718 visitors and 2,238 downloads in the past month, Kim said. The individual star package is priced at US$2.99. It is a modest start, but Kim has earnest hopes for it.

Kim had majored in business administration in college and worked at companies, but she didn’t adjust well to the hierarchical culture there, she said. She then ventured out to delve into the arts, learning painting and holding individual exhibitions.

It was when she won the top prize at a contest hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and other organisation in 2015 that she got earnest about founding her social venture. Sourcing mainly the 50 million won (US$43,879) prize money she earned, she outsourced to develop the application and launched it.

Kim said the idea hit her when she read about a similar programme carried out in Spain for the homeless, the “Homeless Font.” The project is turning homeless handwriting into typefaces, which other companies like brands or individuals can buy to use. She said she wrote to the Spanish organisation but did not receive any response for years. She believed that large-sized companies would take up the challenge, but they didn’t and she charged ahead with her idea anyway.

Kim was convinced also when she attended KCON, an annual Korean wave festival hosted by the conglomerate CJ Group overseas. Kim attended KCON held in Los Angeles in July. A mother and daughter visited her booth and showed interest in learning Korean through the application. It’s the early days still, but Kim is receiving emails from people such as Jasmine who professed to be a fan of Astro and its member Cha Eun-woo who are interested in using the app.

“I believe in the power of handwriting. Especially with this application, where the learner uses the star’s handwriting and through the app’s letter-writing can communicate with their favourite stars,” said Kim. “It is communicating through Korean characters and language.”

In the digital era, handwriting is however not down and out yet as people’s craving for nostalgia continues.

A native of the southwestern Jeolla provinces, Kim, 30, wears many hats. As a female entrepreneur who was able to bring top stars onto her application, rumours that she may not be the sole entrepreneur upset her initially.

“At first, I was upset, but then I changed my mindset and acknowledged that Danbi is the result of people in the entertainment industry having realised its potential and the stars donating their talent,” she said. She said that she was fortunate that people in the entertainment industry generally liked her idea and were receptive. “People in the industry were also around my age, and we clicked as we talked about the idea,” she said.

Kim found the stars are already donating their talents one way or another and they were enthusiastic about participating in Danbi. Any returns in the stars’ names are donated 100 per cent, after discounting the operational costs.

Kim is no novice to such projects. In summer this year, she launched a similar initiative through a crowdfunding project, where letters written by former Korean comfort women or military sex slaves drafted by the Japanese Imperial Army were scanned and then turned into digital fonts that could be used commercially. The returns are also donated to groups supporting the women.

Kim wants to further develop the idea behind Danbi in the future so that its contents could be used as teaching materials. The government-run King Sejong Institutes, located throughout the world, is interested in employing the application for its classes. Kim said that about 77 of their branches may start using Danbi early next year.

“Launching Danbi was like opening a movie for me. A movie has a protagonist, which in this case are the stars’ handwritings. Then the application is developed through outsourcing like sometimes when voices are dubbed and many have helped, like the numerous members of a movie staff, to make Danbi work,” Kim said.