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A Complete Guide to Korean Karaoke: Noraebang Culture and Learning with Kpop

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

Are you a big fan of Kpop and want to dive into the world of Korean karaoke, or noraebang? Looking to spice up your Korean language learning with some new immersive study strategies?

That’s exactly what this article is all about. Here at Fluent in 3 Months, we’re all about finding new, fun ways to learn and speak a language from day one. Especially when they include immersive native resources.

And what’s more fun than singing your way to Korean fluency?

Learning Korean with Karaoke

You may be wondering, how can you learn Korean with music?

Just ask any BTS fan – music is a great way to learn and practice the language. If music is your thing, then it’ll be a valuable resource for your Korean studies.

That said, you’ll need other awesome Korean resources to help you learn the basics. I’ve linked to some of our own articles to help you at the end of this one.

But for now, let’s talk about noraebang. What is it, the Korean culture and etiquette behind it, some popular Korean songs to practice with, and the best ways to use Kpop to learn.

What is Noraebang?

So… What is Korean karaoke called? After all, karaoke is a Japanese word that’s been adapted into English as well. Karaoke in Korean is noraebang, 노래방.

노래방, noraebang, is a compound word in Korean. It’s made from 노래, norae, which means “song”, and 방, bang, which means room. It’s essentially the Korean karaoke bar or karaoke box rooms like from Japan.

That said, is karaoke a thing in Korea?

Yes! Noraebang has typically been a staple after-work or after-school way to burn off steam and destress, even if you can’t sing. The rooms are soundproof, and you usually sing with only people you know.

In fact, it’s long been a part of office culture. The term 회식, hoesik, means “dining together” but refers to office outings. This is where a boss usually takes the employees out for drinks, food, or fun after work.

While hoesik and noraebang have seen a decline in the past few years, it’s definitely still a part of Korean culture and entertainment.

Understanding Hoesik Culture in Korea

If you find yourself participating in hoesik for the first time, it may come as quite a surprise. Especially if you’re not used to socializing with your co-workers and superiors.

Hoesik is meant to be a work outing where the typically strict hierarchy of Korean society and work are more lax. This allows everyone to get to know each other better, bond, relax, and ease any office tension.

Sometimes, hoesik is the only time when co-workers can speak freely to one another… because there’s a lot of food and alcohol involved.

You may be thinking, drinking with your boss? Yep, and it’s not just a little either.

Hoesik are notorious for being heavy on the alcohol and pressure to drink. Unless you have a legit medical excuse, it’s hard to get out of it. And hoesik are more-or-less mandatory, although this is changing.

These social outings after work usually happen around once a month.

That said, a new anti-grifting law in 2016 (as well as the global pandemic since) has changed how hoesik function and how often.

Because the most senior person (usually the boss) was traditionally expected to pay the entire bill, the new law prohibits that.

Tips for Your First Noraebang and Hoesik Outing

Since noraebang are often a part of these outings, what should you know?

First, even though it’s a more lax environment, it’s still important to know the hierarchy of the situation. Make sure you ask someone’s age – this is very important.

If someone is older than you, even by a year, they are higher in the hierarchy. Same with company position. So wait for them to break down the barriers first, and follow their lead.

When drinking, often the most senior person will pour for others, and an empty glass is considered rude. Don’t drink yours until someone (or yourself) has poured a drink for the most senior person too!

When you pour a drink or have yours refilled, it’s polite to hold it with both hands. And when you drink, you should turn your head or body away from your seniors.

If you’re done drinking, just leave your glass with liquor in it or discreetly get rid of it. (Yes, wasteful, I know – it’s just how it is.) Alcohol is so tied to relationships and getting to know one another, refusing it is like saying you don’t want to bond with the other person.

Again, this is changing, especially among younger generations, but be prepared nonetheless!

Korean Noraebang Etiquette

Okay, we’ve talked about the hoesik and drinking culture tied to noraebang. So now let’s talk about the etiquette and what to expect from Korean karaoke.

Noraebang are usually rented by the hour, with fancier spots being more expensive than others. Some have food and drink service.

Inside the karaoke room, you’ll find the Korean karaoke machine with two microphones, a remote for the TV screen with the song lyrics, and a songbook. Some rooms may also have a tambourine, costumes, or other things to add to your performance.

Often, there will be a variety of music choices from all genres and several languages, including English, Japanese, and Chinese.

The biggest thing to know is this: Don’t sing someone else’s chosen song, and don’t jump into someone’s song unless asked.

Regardless of your ability to sing (or lack thereof), you’ll be asked to take part. It’s a good idea to have a few songs ready in case you are asked to sing more than once.

No one much minds a bad singer at noraebang – it’s just considered a fun stress-reliever. So don’t worry too much!

And regardless of talent, it’s polite to cheer and clap for the singer when they’re finished.

Besides being popular in Seoul (especially in crowded areas and around universities, like Hongdae and Sinchon), you’ll find noraebang spreading in popularity around the world.

For instance, there’s Korean karaoke all over the USA now from San Jose to NYC. Even smaller cities like my hometown of Louisville, KY, has a noraebang called NoraeBar.

And yes, it is different from a Japanese karaoke bar!

One last question you may have: What is a karaoke helper in Korea? Well, they’re called doumi, and they’re women who are hired to drink and hang out with men at noraebang. They’re similar to hostesses in Japan’s hostess clubs.

It’s illegal in Korea to hire a doumi, but it still happens. So it’s just something to be aware of.

So, you might be wondering, “Well… What should I sing at Korean karaoke?” So here are some ideas of popular Korean noraebang songs.

The songs everyone in Korea (and any Kpop fan) knows:

  • “No Matter What” by Park Sang Cheol
  • “For You” by Im Jae Bum
  • “Fantastic Baby” by BIG BANG
  • “Stay With Me” by Chanyeol
  • “Gangnam Style” by Psy
  • “Ddu-du Ddu-du” by Blackpink
  • “Likey” by TWICE
  • “Celebrity” by IU
  • “Monster” by EXO
  • “Sorry Sorry” by Super Junior
  • “I am the best” by 2NE1
  • “Wild” by 9muses
  • “Lipstick” by Orange Caramel
  • “Wonder Girls” by Nobody
  • “Abracadabra” by Brown Eyed Girls
  • “Heartbeat” by 2PM
  • “Arirang”, a traditional Korean folk song

Some popular Korean karaoke songs you can sing mostly (or all) in English:

  • “Butter” by BTS
  • “On the Ground” by Rosé from Blackpink
  • “The Boys” by Girls’ Generation
  • “Can’t Nobody” by 2NE1
  • “Eat You Up” by BoA
  • “Lullaby” by GOT7
  • “Highway to Heaven” by NCT 127
  • “Lifted” by CL
  • “This Love” by G-Dragon
  • “Zombie” by DAY6

Pretty much if you pick anything by the insanely popular artists like BTS, Big Bang, Blackpink, Girls’ Generation, EXO, IU, G-Dragon… You’ll be a hit!

You can check out this article about Korean music to get more ideas for songs from every genre.

How to Learn Korean with Kpop

Okay, but what’s the best way to learn Korean with Kpop and karaoke? Here are some tips to get you started.

Look Up Relevant Vocab

When you’re headed out to the noraebang, it’s probably a good idea to learn some relevant music words, as well as time- and money-related words. (Check out this article to learn how to count in Korean for more on this.)

Things like:

  • mic: 마이크, maikeu
  • melody: 멜로디, mellodi
  • lyrics: 가사 / 노랫말, gasa / noraetmal
  • singer: 가수, gasu
  • selection: 선택, seontaek
  • tempo: 템포, tempo
  • music: 음악, eumak
  • K-pop: 케이팝, keipab
  • beat: 박자 / 비트, bakja / biteu
  • volume: 볼륨, bollyum
  • to listen/hear: 듣다, deudda
  • to sing: 노래하다 / 부르다, noraehada / bureuda

Use Lyrics and Translations

You can often find K-Pop songs with both the original Korean lyrics and English translation side-by-side, which can be helpful starting out.

Try reading through the Korean lyrics first, understanding what you can on your own. (You’ll want to learn Korean hangul first though if you don’t already know it.)

Then, go back and read through line-by-line.

If there are words or grammar you don’t understand or want to remember, add them to your Korean flashcard deck for later review.

Then, listen to the song… a lot. Listen while reading the lyrics and start connecting the sounds to the words.

Start Singing with the Chorus!

The chorus of a song is the easiest part to remember in any language because it repeats the most. So start there!

Practice singing along with the chorus over and over. It’ll be motivating to feel like you’ve already learned a good chunk of the song.

Speak Along

Taking song to spoken language can be tricky. But speaking the lyrics can help you get used to speaking Korean naturally and understanding it.

Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the song and singing by memory without thinking about what we’re singing. So speaking the lyrics helps put it into more active practice that can be useful in other situations.

Learn How to Summarize

Summarizing is a great skill to have and a challenging practice that forces you to use your own words from active memory.

So practice speaking and writing a summary of what a song is about in your own words. This is also a great way to practice new grammar patterns and words you learned!

Sing Your Heart Out!

Now that you know all about Korean karaoke – noraebang – you should get your groove on and sing your heart out! After all, it’s a great stress-reliever and way to practice Korean.

So what will you learn next to further your Korean language skills? Here are some other great articles to read next:

author headshot

Caitlin Sacasas

Content Writer, Fluent in 3 Months

Caitlin is a copywriter, content strategist, and language learner. Besides languages, her passions are fitness, books, and Star Wars. Connect with her: Twitter | LinkedIn

Speaks: English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish

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