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Speak Korean, the language of love

Foreigners in South Korea take language lessons for many reasons, among them to meet a mate.

Lee Soo-hyun, left, 16, and Cho Hye-won, 16, in Seoul, Nov. 15, 2009. (Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters)

SEOUL, South Korea — Language exchanges here are a tried and true way to learn Korean. But some young male expats are saying that’s not all they use them for.

“I’d say most people use it for dating, the Koreans and the foreigners definitely,” said Andrew Kim, a Korean-American English teacher in Seoul. “Most of the friends I know have all dated a girl from [a language exchange website]. I’d say pretty much 100 percent. I never met a guy who said I want to meet this girl just to learn Korean.”

For those with a predilection for the local women, Kim says language exchanges are the perfect way to play the field and meet “open-minded” females.

“I’m no Casanova, but I’ve had several one-night-stands from [language exchanges]," he said.

An American English-teacher recruiter here who asked to go by just “Lee” due to the sensitivity of the subject (many Korean men begrudge cross-national romance) described a similar experience.

He has engaged in five different language exchanges, and like Kim, they have all been with young, attractive Korean women, he said.

“It’s a good way to meet girls. I wasn’t too worried about learning Korean,” Lee said, adding that he doesn’t “even really know Hangul [the easy-to-learn Korean alphabet],” despite his year-long stay here.

The two Americans rank among more than 22,000 other foreigners who work in the English-teaching industry in South Korea. And with a language-hungry population that faces pricey school costs, these opportunists say there is no shortage of eager study partners — who may or may not have purely academic intentions.

Kim and Lee say they organize their steamy study sessions through various language exchange websites, such as, or On those sites, the two bachelors connect with girls who meet their dating standards. Usually, the websites have profiles, which, crucially to Kim and Lee, include a picture.

Many profiles state that in addition to language exchanges, the site members are looking for friendship or culture exchanges. Often, they convey a desire for casual conversational meetings, rather than structured academic lessons.

Some women’s profiles include a no-boyfriend clause, requesting female partners only or emphasizing their exclusively scholastic intentions.

A few of the sites even have an outright “interested in dating” option, blurring the lines between a dating and language-exchange website. The vast majority of the language exchange websites are free, though a couple have deluxe options you can pay for along with standard free membership.

As a testament to how well-recognized the dual purpose of language exchanges is in Korea, The EV Boyz, an expat boyband here, made a popular music video about the topic:

“I’ll be the subject to your predicate,” sings the song’s protagonist about the fictional Korean girlfriend named “A-E.”