August 05, 2014 08:29
Sun Hyun-woo launched the website Talk to Me in Korean in 2009 to teach Korean via various online formats such as YouTube videos, podcasts and e-books. His business has made big strides in no more than five years with some 8.7 million users from 199 countries around the world. Total downloads of his lessons have surpassed 50 million.
The 34-year-old first got inspiration for his business from exchanging letters with foreigners while at university.
"When I returned to school after a two-year absence to complete mandatory military service in 2004, I wanted to make foreign friends, so I introduced myself on foreign websites and asked for people to contact me if they wanted to chat with me," Sun said.
"I got quite a lot of responses and spent more than an hour every day replying to them. I wanted to tell them about Korean people and culture and tried to find reference materials in English, but to no avail. That struck me and I saw a business opportunity in teaching foreigners about Korean culture."
Sun started the business with two friends with a focus on language lessons because one has to master a language of a country to appreciate its culture better.
His first project was audio podcasts aimed at Americans. "Americans listen to the radio a lot, perhaps because they do a lot of driving," he said. "So we decided to produce podcasts that people can listen to easily. The relatively low cost of production was also appealing."
Just six months later, more than 5 million people had tuned in. "People were accessing the content from many countries. I received e-mails in French, German, Spanish and Italian, and worked to answer all of them," he said.
His programs have also grown in popularity in Southeast Asia thanks to the Korean Wave.
Sun said the key to his success was getting foreigners to study Korean as a hobby rather than a formal subject. "For most foreigners, learning Korean is not an essential part of their lives," he explained. "So we try to make it fun by dealing with many small chit-chat subjects."
Most of Sun's work is available at no cost with exceptions for e-books and some special services. Sun puts priority in his business not on making money but on spreading Korean culture.
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