Perhaps for the first time, reality show “My English Puberty” follows Korean celebrities as they struggle to learn English.
The new tvN program features six entertainers who find English daunting. For eight weeks, Girls’ Generation’s Hyoyeon, balladeer Wheesung, actresses Jung Si-ah and Hwang Shin-hye, comedian Ji Sang-ryul and model Han Hyun-min take on the challenge of furthering their English skills.
The show, which kicked off Monday at 8:10 p.m. on tvN, began by testing the English levels of each cast member. Han confessed to his poor command of the language.
“‘No?’ I mean, ‘on,’” he said, trying to read the two-letter word. “I only speak Korean. But I’m young, so I think I’ll be able to learn quickly.”
The 17-year-old Han, who was selected by Time magazine as one of 30 most influential teens of 2017 last month, has spent his entire life in Korea.
“Nobody speaks to me in Korean when they first come up to me,” Han, who is Nigerian-Korean, said at a press conference for the program in Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, Monday. “That’s why I felt the need to study English.”
The other cast members also expressed difficulty with the language.
On Monday’s episode, singer Wheesung, when searching for the lyrics to the “La La Land” song “City of Stars,” spelled “city” as “sity.”
Girls’ Generation’s Hyoyeon, when placed in a room to interact with foreigners in English, could only utter short phrases such as “Sorry?”
Hyoyeon says that though she has many friends who are fluent in English, she herself struggles with the language. “For me, the anxiety of speaking English is worse than seasickness,” she said at the press conference.
“I think I studied harder during this show than I did when I was at school,” the girl group singer added.
“It was hard for me to begin studying at this age,” said veteran actress Hwang, 54. “But it was a joy to study alongside younger friends. It was a happy experience and I learned a lot.”
Hwang said she had faced difficulties in the past while traveling abroad due to language barriers. “It was a shame when I met handsome men,” she joked. “I always told myself I would learn English someday, but that resolution always faded.”
According to producer Park Hyun-woo, he cast stars who seemed “desperate” to learn English. “There were difficulties in arranging the schedules for English lessons. Wheesung was very busy with concerts, but he never missed a lesson.”
Producer Park said his own efforts to learn English led to the show’s conception. “I saw a lot of people around me who found English difficult. (Koreans) are traveling a lot these days and a lot of foreigners are coming to Korea. I think it’s necessary for us to speak some amount of English.”
The show hopes to provide viewers tips for learning English and show the cast’s progress with each episode.