For the past year, I have been learning the Korean language on my own. I started learning the Korean alphabet first called Hangul. I promise you, it is very easy to learn how to read and write their alphabet. But I am not going to do that here. I will teach you some basic phrases that will help you survive before traveling to South Korea.
Below are some words and phrases with some notes on how to use them.
Pleasantries or Greetings
- Hello or Goodbye / 안녕 하세요 (An-nyeong Ha-se-yo)
The most common greeting among many Koreans. This can be used to say Hello, Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening, and even Goodbye. This is the first phrase that you utter when greeting someone you just met, or when entering a store/establishment. This basically means “Peace be with you.”
- It’s nice to meet you / 만나서 반갑습니다 (Man-na-seo Ban-gap-sub-ni-da)
After exchanging pleasantries, of course we usually shake hands and tell each other that it was nice meeting them. In Korea, we bow and shake hands while uttering this phrase, Man-na-seo Ban-gap-sub-ni-da! You can also use 만나서 반가워요 (Man-na-seo Ban-ga-wo-yo).
- Thank you! / 감사합니다 (Kam-sa-hab-ni-da)
This is one of the phrases that everyone should learn in any language. We should always use this phrase when receiving anything from someone; food, gifts, compliments, or even when someone lets you go first in a queue. You can also use 고마워요 (Ko-ma-wo-yo).
- Yes / 네 (ne) | No / 아니요 (ah-ni-yo)
Knowing how to agree or disagree is also very useful in any language. I do know how to say them in Japanese and Chinese, too.
- Excuse Me or Just a moment / 잠시만요 (jam-shi-man-yo)
You use this phrase when you want to call someone’s attention. For example, “Excuse me, where is the toilet?” or when you want someone to wait for you when getting on the elevator, or you just want someone to wait for you.
- Please give me (something) / 주세요 (ju-se-yo)
You connect this phrase when you’re asking someone for something. This is gold. For example, you’re inside a restaurant and you want the ahjumma (auntie) to give you water (물 – mul), you say, “Ahjumma, please give me water.” In Korean, “Ahjumma, mul juseyo!” (아줌마, 물 주세요!)You basically connect this to anything you want to get. It also works when you don’t know what “something” is called, just point and say, “이것 주세요” (ee-goh ju-se-yo)
– Please give me ice cream! – 아이스크림 주세요 (Aysukurim juseyo!)
– Please give me money. – 돈 주세요 (Don juseyo!)
– Coffee please! – 커피 주세요 (Keopi juseyo!)
- Sorry / 죄송합니다 (joe-song-hab-ni-da)
You can also use another formal expression: 미안해요 (mi-an-hae-yo)
Getting Around Town
- Where is…? / 어디예요 (eo-di-ye-yo)
When you to find a person, a place, a thing, then this word is for you. You attach this at the end of the sentence.
– Where is the toilet? – 화장실 어디예요? (hwa-jang-shil eo-di-ye-yo)
– Where’s mom? – 엄마는 어디예요? (eom-ma-neun eo-di-ye-yo)
– Where is the hotel? – 호텔 어디예요? (ho-tel eo-di-ye-yo)
- How much is this? / 이것 얼마예요 (ee-geo eol-ma-ye-yo)
Ask for the price first before trying on stuff when you want to buy clothing or shoes.
- Is there…? or Do you have…? / …있어요 (iss-eoyo)
When you’re looking for something specific, just connect this after the “thing”.
– Do you have kimchi? – 김치 있어요? (kim-chee iss-eoyo)
– Do you have fork? – 포크 있어요? (po-keu iss-eoyo)
Other Useful Phrases
- Can you take my/our picture? / 사진 찍어 주세요 (sa-jin chi-ko ju-se-yo)
Did you forget your tripod and need an assistance from a Korean to take that photo to make a memory? Well, this phrase is something that you should remember! At Nami Island, some locals even asked me to take their pictures.
- Make it cheaper, please? / 싸게 해주세요 (ssa-ge-hae ju-se-yo)
There’s a more famous line that foreigners use to get a discount when they’re buying things and haggling – 깍아 주세요 (kka-ka ju-se-yo), but sometimes, it can be found as rude. Instead of using that phrase, let’s use “싸게 해주세요” (ssa-ge-hae ju-se-yo) – it sounds more polite.
- Can you speak English? / 영어를 말할 수 있어요? (yeong-eoleul malhal su iss-eoyo?)
If you simply want to find someone who can speak in English, then use this magic phrase!
- I can’t speak Korean well. / 한국 말 잘 멋해요 (han-guk mal jal mot-hae-yo)
Sometimes, Koreans start talking to you in fast Korean. Saying this phrase helped me a lot during my travels. They would smile kindly, and speak slowly.
I hope this post helps you when you visit South Korea!