Survival Korean: Useful Phrases for New NETs

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Survival Korean: Useful Phrases for New NETs

So, it’s finally happening. You’ve got your contract in hand, your plane ticket purchased, and you’ve been practicing your polite bow in the mirror for weeks. You’re all set to leave familiarity behind and embrace life as a teacher in Korea.

Or almost, anyway. If I could give one piece of advice to new expats, it would be: learn some Korean before you get here. Not only will it impress your coworkers and win you a few points for cultural awareness, it will also make the transition between your old life and new infinitely easier.

The best way to begin learning Korean is to start with Korea’s written alphabet, known as Hangeul (한글). There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels, which can be used on their own or combined in a variety of ways to form digraphs. Memorize their shape and the sound that each letter or digraph makes. Learning to read Hangeul will make your Korean pronunciation much more accurate than if you simply try to sound out the romanized versions of Korean words. You can find helpful guides on how to begin learning Hangeul here and here. Information on the revised romanization of Hangeul can be found here.

That being said, this article is not meant to be a lesson on Hangeul, or really a proper foundation of any kind. This is all about survival Korean, those quick and dirty (in a grammatical sense) phrases that will help you navigate through your first few months with at least a modicum of grace.

Whether you’ve been cornered by a chatty ajumma on the bus or are attempting to order in a restaurant, combining these sentences with some wild gesturing should hopefully do the trick. And remember, even if things don’t turn out quite how you planned, it’s bound to make a great story later. Happy studying!

 

BASIC PHRASES

Your standard, run-of-the-mill expressions.


272774_1_1 안녕하세요. (an-nyeong-ha-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Hello.

 

Self-explanatory. Use with wild abandon!


272774_1_1 네. / 예. (ne / ye)

272774_1_4 Yes. / Okay. / I understand.

 

Use either of these words to confirm something, agree with someone, show that you’re listening carefully, or accept a task that’s been given to you. 예 (ye) has a slightly more formal feeling than 네 (ne), but 네 is more commonly used and perfectly acceptable in almost all settings.


272774_1_1 아니요. (a-ni-yo)

272774_1_4 No.

 

Another self-explanatory one. Infrequently written as 아니오 (a-ni-o).


 272774_1_1 안녕히 가세요. (an-nyeong-hi  ka-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Goodbye.*

 

One of two ways to say goodbye. This version is used when you are staying somewhere but the other person is leaving.


272774_1_1 안녕히 계세요. (an-nyeong-hi  kye-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Goodbye.*

 

The second of two ways to say goodbye. This version is used when you are leaving somewhere but the other person is staying.


272774_1_1 감사합니다. (kam-sa-ham-ni-da)

272774_1_4 Thank you.

 

A little politeness goes a long way! Make sure to incline your head while thanking someone for that extra dash of respect.


272774_1_1 만나서 반갑습니다. (man-na-seo  ban-gap-seum-ni-da)

272774_1_4 Nice to meet you.

 

Literally, “Because I met you, I’m glad.” Pulling this phrase out when you first meet your boss will win you major brownie points. If both words are a bit tricky to remember, you can also simply say 반갑습니다 (ban-gap-seum-ni-da) to achieve the same meaning.


272774_1_1 잠시만요. (jam-si-man-yo)

272774_1_4 Excuse me. / Just a moment.

 

Use this phrase when you need to get around someone who is blocking your way, or if you want to tell someone to hang on for a second.


272774_1_1 죄송합니다. / 미안해요. (joe-song-ham-ni-da / mi-an-hae-yo)

272774_1_4 I’m sorry.

 

Of the two phrases, 죄송합니다 (joe-song-ham-ni-da) is the more formal and should be used with strangers, those older than you, and your superiors at work. 미안해요 (mi-an-hae-yo) is a less formal option that could be used with acquaintances and coworkers, though it is still a bit too formal for close friends. Keep in mind that Koreans do not use these phrases to express condolences or sympathy (i.e. “I’m sorry to hear that”), so you should only roll out these expressions when you are at fault for something.


272774_1_1 괜찮아요. / 괜찮아요? (kwaen-chanh-a-yo)

272774_1_4 That’s okay. / I’m okay. / Are you okay?

 

When spoken with a falling intonation, this phrase has the meaning of “That’s okay” or “I’m okay.” With a rising intonation, it becomes the question “Are you okay?”


272774_1_1 이거 뭐예요? (i-geo  mwo-ye-yo)

272774_1_4 What is this?

 

Korea is likely a very different place from your home country. You might feel a bit like Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas when you first arrive (“What’s this? What’s this?”), but at least you’ll be able to express your bewilderment in the native language.


272774_1_1 저는 ______에서 왔어요. (jeo-neun  ______-e-seo  wass-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 I’m from ______.

 

If you visit Korea, people are bound to ask you where you’re from. Now you know how to tell them!


272774_1_1 저는 ______이에요. (jeo-neun ______-i-e-yo)

272774_1_4 I’m ______.

 

If you want to make friends while in Korea, you’ve got to know how to tell people your name. This phrase not only allows you to do that, but also to tell people other information (about your job, lifestyle, etc.).

 

Bonus Sentences:

272774_1_1 저는 영어 선생님이에요. (jeo-neun  yeong-eo  seon-saeng-nim-i-e-yo)

272774_1_4 I’m an English Teacher.

 

272774_1_1 저는 채식주의자예요. (jeo-neun  chae-sik-ju-ui-ja-ye-yo)

272774_1_4 I’m a vegetarian.


272774_1_1 한국말 잘 못 해요. (han-guk-mal  jal  mot  hae-yo)

272774_1_4 My Korean is not very good.

 

If you offer someone a casual 안녕하세요 (an-nyeong-ha-se-yo) they might get excited and start bombarding you with rapid Korean. Instead of staring at them like a deer caught in headlights, stem the verbal tide by meekly uttering this sentence.


 

GETTING AROUND

You’ve got places to be and things to see! Let’s not get lost, shall we?


272774_1_1 ______ 어디에요? (______  eo-di-e-yo)

272774_1_4 Where is (the) ______?

 

This simple question will prove invaluable when you’re trying to find your way around. Simply insert any place, person, or thing into the blank space and you’ll be able to ask where it is/they are.

 

Bonus Sentences:

272774_1_1 지하철 어디에요? (ji-ha-cheol  eo-di-e-yo)

272774_1_4 Where is the subway?

 

272774_1_1 버스 정류장 어디에요? (beo-seu  jeong-ryu-jang  eo-di-e-yo)

272774_1_4 Where is the bus station?

 

272774_1_1 화장실 어디에요? (hwa-jang-sil  eo-di-e-yo)

272774_1_4 Where is the bathroom?


272774_1_1 저는 길을 잃었어요. (jeo-neun  gil-eul  ilh-eoss-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 I’m lost.

 

It might be hard to admit, but sometimes you just have to come out and say it. Use this phrase to win the sympathy of passersby and hopefully convince someone to help you out!


272774_1_1 ______에 가 주세요. (______-e  ka  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please go to ______.

 

Use this sentence when taking a taxi to tell the driver where to go.


272774_1_1 주소 검색해도 돼요? (ju-so  keom-saek-hae-do  dwae-yo)

272774_1_4 Can you search for (my) address?

 

This question might seem a bit unnecessary to learn, but trust me, it’s incredibly helpful when taking a taxi in Korea. It’s much easier to have a cab driver punch your address into his GPS than for you to try telling him how to get there yourself.


272774_1_1 여기서 내릴게요. (yeo-gi-seo  nae-ril-ke-yo)

272774_1_4 I’ll get off here.

 

Another taxi-related phrase. Use this to tell the cab driver when you’re ready to get out.


272774_1_1 우회전 해 주세요. (u-hoe-jeon  hae  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please turn right.

 

272774_1_1 좌회전 해 주세요. (jwa-hoe-jeon  hae  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please turn left.

 

272774_1_1 직진 해 주세요. (jik-jin  hae  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please go straight.

 

Three expressions that will help you both give directions and understand them when they’re given to you.


 

SHOPPING

Korea’s big cities are a mecca for shoppers. These phrases should help you score some sweet deals!


272774_1_1 얼마예요? (eol-ma-ye-yo)

272774_1_4 How much is it?

 

Combined with some pointing, you can inquire about the price of any object.

 

Bonus Sentences:

272774_1_1 싸요! (ssa-yo)

272774_1_4 It’s cheap!

 

272774_1_1 비싸요! (bi-ssa-yo)

272774_1_4 It’s expensive!


272774_1_1 ______ 있어요? (______ iss-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 Is there/do you have (any) ______?

 

A simple sentence that will allow you to ask whether a seller has a certain item. This phrase is useful in almost any situation, not only when shopping.


272774_1_1 입어봐도 돼요? (ib-eo-bwa-do  dwae-yo)

272774_1_4 Can I try it on?

 

Use this sentence to ask a shop assistant if you can try on those pants you’ve been eyeballing. Be aware that many of the tiny boutique shops (such as those found in subway stations) have no dressing rooms.


272774_1_1 다른 색 있어요? (da-reun  saek  iss-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 Do you have it in a different colour?

 

That top is pretty cute, but beige looks horrible on you–you can use this sentence to ask if it comes in another colour.


272774_1_1 더 큰 사이즈 있어요? (deo  keun  sa-i-jeu  iss-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 Do you have a bigger size?

272774_1_1 더 작은 사이즈 있어요? (deo  jag-eun  sa-i-jeu  iss-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 Do you have a smaller size?

 

You might not use the latter sentence that often during your time in Korea, but odds are you’ll be pulling out the former more than once! Clothing and shoe sizes in Korea generally run smaller than what Westerners are used to, and many Korean shops stock clothing exclusively in “free size” (a.k.a. one size fits all).


272774_1_1      #    개 주세요. (     #    -ge  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Give me (# of items), please.

 

The Korean language has dozens of counting words that are each used with different kinds of things: 명 (myeong) for people, 마리 (ma-ri) for animals, etc. 개 (ge) is probably the most general counting word, and even if it’s not the right one for the object you’re indicating, a Korean should still be able to figure out what you’re trying to say if you use it. Ask to be given more than one of something with this sentence.

 

*개 is used with Native Korean numbers. See the section on “Counting & Numbers” for more information.


272774_1_1 카드 받으세요? (ka-deu  bad-eu-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Do you take cards?

 

There are lots of shops in Korea that only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to carry some around with you at all times. You can inquire if a store accepts bank or credit cards with the above sentence.


272774_1_1 영수증 주세요. (yeong-su-jeung  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please give me the receipt.

272774_1_1 봉투 주세요. (bong-tu  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please give me a bag.

 

Two phrases that occasionally come in handy at the end of a transaction.


 

DINING OUT

With kitchen space at a premium in your tiny Korean apartment, you’ll find yourself dining out more often than not. Use these phrases to ensure you end up with the food you wanted on your plate.


272774_1_1 저기요! (jeo-gi-yo)

272774_1_4 Excuse me! / Over here!

 

In most Western countries, it’s considered a bit rude to shout across the restaurant to call your waiter over, but in Korea it’s standard practice. Use this phrase, or the interchangeable 여기요 (yeo-gi-yo), when you’re ready to order, want the bill, or need to summon a server for some other reason.


272774_1_1      #    명이요. (     #    -myeong-i-yo)

272774_1_4     #     people.

 

Like 개 (ge), 명 (myeong) is another Korean counting word. It is used when talking about a number of people. When you enter a restaurant, the host or one of the servers will ask you how big your party is–use this phrase to tell them how many people will be dining. Keep in mind that 개 (ge) should never be used in place of 명 (myeong), as it essentially translates to “thing” and is therefore an extremely disrespectful way to refer to the people you’re numbering!

 

*명 is used with Native Korean numbers. See the section on “Counting & Numbers” for more information.


272774_1_1 ______ 주세요. (______ ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please give me ______. / I’d like ______.

 

You might recognize the ending 주세요 (ju-se-yo) from previous sections. When attached to another verb, it has the meaning of “please do for me,” but when on its own after a noun it simply means “please give me.” This is the polite way to order food or drinks.

 

Bonus Sentences:

272774_1_1 메뉴 주세요. (me-nyu  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please give me the menu.

 

272774_1_1 물 주세요. (mul  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please give me water.

 

272774_1_1 계산서 주세요. (kye-san-seo  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please give me the bill.

 

272774_1_1 비빔밥 주세요. (bi-bim-bap  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please give me bibimbap.


272774_1_1      #    인분이요. (     #    -in-bun-i-yo)

272774_1_4      #     serving(s), please.

 

인분 (in-bun) is a Korean counting word that translates roughly to “servings.” Although 개 (ge) can be used to describe objects in most situations and will still be understood even when incorrect, when ordering dishes (food, not drinks), 인분 (in-bun) is the better option to indicate how much you want to order. You can use this phrase to answer a waiter when asked how many servings of something you want.

 

*인분 is used with Sino-Korean numbers. See the section on “Counting & Numbers” for more information.


272774_1_1 ______ 못 먹어요. (______  mot  meog-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 I can’t eat ______. / I don’t eat ______.

 

If you have any kind of dietary restrictions or are simply a picky eater, you’re bound to encounter some dishes in Korea that you won’t be able to eat. This phrase will help you explain to your perplexed Korean coworkers why you’re only eating rice during the staff dinner.

 

Bonus Sentences:

272774_1_1 해산물 못 먹어요. (hae-san-mul  mot  meog-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 I don’t eat seafood.

 

272774_1_1 고기 못 먹어요. (ko-gi  mot  meog-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 I don’t eat meat.

 

272774_1_1 술 못 마셔요. (sul  mot  ma-syeo-yo)

272774_1_4 I don’t drink alcohol.


272774_1_1 ______ 빼 주세요. (______  bbae  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Take out the ______, please. / Without ______, please.

 

Another sentence for you picky eaters to remember. Use it to request that a dish be modified.


272774_1_1 매워요? (mae-wo-yo)

272774_1_4 Is it spicy?

 

This is an important question to memorize if you’re a wuss about spicy food like I am. It’s good practice to avoid anything with red sauce in Korea if you can’t handle the heat, as it’s likely got 고추장/gochujang (spicy red pepper paste) in it.


272774_1_1 포장할 수 있나요? (po-jang-hal  su  inn-na-yo)

272774_1_4 Do you do takeout?

272774_1_1 포장해 주세요. (po-jang-hae  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Make it to go, please.

 

Doggie bags are not ubiquitous in Korea, but generally restaurant chains or places that sell Western-style food will have no problem boxing up your leftovers or packaging your entire meal for takeout. And if you’re having trouble remembering 포장 (po-jang), saying 테이크 아웃 (te-i-keu  a-ut) in its place will often do the trick.


 

EMERGENCY

There is really nothing worse than being oceans away from home and feeling sick. Best to be prepared!


 272774_1_1 도와 주세요. (do-wa  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please help me.

 

A short sentence that you will hopefully not have to use, but is good to learn just in case.


272774_1_1 여기 아파요. (yeo-gi  a-pa-yo)

272774_1_4 It hurts here.

 

It would take a while to memorize the Korean names of all of the various body parts–I find that pointing to the affected area and using this phrase works just fine.


272774_1_1 병원에 데려가 주세요. (byeong-won-e  de-ryeo-ka  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please take me to the hospital.

 

If you’re really in trouble and can’t get there yourself, you might have to ask someone else to take you to the hospital.


272774_1_1 저는 ______에 알레르기 있어요. (jeo-neun  ______-e  al-le-leu-gi  iss-eo-yo)

272774_1_4 I’m allergic to ______.

 

If you have any serious allergies, it’s a good idea to know how to tell people that fact.


272774_1_1 119에 전화해 주세요. (119-e  jeon-hwa-hae  ju-se-yo)

272774_1_4 Please call 119.

 

119 is the emergency number in Korea. Use this phrase to ask someone to call for you.


 

COUNTING & NUMBERS

Numbers and methods of counting are some of the more frustrating bits of Korean to learn. The Korean language has 2 different number systems: Native Korean and Sino-Korean, which is derived from Classical Chinese. Different counting words (words that come after a number and correspond to the object being counted) use only one number system, and that system changes depending on which counting word is being used.

Essentially, it’s a whole lot of memorizing and guesswork until you become more fluent. As this is survival Korean, the following section will cover only numbers 1~10 in both systems, as well as some basic monetary vocabulary. Check out this page to learn more about counting in Korean.


Native Korean

272774_1_1 하나 (ha-na / 1)

272774_1_4 one

272774_1_1 둘 (dul / 2)

272774_1_4 two

272774_1_1 셋 (set / 3)

272774_1_4 three

272774_1_1 넷 (net / 4)

272774_1_4 four

272774_1_1 다섯 (da-seot / 5)

272774_1_4 five

272774_1_1 여섯 (yeo-seot / 6)

272774_1_4 six

272774_1_1 일곱 (il-gob / 7)

272774_1_4 seven

272774_1_1 여덟 (yeo-deolb / 8)

272774_1_4 eight

272774_1_1 아홉 (a-hob / 9)

272774_1_4 nine

272774_1_1 열 (yeol / 10)

272774_1_4 ten

 

Of the two systems, the native Korean numbers are a bit more difficult to memorize and pronounce. These numbers are used with the previously-mentioned counting words 개 (ge) and 명 (myeong), and are also typically used when talking about one’s age, the frequency or repetition of an action (as in, “I exercise three times a week”), the “hour” portion of the time, and when counting physical objects.


Sino-Korean

272774_1_1 일 (il / 1)

272774_1_4 one

272774_1_1 이 (i / 2)

272774_1_4 two

272774_1_1 삼 (sam / 3)

272774_1_4 three

272774_1_1 사 (sa / 4)

272774_1_4 four

272774_1_1 오 (o / 5)

272774_1_4 five

272774_1_1 육(yuk / 6)

272774_1_4 six

272774_1_1 칠 (chil / 7)

272774_1_4 seven

272774_1_1 팔 (pal / 8)

272774_1_4 eight

272774_1_1 구 (gu / 9)

272774_1_4 nine

272774_1_1 십 (sib / 10)

272774_1_4 ten

 

Sino-Korean numbers are used with the previously-mentioned counting word 인분 (in-bun). They are also typically used when talking about the date (day, month, year), the “minute” portion of the time, phone numbers or numbers in addresses, money, math, and when measuring something.


Money

Money is counted in Korean using the Sino-Korean number system, but can be a bit tricky to memorize due to 만 (man), which means “ten thousand.” When dealing with large sums of money, everything is counted from 만 (man) upwards: for example, where we would read ₩100,000 as “one hundred thousand won” in English, a Korean would say “십만원 (sib-man-won),” which translates literally to “ten ten thousands won.” Luckily, prices from ₩10,000 downwards are comparatively easy to understand, so digging out the change for those convenience store cup noodles shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge.

Below you’ll find some of the most frequently-used words when talking about money in Korean.


272774_1_1 원 (won)

272774_1_4 won /

 

원 (won) is the name of Korea’s currency. You’ll usually see it either written at the beginning of a price as a symbol (₩) or written at the end of a price in Hangeul.


272774_1_1 백 (baek)

272774_1_4 hundred

 

The Sino-Korean word for one hundred. It combines with numbers 2~9 to make 이백 (i-baek / 200), 삼백 (sam-baek / 300), 사백 (sa-baek / 400), etc.


272774_1_1 천 (cheon)

272774_1_4 thousand

 

The Sino-Korean word for one thousand. It combines with numbers 2~9 to make 이천 (i-cheon / 2,000), 삼천 (sam-cheon / 3,000), 사천 (sa-cheon / 4,000), etc.


272774_1_1 만 (man)

272774_1_4 ten thousand

 

The Sino-Korean word for ten thousand. It combines with the numbers 2 and up to form 이만 (i-man / 20,000), 삼만 (sam-man / 30,000), 사만 (sa-man / 40,000), etc.


 

OTHER RESOURCES

This brings us to the end of Survival Korean 101, but that doesn’t mean the learning has to stop here! Below is a list of helpful resources for self-studying the Korean language. And if studying alone isn’t your thing, there are plenty of Korean classes offered to foreigners in Korea’s major cities, ranging from free to university-tuition-level expensive. Simply google the name of your city and “Korean class” to see a variety of in-class options.

The main thing to keep in mind is that practice really does make perfect–speak Korean every chance you get, no matter how badly mangled your sentences are, and you’ll find yourself improving in no time. Koreans will appreciate the effort, and you will often be rewarded for it in unexpected and wonderful ways.

여러분, 화이팅!



Talk to Me in Korean

How to Study Korean

Kimchi Cloud

Korean Class 101

Dom & Hyo

Easy Korean

Lang-8

Memrise

Naver Webtoons


*Featured image courtesy of Freekpik

By | 2016-12-07T23:17:35+00:00 August 1st, 2016|Editorials, Featured Articles, Guides, Living Guides|2 Comments

About the Author:

Lindsay is a Canadian who lived and worked in Seoul for 3 years as a Native English Teacher. These days, she’s back in Canada working as a freelance writer and editor. She loves to travel, read, and cook. Her goal is to continue to work on her writing while exploring as many countries as possible. You can find Lindsay on LinkedIn or check out her website, That Girl Writes.

2 Comments

  1. Barb Baron February 19, 2016 at 3:50 am - Reply

    What a thorough and helpful publication. Congratulations Lindsay on learning so much in your time in Seoul, and generously passing it on to others.

  2. Josh February 20, 2016 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    I am going to spread out this writing with my American friends who eager to learn Korean Lindsay.
    Thank you for your awesome work. 🙂

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