One of the best parts of traveling to South Korea for school, business, or pleasure is that you are not required to speak Korean. In fact, it is quite easy to get by in South Korea with a limited vocabulary.
Many Koreans speak English quite well. In fact, many foreigners living in South Korea are there teaching English. English to Koreans is like Spanish to Americans. More and more people are learning English. However, it is always nice to pick up another language. Here are few basic words and phrases you might find come in handy during your trip to Korea.
Image credited to Joaquin Uy
- Annyeonghaseyo (ON-young-HA-say-yo).
- Korean Script: 안녕하세요.
- Translation: Hello!
This is the formal way to say hello. If you are among friends, however, it is common to say “Annyeong” (ON-young). If you are speaking to someone older than you, you must use “Annyeonghaseyo.”
2. Thank you!
- Gamsahabnida (COM-sah-mi-DUH).
- Korean Script: 감사합니다.
- Translation: Thank you very much!
You can simply say “Gamsahabnida,” but to show respect, you have to emphasize the middle and end of the word. So when saying it, you have to say gamsaaaaaahabnidaaaaa. You may think you are sounding condescending, but in all reality, you are better expressing your gratitude.
3. Give me water.
- Mul jooseyo (MÜL jü-SAY-YO) ( ______ jooseyo).
- Korean Script: 물주세요.
- Translation: Give me water (Give me _________).
You may find this disrespectful to say to waiters or people working in retail, as you probably feel like you are demanding from them without saying “please.” “Please” is rarely used in Korean day-to-day life, so it is not a big deal to demand something just so long as you say “Gamsahabnida” after!
4. How much for this?
- Olmahyeyo (OL-MA-ye-YO).
- Korean Script: 얼마예요.
- Translation: How much for this?
This phrase can be counterproductive, because if you ask how much for something, they will tell you in Korean. It’s a smart idea, though, to ask how much and carry around a calculator with you. This way they can type the price into it for you. Also, it’s not a bad idea to learn a few basic numbers for these situations.
5. Excuse me (formal).
- Sillyehabnida (she-LAY-ah-me-DUH).
- Korean Script: 실례합니다.
- Translation: Excuse me (formal).
South Korea is a crowded place. So when you’re trying to navigate through the mess of people, saying this will hopefully give you some wiggle room to get by.
6. Where is the bathroom?
- Eodi e hwojangsil? (oh-dee e ha-WONG-SHE).
- Koran Script: 어디 에 훠장실.
- Translation: Where is the bathrom?
It’s pretty self explanatory as to why this is a must-know phrase. However, sometimes, just saying “toilet” will do the trick.
Other Helpful Tips
- Take the time to learn the name of your school, hotel, or business associates and learn how to pronounce them in Korean. This will be the best way to purchase tickets at the bus station and communicate to taxi drivers. Also, if you have a business card with the address on it, that will help you get around, too.
- If you are in a restaurant and require service, you will use a less formal version of “Excuse me,” rather than the formal “Sillyehabnida.” Instead, shout “Yeogio!” (YO-ge-YO) at the wait staff. They don’t come to you to “check in” like wait staff does in the States. They either have buttons on the table you hit to call them, and if they don’t, you shout this phrase.
Throughout your trip, you’ll pick up many more words and phrases. Regardless of how limited your vocabulary may be it is still relatively easy to get around and communicate with those around you.