Korean 101: Basic Phrases

Do I Need Korean?

Korean is a unique language that plays a big part in Korean culture. While knowing Korean isn’t required to teach for ChungDahm, as all the classes are taught in English, any current teacher would tell you to learn the Korean alphabet and some of the key Korean phrases prior to your arrival.  Knowing how to read the language and say key phrases will help you immensely with things like directions or reading a menu.  In this blog I will introduce you to 10 Korean phrases that you should try to learn prior to arriving to Korea to help you during your first days abroad. 

In my first two years teaching in Korea,  I attended evening Korean classes at the University which helped me read and write more fluently. As a language Korean is one of the easiest to learn once you understand the basic grammar structuring of sentences.


Good-to-know Phrases!

Since I spent my first years in Korea living and teaching in the countryside, knowing Korean was definitely beneficial as there are a lot fewer people who speak and understand English in the countryside compared to those living in one of the major cities. Also, knowing how to speak Korean increases your chances of making Korean friends.  Meeting Korean friends is definitely beneficial as usually they will want to learn from you to help improve their English skills and in return they will be more than happy to help with your Korean speaking skills. Other reasons why you should try to learn Korean is that you have to speak it at the grocery store, in the post office and at the bank.

Below are the most used Korean Phrases you should learn before coming to Korea. Knowing these phrases will make everyday life easier and can often be used to do things and get around.  Also, make sure to notice that some of the phrases vary depending on if you are in a formal or informal setting.

Hello/ Goodbye – 안녕하세여/안녕히 가세요

Saying hello and goodbye in Korean is probably the phrases you will use the most. When you walk in and out of your job it is important to bow while saying loudly 안녕하세여/안녕히 가세요. 

Hello,  안녕하세요, is pronounced An-neong-ha-se-yo, and is used in everyday greetings. However,  when answering the phone,  Koreans say 여보세요, pronounced Yo-bo-se-yo. This is commonly used and you will use it often when speaking on the phone.

Goodbye, 안영히 가세요, pronounced An-neong-hi-ga-se-yo, is used when you are leaving. When you are the person staying, you say 안녕히 계세요, pronounced An-neong-hi-gye-se-yo .

Nice to meet you – 반갑습니다

In Korea It is formally polite to say ‘nice to meet you’ when meeting someone for the first time. You would say it before saying  goodbye and you could bow as you say it. Nice to meet you, 반갑습니다, is pronounced Ban-gab-sub-ni-da.

In a more informal setting you can say 반가와요, pronounced Ban-ga-wa-yo. An informal situation would be friends or a person who is younger.


Excuse me/I’m Sorry –  잠시만요/ 최성합니다

Saying ‘excuse me’ in Korea could really help make your life easier. Koreans are notorious for pushing past you or not moving out the way. In an overpopulated metropolis like Seoul you will need to be able to say 잠시만요, pronounce Jum-si-man-yo, when getting past people on the subway or bus. You can also use 최성합니다 pronounced Chwe-song-hab-ni-da, to more politely say excuse me, as you walk by.

However, 최성합니다 pronounced Chwe-song-hab-ni-da, can also be used to say ‘I’m Sorry’. For instance,  if you bump into someone accidently or forgot to do something you can say 최성합니다.

Excuse me (attention) – 저기요

When going to a place that offers some kind of service it is customary to say loudly 저기요, pronounced Jo-gi-yo. Such a place could be a restaurant, café or a coffee shop. You can also use the expression at the train station, convenience store and a clothing shop.

When eating out in Korea it is common to use the phrase 저기요 to get attention. Usually, Koreans will not serve you otherwise. The customary way to act in a Korean restaurant is to shout out loudly, Jo-gi-yo, and a waiter will immediately come and to your table. It is not considered rude, and unless you want to go hungry you better start practicing how to say 저기요 loudly. 

How much is it – 이곳 얼마예요

You will be surprised how often you have to ask someone how much something is while you are living and teaching in Korea. It will be used in cabs, shopping and eating out. If you go shopping in the market or underground you would need to use this expression often.

이곳, pronounced ee-got, means ‘this thing’. 얼마예요 pronounced Ol-ma-ye-yo, means ‘How much’. You can use 얼마예요 on its own when asking for the price of something, but if you would like to be more specific you can say ‘이곳 얼마예요?’, ee-got Ol-ma-ye-yo, meaning how much is this thing?

If you study more Korean, you can replace 이곳 with nouns like bag or apple. For example: 사과는 얼마예요? How much is this apple? 가방은 얼마예요? How much is this bag?

주세요, pronounced Chu-se-yo, means Can I have… more than it means please. However, it is considered polite to say it formally. You use 주세요 after whatever the item or thing that you want.

For example,  주세요, pronounced mul chu-se-yo, means  ‘Can I have water please’. 젓가락 주세요, pronounced chot-ga-rak chu-se-yo, ‘Can I have chopsticks please.’

Do you have.. 있어요

When going to the convenience or grocery store it is really helpful to know the phrase 있어요, pronounced is-so-yo, meaning Do you have..?

It happens often that you will be sitting in a restaurant and you want salt or wondering if they sell Diet coke. You would use this phrase to ask whether or not it is available.

For example, 설탕 있어요?,  pronounced Sol-tang is-so-yo,  means ‘Do you have sugar?’

Other Useful Phrases are:

  • Where is it? 어디예요? pronounced o-di-ye-yo.
  • That’s okay 괜찮아요 pronounced gwen-chan-a-yo
  • Going to.. 가요 pronounced ga-yo For example,  은행 가요, means ‘Going to the bank’
  • Go left 왼쪽 pronounced wen-cheok
  • Go right 오른쪽 pronounced o-ren-cheok
  • Go straight 직진 pronounced chik-cheen

Tijana Huysamen is a South African born Capetownian, avid traveler and travel journalist, fell in love with South Korea and its people. After Tijana arrived in South Korea in 2010, she had the opportunity to live in the heart of the Korean countryside. During her time spent in Chungnam province she learned to speak Korean, prepare Korean food and experience the humble nature of the countryside people.  After a year break in New York, Tijana jumped at the opportunity to return to Korea again, and is currently working at the CDI Jamsil Branch, in Jamsil, Seoul. Read Tijana’s Aclipse blog to gain a unique perspective on Korea and her shared experiences and adventures both in a major city and in the countryside. Follow Tijana on Twitter @TeeAnni or email tijanahuysamen120@hotmail.com to request more information on teaching in Korea!