Dear Language Nerd,
I’m going to visit my friend in Korea for two weeks. I’ve never been to Korea before and I don’t speak any Korean. Can you give me the basic Korean I’ll need to get around?
From Maria D.
Hello Maria, here are some useful Korean phrases for you!
An-nyang ha-say-yo. Hello! Doing well? General polite greeting, often with a little head-bob bow. If someone says it to you, respond with “ne” or “ne, annyang haseyo.” Which brings us to…
Ne (or less often, ye). Yes. Also used like “mmhmm” or other conversation filler.
An-ni-yo. No. Most of the phrases I’m putting here will end in “yo,” because that’s a common politeness marker. If you’re worried you’re being rude, throw some “yo”s on the end!
Ju-se-yo. Please give me. Comes after whatever you want, as in “gimchi juseyo,” please give me gimchi.
Ee-got. This. Now you can buy things in restaurants and stores – point at what you want and say “ee-got juseyo!” Tada!
Han-ge, du-ge, seh-ge. One, two, three (for counting objects). Comes after the object you want. So if you’re there with two buddies, and all three of you want ramen, you say “ramyon sehge juseyo.”
Ha-go. And (for nouns). I’m focusing pretty heavily on restaurant talk here, because that’s where you’ll likely do most of your talking and where you’re most likely to talk to people who don’t speak English. If your two buddies want ramen, but you decide that you’re gonna get yourself some live octopus, then you can say “ramyon duge hago sannakji hange juseyo.” (And you really should go for the sannakji sometime. It’s an experience.)
Jaw-gi-yo! Come here please! What you say to call a waiter. Ok, enough restaurant talk, on to more general things!
Ji-geum he-yo? Are you available/are you open? Often taxi drivers will get out of their cars if they’re bored, or clerks will sit in the back of the shop watching TV, so you can say this to get their attention.
Al-ma-ye-yo? How much is it? Another good one for combining with “eegot,” as in “eegot almayeyo?” If you say this in Seoul, it’s 50/50 whether they’ll respond with the price in English or Korean. In smaller towns, they’ll definitely tell you in Korean. So I guess we better go over some more numbers….
Il, ee, sam, sa, oh, yook, chil, pal, goo, ship. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten! Larger numbers in Korean are actually very easy, you just say how many tens and how many ones, so 32 is “sam-ship ee,” three-ten two. One hundred in bek, one thousand is chawn, and ten thousand is man. You’ll need these because the basic unit of Korean money is one thousand won (about a dollar). So a common price for a bowl of delicious bibimbap might be “sam-chawn oh-bek won,” 3500 won. A fancier meal, like bulgogi, might cost you “ee-man pal-chawn won,” 28,000 won.
~eh ka-ju-se-yo. Please go to ~. “Ka” is go, and “eh” is to, and the word order is backwards from English. This is what you say to a taxi driver. So if you want to go to Gyeongbok Palace, you can say “Gyeongbokgung eh kajuseyo!”
Yaw-gi. Here. Now you can point at the Korean in your guidebook and say “Yawgi eh kajuseyo!” Or alternatively you can suddenly come upon the place you want to get to and start hollering “Yawgiyo!” to get the driver to stop.
Jwi-sawng ham-ni-da. Excuse me, sorry. What to say if you step on someone’s toes.
Gwen-chah-nah-yo. Okay. What to say if someone else apologizes for stepping on your toes. Also, you can use this as a question, as in “Are you okay?”
Shi-le-ji-man… Excuse me… What to say if you want to get someone’s attention and ask them something, like “shilejiman, eegot almayeyo?”
Yawng-aw-ru hal-su-ee-sum-ni-ka? Do you speak English? A long but important phrase!
An-nyang-ee ka-se-yo. An-nyang-ee ke-se-yo. Good-bye. This one’s a little odd. In Korean you use two good-byes, depending on what the other person is doing. “Ka” is go, remember, so “annyangee kaseyo” means good going! “Ke” is stay, and “annyangee keseyo” means good staying. So if I’m leaving work, but my boss has another meeting to go to, he says to me “annyangee kaseyo” and I say to him “annyangee keseyo.”
It’s worth noting that people don’t usually pronounce their greetings super carefully, like saying “mornin” for “good morning,” so you can get away with mumbling “annyannnmmmmseyo” for both the good-byes and hello, too. In fact, you’ll sound more fluent.
All righty, them’s the words! Let me know in the comments if you can think of another word or phrase that’s handy in Korea. Til next time!
The Language Nerd
P.S. Here are the numbers one more time, in more convenient form:
1 – il, hange
2 – ee, duge
3 – sam, sehge
4 – sa, nehge
5 – oh
6 – yook
7 – chil
8 – pal
9 – goo
10 – ship
100 – bek
1,000 – chan
10,000 – man
42,563 – sa-man ee-chawn oh-bek yook-ship sam
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