Surviving Your Trip to Korea, Part 1: Language

Friends and family, or even strangers I meet on the internet or international trips often have questions about the codes and behaviors they should adhere to in Korea. I’m going to do a series of helpful (well, I hope so) posts about how to prepare for your trip to Korea. So get ready to fulfill all those New Year’s Resolutions to hit Seoul in 2015!

First off, here are a couple very useful words and phrases to help you get by– especially if you want to adventure into the less touristy parts– which you totally should of course. Since there are three different “standards” of romanizing hangul, I decided to write it phonetically as I have been taught to pronounce it by Seoulites, based less on translating letter by letter and more sound set by sound set. I would never purposefully steer you wrong…

“an-yong-ha-say-yo,” 안녕하세요 — this is a basic, polite style of greeting. If you’re speaking to a child, or someone you are intimate with, you can shorten it to “An-yong”

“gam-sam-ni-da,” 감사합니다 — a polite thank you

“Shi-lay-ham-ni-da,” 실례합니다 is a formal way of saying “excuse me”– always err on the side of formal when speaking Korean, that’s my motto.

“jo-gi-yo,” 저기요 — the kind of excuse me you use to get someone’s attention, it can also mean “over there”– “yo-gi-yo” 여기요 means “here.” Both can be used to summon waiters and other kinds of assistance. “Yo-gi-yo” is what you tell a taxi driver to signal that you’d like to be let out.

“odi ay yo” 어디에 — where? This is really useful if you’re trying to navigate. Simply say the name of the place you’re looking for and then this phrase, such as: “hotel odi ay yo?” Where is the hotel?

“ju say yo,” 주세요 — give me please, useful in pretty much any circumstance from ordering food to asking for help

“ego,” 이것 — this or it. When asking for something you don’t know the name of, pointing and saying “ego ju say yo” is probably your best option

“mool”, 물 — water

“hwa-jang-shil,” 화장실 — toilet, restroom

“yahk,” 약 — medicine, if you see a sign with that word in Korean, it is a pharmacy– most pharmacists speak some English and some over the counter medications have the same name in Korea

“yong-o,” 영어 — English. If you want to ask if there is English available, the simplest way would probably be to ask: “yong-o i-soy-yo?” Or just give a nervous smile/blank stare when they speak Korean, they’ll get the message.

“oel-ma-yo,” 얼마요– how much? This is important for shopping and haggling. Just make sure you learn your money numbers (yes, Korean has two sets of numbers and they tell time by doing minutes in one set and hours in another… gives me a headache).

I highly recommend downloading a Korean alphabet chart and learning it– I learned to read Korean by using an alphabet chart and a subway map. The written language is very easy to and fast to learn. It was actually designed to be so simple that everyone in the country could be literate. But… more about that in the post I’ll do on basic Korean history you need to know about.

Any other basic Korean questions you have for your upcoming trip to the peninsula? If it’s beyond my level, I can ask one of my Korean 언니들 (big sisters) for advice.

As far as language guides, the Lonely Planet Korean phrase book has a great variety of words and phrases. That book got me through my first couple months in Korea– I used to carry it in my bag with me.

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