10 Korean Phrases You Need To Know

If you find yourself in South Korea, you'll need to master a few Korean phrases to get by until you can get the hang of the language.

I spent 3 years in South Korea. When I first arrived, I didn't know a single work and couldn't read Hangul. I should have studied a little bit before leaving home.

Korean is actually a fairly straight-forward language. The variations on grammar are usually a result of the station in life of the speaker and receiver.

There are varying levels of formal speech that Koreans use depending on where someone fits in life. A child speaks to an adult with respect, and a CEO speaks to a laborer in a different style.

As an expat, you don't quite fit in to the Korean speech weirdness, so it's best to just keep things polite when you're speaking to anybody. That means adding "-yo" to the end verb of everything you say.

"Yo" is part of the polite form of speaking. Throughout the next 10 Korean phrases I'm going to teach you, I'll add -yo to the end of everything!

안녕하세요 - HELLO

The way to pronounce "Hello" in Korean is "An-yong-has-sey-yo"

This is the day-to-day greeting for anybody. When you enter a restaurant, they will bow and say "Anyonghasseyo". When you enter your class room, your students will say "Anyonghasseyo!"

It's polite, and good form, for you to say it back. Say it when you enter a store or get on the bus.

감사합니다 - Thank You

"Thank you" in Korean is pronounced "Kahm-sa-ha-mi-da"

You say the first two syllables quickly, together, and then the last three all very quickly at once. "Kahmsa-hamida" although most people just drop the middle syllable and what you'll usually hear is "Khamsaamida" with a stressed second syllable.

잠시만요 - Excuse Me

Your subway reaches your stop but you're blocked from the door by a hundred commuters. You're going to miss your stop!

Thankfully you read this article, and you say "Jam-si-man-yo" as you elbow your way to the door.

This phrase is very useful in a crowded city like Seoul. It actually means "Little time stop", making it the cutest and most practical Korean phrase on this list!

주세요 - Please give me

"Ju-say-yo" is a polite verb you add at the end of a request for an item. It literally means "give please".

If you are ordering a beer at a restaurant, you would say "Maek-ju ju-say-yo" (Beer give please). At least, that's when I used it the most.

어디예요 - Where is it?

If you step outside your apartment in Korea, you'll eventually need to know where something is. The streets in Korea aren't named so finding obscure places is difficult.

Pronounced "Oh-di-ye-yo?" it is preceded by the name of the place. For instance, you're looking for the local karaoke, called a "no-ray-bong" in Korea. You would ask "No-ray-bong oh-di-ye-yo?"

If you don't ever leave your apartment then you won't need this phrase.

얼마예요 - How much?

Eventually, you're going to end up in a funky Korean market, and if you want to avoid being swindled you'll need to know how to ask "how much?"

It's pronounced "Ol-ma-ye-yo?" and you say it as you point at the pile of knock-off faux-leather "Luis Vuitton" purses you have your eye on.

합니다- Sorry

Pronounced "Jo-song-ham-ni-da". It's very useful when you bump into someone accidentally, or when some "ajuma" starts yelling at you and you have no idea why.

이것- This

"Ii-go" is a very useful phrase when you're at a restaurant and there are pictures of food but you can't pronounce it. Simply say "Ii-go" and point frantically.

오른/왼- Right/Left

The average Korean has a hard time navigating their nameless streets, so you'll need to let your taxi driver know how to get to your apartment.

"O-lun" means "right" and "wen" means "left".

 있어요 - There is/Is there?

I've left the most useful phrase until the end so that by now you've got a good knack for speaking some simple Korean.

"Ee-so-yo" is almost as ubiquitous as "to be" in English. You can use it as a statement of fact. "Soju Ee-so-yo!" (There is soju!) or as a question "Soju Ee-so-yo?" (Is there soju?)

You'll use this a lot at supermarkets, restaurants and other places of business.

Now that you've got a good grasp of a few Korean phrases, you're in better shape than I was when I first landed in Korea. I didn't even know what kimchi was!

Practice the phrases and learn Hangul! Knowing Hangul (the Korean alphabet) will do wonders with helping your pronunciation.

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About Nate Drescher

Nate spent 10 years teaching overseas before returning home to Canada to start his own publishing business. In that time he taught in South Korea, Thailand, Russia, Ukraine and Poland!

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