South Korea

My Top 10 Korean Words 

When living in South Korea, I was able to pick up some key words and phrases in Korean. To clarify, I was in no way fluent but I could get by relatively comfortably from knowing what I knew.

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Mr Ocean teaching us how to write our names in Hangul at the EPIK orientation in 2015.

First thing to know is that the Korean alphabet is called Hangul. This alphabet is learnable in 15 minutes and can be done by using online resources. This is the website I used. I would recommend learning the alphabet as soon as possible because it really helped me with reading signs and restaurant menus. Over my two years in Korea, I came to really appreciate being able to communicate basically with people. The words I have listed below might not be the most conventional words to learn first in a new language, but they were my FAVORITE!  These are my top 10 Korean words to know.

  1. Annyeonghaseyo (안녕하세요) Hello   Learning the basics in any language is always helpful to show respect towards the local people. Koreans loved to see foreigners making an effort to communicate with them.
  2. Gumsahapnida (감사합니다) Thank you   No explanation needed…
  3. Goenbae (건배) Cheers   Always a good word to know when travelling. This word usually symbolized the start of an awesome night ahead. In Korean drinking culture, one should cheers every time taking a sip. For the first cheers goenbae is used, and for subsequent cheers you can use the word jan (짠).
    Beer beer and more beer. I never used to drink beer before moving to Korea, but because this is one of the most consumed alcohols in Korea I drank a lot of it. I quickly fell in love with Korean beers due to their light taste.
  4. Jusaeyo (주세요) Give me   This word might sound harsh, but it is how Koreans ask for things. So when translating it to English it’s more similar to “please may I have…” than just simply “give me”. One of the most important phrases I learnt was megju jusaeyo (맥주 주세요) which ment “please may I have a beer”. And if I wanted to show off it was saengmegju jusaeyo (생맥주 주세요) which ment “please may I have a draft beer”.
    Chingu jusaeyo (친구주세요) roughly translated to friend please. This was a personal joke my friend Nicole and I developed. We used to use this phrase a lot when we were wanting to make friends while drinking.
  5. Molaeyo (몰라요) I don’t know   This phrase was very helpful as it can also mean I don’t understand. So when ever someone started to speak very fast in Korean it was my go to phrase to ask for simpler sentences or English.
  6. Highting (화이팅) Fighting   I can remember being on the volleyball court and hearing this word repeatedly. So I asked another player what the word ment, and she told me “oh it’s an English word, you should know it”. However, the Koreans use this word in a different way to how we use the word fighting. Highting is a term of encouragement which can be used in almost any situation. From the sports field to encouraging a student to someone who is having a hard day at work, this word is always appropriate!
    Inter-school staff volleyball match. Before moving to Korea I had never played volleyball before. But I loved the experience because it allowed me to interact with a lot of staff members who couldn’t speak English.
  7. Jinja (진짜) Really   This might seem like a strange word to learn, but once you learn it you will hear it all the time. Koreans use this word similarly to how we would use really in English. But the reason I liked this word so much was because it could be used to say “for real?”. This has become a bit of a habit, and now that I’m back in South Africa my friends keep asking why I use the word really so much. My only way to explain it, is that it has kind of become a way of life…
  8. Nongdamiayo (농담이에요) Just kidding   My sense of humor can at times rely on a lot of sarcasm, and I learnt very quickly that sarcasm gets lost in translation most of the time. So this phrase just let people know I was joking and should not be taken seriously.
  9. Gwinchanaeyo (괜찮아요) Okay   This word I used a lot to say no worries to people when something went wrong or someone was apologizing.
  10. Waygookin (외국인) Foriegner   Korea is a relatively homogenous country and due to this, they use this word to refer to anyone who is not Korean. I enjoyed knowing this word, just because I could understand when someone was referring to me in conversation at school. If I heard the word, I knew to follow up and check if there was an upcoming meeting, change in schedule or any other important information I should know.

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