23 Korean Words Every Language Lover Should Learn
Very often, language enthusiasts avoid Korean because they think it’s too difficult or it would take them too long to master its writing system. We, on the other hand, are convinced that no language is impossible to learn.
You don’t believe us? Then the best thing we can do is to start somewhere. That is why we have compiled a juicy post full of basic Korean words related to social relationships, family, verbs, adjectives, and even some informal expressions that will help you sound like a native speaker. Let’s put it this way. If Korean words were chocolate bars, then reading this post would be like entering Willy Wonka’s factory.
We hope that, when you reach the end of the article, you have learned one or two things about Korean culture as well. Anyway, since there is a lot to digest here, we had better stop rambling and get right down to business.
How to Greet People and Sound Friendly in Korean
If you’ve ever been to Korea, you must have noticed that Koreans aren’t the most outgoing people in the world. For example, they are unlikely to strike up a friendly chat with a stranger while sharing an elevator. This doesn’t mean that they are rude. On the contrary, they are perfectly polite and courteous. But they can also be a bit reserved and, as a rule, they prefer to keep to themselves.
How can you get Korean people to open up, then? Well, if you want to start off on the right foot, the first thing you’ll need to do is be courteous yourself. Wear a warm and welcoming smile and pepper your interactions with the following expressions:
안녕하세요 — An-nyeong-ha-se-yo (Hello/Goodbye )
Following the chocolate factory metaphor, this word is like a basic milk chocolate bar, the most basic item on our list. If you want Korean people to like you, make sure you start and finish your communications with this simple greeting.
감사합니다 — Kam-sa-ham-ni-da (Thank you)
There are three things that will help you make friends in Korea: manners, manners, and manners. Every time you ask for a favor or place an order in a café, make sure you thank your interlocutors with a big smile. Above all, you better not use Korean words like 주세요 — “Ju-se-yo”, which means “Give me”.
잠시만요 — Jam-shi-man-yo (Excuse me)
Instead, try using this phrase to catch somebody’s attention and then say what you want in question form. You will see how much of a difference it makes.
죄송합니다 — Chway-seong-ham-ni-da (I’m sorry)
When we visit a foreign country, it’s common to make silly mistakes as we get used to the cultural nuances involved in everyday interaction. If you use the wrong honorific or say something that, for some reason, puts a glacial expression on your interlocutor’s face, don’t sweat it. Just acknowledge you made a mistake and apologize. Most times, that should be enough to regain their trust.
How to Ask Questions in Korean
Intonation is a crucial element when it comes to conveying meaning in Korean. If you want to ask a question, for example, all you have to do is use a rising intonation at the end of your phrases and the hearer will assume that you’re asking a question and not making a statement. For instance, the Korean expression for “Really”, 진짜 (“jinjja”) can be turned into a “Really???” by elevating your pitch. However, if you need to ask for specific information, you will need to use what we call WH-words. Let’s see how these are used in Korean.
누구? — Noo-goo (Who?)
Have you overheard someone is coming to tonight’s party but you didn’t catch their name? Say “Noo-goo?” with a rising intonation to find out who they’re talking about.
어디? — Uh-dee (Where?)
Is your group talking about a restaurant where you can try the best Korean food? Ask “Uh-dee?” and make sure you get the address right!
If you find yourself in a social situation but have no idea how to start a conversation, use the following questions to break the ice.
이름이 뭐예요? — Ireumi mwoyeyo? (What’s your name?)
This is the most basic of questions, and the first thing you should ask to show the person you’re talking to that you’re interested in getting to know them. If they answer the question with a smile and ask your name in return, then it’s safe to keep going.
어디 출신이세요? — Eodi chulsiniseyo? (Where are you from?)
By asking this question, you can get the other person to talk about themselves and not worry about having to talk yourself! Though listening is not as hard as speaking, beginners are still bound to come across words and phrases they don’t understand. If this is the case, you can use these Korean words to ask your interlocutor to repeat what they just said.
뭐라고 했어요? — Mworago haesseoyo? (What did you say?)
However, make sure you use this one wisely. If they’ve already said the same thing three times, each in a louder volume, it’s probably not a matter of delivery or speed. Just assume you don’t know the words they’re using, smile politely, and keep going.
Korean Words Related to Family
If you know a thing or two about Korean culture, then you know Koreans are all about family. Respect and consideration for one’s elders are one the pillars of Korean culture. Contrary to what happens in most Western cultures, granny’s opinions about one’s love life or professional choices are absolutely welcome (or at least, stoically tolerated).
Korean people are so respectful of their family that even aunts and uncles are invited to put their two cents in when you share your latest news over dinner. At the same time, in Korea, people aren’t always on a first-name basis when it comes to addressing their mom or dad, which might be surprising considering how close Korean people are to their family members. Here are some Korean words related to the family:
아버지 — A-buh-ji (Father)
어머니 — Uh-muh-ni (Mother)
부모님 — Boo-mo-nim (Parents)
동료 — Donglyo (Brother)
여자 형제 — Yeoja hyeongje (Sister)
할아버지 — Hal-ah-buh-ji (Grandfather)
할머니 — Hal-muh-ni (Grandmother)
아내 — Anae (Wife)
남편 — Nampyeon (Husband)
삼촌 — Sam-chon (Uncle)
이모 — Imo (Aunt)
If you really want to sound like a native speaker, though, there is only one way to do it: by using slang. Mastering informal words and expressions shows that you’ve been paying attention to how people use the language in real-life situations. You can use the following expressions:
대박 — Dae-bak (Awesome!)
Has something great just happened? Say, have you just won big at the casino? Then, yell this Korean word in celebration.
아싸 — Ah-ssa! (Yay!)
This is another Korean word you can use to signal that something positive has just happened. Pumping your fist in the air and yelling “Ah-ssa” when something nice happens —like when your favorite K-pop band wins an important award— will leave people wondering if you have any Korean ancestors.
파이팅 — Paiting! (Come on!)
Is your friend struggling to finish his beer? Say Paiting!, paiting!, paiting! to mean something like “bottoms up!”
Would you like to go beyond these few Korean words? Then, the best thing you can do is take a personalized course with a qualified Korean teacher. On our website, we offer tailor-made learning experiences with native speakers of the language who also happen to be fully committed professionals.
Learning with native tutors is the best way to understand how a language really sounds when spoken in real life by real users. At the same time, native teachers will be able to teach you everything there is to know about the cultural implications embedded in the language. Send us a quick inquiry and we’ll get in touch with you right away and answer all your questions!