If you’re heading to Seoul, oftentimes, you’ll find that everyone can more or less speak some form of basic English, save for some traditional ahjummas and ahjussis. However, if you venture out to other parts of Seoul, we may not all be so lucky with finding English speakers, especially with older folks.
Not to fear, though, because we’ve come up with a list of important Korean phrases or words to remember the next time you want to go to Seoul or anywhere else that is less touristy in South Korea. Who knows, it might come in handy when you’re in a pinch!
Meaning: Thank You
Koreans are very strict on respect and this phrase will definitely come in handy in situations where you’re receiving food, gifts or when someone helps you with directions. It’s an important phrase that you will definitely use almost every day when you’re in Korea. Locals also seem to be happier when foreigners know common Korean phrases and use them or pronounce them correctly!
Meaning: Where is ______ (this place)?
If you’re visiting South Korea for the first time, you might not have much idea how to navigate roads and signs. Even if you’re a seasoned traveller, you might still find yourself needing to ask for directions, so you can use this phrase. Most importantly, this will come in handy if you ever need to find a toilet urgently!
These words aren’t really for using in conversation but just in case you ask for directions and a local isn’t able to respond in English, you can try to pick out which direction they’re telling you to go. In case you don’t understand still, you can ask them and add on some hand gestures, they’ll usually be patient and tell you in a detailed manner if you ask nicely!
Meaning: Excuse Me
This phrase is important when you want to call out to someone or disturb someone from whatever they’re doing – not to be confused with a way of saying “excuse me” to pass through a crowd. For example, you can say this when calling on service staff or if you want to ask someone for directions – it’s a good and polite way to start the conversation.
Meaning: Can I have _____ please?
This phrase is extra important when ordering food or asking service staff for stuff like utensils, water or extra banchan. It’s fairly easy to remember and one of the most useful phrases in (occasionally) earning some extra freebies when the restaurant or shop owners get impressed at your grasp of the Korean language!
Meaning: How much is this? (Price)
When shopping or looking at menus in cafes or restaurants, there’s bound to be a place where there aren’t any prices listed and you need to ask the price of what you’d like to buy. This comes in handy and might result in a cheaper price should you be in a market or place where prices are allowed to be bargained for.
Another few words to take note of, these are the currency denominations that Koreans have. It may help you in bargaining and occasionally piecing together how much the item you’re purchasing is. If all else fails, shop owners usually have calculators to visually show you the prices!
A useful tip when bargaining is to tell shop owners that the item you’re trying to get is way over your budget. Try to say it in a more pitiful manner and it might save you some extra KRW! Of course, don’t overdo it because it might garner a completely different reaction that you’re expecting!
If something is lip-smackingly delectable, like all Korean food usually is, it’s only right that you let the chefs or service staff know that you’ve enjoyed your meal. It’s quite a polite thing to say if they happen to ask you if you enjoyed your food. In the countryside or in street food stalls, the owner is usually the one serving you so remember to show them how grateful you are that you’ve eaten well!
If you happen to be called any of the above by cute ahjummas, good on you! Don’t need to be shocked because it’s a compliment and you should definitely use phrase #1 to show your gratitude! However, try not to randomly compliment people you’ve just met or hardly know as you never know people will take it – if you’re not close to them, people might feel uncomfortable.