Essential Korean Phrases You Should Know Before You Travel
Your bags are packed. You have watched Bong Joon-hu’s entire filmography. Your K-Pop Spotify Playlist is downloaded onto your iPod so you can listen to it on the plane. You seem to be ready to have the best trip of your life. However, unless you memorize a few handy Korean phrases for travellers, you won’t be able to do much in Korea, no matter how motivated you are. For this reason, we have compiled a comprehensive list of crucial expressions that you need to learn if you want to make the most of your time in Korea.
Greetings and courtesies
Let’s start, then, with the bare fundamentals. No matter where you find yourself, before you can do anything with the language you will need to greet people. This is especially true for Koreans, for whom courtesy comes first. So, before you ask for directions or get a random stranger to take a picture of you in the street, a simple “Hello” would be much appreciated.
안녕하세요 (ahn-nyung-ha-se-yo) — Hello
The great thing about this expression is that you can use it at any time of day, regardless of who you are talking to or whether you are saying it first or responding to someone else’s greeting.
Unfortunately, ending a conversation is not nearly as easy as starting one. When it comes to saying goodbye, there are three different Korean phrases that you can use depending on the level of formality that is expected in any given situation, and a few other nuances. You should use
안녕 (ahn-nyung) — (Goodbye) with friends or people that you can be informal with.
안녕히 가세요 (ahn-nyung-hee gah-seh-yo) — (Please, take care [formal]) when you’re leaving a place
잘 가 (jal-ga) — (Please, leave well [informal]) when you are staying, but somebody else is leaving.
Now, if you want to socialize in Korean, you will need to do more than say Hello and Goodbye. Before you can engage in a meaningful conversation, the next thing you will have to introduce yourself. With the phrase below, you can break the ice by saying who you are before you can say something deeper.
제 이름은 _____ (jeh ee-reum-un _____) — My name is _____
감사합니다 (gam-sa-ham-ni-da) — Thank you
As we said before, courtesy is very important for Koreans. So, if you want to get to know people in their best mood, you will definitely want to learn how to sound grateful and respectful. Knowing your Thank you’s will help you make a good impression both in formal and informal contexts and will surely improve the quality of your interactions.
천천히 말씀해 주세요 (chun-chun-hee mal-sseum-heh ju-seh-yo) — Please, speak slowly
A foreigner who knows how to greet and thank people in Korean is bound to leave a good impression and make people want to know more about them. Overestimating your Korean skills, they might start asking you lots of questions or telling you everything about themselves. But since Korean is a rather quickly-spoken language, especially when speakers get excited, you might find this phrase useful to politely ask for a slow-down.
_____ (으)로 가주세요 (ih-roh gah-ju-seh-yo) — Please take me to _____
Travelling, however, is not all about socializing. Once you get to Korea, you will need to move around. If you need someone to take you to where you need to go, this phrase can be a real lifesaver.
Something you should know about South Korea is that it’s a true paradise for people who love food. You go out into the street and, wherever you look, you will see lots of restaurants, food trucks and outdoor food venues that sell everything from traditional Korean dishes to trendy fast food.
메뉴 주세요 (meh-nyu ju-seh-yo) — Menu, please
_____ 주세요 (_____ ju-seh-yo) — Please give me _____.
계산서 주세요 (keh-san-suh ju-seh-yo) — Bill, please
Very often, you’ll find that restaurants don’t have a menu on the table. With the phrases above, you can ask for one, order your food, and tell the server when you’re ready to pay.
Korea is not only famous for its gastronomy. It also has a wonderful variety of shopping malls and outlet stores. So, if you are into clothes, technology or designer items, you will definitely find yourself reaching for your wallet more than a few times a day during your stay.
_____ 있어요? (eess-uh-yo?) — Do you have _____?
If you’re looking for a specific item, use this phrase to let store employees what they can get for you.
얼마에요영어로? (uhl-mah-eh-yo yeong-eolo?) — How much is it in English numbers?
Korean numbers follow a system that can be too difficult to learn in a short time. For this reason, it’s probably best to just ask shop assistants to tell you the prices in English.
카드 받으세요? (kah-deu bat-euh-seh-yo?) — Do you take credit cards?
Since South Korea has a high credit card usage rate, this is usually a rhetorical question, a way to announce that you’re going to pay with plastic. No matter what payment method you choose, it’s very unlikely you will have any problems.
With this arsenal of handy Korean phrases in your mental suitcase, you’ll be more confident and have a more satisfying trip to Korea. However, if you really want to improve your fluency before you travel, don’t go at it alone. At Language Trainers, we work with fully qualified native teachers who are passionate about their language culture. Explore our tailor-made Korean courses now and send us a quick inquiry if you have any questions.