Korean for Business: Everything You Need To Succeed at a Korean Workplace

Nowadays, South Korea is one of the most popular destinations for those who dream about working in a technologically advanced country that is also steeped in ancient, attractive cultural traditions.
 

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Every year, hundreds of people from Canada and the US relocate to South Korea, most of them to teach English. But if you don’t see yourself in front of a blackboard teaching tenses, there are a variety of equally fulfilling jobs in other areas too. All you need is a little vision, lots of ambition, and a good level of Korean for business!

How Knowing Korean Can Help Your Business or Your Career

South Korea is one of the largest economies of the 21st century. The largest industries in this country include vehicle manufacturing, electronics, shipbuilding and mobile telecommunications.

At the same time, the Korean American Coalition (KAC) estimates that the portion of the Korean population who are proficient in English is currently at about 43%, a much smaller number than you would find in places like Germany or the Scandinavian countries.

For this reason, the very fact that you are a native English speaker might give you an advantage if you want to find a job in any of the industries above. But be careful. Although English might look well in your CV, if you really want to succeed in the Korean business world you will need to learn Korean for business.

For starters, knowing Korean is proof that you are incredibly smart (after all, it is one of the most difficult languages in the world!). But more importantly, learning Korean shows that you respect the culture you are in and that you don’t expect people to hand you things on a plate just because you come from an English-speaking country!

So, let’s start with a few Korean phrases that you can use at the workplace to show your colleagues that you have done your homework!

Korean Phrases for Business

South Korea is home to international giants like Samsung, LG and Hyundai, so if you have training in electronics, IT or automobiles, you may be able to develop an interesting career in these growing sectors. Or you may go for something completely different and become a content developer. Or a teacher trainer. Or an editor. Or even an actor!

The point is: no matter what career path you choose, you will need to speak Korean for business as soon as you step into your new office. In fact, you may need to speak Korean while you’re looking for a job.

With these useful Korean phrases, you will make a good impression from the moment you introduce yourself to a potential employer.

Nice to meet you

Korean: 반갑습니다

Romanization: panggapssŭmnida.

Here’s my business card

Korean:여기 제 명함입니다

Romanization: yŏgi ce myŏnghamimnida

I’d like to meet with you tomorrow

Korean: 내일 찾아뵙고 싶은데요

Romanization: năil chajabwepkko siphŭndeyo

What day is good for you?

Korean: 무슨 요일이 괜찮으세요?

Romanization: musŭn yoiri kwănchanhŭseyo?

Will you be at work tomorrow?

Korean: 내일 회사에 계실 건가요?

Romanization: năil hwesae kyesil kŏnggayo?

Can I talk to you?

Korean: 지금 얘기 좀 나눌 수 있을까요?

Romanization: cigŭm yăgi com nanul su issŭlkkayo?

I’ll be right there

Korean: 곧 도착해요

Romanization: kot tochakhăyo

When would you like to meet?

Korean: 언제 만나고 싶으세요?
Romanization: ŏnje mannago siphŭseyo?

I’ll see you there

Korean: 거기에서 봬요.

Romanization: kŏgiesŏ pwăyo.

What did you need to talk about?

Korean: 무슨 일로 찾으셨어요?

Romanization: musŭn illo chajŭsŏssŏyo?

Please, be clearer

Korean: 더 정확히 말씀해주세요
Romanization: tŏ cŏnghwakhi malssŭmhăjuseyo.

I’m afraid I’m not available

Korean: 죄송하지만, 안됩니다
Romanization: cwesonghajiman, andwemnida

May I speak with…?

Korean: …씨와 통화할 수 있나요?
Romanization: …ssiwa thonghwahal su innayo?

May I ask who is calling?

Korean: 전화주신 분 성함을 알 수 있을까요?
Romanization: cŏnhwajusim pun sŏnghamŭl al su issŭlkkayo?

Can you call back later?

Korean: 이따가 다시 전화해 주실 수 있으세요?
Romanization: ittaga tasi cŏnhwahă cusil su issŭseyo?

Key Korean Vocabulary for Business

In South Korea, the vast majority of the people work in an office environment. In this section, we’re going to cover common office jobs, as well as useful words and phrases in Korean for business.

Job Positions

Company Worker

The term company is 회사 (hoesa) in Korean. Someone who works for a corporation is 회사원 (hoesawon).

Office Employees

In Korean, an office set up is usually called 사무실 (samusil) or 근무처 (geunmucheo). An office worker is 사무원 (samuwon).

Accountant

There are two Korean terms for “accountant”: 회계원 (hoegyewon) and 회계사 (hoegyesa). You can use them interchangeably.

Manager

The Korean word for someone who is responsible for supervising employees and directing the progress of an organization is 매니저 (maenijeo). Alternatively, you may hear the word 관리자 (gwanlija) with no difference in meaning.

Secretary

If you’re learning Korean for business, you’re bound to need the the Korean word for someone in a secretarial position: 비서 (biseo).

Korean Business Etiquette

In a country that gives so much importance to tradition and customary codes of behaviour, using the right body language and knowing when a courtesy act is expected from you might be even more important than having perfect pronunciation.

For this reason, even though the vocabulary above is very helpful for those who are learning Korean for business, if you want to make a good impression on your boss and co-workers, you will need to familiarize yourself with Korean business etiquette. 

Greeting

You want to show politeness and friendliness by kissing a stranger on both cheeks? Not such a good idea!

In South Korea, people greet each other either by bowing or with a handshake, the bow being the more formal option.

Are you meeting the managing director for the first time? Then, you may want to go for the bow. All you have to do is keep your legs together, your hands straight down on the side, and make minimal eye contact.

If you want to be extra formal, you can clasp your hands in front of your stomach. However, if the other person initiates the exchange by shaking your hand, follow suit! Just keep a firm (but not aggressively strong) grip, a subtle smile, and you’re good to go.

Business Dress Code in South Korea

Knowing what kind of clothes you’re expected to wear at the workplace will save you lots of time and lots (lots) of anxiety. Luckily, the dress code for a big company in Korea is nothing out of this world.

If you are a man, wear a black suit, a white plain shirt, and a discreet tie. If you are a woman, wear a conservative skirt, and a light-colored blouse. As regards shoes and winter coats, there is no specific dress code, but make sure you stay within a dark palette just to be sure.

Gifts

If you want to excel at Korean business etiquette, you need to learn when it is the best time to give a gift.

Expressing your appreciation to your business partner is a great way of building trust and mutual respect, as they symbolically mean that you think your relationship to the other person is important for you.

This doesn’t mean that the gifts have to be big or expensive. When you arrive at the house of a Korean person, for example, it is customary to bring fruit or a good piece of chocolate.

In Korea, presents are traditionally wrapped in one or both of the royal colours: red or yellow. You can also add a pink ribbon, as pink represents joy and happiness. More importantly, don’t forget to present your gift with both hands.

Eating Out

Formal dinners can be terrifying if you don’t know the proper code of behaviour. However, for a country whose traditions are so strong and unique, Korean etiquette for eating out is quite simple.

The first and most important thing you need to know is: if someone invites you to have dinner with them, you should accept. So, if you were planning to visit your hairdresser that day, just reschedule your appointment!

Second, even though it’s usually the host who orders and pays for the meal, a brief argument on who will foot the bill is expected. If your host won’t hear a word about letting you pay, it is also polite to offer a reciprocal dinner invitation.

How Can I Learn Korean for Business?

Though there are countless pre-recorded courses that promise to take you from zero to hero in Korean for business with minimum effort, the best way to reach fluency is by taking classes with a native Korean teacher. They are the best at teaching students to say what they want to say, but also when and how to say it. After all, succeeding in business in Korean is not so much about achieving perfect pronunciation, but about understanding the cultural nuances involved in formal interactions. Plus, they can give you personalized feedback based on your performance so you can make faster progress.
 

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So, if you want to pursue a career in South Korea, or just would like to get to know this beautiful country, we can help! Our fully qualified native Korean tutors can prepare tailor-made courses based on your needs and interests to help you achieve your professional and personal goals.

Contact us today and we’ll pair you up with a qualified Korean teacher so you can learn Korean for business from a culturally-oriented perspective! Try a free lesson now, no strings attached!

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