Life in Korea: 100 Korean words to sound more like a local (part 1 of 3)

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To my wonderful veteran expat readers – ‘Life in Korea’ posts are aimed at the newer expats among us. Think of these as the Idiot’s Guide to Life in Korea – helpful for some, and a review for others. Please feel free to contribute what you know in the comments!

UPDATE: I owe a few hat tips to a few expats more versed in Korean than myself. Those, along with some corrections are sprinkled throughout the post.

So you’ve made it to Korea, learned some hangeul (the Korean alphabet) and have gotten pretty good at reading menus, signs, and subway stops (check out the Korean Wiki Project if you haven’t!). That, however, doesn’t necessarily make it easier to communicate something in Korean, and hand motions can only go so far.


To my wonderful veteran expat readers – ‘Life in Korea’ posts are aimed at the newer expats among us. Think of these as the Idiot’s Guide to Life in Korea – helpful for some, and a review for others. Please feel free to contribute what you know in the comments!

UPDATE: I owe a few hat tips to a few expats more versed in Korean than myself. Those, along with some corrections are sprinkled throughout the post.

So you’ve made it to Korea, learned some hangeul (the Korean alphabet) and have gotten pretty good at reading menus, signs, and subway stops (check out the Korean Wiki Project if you haven’t!). That, however, doesn’t necessarily make it easier to communicate something in Korean, and hand motions can only go so far.

It’s time to pick up some common vocabulary words and ditch the phrasebook. You will see these words and phrases again and again – and in some cases a couple words is all you need. While the Korean Wiki Project has a metric ton of information at your disposal, let’s get some basics under our belt. I should note that no group of 100 words can possibly cover everything you need to know. With that said, let’s get it started!

The basics

  1. 안녕하세요 – An-nyeong ha-se-yo? – Your basic formal hello – you should already know this after your first or second day here.
  2. 잘지내 – Jal-ji-nae? – How are you, or what’s up? A more casual ‘hello’ amongst friends or peers. HT to Matt for suggesting another meaning of ‘long-time, no-see’.
  3. 감사합니다 – Kam-sa hab-ni-da – Your basic formal thank you – again, you probably know this after your first or second day here.
  4. 고맙습니다 – Go-mab seub-ni-da – Another way of saying ‘thank you’ – still formal in nature.
  5. 고마워 – Go-ma-wo – A more casual ‘thank you’.
  6. 천만에요 cheon-man-e-yo – you’re welcome.
  7. 아마도 – a-ma-do – maybe.

The classroom (click here for some more Korean in the classroom)

  1. 조용히해 – jo-yong-hi-hae – be quiet
  2. 한국말 하지 마세요 – han-gook-mal ha-jee-mah-say-yo – don’t speak Korean
  3. 시작 – si-jak – start, as in start working
  4. 알겠지 – all-get-gee – do you understand?

The people

  1. 아주마 – A-ju-ma – a married or older woman.
  2. 아저씨 – A-jeo-ssi – a married or older man.
  3. 아가씨 – A-ga-ssi – a young or unmarried woman.
  4. 선생님 – Seon-saeng-nim – teacher
  5. 학생 – Hak-saeng – student
  6. 회사원 – Hoi-sa-won – salaryman or company worker
  7. 꽃미남 – ggoch-mi-nam (pronounced goat-mee-nam – HT to patrick) – flower boy
  8. 왕따 – wang-dda – a dork or nerd, a person nobody likes (slang)

The places

  1. 방 – bang – by itself, it’s just a room. It’s what you do in the room that will complete the noun.
  2. 노래방- no-rae-bang – literally, singing room. Also a place to hear singing, usually badly and by drunk people.
  3. 공원 – gong-won – a good old-fashioned park.
  4. 모텔 – mo-tel – motel; one of few Korean words transliterated from English that doesn’t sound different whichever language you use.
  5. 여관 – yeo-gwan – smaller family-run hotel. Usually cheaper and more basic. (HT to White Rice for catching the vowels)
  6. 역 – yeok – by itself, a stop or station. Combine it with the name of a subway station and you’re in business. For example, Seoul Station is 서울역.
  7. 시장 – si-jang – a traditional market of some kind, usually open-air and outdoors.

The drinks

  1. 맥주 – maek-ju – good old-fashioned beer. Add 생 (saeng) in front if you want draft, or 변 if you desire a bottle.
  2. 소주 – so-ju – you probably learned this one in your first week here. If not, there’s plenty more about Korea’s firewater over here.
  3. 막걸리 – mak-geol-li – milky-colored rice wine.
  4. 와인 – wa-in – wine
  5. 취한 – chi-han – to be drunk. For example, I am drunk = 난 취했어
  6. 취하지 – chi-ha-ji – to be sober. HT to White Rice for suggesting these are adjectives – not sure how to conjugate these, but perhaps just the word will be enough.
  7. 해장 haejang = food or drink to relieve a hangover

33 down, 67 to go – stay tuned for more.

Did I miss something or get something wrong? Comments are open.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2009



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