Preparing for a trip to South Korea? The best way to get ready is to learn a few common Korean phrases before you go!
Why should you learn some basic Korean greetings and words? Because it will help you get the most from your travels! It’s amazing what doors open when you learn a few essential travel phrases.
A lot of Koreans aren’t very comfortable with English, and they know that it’s difficult to speak their language. But that means they’ll be more patient and understanding and appreciate your efforts. So you don’t have to be nervous about trying!
Besides that, you’ll have more opportunities to connect with Korean people. You can make new friends and experience South Korea more like a local and less like a tourist.
So here’s what we’re going to cover below:
- Essential Korean greetings and phrases
- Common Korean phrases for getting around
- Informal Korean phrases and slang
I’m confident you can learn these phrases with ease and make the most of your adventures in Korea!
I’ll first list the phrases as a “quick guide”, then I’ll go in-depth on when to use the phrases.
A quick note here: I’ve included the Hangul, the Korean writing system, so you can get used to seeing the language. If you’re only learning Korean for a quick trip, don’t worry about this too much. Focus on speaking. But if you’re learning Korean because you want to become fluent, then you need to learn how to read Hangul! Check out this article for how to read and write Korean Hangul.
Now, let’s learn Korean. 공부하자! (gongbuhaja, “Let’s study!”)
Korean Phrases – Quick Guide
- “Hi” – 안녕하세요 (annyeong haseyo)
- “Nice to Meet You” – 반갑습니다 (bangapseubnida)
- “My Name is…” – 제 이름은… (je ileum-eun)
- “Yes” – 예 (ye)
- “No” – 아니 (ani).
- “Bye” – 안녕 (annyeong)
- “Good Morning” – 좋은아침이에요 (joeun achimieyo)
- “Goodnight” – 안녕히 주무세요 (annyeonghi jumuseyo)
- “Please” – 주세요 (juseyo)
- “Thank You” – 감사합니다 (gamsahabnida)
- “Excuse Me” – 실례합니다 (sillyehabnida)
- “I’m Sorry” – 미안해요 (mianhaeyo) / 죄송해요 (joesonghaeyo)
- “Okay” – 괜찮아요 (gwaenchanayo)
- “Left” – 왼쪽 (oenjjok)
- “Right” – 오른쪽 (oleunjjok)
- Straight – 직진 (jigjin)
- “Please go to…” – …(으)로가주세요 ((eu)lo gajuseyo)
- “Where is…” – …이어디예요 (i eodiyeyo)
- “I don’t know” – 몰라요 (mollayo)
- “I want to speak in Korean” – 한국어를하고 싶습니다 (Hangukeo-leul hago sipseubnida)
- “Please speak slowly” – 천천히 말씀해 주세요 (cheoncheonhi malsseumhae juseyo)
- “The menu, please” – 메뉴주세요 (menyu juseyo)
- “Bill, please” – 계산서주세요 (gyesanseo juseyo)
- “I have an allergy to…” – …알레르기가 있습니다. (alleleugiga issseubnida)
- “How much is it?” – 얼마에요? (eolmayeyo)
- Do you have…” – …있어요? (isseoyo)
- “What’s Up?” – 요즘 어때? (yojeum eottae)
- “Awesome” – 대박 (daebak)
- “One with the Force” – 포스 있다 (poseu itda)
Essential Korean Greetings and Phrases
Now for more details on the above phrases. Let’s begin with the essentials. If you learn nothing else from this list, this section here will be most helpful to you during your travels. That’s because these phrases will help you be polite, respectful, and kind. So these are #1 priority!
“Hi” in Korean – 안녕하세요 (annyeong haseyo)
In Korean, the phrase 안녕하세요 (annyeong haseyo) is a polite way to greet anyone.
But — funny story. I learned “hi” in Korean from watching Arrested Development. But on the show, they just say 안녕 (annyeong).
That’s become 안녕 is the informal version, and is more casual. There are actually many ways to say “hi” based on formality, and there are more tiered levels of respect than we have in English. (I explain this more in this article about how to say “hello” in Korean if you want to know more.)
But if you’re ever unsure which to use, 안녕하세요 (annyeong haseyo) is the way to go.
“How are you?” In Korean – 어떻게 지내세요? (eotteohge jinaeseyo)
You can also use 안녕하세요? (annyeong haseyo?) to ask “How are you” in Korean, to which you would get a yes or no reply. That’s because 안녕하세요 (annyeong haseyo) literally means “are you at peace?”
But 어떻게 지내세요? (eotteohge jinaeseyo) is a bit deeper. It’s asking if your friend is really okay, how they’re really doing.
“Nice to Meet You” in Korean – 반갑습니다 (bangapseubnida)
When you meet someone for the first time, it’s polite to use the phrase 반갑습니다 (bangapseubnida) to say “nice to meet you.” Note here that the romanized version says bangapseubnida. But in reality, the “b” is pronounced more like an “m.” Bahn-gahp-suem-knee-dah.
This is the most common way to hear it. But there is a more polite version: 만나서 반갑습니다 (mannaseo bangapseubnida) This longer version only makes it more formal.
There’s another similar phrase that you’ll often hear when you meet someone for the first time. This phrase is 잘부탁드립니다 (jalbutag deurimnida). It doesn’t translate well into English, but it means something like “please look after me” or “thank you, please take care of it.” It’s used in many ways, but these are the two main uses.
The first usage is meeting someone for the first time and asking them to “please look after you”, as in, please keep in contact and have a good relationship.
The second usage is when you ask a favor of someone, and you ask them to handle it with care. It’s like “Thanks, I’ll leave it to you.”
Either way, if you say 반갑습니다 (bangapseubnida) to someone, they’ll likely respond with 저야말로 잘 부탁드립니다 (jeoyamallo jalbutag deurimnida, lLikewise, nice to meet you.”)
“My Name is…” in Korean – 제 이름은… (je ileum-eun)
이름 (ileum) is the Korean word for “name.” 제 (je) is “my” and 은 (eun) is the particle marker. So, you’ll add your name, plus the verb 이다 (ida, “to be”).
So, if I want to introduce myself, I would say: 제 이름은 케이틀린입니다. (je ileum-eun keiteullin-ibnida) “My name is Caitlin.”
To make it more casual, you’d change the formal ending of 이다 (ida) from 입니다 (ibnida) to 이에요 (ieyo). That makes it less formal.
To simplify it even more, you could just say “I’m (name)”.
나는케이틀린이에요. (na neun keiteullin-ieyo) “I’m Caitlin.”
Yes and No in Korean
Yes and no are super easy to remember in Korean. Yes is 예 (ye) and no is 아니 (ani).
예 (ye) sounds a lot like “yes”. And 아니 (ani) reminds me of “anti-”, meaning something is negative or against something.
“Bye” in Korean – 안녕 (annyeong)
That’s right, “goodbye” in Korean is the same as “hello”! But only in its casual form. Think of this as “bye” or “see ya” versus “goodbye”.
For a polite “goodbye”, there are two forms: 안녕히 계세요 (annyeonghi gyeseyo) and 안녕히 가세요 (annyeonghi gaseyo).
To be honest, these phrases sound nearly identical to the untrained ear.
But the change from gyeseyo to gaseyo changes the meaning. You use 안녕히 계세요 (annyeonghi gyeseyo) when you’re the one leaving. But if you’re staying, and the other person is leaving, you reply with 안녕히 가세요 (annyeonghi gaseyo).
“Good Morning” in Korean – 좋은아침이에요 (joeun achimieyo)
In Korea it’s actually most common to use 안녕 (annyeong) for “good morning. (See how handy this one phrase is?) But sometimes you’ll hear 좋은아침이에요 (joeun achimieyo) to say “good morning”.
“Goodnight” in Korean – 안녕히 주무세요 (annyeonghi jumuseyo)
That’s right, it’s annyeong again! This time, 안녕히 (annyeonghi) means “peacefully” and jumuseyo is the formal form of the verb “to sleep”, 자다 (jada). So it means “sleep peacefully”.
But that’s pretty formal. To say it casually, the phrase is 잘 자요 (jal jayo), which means “sleep well.”
“Please” in Korean – 주세요 (juseyo)
Like many of the phrases here, “please” in Korean has a few different ways to say it, based on the level of formality. But 주세요 (juseyo) is the most standard one that you can use in everyday situations. Just add it to the end of your sentence.
“Thank You” in Korean – 감사합니다 (gamsahabnida)
This is the formal way to say “thank you”. But if you’re thanking a friend, you could say it casually with 고마워요 (gomawoyo).
“You’re Welcome” in Korean – 천만에요 (cheonmaneyo)
천만에요 (cheonmaneyo) is used to say “you’re welcome”, but it’s more like saying “don’t mention it.” Likewise, you can say 아니에요 (anieyo), which means “no” but it’s more like “no worries.”
“Excuse Me” in Korean – 실례합니다 (sillyehabnida)
Need to get someone’s attention or ask them if you can squeeze by? Use 실례합니다 (sillyehabnida), which means “excuse me”. It’s a formal phrase, so it’s appropriate to use with strangers. (Who you’d usually be saying it to, anyway.)
“I’m Sorry” in Korean – 미안해요 (mianhaeyo) / 죄송해요 (joesonghaeyo)
Both 미안해요 (mianhaeyo) and 죄송해요 (joesonghaeyo) are polite ways to say “I’m sorry” in Korean. They’re nearly identical in usage and formality, but 죄송해요 (joesonghaeyo) is a bit more polite.
Like the other phrases, you can make this more polite by changing haeyo to habnida, the more formal verb ending.
“Okay” in Korean – 괜찮아요 (gwaenchanayo)
괜찮아요 (gwaenchanayo) means “okay” in Korean as in, “it’s okay” or “it’s not bad.” If you raise the intonation at the end of the phrase, it becomes: “Are you okay?”
But if you want to answer “okay” to something, you can use “yes” in Korean (예, ye).
Common Korean Phrases for Getting Around
This next section, I’ll teach you a few helpful phrases for getting around in Korea. These are handy for asking directions, getting a taxi, or trying to converse with the locals. There are also a few phrases for dining and shopping, too.
Direction Words in Korean
If you’re trying to find your way around, you need to know the basic directions words. Left is 왼쪽 (oenjjok). Right is 오른쪽 (oleunjjok). And straight is 직진 (jigjin).
So for instance, you might hear 왼쪽으로 돌아 (oenjjok-eulo dola) which means “Turn left”.
“Please go to…” in Korean – _ (으)로가주세요 ((eu)lo gajuseyo)
This one is a simple phrase to play with. 가주세요 (gajuseyo) is a combo of the verb 가다 (gada, “to go”) and 주세요 (juseyo) which is “please”.
All you have to do is put the place you want to go to at the beginning and add the direction particle 로 (lo) or 으로 (eulo). If the word that comes before the particle ends in a consonant, use 으로 (eulo). But if the word ends with a vowel, you use 로 (lo).
“Where is…” in Korean – __ 이어디예요 (i eodiyeyo)
Fill in the blank with what you’re looking for. Here’s an important one:
화장실이어디예요? (hwajangsil-i eodiyeyo?) “Where is the bathroom?”
“I don’t know” in Korean – 몰라요 (mollayo)
If you don’t know the answer to something, you can say 몰라요 (mollayo) for “I don’t know.” This is in its standard polite form, but you could always make it more or less polite.
To contrast, “I know” is 알아요 (arayo).
“I want to speak in Korean” – 한국어를하고 싶습니다 (Hangukeo-leul hago sipseubnida)
If you’re traveling with the intent to learn the language, this one is for you. Speaking from day one is key to learning the language. But sometimes, you may come across people who really try to push you to fall back to your English instead (sometimes out of kindness, sometimes because they want English practice!).
Either way, let them know of your intent with this phrase.
“Please speak slowly” in Korean – 천천히 말씀해 주세요 (cheoncheonhi malsseumhae juseyo)
Another key phrase that comes in handy often. If someone is speaking too fast for you to understand, ask them to slow it down with this phrase: 천천히 말씀해 주세요 (cheoncheonhi malsseumhae juseyo)
“Please tell me one more time” is another helpful phrase in these situations. It’s 한 번 더 말씀해 주세요 (han beon deo malsseumhae juseyo) in Korean. Just remember for these two longer phrases: You already learned that end word, juseyo. It’s “please”! So these phrases aren’t so bad when you already know a tiny bit.
“The menu, please” in Korean – 메뉴주세요 (menyu juseyo)
“Menu” is taken from English, so it’s 메뉴 (menyu). Makes it easy! And a lot of words are taken from English like that, which helps to understand the language as a beginner.
“Bill, please” in Korean – 계산서주세요 (gyesanseo juseyo)
To ask for the bill, the word is 계산서 (gyesanseo). You can really ask for anything with this format. When you order food, ask for the item and add 주세요 (juseyo). Same with asking for a drink, or picking an item in a shop.
“I have an allergy to…” in Korean – _알레르기가 있습니다. (alleleugiga issseubnida)
If you have a food allergy, memorize this one. You’ll need to look up the word for your allergy in Korean. Then add it to the beginning of the sentence, followed by the particle 에 (e), which means “for” or “to”.
For example, I’m allergic to gluten and have to be gluten-free. Here’s how I’d say this:
글루텐에 알레르기가 있습니다. (geulluten-e alleleugiga issseubnida) “I’m allergic to gluten.”
“How much is it?” in Korean – 얼마에요? (eolmayeyo)
If you’re out shopping and don’t understand how Korean numbers and prices work yet, ask 얼마에요? (eolmayeyo). You can also add on 영어로 말해 줄래? (yeong-eolo malhae jullae) which means “Can you tell me in English?”
“Do you have…” in Korean – _ 있어요? (isseoyo)
If you’re looking for something in particular, you can take any noun and add it before the verb “to have”, which is 있어요 (isseoyo).
Informal Korean Phrases and Slang
You may not think of these as everyday Korean phrases for travelers. But these phrases below are quite common to hear. And if you throw out one of these cool phrases, your Korean friends will for sure be impressed with your efforts.
“What’s Up?” in Korean – 요즘 어때? (yojeum eottae)
With friends, you could say 요즘 어때? (yojeum eottae?) which is a very casual way to say “What’s up.” There’s also this phrase: 밥 먹었어? (bab meogeoss-eo?). It means “Did you eat?” It’s always good to check in with a friend and see if they need food!
“Fighting!” in Korean – 화이팅! (hwaiting!)
This phrase is used as an exclamation of encouragement to keep doing your best. It’s often used as encouragement between students before an exam, between teammates before a game, or between friends whenever someone has to tackle something tough. It basically means “good luck” or “keep going!”
“It’s the honey jam” – 꿀잼 (kkuljaem)
This phrase literally translates as “honey jam” but it really means something is funny or interesting. It’s the honey jam. The bread and butter. The good stuff.
“Awesome” – 대박 (daebak)
This phrase is used all the time for a lot of different things. It can be “amazing”, “awesome”, or “wow”. Use it as an exclamation to anything exciting or shocking.
“One with the Force” – 포스 있다 (poseu itda)
When I learned this was a thing, it quickly became my favorite Korean slang phrase!
Yes, this phrase literally means “to have the Force” or “to be one with the Force,” and it comes from Star Wars!
It’s used to describe people who have a strong aura or sense of self.
Enjoy Your Korean Adventures!
We covered a lot of essential Korean phrases to start off your travels! Now start practicing and preparing for that first conversation in Korean. You’ll be ready for your trip in no time. 화이팅! (hwaiting!)