Seoul is a vibrant city, quickly turning into a top destination to travel. Despite the fact that a majority of locals can speak English, I still find myself in moments of charades with local native speakers. I have compiled a list of Korean phrases for beginners that I personally use on a daily basis as a foreigner in Seoul.
1 안녕하세요 (an-nyeong-ha-se-yo) – Hello
This is your simple hello, a general greeting word. Almost every single place you enter will always say 안녕하세요 (an-nyeong-ha-se-yo), where you reply 안녕하세요 (an-nyeong-ha-se-yo) back. It is common to add a slight bow of the head for politeness.
2 감사합니다 (kam-saham-ni-da) – Thank You
There are multiple ways to say thank you, however this is the one I have seen most used. It is very polite
and good to use when someone brings your food, or in other common scenarios.
3 네 (ne) – Yes
This is your standard Yes. 네 (ne) is a very versatile word and can be used for saying yes, you agree, or even as a filler word. Sometimes when you say thank you, the other person will respond with 네 (ne). In general it is a safe word to use and very common.
4 아니요 (a-ni-yo) – No
This word means no, or I do not agree. 아니요 (a-ni-yo) is pretty self explanatory and there is not much nuance. It is very common to use.
5 주세요 (ju-se-yo) – Please Give Me
This phrase directly means please give me, which more translates to “can I have___ please”. It is used when ordering anything from a restaurant or cafe and often paired with 이것 (ee-geo), meaning this thing. 이것 주세요 (ee-goe ju-se-yo) is used if you want to point at something to order. You can always say – “(item you want to order) 주세요 (ju-se-yo)”.
6 어디 (eo-di) – Where
This word means Where. It is often paired with 에 (eh) so it would be 어디에 (eo-di eh) this is commonly used for asking or clarifying directions. You can say the place you want to go and then use this phrase right after.
7 죄송합니다 (jwe-song-ham-ni-da) – Sorry
죄송합니다 (jwe-song-ham-ni-da) is the most common way to say sorry to strangers. It is very polite and can be used when you make a mistake or bump into someone, like excuse me in public. However, it is quite common for people to bump into you and not say anything. Because Seoul is a big city, it is culturally not seen as rude.
8 혹시 (hok-shi) – By Any Chance
This phrase is used to say by any chance. It can be used to say “excuse me” when trying to get someone’s attention in public to ask a question. It is polite and very helpful when navigating interactions with strangers.
These Korean phrases for beginners are the most commonly used phrases when traveling and living everyday life. When I start with Korean or even attempt, I notice Locals really appreciate it and are more enthusiastic about engaging. Remember, we are guests in their culture and it is important for us to adapt to their language like they do for us. The more you say these phrases, the more confident you will become and your connections with flourish!
Check out Why You Should Step out of Your Comfort Zone Abroad to gain confidence in speaking a new language!