Know Before You Go– Reading Hangul is Essential

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Hello again, everyone!! Today, I thought I would go over words and phrases that you should know before you come, as well as give some tips on how to get around better when you can’t rely on English!

First and foremost, regardless of whether you can actually speak or understand Korean, before you go to Korea it is essential that you understand the basics of hangul (the Korean Alphabet). Similar to English by having consonants and vowels and unlike its neighbors Japan and China, the Korean language does not consist of pictorially based characters, but instead has a basic configuration of 24 characters all associated with their own sound. From my experience of learning Chinese and some Korean, I can say that Korean is worlds easier. This is because as long as you know the sound related to each character you can essentially read Korea. There are combinations of consonants and vowels that change the spoken sound and other intricacies that you would need to fully delve into hangul to understand, but at the most basic level, if you can recognize what each symbol by itself sounds like, you are already on your way to speaking and understanding Korean.

Now, some people might offer travelers comforting words about how accessible Korea is for people who speak English—most people have a very basic grasp of English, most buses announce the stops in English, most menus have English translations or kiosks have a total English feature, and with the internet if something is not already in English, it is relatively easy to use translation apps to help you—and not to be mistaken, these things are true! However, outside of the fact that I believe if you are going to travel somewhere for an extended time you should make an effort to use the local language, as I mentioned above, the ‘most’ situations will not help you prepare for the outliers. For example, what if you wanted to try a mom-and-pop restaurant that had a menu only in Korean, took a red bus that didn’t offer an English translation of what stop you were at (speaking from personal experience), or explored into an area that didn’t accommodate internet? By knowing the basics of hangul you would be able to order food or correlate the hangul on your maps app to that being shown at the front of the bus. It is also extremely helpful if you are trying to use a noraebang (karaoke) or want to sing your favorite songs in Korean!!

Knowing how to read/pronounce hangul has helped me when I have wanted to order something to eat! Despite there being an English translation of what the actual dish is, it does not mean that someone will understand if you try to use the English translation to order. By knowing how to read (and by using the world-wide language of pointing) you can know how to speak the dish and order! At another time, I was traveling to the beach and took a red bus (buses that are used to travel from city to city) that did not have the normal English translation of the bus stops that most intercity (blue and green) buses have. Furthermore, buses in Korean will sometimes skip stops if no one is getting off/on, so you need to be able to understand where you are. Additionally, I use Kakao Maps to get around, since I find it to be more accurate. However, it is more oriented towards Koreans than it is English speakers, so the stops it shows are in Korean, so it is better to be able to read hangul since it won’t show you the English translations anyways.

To get on with it though, here is a list of phrases/words that I think would be important and helpful to travelers going to Korea:

Thank you – 감사합니다 gamsahabnida
Excuse me (to get someone’s attention) – 저기요 jeogiyo
One moment/ excuse me (scooting by someone) — 잠시만요 jamsiman-yo
Ordering food: One of *this* please — *thing* 하나 주세요 hana juseyo
Taxi: Go here please— 여기 가서 주세요 *here*/ yeogi (literally “here”) gaseo juseyo
I’m sorry – 미안해요 mianhaeyo
No – 아니요 aniya/aniyo
It’s ok – 괜찮아요 gwaenchanh-ayo
Helpful for asking for trash bags at the convenience store: Do you have *blank*- *blank* 있어요? iss-eoyo?
We/Here/this don’t have- *blank* 없어요 eobs-eoyo

I would consider these phrases to be essential for anyone traveling to other countries!