10+ Useful Korean Phrases for Expats (and Travellers!) Part 2/2

This continues on from Part 1 where we covered:

  1. Why you should learn Hangeul
  2. Yes/No
  3. Hello, Thank you, Good job
  4. Goodbye, Sorry, Excuse me
  5. Please give me… (Ordering food/drinks)

Now that you have the basics, it’s time to get into the really useful stuff!


6. How much is it? (Counting and prices)

이거 얼마예요? (igeo eolmayeyo?) = “How much is this (thing)?”
You see a thing, you want the thing, you want to know how much it costs. This is the easiest way as you don’t even have to know what it’s called. Just point and say “이거 얼마예요?”

이거 주세요 (igeo juseyo) “Please give me that (thing).”
Again, with this one you can just point and say. In the markets produce usually comes in bowls, so it’s easy to just point and get one bowl. If it’s something that comes individually however, you will need to say how many you need.

  • 식빵 네개* 주세요 (shikbbang negae juseyo)”= “Please give me 4 loaves of bread.”
  • 수박 두개 주세요 (subak dugae juseyo) = “Please give me 2 watermelons.”

Applying this to the situation in number 5, you can ask for more than one of something in a restaurant.

  • 밥 다섯개 주세요 (bap daseotgae juseyo) = “Please give me 5 (bowls of) rice.”
  • 소주 세병** 주세요 (soju sebyeong juseyo) = “Please give me 3 bottles of soju”

*개 is a counter for things, and for all intensive purposes can be used with most things that you will need to ask for. 
**병 is a specific counter for bottles, so can be used for things like soju, beer, cola etc.

Korean numbers
There are two number systems in Korean. One is the sino-Korean system from Chinese and the other is the native Korean number system. Click here for a list, an explanation of how to use them and their pronunciation. The systems are used in different situations, however all you need to know at this point is to use native Korean numbers when asking for something, and sino-Korean numbers for prices.

Understanding prices in 원 (won)
So you’ve asked how much it is and got an answer, great! However this is useless information if you don’t understand it. While learning the numbers above (especially 1-10!) will definitely help you out with that, when buying produce at the market there are some numbers which when combined make up most of the prices.

  • 백 (baek) = 100
  • 오백 (o baek) = 500
  • 천 (cheon) = 1000
  • 오천 (o cheon) = 5000
  • 만 (man) = 10,000

So if the price is 5,500 won, it will be 오천오백 원 (o cheon o baek won). Realistically though, most places have signs written in numerals and if they don’t, they’ll have a calculator and type it on there for you. For more on currency, visit here for a detailed run down.


7. Taking a taxi ride

[place]+으로  가 주세요 (euro ka juseyo) = “Please take me to [place].”
The most important thing to do when you first get here, is find (and know the Korean name of!) a well known location or landmark near your apartment. For many people that will be a train station (기차역, gichayeok) or a subway station (지하철역, jihacheolyeok), but it could very well be a big supermarket like Lotte Mart or Homeplus. This way you can easily get home without having to learn anything too difficult. Remember to say “수고하세요!” when you get out of the taxi, I’m sure the driver will appreciate it!

More specific directions
If your apartment is close to a recognisable location, but still a bit of a walk from it, you can try to direct your taxi driver to your home using some more specific directions.

  • 좌회전해 주세요.(jwahwaejeon haseyo) = “Please turn left.”
  • 우회전해 주세요. (uhwaejeon haseyo) = “Please turn right.”
  • 직진해 주세요. (jikjin haseyo) = “Please go straight.”
  • [place] 맞은편으로 가 주새요 (majeunpyeoneuro ka juseyo) = “It’s opposite the [place].”
  • 좀 더 가 주세요. (jom deo juseyo) = “Please go a little more.”

여기서 내려 주세요 (yeogiseo naeryo juseyo) = “Please drop me off here.”
When you see your location and are ready to be let out, you can tell your driver this. The most important word to remember is “여기” which means “here”, if you just point and say “여기요” he will know what you mean.

 여기 주소로 가 주세요 (yeogi jusoro ka juseyo) = “Please go to this address.”
All taxis should have a GPS and a driver who knows how to use it well. If you have a location in mind and have the address written down, you can give it to the driver and ask him this.


8. Where is the bathroom? Do you have…?

화장실 어디에 있어요? (hwajangshili eodie isseoyo?) = “Where is the bathroom?”
In many places in Korea, it may not be obvious where the bathroom is. Sometimes they are located outside the shop in the main building or there may not even be one at all. After saying this, an employee will direct you to the bathroom and should let you know if you need to take toilet tissue with you or not. Often if the bathrooms are in the main building you will need to bring some with you.

(Noun)* 있어요?
This is a basic structures that works in many situations if you know the Korean word for what you are looking for. For example, in a restaurant when you want to check if they have a particular brand of beer, you can ask “하이네켄 맥주 있어요?” (haineken maekju isseoyo?), “Do you have Heineken beer?” Basically insert anything before “있어요?” and you can find out if the place has it. Even if it doesn’t quite make sense, they are going to get what you mean.


9. At the supermarket checkout

계산해 주세요 (gyesanhae juseyo) = “I’ll take these please.”
Literally, “please calculate”, this is a polite way to ask the cashier to ring through your items instead of just silently dumping them on the counter. You can say this at the convenience store too.

봉투 주세요 (bongtu juseyo) = “Please give me a plastic (shopping) bag.”
Usually they will ask but if you’re not sure what they said, you can make sure by saying “네, 봉투 주세요” and they will know that you need one. Not to be confused with 가방 (kabang), which can be used for other kinds of bag, like backpacks and handbags.

쓰레기 봉투 주세요 (sseuregi bongtu juseyo) =”Please give me a rubbish bag.”
“쓰레기” means rubbish/garbage, so a “쓰레기 봉투” a is a rubbish/garbage bag. In Korea (like many places) you need to buy designated bags to throw away your rubbish, you can’t just throw it away in your old shopping bag.

영수증 주세요 (yeongsujeung juseyo) = “Please give me a receipt.”
The big supermarkets like Homeplus and Lotte Mart will almost always give you your receipt, but some of the smaller marts may not. If you really want your receipt (for budgeting purposes like me perhaps), then you can ask the cashier, “영수증 주세요.”


10. I’m a New Zealander, I’m an English teacher

저는 [뉴질랜드] 사람입니다 (choneun [nyujilraendeu] saramimnida) = “I’m a [New Zealander].”
This literally means “I am a New Zealand person.” Therefore, you can swap New Zealand to the country you are from, and you have the sentence for you:

  • 미국 (miguk) = America
  • 캐나다 (kaenada) = Canada
  • 영국 (yongguk) = England
  • 아일랜드 (ailraendeu) = Ireland
  • 호주 (hoju) = Australia
  • 남아프리카 (namapeurika) = South Africa

These are the more common ones, but a simple internet search and you can find your country.

저는 영어 선생님입니다 (choneun yeongeo seonsaengnimimnida) = “I’m an English teacher.”
For all of us who are English (영어) teachers (선생님), this is ready to use. However if you have a different job then you will need to find out the name of your job in Korean, and insert it like so: 저는 [your job]입니다.

Some common occupations are:

  • 학생 (haksaeng) = Student
  • 회사원 (hwesawon) = Office worker
  • 요리사 (yorisa) = Chef
  • 간호사 (ganhosa) = Nurse
  • 경찰관 gyongchalgwan) = Police officer
  • 주부 (jubu) = Homemaker
  • 의사 (euisa) = Doctor

Note: You may have heard that no one shakes hands here. This isn’t true! When Koreans are meeting foreigners, usually they will want to shake your hand because they understand this is the Western way of greeting. Of course they will bow a little at the same time, which is the custom for greeting here. So while you should remember to bow when you meet/greet someone, if it’s the first time you can also shake hands too.


11. Classroom commands

야! (ya) = Like “Hey!” or “Oi!”
This is for when kids are being loud or rowdy and you want them to all stop what they are doing and pay attention. It’s a little bit angry teacher, but really depends how you say it.

조용히 해! (joyonghi hae) = “Be quiet.”
Classrooms are LOUD. If you’ve just started teaching, don’t be fooled by the initial quiet. As soon as they are used to you, the volume will begin notching up and at some point you’re going to crack. When you do, instead of yelling “Shut up!” try telling them “조용히 해!” in Korean. Not only will it shock them into silence (the first time) it will also earn you some respect points.

영어로 해 (yeongoro hae) = “Speak in English.”
Your school may have an “always speak in English” policy, but I doubt it will be enforced. I regularly hear Korean English teachers speaking to the kids in Korean, even the higher level kids who should be able to manage all English conversations. However, I like to enforce this rule in most of my classes, which is why I personally don’t use Korean classroom commands much at all. When I do find them useful, is for beginner levels kids who can get a bit wild when they don’t understand anything you are saying.

A few more handy ones:

  • 앉아! (anja) = “Sit down.”
  • 하지마! (hajima) = “Stop that.”
  • 여기 봐 (yeogi bwa) “Look at me.”/ “Look here.”

Note: These are all in the lowest level of respect because when my kids misbehave or are too rowdy I don’t want to speak politely to them, plus they are younger than me so I don’t have to. However if you teach university level or other adults, you may want to say these more formally. Usually this is a matter of adding ~으세요 (euseyo) or 세요 (seyo) depending on the ending. For example, instead of “하지마!”, say “하지마세요”, and instead of “앉아!”, say “앉으세요.” “여기 봐” is a little different as you should politely say, “여기 보세요.”

So, that’s the list!

I hope these will be useful and you find yourself trying them out. Some of them may be a bit confusing, or you might have questions as to why you say a certain thing or change what you say depending on who you are talking to. Without going too far into the grammar this is a bit hard to explain, and I wanted to keep it simple so it didn’t seem too daunting. But if you want to get further into the Korean language, the list of resources I will be posting next can help you out with that!


Again, if you have any experiences using these phrases (or others), comment and let me know how it went! Have I missed any?

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10 Responses

  1. kei says:

    I know you covered saying goodbye in the last post, but I assume you used very formal Korean? I was wondering how you say goodbye when you are leaving first or when the other person is leaving first informally, such as to close friends. I’ve heard it on dramas but it is hard for me to figure out who is going first and who is staying.

    Also, is there a shorter way to ask for the loo? If I really had to go, I don’t know if I could remember all that!

    • Alice says:

      Oh, sorry! Not sure how I approved this and then didn’t reply ㅠㅠ
      Yeah that’s right, I used the regular formal versions. You can just say, 안녕 (annyeong) for goodbye too (like for when my students leave), but probably what you’ve heard in dramas is people saying something like (나) 먼저 갈게 (na meonjeo gal-ge) which means “I’ll go first”, or just shortened to 갈게, “I’ll go”. Casually people don’t really say bye, or even hello. And formally as well you don’t always say goodbye either, there’s so many different expressions for saying you are leaving which = goodbye. On phone people seem to just end with a long 네~~~~ (nehhhhh) or 응~~~~ (oooooong), for formal and informal. Korean is weird for an English-speaker in that way. I’m planning on writing a post about all this stuff at some point too, cause there’s a lot more xD

      • kei says:

        An extended post about this would be fascinating! I really enjoy the nuances of other languages, especially if you watch movies or dramas in that language you can start to pick them up at least a little bit. Thanks for the answer ^^

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