Here’s a quick tip. A couple of weekends ago I found myself back in Seoul on a very last minute trip. So last minute in fact that I found out on the Saturday morning that I needed to go, and left that afternoon.
After arriving on the Sunday, a quick sleep and then dinner, I’d decided that my hastily packed bag contained clothing inappropriate for 36 degree heat, so a shopping trip was in order. Being 11pm on a Sunday night the only real option was Dongdaemun, so I quickly dropped back to the hotel and put a t-shirt on. And that was where I made my mistake.
A few months ago I’d picked up a t-shirt on the internet that says Foreigner (Waegukin) on it in Hangeul. This caused all sorts of hilarity at Dongdaemun, with lots of people pointing and laughing at my chest, and shouting “Hello Waegukin!” to me as I walked past. And when I say lots of people I really do mean a lot of people!
Some people could view that as being rude, but naturally each individual couldn’t have known that the last 50 people I walked past did exactly the same thing. But it still got a bit too much and after a while I was forced into a rush purchase of a new t-shirt.
Rudeness of course isn’t a word you’d associate with Korea / Koreans. With it’s largely Confucian roots Korea still sticks to a rigid to hierarchy structure and there are formal and informal ways of saying things. So whilst it’s quite acceptable to use the informal “Ani” (no) with your friends, in front of an older or more respected person you should always use the formal “Anieyo” (still means no)
Another example, and one of my all time favourite words is ‘Yogieyo’. At first I always felt a bit guilty sticking my hand up in a restaurant and shouting ‘Yogieyo’; after all, sticking your hand up and shouting ‘Here’ to get somebody’s attention does seem a little rude, but now it’s almost second nature.
So tacking ‘Eyo’ on the backend of a statement makes it the formal way getting your message across.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves again, so let’s reign ourselves back and look at some basic Korean phrases that we can use to get us started.
One of the first things I wanted to be able to do was to be able to phone up a Korean client, say who I was, and ask for the person I wanted to talk to.
I’ve phoned people in a few countries before, and always reverted to just saying hello, and asking them if they speak English in their native language. But that’s a bit like copping out, but ‘Do you speak English?’ is always a good phrase to know anyway, so lets start with that:
We previously learnt how to greet somebody, by using “An–yong ha sae-yo” (Hello – Literally means: Are You at peace) so that’s the first part of what we are going to say.
Next is where we can practice out Korean sentence structure from the first lesson and make sure we get our words around the right way. In this example the word English is the topic and therefore needs to be used at the start of the sentence. So the words in English but with the Korean structure would be:
English speak can you?
And in Korean with the Korean structure:
Yeong-o-hal soo-it so-yo?
Perfect, now we can start a conversation with any Korean person. But the Koreans are just like everybody else around the world, if you show them that you’ve learnt a little of their language then they start to open up a little more. So let’s just keep that to one side for a moment just in case we come totally unstuck.
There are a few different ways of introducing yourself, the easiest being: “Cho-nun Alud im-ni-da” which basically means “I’m Alud”. But rather than just saying “I’m Alud”, which is a little informal for this use, I really want to say “My Name is Alud”
Je e-reum-un Alud im-ni-da
Good, we’re on a roll. Next we need to ask to speak to somebody by name, so I’ll use Mr Lee as an example:
Lee-sshi ha-go tong-wha hal-su it-seo-yo?’
Which basically translated means Can I speak to Mr Lee Please?
Lets put it all together and hear how it may sound:
An–yong ha sae-yo, Je e-ruem-un Alud im-ni-da. Lee-sshi ha-go tong-wha ship-o-yo?
At this point we probably won’t understand the answer, so we can revert to our fall back of: “Yeong-o-hal soo-it so-yo?”
Many thanks for your encouraging comments, it’s much appreciated. Next time, less waffle, more Korean! 🙂