Surviving Your Trip to Korea Without Learning the Language

It is widely known that many Koreans do not speak English, so how would a foreigner survive a visit to this enchanting country without learning the language? South Korea is such a fascinating country, and because of its movies and TV dramas that are being subtitled in different languages, and its music groups and bands getting exposed to more Western audiences, many are eager to visit the country.

Many attempt to learn the language. Hangeul, the Korean alphabet is easy to learn. You can read and write it after studying it for about 10 hours or more. But constructing sentences in Korean is a different thing. First, the sentence order is subject-object-verb. For English speakers, this is totally alien, because they are taught to construct sentences following the subject-verb-object order. Here are some survival tips for you to get by, without learning much about the language yet be able to communicate and look like you have been in South Korea for a long time.

• Body language is very important. You might be hesitant to enter a store because you do not speak the language and yet you wanted to get a particular thing. There is nothing to worry about because you can always point to the object and pay for it. Hand gestures and facial expressions help a lot. Accept things with two hands. Learn to bow properly, with the thumbs interlocked and placed in front of you. The older the person you meet, the deeper the bow should be. It is rude to point at things and persons. If you have to absolutely do it, use an open palm with all fingers outstretched.

• Knowing how to read Hangeul will be of great help as you will be able to at least read some of the written words, which might also be English written in Hangeul. It helps to lessen the culture shock as well, as you will feel like you have lost the ability to read. Part of learning Korean is to sound out the things you read, (only if you have learned Hangeul).

• If you are fond of wearing short skirts, do what most Korean ladies do especially when climbing stairs. Hold your handbag or your tote bag behind you with both hands. This act will provide you with some form of covering for the edge of your short skirt.

• Learn to eat kimchi, which is one of the healthiest foods in the world, anyway. Even if you haven't learned the language, you would have earned the respect of many Koreans. Corollary to this, learn to use the Korean chopsticks as well. They are made of stainless steel, a bit heavy and flat. The long-handled spoon is used to scoop up rice and soup. Keep in mind that if you are with a bunch of Korean acquaintances, the food that you order will be served for the group, meaning that you will be sharing the food in one communal container.

• Even if you do not know the language, know that there is a hierarchy even when eating. If you are the youngest, you are expected to get the silverware, the napkins, spoons and chopsticks if these are not laid out. You also will fetch water, and man the grill if you order meat. You must not take the last bit of food left on the plate. Otherwise you will see a lot of disapproving faces. It's different when it is time to pay though. If you are the youngest, you utter a hollow offer to pay, which your older companions will find cute. The oldest in the group is always the one to pay.

Nevertheless, it would be a better experience for you if you at least know some basic words in Korean, such as kamsahamnida, cheonmaneyo, annyeong, oppa, noona, unni, hyeong, imo (instead of ajumma). You can use a phrase book, or otherwise find an interpreter in Korea.

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About the Author:

Ronnie Avelino is working for Day Translations, Inc., a global interpreting and certified translation services provider with headquarters in Tampa, Florida, US, and offices worldwide. Its dedicated team of specialized and trained certified translators and interpreters are available 24/7 around the world to satisfy their customers’ translation and interpreting needs.


  1. I can read Hangeul and speak like them but the problem is, I can't understand what they're talking about. But to experience Korea can be rewarding.. :D

    1. you can understand them through their actions naman..kaya chill lang.

  2. can i get any friend in korean now?


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