I’ve been living in Seoul for almost a month now and although I studied a bit of Korean before coming here, I found there were a lot of basic survival phrases that I had yet to learn. From shopping to ordering food, here are some simple and easy-to-learn phrases that have helped me get around:
How much is this?
이거 얼마예요 (ee-geoh eol-ma-eh-yo)
When you’re at the market or getting some street food, this phrase will be your best friend. Just make sure you know how to decipher the vendor’s answer! Most of the time, the vendor will use their hands to indicate the price, but if their hands are full you might have to translate their answer.
Where is ____?
_____ 어디에요? (eo-di-eh-yo)
If you know the name of the place you’re trying to find, say the name and just follow it up with 어디에요 (eo-di-eh-yo) to ask someone how to get there. From my experience, when you ask for directions, people in Seoul will just walk you to your destination if it is not too far. If you don’t know how to say the name of the place but you have it on your phone, go ahead and just say “this”, or 이거 (ee-geoh), before saying 어디에 (eo-di-eh-yo).
Give me a bag, please.
봉투 주세요 (bohng-too ju-se-yo)
If you don’t want to get stuck holding your ramen, banana milk, and sausage in your arms all the way back to your room from the convenience store, you will need to ask for a bag. In Seoul, some stores will charge you a couple cents for a bag so it is essential that you ask them for one.
I want one of these, please.
이거 한 개 주세요. (ee-geoh han geh ju-se-yo)
If you don’t know how to say the name of the item you are trying to buy, just say “this”! Especially when eating out, you might not know the name of the dish, but you can usually just point at the menu and say “one of these please”, or 이거 한 개 주세요. (ee-geoh han geh ju-se-yo). If you want more than one of the item, change the “one”, or 한 (han), to the amount that you want.
Where is the bathroom?
화장실 어디에요? (hwa-jang-shil eo-di-eh-yo?)
In Seoul, it’s fairly easy to locate a restroom since there are always signs pointing to which direction you should go, but there are sometimes locked or hidden bathrooms in restaurants or cafes.
This can be used to let someone know that you are trying to pass them –like if you are in a full subway and you need to get out. However, if you want to say “excuse me” to get a waiter’s attention, you should say 저기요 (cheo-gi-yo)!
Do you have this?
이거 있어요? (ee-geoh iss-eo-yo)
If you’re shopping for something specific, this phrase will help you find out if the item is still in stock or if the store does not carry the item. The vendor will then say 있어요 (iss-eo-yo) means “to have” or 없어요 (eob-seo-yo) which means “don’t have”.
The simplest phrase that you will use more than anything else. Technically, it’s written to be pronounced as (gam-sah-hap-ni-da), however, most people say (gam-sahm-nida).
Where is the nearest subway?
가장 가까운 지하철역이 어디에요? (ka-jang ka-kka-oon ji-ha-cheol-yeok-ee eo-di-eh-yo)
This one is a bit trickier and longer to say but it’s extremely important to know just in case you get lost. If you know the name of the nearest station but don’t know where to find it, you can just say _____역 어디에요? (yeok eo-di-eh-yo)
What is this?
이게 뭐예요 (ee-geoh mwo-ye-yo)
When you’re walking the streets and you see some good looking food but you don’t know what it is, just ask the vendor this question and they will most likely try to respond to you in English!
I hope these phrases help you survive in Seoul. If you still want to learn even more phrases, check out Talk To Me In Korean’s website where they do podcasts and lesson that can help you master the language with ease. As always, feel free to comment down below with any questions and check out some of the other articles I’ve written such as “Why I Chose A Transfer Program In Seoul” and “Seoul Subway 101“. Safe travels!