Moon Lee

Korean Fun Facts for Beginners

Korean Fun Facts for Beginners

Korean language is unique to Korea. It has a writing script used only in the Korean language, sounds and grammar that are different from English. Many of these differences stem from Korean cultural values and history. We have picked some Korean fun facts for beginners that are useful to know.

‘Our father’ but never ‘My father’

Korean does not use a singular possessive pronoun when referring to their families, instead they will use a plural possessive pronoun, even when only one individual is the possessor. For example, in Korean you will say ‘my father’ as 우리아버지 uri abeoji (literally ‘our father’). Similarly, ‘my mother’ is 우리엄마 uri eomma (literally ‘our mother’). Even ‘my wife’ and ‘my husband’ will be translated into Korean as 우리아내 uri anae and 우리남편 uri nampyeon. Language reflects culture. The fact that Korean uses the plural possessive pronoun reflects the Korean culture of collectivism.

Addressing non-relatives as your family

Korean address their family members with specific terms of address, just like Dad, Mom, Grandpa, or Grandma. Younger siblings address older siblings as either 형 hyeong, 오빠 oppa, 누나 nuna or 언니 eonni. If you are male, you will address your older brother as 형 hyeong and your older sister as 누나 nuna. If you are female, you will address your older brother as 오빠 oppa and your older sister as 언니 eonni.

These terms of address are extended toward non-relatives. So if you are female, you will address an older female as 언니 eonni and an older male as 오빠 oppa. If you are male, you will address an older female as 누나 nuna and an older male as 형 hyeong. Never should you address people older than you by their names.

You will address your friend’s father as 아버님 abeonim, an honorific expression for ‘father’, which is also used by daughter-in-law addressing their father-in-law. You will address your friend’s mother as 어머님eomeonim, an honorific expression for ‘mother’, and guess what, this term is also used by daughter-in-law addressing their mother-in-law.

Using honorific language when speaking to seniors

Korean society is hierarchical and juniors should always use honorific language when speaking to seniors. Seniors are people who are older or higher in ranking than the speaker. Honorific language uses different titles, nouns, verbs, pronouns, particles and verb suffixes. For example, the title 선생님 seonsaengnim is used when addressing a teacher, or used as Sir/Madam. The director at work is called 대표님 daepyonim.  The President or CEO is called 사장님 sajangnim. You will not address these people as Mr/Ms/Mrs such and such, but by their honorific titles.

On the other hand, seniors can use normal language when speaking to juniors. They can address their juniors as Mr/Ms/Mrs such and such. For example, Mr Lee Minho will be addressed 이민호씨 by his seniors. The title 씨 ssi can be used for both males and females, following a full name or a surname.

Surname before given name

Unlike English name, Korean name is arranged as surname followed by given name. Korean full names usually contain three characters, for example 김태희Kim Tae-hee. Sometimes the given name may contain only one character, such as 김준Kim Joon. The surname Kim is very popular, with 22% of people in Korea have this surname. Other popular surnames are Lee, Park, Choi and Jeong.

Hangeul versus Hanja

Hanja, the Chinese writing imported into the Korean language, was originally used in Korea until King Sejong the Great invented hangeul to improve literacy. Today, hanja is still taught at schools mostly at the secondary level. The use of hanja is limited to ancient literature as modern Korean texts use hangeul. The surname Kim written in hangeul 김; written in hanja 金, which means ‘gold’.

Two Numbering Systems

The Korean language includes two numbering system: native Korean numbers and Sino-Korean numbers. The latter is adopted from the Chinese language and originally written in hanja. Since hangeul is used, the Sino-Korean numbers are now written in hangeul but retain their Chinese-adopted pronunciation.

Each numbering system is used in specific topics. For instance, when expressing time, the hour of the day is expressed in native Korean number while the minute is expressed in Sino-Korean number. Age is expressed in native Korean numbers. Date, days, months, year are expressed in Sino-Korean numbers.