What Languages Do They Speak in South Korea?

Written by: Dave Owen


South Korea is not a common stop on the backpacker trail around Asia, but it has just as much to offer as the more popular destinations in the area.

Many people there speak English, especially in major cities such as capital Seoul, but knowing a few words of some of the languages in South Korea can help your trip run a little more smoothly and endear you to the local people.

What Language Do They Speak in South Korea?

You’re likely to hear several different languages in South Korea. Here are a few of the most common:

Standard Korean

Koreans, unsurprisingly, speak Korean, and a standard version is understood throughout the country. It doesn’t share many similarities with Western languages, so even learning to pronounce a few key words and phrases can be tricky.

Written Korean is also unique, using a phonetic system called hangul. It stacks sounds into blocks that represent syllables, and its consistency means it’s fairly easy to pick up. What may look alien at first can quickly begin to make sense.


Korean dialects

In different areas of South Korea you’ll find that different dialects are spoken. For example, the Gyeongsang dialect spoken around Busan and Daegu to the south sounds quite rough and aggressive compared to standard Korean.

This isn’t something you should worry about, as almost everywhere standard Korean will be understood alongside local dialect.


Many South Koreans speak English, as nearly all those under the age of 40 will have had English lessons at school. The Korean government has been working hard to improve levels of English across the country.

However, you may find that many Koreans struggle to understand English in actual conversation, as they often don’t have the chance to practice. In major cities, such as Seoul, this is unlikely to be a problem, but in rural areas it could prove more difficult.

Western travellers may well find themselves approached by school children excited for an opportunity to practice their English. They might even take a picture of you, to prove that it actually happened!


There is a large Chinese community in South Korea, so in some areas you may well hear Mandarin or Cantonese spoken.

More likely is that you’ll encounter hanja, which is when Chinese characters are used to write Korean words. It’s becoming less common, and tends now to be used chiefly as a disambiguation, in which case you’ll find it in brackets beside the hangul.


Some older people in South Korea may speak Japanese. Busan to the south is close to Fukuoka in Japan, and therefore has a large number of Japanese speakers. The local dialect there is even a little closer to Japanese.

Be aware that some older Koreans resent the Japanese for acts committed during the occupation. Don’t address a Korean in Japanese unless you know it’s okay or have no other choice.

Key phrases in South Korea

Here’s how to say a few key words and phrases in standard Korean:



Pleased to meet you

Mannaseo bangawoyo

My name is…

Je ireum-eun … imnida



Thank you




Where’s the toilet?

Hwajangsiri eodiyeyo?

Get me a big ice cream

Na-ege keun aiseukeulim-eul gajyeo ogi

Check out these top South Korea experiences


International Arts Internship In Korea

from £1125

60 days

South Korea is a destination that is bursting with talented designers, creators, and artists that have found a country in...

Teach English in South Korea

from £900

180 - 360 days

Get paid to teach English in South Korea with an accredited TEFL certification & lifetime job placement assistance from International...

International Hospitality Internship In Korea

from £1125

60 days

South Korea is rapidly becoming one of the most popular destinations for international tourists to visit.

International Marketing & PR Internship In Korea

from £1125

60 days

South Korea is a well-established and developed nation and maintains one of the top economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

International Business Internship In Korea

from £1125

60 days

South Korea is an excellent destination to pursue a future career in international business with the vast opportunities the country...

Combined TEFL Course Seoul

from £1011

10 days

Join our 10-day combined TEFL course in Seoul and become a TEFL/TESOL certified teacher of English as a foreign language.


Indian Getaway

from £420


Chow down on some chivda (a crunchy cereal snack), lose yourself in the labyrinth of lanes, but whatever you do...

Best of Malaysia

from £1185


Travel to South-East Asia and experience the very best of Malaysia. Since its emergence from colonial rule, Malaysia has developed...

Inle Lake Short Break

from £195


This Short Break takes you to the site of some of the most iconic images of Myanmar – Intha leg...

Cambodia: Hike, Bike & Kayak

from £811


Cambodia’s incredible beauty, fantastic food and unique culture are even better when combined with some serious outdoor adventure. Explore Phnom...

Sri Lanka & Maldives Adventure

from £1699

Maldives, Sri Lanka

This 14-day combo trip brings together the best of Sri Lanka's cultural highlights and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sail the...

Jakarta to Ubud

from £1207


Don’t be fooled into thinking Indonesia is ‘just another island getaway’, because the scale of experiences you’ll have in this...

Everest Base Camp

from £970


Got your trekking pants on? Good. Fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, then start walkin’. Check out Namche Bazaar, have a...

Taj Mahal Extension

from £455


Journey to India’s famous Taj Mahal, a majestic monument to love. Built by a Mughal emperor as tribute to his...

Backroads of Russia: Saint Petersburg – Moscow

from £1549

Russian Federation

Russia is the world’s largest nation, which means there’s no shortage of things to see or do here. With us,...

Thailand Family Holiday for solo parents

from £888


Want a family getaway that’s a little different? The combination of culture, friendly people, exciting activities, yummy food and stunning...

Find more articles about languages around the world

[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]