South Koreans speak Korean, therefore learning a few words in the language would be extremely useful. Unfortunately, the syntax of the language differs significantly from that of any Western language, and pronunciation is difficult for an English speaker to master (though not tonal). Various dialects are spoken depending on where you travel in the nation, but standard Korean, which is based on the Seoul dialect, is understood and spoken by nearly everyone. The Gyeongsang dialect, spoken in Busan and Daegu, is renowned for being harsh and violent in comparison to standard Korean, while the Jeju dialect, spoken on Jeju island, is notorious for being almost incomprehensible to standard Korean speakers.
North Korean and South Korean differences
Despite 60 years of separation, the Korean language remains essentially the same in North and South Korea. The major distinctions are the high number of English nouns that South Korea has taken from English, as opposed to the North’s use of indigenous or Russian-derived equivalents. As a consequence of the ideological differences between the two nations, descriptions of political and social systems are likewise drastically different.
The Korean writing system seems to be very basic. Although it seems to be as complicated as Chinese or Japanese at first sight, hangul (hangeul) is a unique and simple phonetic writing system in which sounds are piled into blocks that indicate syllables. It was created by a committee and seems to be all right angles and little circles at first sight, yet it is surprisingly consistent, rational, and easy to learn.
Because many signs and menus in Korea are printed in hangul exclusively, learning to understand it before you come can make navigating much simpler. Even simple pattern-matching techniques are useful: for example, if you know that a circle at the bottom of a block is read -ng, you can tell Pyongyang () from Seoul Furthermore, many popular Korean terms – coffee, juice, computer — are frequently the same as English ones, but are written in hangul. Surviving in Korea is surprisingly simple if you can read hangul.
Many Korean words may also be written using considerably more complicated classical Chinese characters, called in Korean as hanja, which are still sometimes incorporated into writing but are becoming more rare. Nowadays, hanja are mostly used to clarify meanings that are unclear when written in hangul. The hanja is typically placed in parenthesis next to the hangul in such cases. Hanja characters are also used to denote janggi or Korean chess pieces, newspaper headlines, and personal names on official documents.
Because Korean terms in Roman characters may have a lot of variation in spelling, don’t be startled if you encounter signs for Gwangalli and Kwanganri next to each other – they’re both the same location. The government standardized on the Revised Romanization method in 2000, which is also used in Wikivoyage, although earlier McCune-Reischauer spellings and just plain odd spellings are still common. Words starting with g, d, b, and j, for example, may be written k, t, p, and ch instead, while the vowels eo and eu may be spelled o and u. The vowels I and u are occasionally written as ee and oo, respectively, while the letters l, r, and n are often exchanged. F is replaced by p in foreign terms imported into Korean, so don’t be shocked if you see a cup of keopi (coffee) or a round of golpeu (golf).
Almost every Korean under the age of 40 has had English lessons as part of their education, and the country’s English level is improving as a result of government policies and investments. However, most Koreans have only a rudimentary understanding of English phrases in real speech owing to a lack of practice (as well as a fear of mispronunciation). If you’re in a hurry and need someone to speak English, high school or university students are usually your best option. Reading and writing, on the other hand, are considerably simpler, and many individuals can read and comprehend a significant amount of English even without any real-life conversation experience. Many workers at foreign tourist-oriented airlines, hotels, and shops are likely to know at least basic English. As a result, visitors in large cities may get by with just English, but it goes without saying that learning basic Korean words will make your trip more comfortable and pleasant.
When visiting South Korea, it is typical for western visitors to be accosted by youngsters who want to practice their English. They’ll often snap a photo of you as evidence that they really spoke to you.
Older people may still be able to communicate in Japanese. Because Busan is just a short distance from Fukuoka, Japan, it has a higher concentration of Japanese speakers per capita, and the dialect is more similar to Japanese, just as the Japanese dialect in Fukuoka has a strong Korean impact. However, many Koreans (particularly the elderly) still hold the Japanese responsible for the horrors perpetrated during the occupation, so unless you have no other option, avoid addressing a Korean in Japanese. Many merchants in touristic areas understand Japanese, Mandarin, or Cantonese, thanks to the “Korean wave” (hallyu) of Korean pop music and soap operas that has swept East Asia.