Tag Archive | "language"

Ten Useful Korean Words for Winter

By Sang Kim and Jenna Gibson

With a cold snap freezing South Korea this week, we collected a list of 10 useful winter-related Korean words that could help you get through the season. Check out the list and please leave any useful words that we didn’t include in the comments below!







롱패딩 – long-pae-ding

“long padding”

Using the English words “long” + “padding,” this is a type of puffy jacket that reaches below the knees. This “long padding” trend has swept Korea, made popular in part by famous ice skater Kim Yuna wearing a special PyeongChang Olympic-themed coat.







감기 조심하다 – kam-gi jo-shim-ha-da

Be careful of colds

This is a phrase that a mom or concerned friend would say as you bundle up and prepare to head out into the frigid weather. It can be a nice way to show you care about another person’s health.







영하 기온 – young-ha ki-on

Below zero temperature

Keep an eye out for this phrase on weather reports – it means that the temperature is going to be dropping below freezing (0 degrees Celsius or 32 Fahrenheit).







빙판길 – bing-pan-gil

Icy road

Ice is often the most dangerous part of winter, particularly when roads freeze over with black ice that is difficult to see while driving. Listen for this word on news reports to be prepared for an icy day ahead.







내복 – nae-bok

Long johns/long underwear

Literally translated to “under clothes,” it’s common to wear some type of long underwear to keep warm in the winter, particularly if you’re going to be spending more than a short time outdoors.







아늑하다 – ah-neuk-ha-da


This is an adjective similar to the English word cozy; it’s used to describe a house, room, or some closed space that’s warm and inviting.







꽁꽁얼다 – ggong-ggong-eol-da

Frozen solid

Used to describe something that is completely frozen, such as a lake or river. This is used literally when something has turned to ice, not as a way to describe how cold you feel on a chilly day.







삼한사온 – sam-han-sa-on

Three cold, four warm

Dating back to ancient Korea, this word describes the usual winter weather pattern in Korea, where there will be three cold days followed by four days that are slightly warmer. It’s unclear if that pattern still holds true today, especially with global warming, but Koreans still use this phrase when they see a cold-warm pattern of temperatures in the winter.







겨울 길거리 간식 – kyeo-ul kil-geo-ri kan-shik

Winter street foods

Korea is famous for delicious street food, and there is no better way to warm up on a cold day than with a warm snack. Some popular winter street food/snacks include: 호떡(ho-dduk) – Korean pancake with sweet fillings, 호빵(ho-bbang) – steamed buns, 군고구마(gun-go-gu-ma) – roasted sweet potato, and 군밤 (gun-bam) – roasted chestnuts.







한파 – han-pa

Cold snap

A word used to describe sudden drop of the temperature in the winter, 한파 is commonly used on weather forecasts or on the news to warn of frigid temperatures.


If you liked this list, check out the other posts in our series of useful Korean words: 10 Useful Korean Slang Terms, Ten Korean Words that Don’t Exist in English, and Ten Korean Dating Terms.


Sang Kim is the Director of Public Affairs & Intern Coordinator. Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

Image from Young Sok Yun 윤영석’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Elusive Korean Language Major

By Jeff Zwick

Korean language study is on the rise in the U.S. and throughout the world. Many experts have indicated that the growing popularity of Korean music, TV shows, and movies has likely influenced this surge in Korean language study. The Korean Wave started in the 1990s in Asian countries and later made its way to the U.S. market, bringing more interest for introductory Korean classes. But has this relatively new trend for all things Korean actually caused an increase in the number of advanced Korean language speakers or has it merely resulted in more beginner level speakers who abandon Korean after the first semester or year?

The surge in Korean study may be a result of the growing popularity of K-pop, K-dramas, and kimchi. If it is indeed the case that the “Korean Wave” has inspired college students to study Korean, it has proved to be no fleeting motivation. In a report by the Modern Language Association (MLA), the percentage of undergraduates enrolled in a Korean course who were studying in 3rd or 4th year Korean in 2006 and 2009 was higher than Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic, the three other hardest languages for English speakers among the top 15 most studied foreign languages in the United States. In 2013, the percentage of Korean language students continuing for a 3rd or 4th year Korean course came in second place among the four languages, after Chinese. Among these four languages, Arabic had the lowest percentage of undergraduates enrolled in an advanced (3rd or 4th year) Arabic course in 2006, 2009, and 2013 and the most unbalanced ratio of introductory level to advanced level students.

Various colleges and universities in the U.S. offer Korean language courses. However, the number of U.S. schools offering a Korean major is the lowest when compared to Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic. This may be obvious considering that, despite its growing popularity, the number of total students studying Korean is still the lowest among the previously mentioned languages. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that, with only seven universities offering Korean language and literature majors, it is also the lowest per capita when compared to Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. Using the numbers from the 2013 MLA study, for each of the seven universities that offer a Korean related major, there are 1,747 Korean language students. The ratios for Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic are 1 to 695, 1 to 642, and 1 to 1,113, respectively.

The argument that there is not enough interest to support adding more majors of a particular language is valid if the percentage of students in advanced level courses of that language is low, like Arabic. But, as I previously explained, that is not the case for Korean. In fact, students who are interested in Korean studies may find that the main obstacle is the lack of official Korean major programs. Unless more Korean majors are added in the United States, the amount of advanced level Korean language learners may have nowhere else to go but down.

The Korean Wave has proved to stimulate not only an interest in Korean dramas, music, and food, but also a lasting and committed drive to learn the Korean language to an advanced level. The wave may peter out at some point but, for now, it still seems to have momentum. To effectively ride the popularity of Korean culture and sustain an interest in academic Korean studies after the wave has passed, the ratio of Korean language students to Korean language majors in the U.S. should start to look more like that of Japanese and Chinese. This increase will allow students with a desire to make Korea their focus, to take classes in a variety of Korea-related subjects outside of language courses, and their final degree will distinguish them as a specialist in Korea. With a Korea-focused degree, graduates will be able to show their Korean language skills and cultural knowledge more clearly on their resume when applying for positions with a global Korean company, a Korea-focused NGO or non-profit, or a job in another industry with ties to Korea. As such, more Korean majors at U.S. universities will benefit both the United States and South Korea.

Jeff Zwick has a Master’s degree in Asian Studies from the University of Utah and is currently an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Jason Tong’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Ten Useful Korean Dating Terms

By Sang Kim and Jenna Gibson

If you’ve ever been in Korea around Valentine’s Day (or Peppero Day, or Christmas), you know that Korean dating culture is no joke. To help you navigate the world of relationships in Korea, we’ve compiled a list of 10 useful Korean words to describe different aspects of dating and relationships.

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금사빠 – geum sah bbah

금방 사랑에 빠지다  / 금방 사랑에 빠지는 사람 (falling in love right away)

Similar to the phrase “love at first sight,” this abbreviated word is used to describe someone who falls in love very easily and quickly, but this phrase is different in a way a person falls in love too quickly and it does not last very long.

Relationship Words Individual Graphics-01

품절남/품절녀 – pum jeol nam/pum jeol nyuh (sold out man/woman)

The literal translation is a male or female that is “sold out” and no longer available. This word is used when someone you find charming or popular is getting married or is already married.

Relationship Words Individual Graphics-06

모쏠 – mo ssol

모태쏠로 (“solo from birth”)

Someone who was never in a romantic relationship in their entire life.

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초식남 – choshiknam (“herbivore man”) / 건어물녀 – gunomullyuh (“dried fish woman”)

Originated from a Japanese word 草食系, this word literally means “herbivore man.” It was initially used to describe men who are more sensitive and gentle/docile like herbivores, but now it is mostly used to describe guys who are not interested in dating or marriage. They would rather spend time and money on their self-improvement, fashion, and hobbies.

There many debatable theories behind why guys become 초식남. Some of the reasons include concerns for lack of personal life/hobbies when in relationships or once married, fatigue from relationships, financial affordability, or they simply just have no interest in dating.

Also originated from a Japanese word, 乾魚物女 from a 2003 comic, “Dried fish woman” is a female version of 초식남. This word refers to women who focus more on their career and have no desire to do anything else after work. Typical characteristics of 건어물녀 include, changing into a comfortable sweatpants/shirts after a long day at work, relaxing, watching TV and being a couch potato at home. They have no interest or desire in socializing (including dating) and would rather stay home alone.

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볼매 – bol mae

볼수록 매력있다 (the more you look, more charm)

This abbreviated word is used to describe when someone who has hidden charms. They might not be the most attractive person, but once you get to know them they are more attractive and charming.

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돌싱 – dol sing

돌아온 싱글 (returned single)

Someone who has gotten divorced and has “came back” to being single.

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밀당 – mil dang

밀고 당기다 (push and pull)

Every relationship needs a little push and pull. In the context of relationships, 밀당often means “playing hard to get.”

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썸 – ssum

Taken from the English word “something,” this describes the special something between two people who seem to have feelings for each other but haven’t taken the plunge and started dating.

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뇌섹남/뇌섹녀 – nwae saek nam/nwae saek nyeo

뇌가 섹시한 남자/여자 (“sexy brain man/woman”)

Someone who is attractive because of their smarts can be described as a뇌섹남 (male) or뇌섹녀 (female). This means a man or woman whose brain is sexy.

Relationship Words Individual Graphics-10

남사친/여사친 – nam sa chin/yeo sa chin

남자 사람 친구/ 여자 사람 친구 (“male/female person friend”)

Literally translated, these two words mean “male person friend” and “female person friend.” You can use this to emphasize that the person is just a friend who happens to be a man or a woman, as opposed to a boyfriend or girlfriend.

If you liked this list, check out the other posts in our series of useful Korean words: 10 Useful Korean Slang Terms and Ten Korean Words that Don’t Exist in English.

Sang Kim is the Director of Public Affairs & Intern Coordinator. Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

Image from 김문규’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons. Graphics by KEI’s Jenna Gibson.

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Ten Korean Words that Don’t Exist in English

By Jenna Gibson 

Every language has “untranslatable words” – a word that perfectly encapsulates a feeling or situation which lacks an exact equivalent in other languages. German’s “schadenfreude” famously describes the feeling of deriving pleasure from another person’s pain.

Korean has plenty of these words. Some commonly cited examples are 정 (jung), a deep love or affection that builds up as you get to know someone, or 눈치 (noon-chi), a person’s situational awareness that allows them to act in socially acceptable ways.

Here are ten other useful Korean words that don’t have exact English equivalents.









1. 답답하다 (v)

Pronunciation: dap-dap-ha-da

This word is used both for its literal meaning – to describe a stuffy room or a need for fresh air – and in a more metaphorical sense. Often translated as “frustrating,” this word describes the feeling that there is no good solution to a problem, or that you can’t quite figure out what to do to remedy a situation.










2. 떨이 (n)

Pronunciation: ddeol-i

For this word, as with several others on this list, we can describe the concept easily, but English lacks an equivalent word. In this case, 떨이 are the last few items at a store, the final inventory that a vendor offers at a steep discount to clear the shelves.










3. 분위기 (n)

Pronunciation: boon-wee-gi

Ambiance is a similar concept, but 분위기 includes not just the vibe of a location but the feelings and emotions associated with that place and the people in it. A place could have a great ambiance because of its décor, but bad 분위기thanks to more intangible factors.










4. 시원하다 (adj)

Pronunciation: shi-won-ha-da

When is the last time you described a big bowl of stew as “refreshing?” But in Korea this concept is natural. In fact, a Korean friend once told me that once you understand how refreshing hot soup in the summer can be, you’ll truly understand Korean food culture.










5. 싱겁다 (adj)

Pronunciation: shing-gup-da

This is one Korean word makes perfect sense in English, even though it would be translated with a slightly different adjective – boring or dull, for example. Nonetheless, we all know what a “bland” person looks and acts like, even if we’ve never described someone exactly that way.










6. 어이없다 (adj)

Pronunciation: uh-ee-up-da

Literally this word translates to “without a why.” In practice, it describes a situation that has no reason, or that is so absurd that it leaves you dumbfounded.










7. 얼큰하다 (adj)

Pronunciation: ol-kn-ha-da

When I asked a Korean colleague what this word meant, she immediately laughed and said it’s something only old men use. Nonetheless, the concept is interesting for all ages. Have you ever heard that spicy food can clear your sinuses? That’s exactly the feeling that 얼큰하다 describes – the detoxifying effect of super spicy broth after a night of too much soju.









8. 인연 (n)

Pronunciation: in-yeon

While this word can be accurately translated as “bond” or “relationship,” that doesn’t really cover the strength of the connection. It often carries a connotation of fate or destiny, that the bond was somehow predestined. This is also often when talking about the connection between married couples.










9. 저리다 (adj)

Pronunciation: jo-ri-da

Think of the last time your leg fell asleep. “Tingling” doesn’t quite describe the painful, uncomfortable feeling fully, does it? 저리다 is a numb or tingling feeling, but adds that element of pain missing in its English equivalent.









10. 치사하다 (adj)

Pronunciation: chi-sa-ha-da

The example my colleague used to describe this word was when a friend brings up an old wrongdoing in order to win an argument. You can’t defend against that kind of attack, and you wouldn’t expect a good friend to resort to such tactics. Another example the dictionary provided was the way a sleazy car salesmen distorts the facts to make a sale.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. Jiwon Nam, an Intern at KEI and graduate student at the University of Maine, and Sang Kim, director of public affairs, also contributed to this blog. 

Photo from Hyunwoo Sun’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Korean Language Continues to Gain Popularity Worldwide

By Jenna Gibson

In Thailand, students applying to college will soon have the option of using Korean as their foreign language.

Beginning in 2018, Korean will become the seventh foreign language available on the test, along with Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, French, German, and Pali. English communication is also a required part of the exam.

This move comes amid growing demand for Korean language learning in Thailand, where Korean pop culture products are wild successes.

“Thailand has been swept by Hallyu for the past couple of years, and many Korean celebrities and singers are quickly gaining popularity. Not just second and third generation overseas Koreans, but also native Thais are wanting to learn Korean,” said Yoon So-young, director of the Korean Language Institute in Thailand, in response to the announcement. “The government’s decision to adopt Korean on the college entrance exam is taking a big step toward meeting the growing demand.”

Thailand is not the only country where the popularity of Korean pop culture, or Hallyu, has brought increased demand for Korean language classes. The King Sejong Institute Foundation, a Korean government initiative that has established 130 language institutes in 50 countries, was established in 2012 in part because of “Rapid increase in the Korean language education thanks to the spread of Hallyu.”


But celebrity crushes are not the only reason more people around the world are interested in learning Korean. As a recent article in The Phnom Penh Post noted, thousands of Cambodians are diligently studying the language in the hopes of getting a coveted work permit to move to South Korea or to get a job with a Korean company in Cambodia. Nearly 55,000 Cambodians have applied to take the official Korean proficiency exam (TOPIK) so far in 2016.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific, American institutions continue to increase the availability of Korean language courses. Famous for its language instruction, Middlebury College opened its School of Korean in 2015. And MIT recently announced that they will begin offering their own Korean courses in the fall of 2016. The school had been offering four Korean classes in partnership with Wellesley College since 2014, but after two years of excess demand MIT decided to create their own courses.

“There’s been a lot of interest in MIT-Korea on campus,” Matt Burt, managing director of MIT-Korea, told The Tech, MIT’s campus newspaper. “People are interested in Korean popular culture, but also want to explore Korea’s growing technological scene, which appeals to the MIT community.”

“MIT-Korea launched in 2012. The first year, we only had five interns. This year, so far, we had 16 students travel to Korea over IAP and at least 20 interns will be working there in the summer,” Burt added. “I suspect that there would have been more students going had there been the option to take MIT-taught Korean classes, so hopefully, the number of participants in MIT-Korea will only rise with this change.”

These new courses are part of a wider trend in the United States, as American students grow increasingly interested in learning Korean. In fact, Korean was the only language to experience significant growth in the United States over the last few years, with the number of students studying Korean increasing 44.7 percent even as overall language enrollment decreased 6.7 percent.

 Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Hyunwoo Sun’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.