Lesson Five: Tell Me, Tell Me!

"Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about"  -  Benjamin Lee Whorf

"Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about" - Benjamin Lee Whorf

In this lesson I’ll be aiming to develop your introductory and interrogative skills to a higher level, so that you’ll be able to give more details about yourself and learn more about someone you’ve just met. Take a look at the dialogue below; you may not understand it all, but by the end of this lesson it should be very simple for you. The dialogue features three men [age]: Minkyu [24], Joonsu[24] and Yeonho[18]. Minkyu is introducing Yeonho to Joonsu for the first time. Notice how the level of politeness changes depending on who’s speaking to who.

민규: 준수 안녕?

준수: 오! 민규! 오랜만이야!

민규: 그래. 너를 내 친구에게 소개 하고 싶어! 이름이 연호야.

준수: 아 정말? 안녕하세요! 만나서 반갑습니다!

연호: 네, 반가워요! 연호라고 합니다. 이름이 어떻게 되세요?

준수: 준수라고 합니다. 어려보이세요!

연호: 예, 저는 18살이에요.

준수:  부러워요! 말 놓아도 되요*? 고등학생이에요?

연호: 네, 수능을 준비 하고 있어요…힘들어요.

준수: 그래. 어느 대학교에서 공부하고 싶어?

연호: 연세대에서 공부하고 싶지만 정말 어려워요…물리 전공 하고 싶어요. 형은 뭐 공부 하세요?

준수: 나 프랑스어 공부해…우리 어머니께서 프랑스에서 오셨어.

연호: 와 멋있어요! 프랑스에 가본신적 있어요?

준수: 어 당연하지! 너 어디 살아?

연호: 요즘 민규형이랑 대구에 살지만 원래는 서울에 살아요. 형은요?

준수: 나도 대구에서. 아..나 지금 가야돼! 반가워! 다음에 봐!

연호: 네, 다음에 뵐게요!

*말놓아도되요=Can I speak comfortably? Meaning, can Joonsu not use the honourifics such as 요 because Yeonho is younger than him.

Firstly, that’s one big dialogue, especially if you’re a beginner in Korean! However, if you read it carefully, you’ll find that you actually understand quite a lot. Joonsu says 오랜만이야!, which is a more informal contraction of 오래간만이에요!, which means ‘long time no see!’ if you forgot that. Minkyu then replies with 그래, which means ‘that’s right’, and it can be easily made more polite by saying 그래요. Sometimes you may also see 맞아요!, but this one is more like ‘that’s correct’, which would be a little too formal for this dialogue. He then goes on to say 너한테 내 친구 소개 소개 하고 싶어!, which is an expression meaning ‘I want to introduce my friend to you’.

Joonsu replies with 정말?, which means ‘Really?’. You can also use  진짜, 너무, 매우, 엄청 and 참 . He then says 어려보이세요!, which means ‘You look young!’. Check out these other complimentary phrases you may want to use:

키가 참 크다 = You’re so tall

똑똑하구만 = You’re so clever

너 너무 멋있어 = You’re so handsome

너 너무 아름다워/너 너무 이뻐 = You’re so beautiful/pretty

Now let’s look at Joonsu’s 부러워!. This means ‘I envy you!’ [because Yeonho's younger than him], and to make it more polite you can simply say 부러워요! He then goes on to say ‘고등학생 이야?’ ‘고등’ comes from ‘고등 학교’, meaning ‘high school’, and 학생 means ‘student’; so, instead of saying 고등학교 학생, the Koreans abreviate this to고등학생‘. You may however want to say something different, like that you’re a teacher or unemployed or a University student. See the below examples, and if you can’t find what you want to say, just send me an e-mail and I’ll add it to the list :)

It usually follows a simple pattern of I am~ [나는~입니다].


나는 중학생입니다 = I’m a middle school student

나는 대학생입니다 = I’m a university student

나는 선생님입니다 = I’m a teacher

나는 학생입니다 = I’m a student

나는 백수입니다 = I’m unemployed

나는 아르바이트 합니다 = I have a part-time job

나는 사업가입니다  = I’m a businessman/woman

When asking somebody if they are a student etc., remember the interrogative phrase ~입니까? For example, 학생입니까? And of course the suitable reply would be 네, 학생입니다. You should be sure to distinguish between 입니다 and 입니까.

Yeonho mentions 수능, which is an exam taken by most Korean students in their final year of high school. It is similar to the British A-Levels [Advanced Levels], however with 수능 around 7-8 subjects are generally studied, and Koreans tend to prepare for this exam a lot more diligently than the British. The exam is so important as a good 수능 mark means entrance to a good university. Notice that -을 is attached to 수능. This is used to mean ‘for’, as you can see in the sentence 수능을 준비하고 있어요. 준비하고 있어요 means ‘preparing’, so he’s preparing to take this exam. However if the object in question ends in a vowel, -를 is used instead of -을. If you want to say you’re ‘doing something’, the structure ~고 있습니다/~고 었어요 is very useful. Find out the verb, for example 준비하다 [to prepare], and take away the verb ending -다 so that you’re left with the stem [준비하]. Then simply add the stem to 고있습니다/~고 있어요. Take a look at the examples below to clarify these grammatical points.

저는 기현 기다려요  =  I’m waiting for Kihyeon

저는 시험 결과 기다려요 = I’m waiting for/expecting my exam results

저는 공부하고 있습니다  = I’m studying

저는 김치 먹고 있습니다  = I’m eating kimchi

Our friend Yeonho then says ‘힘들어요’, meaning ‘it’s difficult’ it’s this case. This is also used in many other situations, describing a variety of adjectives such as tough, stressed, tired, burdened etc. An essential part of understanding Korean is understanding the context of the conversation. So in this case, we know that Yeonho is taking an exam, therefore he’s probably saying it’s difficult.

Joonsu replies with 어느 대학교에서 공부하고 싶어?, meaning ‘which university do you want to study at?’. ‘어느’ means which, although you might also sometimes see ‘무슨’, and we’ve already briefly looked at ~하고 싶어 in an earlier lesson, meaning ‘to want to do something’. Remember that 대학교 is ‘university’ and -에서/-에 is a preposition meaning ‘in’ or ‘at’. To practice these points take a look at the following sentences.

저는 대학교에서 물리* 공부하고 십습니다  =  I want to study physics at university

한국에 가면 함께 노래방에**  가요!  = If you come to Korea let’s go to the noraebang

*physics

**a karaoke room; 노래 meaning ‘song’ and 방 meaning ‘room’

Here’s also a list of subjects you may want to use in your introductory conversations.

English 영어

Maths 수학

Literature 문학

Physics 물리

Chemistry 화학

Biology 생물학

Sociology 사회학

Music 음악

History  역사

Geography 지리

Korean 한국어

French 프랑스어

German 독일어

Spanish 스페인어

Italian 이탈리아어

Russian 러시아어

Japanese 일본어

Chinese 중국어

Economics 경제

Politics 정치

Law 법학

Foreign Language[s] 외국어

Sport 스포츠

For countries see this list.

영국 UK/Britain

잉글랜드 England

스코틀랜드 Scotland

아일랜드 Ireland

웨일즈 Wales

프랑스 France

스페인 Spain

독일 Germany

이탈리아 Italy

러시아 Russia/Russian Federation

한국/대한민국/조선 South Korea

북한/조선 North Korea

중국 China

일본 Japan

태국 Thailand

대만 Taiwan

인도 India

파키스탄 Pakistan

미국 United States of America

캐나다 Canada

칠레 Chile

호주 Australia

[Please note these countries are based on Korean learners I know from these countries; if your country isn't here, just send an e-mail in or check a dictionary. Also note that 조선 is an older way of saying Korea in both North and South Korea, dating back to the Joseon Dynasty.]


Now see the sentence ‘연세대 공부하고 싶어지만 정말 어려워요’. ‘연세’ is short for 연세 대학교 [Yonsei University], a very famous university. In fact, it’s the top three best universities in Korea, coming third. Some Koreans are impressed when a Westerner knows SKY [Seoul University, Korea University and Yonsei University], every Korean student’s dream. 공부하고 싶지만 ['I want to study, but', 지만 coming from '하지만' which means 'but'] is easy enough to understand, and then 정말 means ‘very’ or ‘really’, and 어려워요 is a way of saying ‘difficult’. So, we can work out that Yeonho is saying he wants to study at Yonsei, but it’s very difficult. He continues with 어떤 공부 하세요?. ‘어떤’ means ‘what/which kind?’, ‘공부’ means ‘study/studies’ and ‘하세요’ in this case is a polite way of saying ‘doing’; so it means ‘what are you studying?’.

Joonsu then talks about his studies and his mother. He says 우리 어머니께서 프랑스에서 오셨어, meaning ‘my mother comes from France’. Be careful, because in Korean they tend not to say ‘my’. ‘우리’ actually means ‘our’, and this lingual difference between Korean and English is largely due to Korea’s homogenous society. ‘어머니’ means ‘mother’  and  오셨어 means ‘came from’ [오다=to come; 간다=to go].

Yeonho then proceeds with ‘와 멋있어요!’, meaning ‘wow cool!’, although 멋있어요 can also mean ‘handsome’. He also says ‘프랑스에 가보신적 있어요?’ [Have you ever been to France?]. See the examples below to practice similar phrases.

일본에 가본적 있습니까?   =   Have you ever been to Japan?

김치를 먹어 봤습니까?  = Have you ever eaten kimchi?

소주 마셔본적 있습니까?  = Have you ever drunk soju*?


*a Korean distilled alcoholic beverage made from rice or another starch subsitute; similar to vodka but sweeter; very strong and very popular!

Joonsu says ‘당연하지!’, meaning ‘Of course!’ or ‘Sure!’ [remember this is informal], and a similar expression is 물론! With similar informality Joonsu asks ‘어디 살아?’, meaning ‘Where do you live?’ [어디=where, 살아 from 살다 meaning 'to live'], to which Yeonho replies ‘These days I’m living with Minkyu in Daegu/Taegu but my city is Seoul.’ See the breakdown if this sentence below.

요즘/요새 = these days

이랑/랑 = with [use 이랑 if the preceeding noun ends in a consonant]

대구에 살지만 = [I] live in Daegu/Taegu, but~

도시 = city/town


Joonsu’s last utterance is ‘나 지금 가 야돼’ [I have to go now], 지금 meaning ‘now’ and ~야돼 being a structure added to verbs to mean ‘have to~’. For example, 공부해야 돼요 [I have to study] or 먹어야 돼요 [I have to eat]. You may notice that sometimes the subjects 나/저 are omitted; this isn’t a mistake. You’ll often find when talking with Koreans that the subject is dropped, simply because the speaker and listener usually understand the context and therefore don’t need to say the subject. He then says an abrupt 다음에 봐! [see you next time!], and so Yeonho replies with 다음에 뵐게요! meaning the same thing but more polite towards the older listener.

Well, that was quite a long lesson! There are of course many other things you would want to discuss in an introductory conversation, so before we finish I’ve listed some other helpful things below.

형제나  자매가 있으십니까? = Do you have brothers or sisters?

네, 2명 있습니다  = Yes, I have two.

여동생 = younger sister

남동생 = younger brother

오빠 = older brother [spoken only by females]

형 = older brother [spoken only by males]

누나 = older sister [spoken only by males]

언니 = older sister [spoken only by females]

아니에요, 저는 외아들 [male]/외동딸 [female] = No, I’m an only child

어머니 = mother

아버지 = father

우리 쌍둥이 = We’re twins

I hope this lesson helped! If you’d like any other relevant vocabulary added to the lists, just give me an e-mail :) See you next time!  ;)

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