ANNYEONGHASEYO: Mastering the Korean Language

So You Want To Learn Korean: Learning from KDramas

While watching a KDrama can be a lot of fun, if you are learning Korean it can also be a great way to practice your listening skills and broaden your knowledge! To help you along, I’ve taken a look at scenes from a couple of my favorite dramas that feature common Korean phrases and explained them here for you.

Before I begin, I want to mention that most of these phrases can be said a few different ways, and depending on who you are talking to, you will need to consider the level of formality that you want to use. Generally, these phrases can be used between friends and in those cases you can say them as-is (that is, informally). However, if you are speaking to someone who is older than you or your senior in some way, then you will want to be a little more formal. To do that, simply add 요 (yo) to the end of the phrase. I will be sure to indicate which phrases can have 요 added in the Summary section.

Hello My Twenties/Age of Youth

This fresh, modern drama about five young women who room together while they go through life’s ups and downs is full of useful sayings. Let’s dive in to two scenes from Episode 1, where the protagonist Eun Jae moves into the share house for the first time.

age of youth 1

After some misunderstandings between roommates, Eun Jae vents her feelings and then falls ill. When she emerges from her room, Yi Na says, “일어났어?” (ee-reo-na-sseo?) which translates to, “You’re up?” This is based on the verb 일어나다 (to get up), and can be used a couple of different ways. Here, Yi Na is using it to ask a past-tense question, while if your sister was oversleeping you might insist “일어나!” (“Wake up!/Get up!”) in the present tense.

Next, Yi Na and Ye Eun check on Eun Jae by asking, “괜찮아?” (kwaen-cha-nah?) – “Are you okay?” This broadly-used phrase can be applied to all kinds of situations, and is generally used just like you would use the same question in English.

When Eun Jae asks if she can help out with the housecleaning, they assure her that “다 했어” (ta haesseo) – they did all of it. In this case, 다 is used to indicate that all of the work was done, and 했어 is the past tense form of the extremely common verb 하다 – to do. You could use this simple sentence to say that you did all of your homework, chores, work, or any other task.

Eun Jae sheepishly apologizes to her roommates by saying “죄송해요” (jwe-song-hae-yo) – “I’m sorry.” This slightly more formal apology is appropriate for most situations where you might wish to use it.

age of youth 2e

Later on, the roommates decide to have a conversation to clear the air and find out what they can do to make living together more enjoyable. Yi Na invites Eun Jae to share her perspective by saying, “말해봐” (mal-hae-bwa). This is a little harder to translate directly into English, but the feeling is “Go ahead” – she is encouraging Eun Jae to share. 말 is the Korean word for speech, and 해봐 means to try to do something. You might use 말해봐 when someone seems hesitant to speak, and you can also just use 해봐 to tell someone “give it a try!” when they are considering doing something.

When Eun Jae explains that she can overhear Ye Eun on the phone, Ye Eun is shocked and asks, “진짜?” (jin-jja?) – “Really?” This exclamation is one of my favorites as it has a wide range of applications. You might say 진짜 to express your frustration at having someone cut in front of you while you are driving, or you could use it to show your excitement when your friend shares some big news.

A couple of times during the conversation, in relation to an undesirable action (eg. leaving the water running), the girls tell each other “하지마” (ha-ji-ma) – “Don’t do that/Stop that.” Again, this phrase can be used similarly to the English equivalent.

Finally, as they reach an understanding and start to feel more comfortable with each other, Ye Eun says, “먹자” – (meok-ja). By adding 자 to the verb stem of 먹다 (to eat), it gives it the meaning “Let’s eat”. You can also add 자 to other verb stems to say “Let’s _____” – such as let’s go (가자 – ga-ja).

Strong Woman Do Bong Soon

Endowed with superhuman strength, Bong Soon finds herself guarding a CEO and caught up in a mystery all at the same time. As both situations start to build in Episode 2, and more characters are introduced, we encounter numerous common Korean phrases.

strong woman 6

When Bong Soon reunites with an old friend, Kyung Shim, they both exclaim, “잘지냈어?” (jal-jee-nae-sseo). This is a phrase that you can use to say, “How have you been?” It should really only been used when you haven’t seen someone in a while, rather than after a short time apart. As you study Korean you may notice that there isn’t an exact equivalent for the very Canadian greeting of “How are you?” that we use every day; while it’s important to know that 잘지내? isn’t the same as How are you?, it is a helpful saying for reunions like this one.

Bong Soon also tells Kyung Shim “보고싶었어!” (bo-go-shi-peo-sseo), or, “I missed you!” This is a combination of the verb 보다 (to see), a verb ending that indicates that you want to do something (-고싶다), and the past tense conjugation for the verb. It is very common to hear someone say “보고싶어!” – “I miss you!” – in any sort of situation, such as when they are on the phone with a friend or significant other.

As Kyung Shim and Bong Soon’s family sit down to eat their dinner, Bong Ki remarks “오랜만이다” (oh-raen-ma-ni-da). This means “It’s been a while”, and can be used to talk about something that’s happening after a long time, or to greet someone you haven’t seen in a long time. In this case, he’s referring to the fish cakes that Kyung Shim brought with her from Busan, which they haven’t eaten in a while.

strong woman 9

After a harrowing incident at the hospital, Gook Du and Bong Soon are comparing notes on what happened. Distraught, Bong Soon says, “어떻게” (eo-tteo-keh). Like 진짜, this is a broad term that can be used in a lot of different instances. At this moment, Bong Soon wants to express “What are we going to do?”, and that is the general feeling of 어떻게; you can use it when you feel hopeless, frustrated, confused, or otherwise unsure of how to deal with the current situation.

Gook Du is quick to reassure Bong Soon by saying “걱정하지마” (geok-jeong-ha-ji-ma) – “Don’t worry.” We saw 하지마 earlier (don’t do that) and 걱정 means worry, so this one’s pretty easy. Sometimes you will also hear or see this phrase shortened to “걱정마”, which has the same meaning.

As Gook Du realizes the danger Bong Soon might be in, he urges her to “빨리 집에 들어가” (bbal-li-jib-eh-deu-reo-ga). Firstly we have 빨리, which means quickly, and then 집에, which is the word 집 (home) paired with a particle that denotes place (에). The verb in this sentence is 들어가다, which means to go in, and it is conjugated in the present tense, so the overall meaning is “Go back home quickly”. Although you may not say this exact sentence all the time, these are all useful pieces that you could combine with other phrases, such as “빨리 먹자”, or use on their own, such as saying “집에 들어가” when you have walked someone home and are encouraging them to go into their house.

Near the end of this scene, there is a moment when Gook Du reassures Bong Soon that she is not to blame for what happened at the hospital. She replies, “알았어” (ah-ra-sseo) to say “Okay” or “I understand.” This phrase is quite versatile and can be used to indicate your understanding or agreement in general. You can also use it to express a certain mood, depending on your tone – it can be everything from playful to sarcastic.


I hope that this has been a helpful foray into the world of Korean phrases, courtesy of Kdramas! Here are all of the phrases we talked about today:

일어나(요) / 일어났어(요)? — Get up or Wake up / You’re up?
괜찮아(요)? — Are you okay?
다 했어(요) — (I/we) did it all or (I/we) finished it all
죄송해요 — I’m sorry

말해봐(요) / 해봐(요) — Go ahead or Tell us / Go ahead or Try it or Try to do (something)
진짜? — Really?
하지마(요) — Don’t do (it/that) or Stop (it/that)
먹자 / 가자 — Let’s eat / Let’s go

잘지내(요)? / 잘지냈어(요)? — How are you? / How have you been?
보고싶어(요) /보고싶었어(요) — I miss you / I missed you
오랜만이다 — It’s been a while

어떻게 — What do I do?
걱정하지마(요) / 걱정마(요) — Don’t worry
빨리 집에 들어가(요) — Go (back) home quickly
알았어(요) — Okay or I understand

What dramas would you like to learn from? Leave a comment below and I might include them in a future article!

All screenshots courtesy of and

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