Studying Korean is a little bit different for everyone, but there are some common experiences that you may encounter when learning Korean as a Canadian. Here are some ways that you can represent your Canadian side when speaking Korean!
Every culture brings their own unique perspective to the world, and Canadians are no different. Although we often encounter stereotypes about our slang, manners, and living in the far north, we know that Canada is a beautifully diverse country. Yet there are some elements to being a Canadian that are fairly universal, and which shape how we view ourselves and others. When used positively, this shared perspective can be celebrated as part of our national identity.
As Korean is a language born out of a different culture, its forms and sentiments are suited to that environment. Learning about Korean can teach you a lot about Korean culture, and this is one of many excellent reasons to study it! When you are starting out, however, you may find it difficult to express yourself in a way that you are familiar with – so I’d like to bridge that gap for you today.
Let’s explore some simple ways to translate Canadian-style expressions into Korean!
Perhaps the most basic point is knowing how to tell others that you are from Canada, so we will start there. When you are introducing yourself in Korean, you can use the following phrase to share your name:
저는 (your name) 이에요 — I am (your name) / My name is (your name)
(Use this form if your name ends in a consonant. This is a polite sentence, so it’s safe to use it with most audiences.)
저는 (your name) 예요 — I am (your name) / My name is (your name)
(Use this form if your name ends in a vowel. This is also a polite sentence.)
To say that you are from Canada, you can use this phrase:
(저는) 캐나다에서 왔어요 — I’m from Canada
Here, 캐나다 is the word Canada spelled out in Hangul. Due to pronunciation differences, it will sound more like “Kae-na-da” when spoken in Korean – but feel free to pronounce it as you normally would. The 에서 portion of the sentence is a particle that talks about being in a place, or something happening in a place. You’ll see it frequently when learning other Korean sentences. At the end of the sentence is the verb 오다 (to come), conjugated into the past tense and ending in a polite form (요). Although this makes it seem like the sentence should read “I came from Canada”, this is the right form to use even if you are talking about where you still live, and is understood as “I’m from Canada”.
It is extremely common for a Canadian conversation to include the question “how are you?” either used casually as a greeting or to genuinely ask after someone’s well-being. Naturally, when I started to learn Korean I wanted to know how to say “how are you” right away. However, this is not an equivalent practice in Korean, so my Korean friends found it difficult to provide an answer.
Although there is a way to ask someone how they have been in Korean, this phrase is usually used when you haven’t seen someone for a while. If you’ve been studying abroad for a year and then run into a friend back home after that absence, it would be appropriate for them to ask you:
잘지냈어(요)? — How are you? / How have you been?
(잘 is a broadly applicable word meaning “well” that you will see often in Korean. A more literal translation of this sentence could be “Have you been well?”)
However, this phrase can’t be used for regular interactions. Instead, the closest equivalent that Koreans have to the Canadian “how are you” that carries a similar feeling is:
밥(을) 먹었어(요)? — Have you eaten (a meal)?
You can use this phrase near the beginning of a conversation to express that you care about how someone else is doing, or to start a casual chat.
Another common Canadian saying that brought me similar difficulties is “take care”. Again, this is a phrase that we use both to say goodbye and to wish someone well, but there is no direct Korean equivalent.
If you search “take care” on a Korean-English translator, you may get the following result:
For me, this was confusing at first, because I assumed (incorrectly) that this could be used as a goodbye greeting like “take care” in English. However, since “take care” can also be used to tell someone to be careful or cautious, I quickly realized that this sentence was related to that alternate meaning:
조심해(요) — Be careful / Watch out
To tell someone goodbye in a manner similar to “take care”, it is best to use the following:
잘가(요) — Goodbye / Take care
(You’ll notice that this phrase also uses 잘! Its literal translation is “go well”.)
From visiting other countries, I have firsthand experience that the jokes about Canadian politeness do have some basis in truth – we really do love to be polite! In Korea, you will see this reflected more in formality, where the way you speak changes based on who you are talking to and who you are talking about. Nevertheless, there are also some ways to be polite when speaking Korean.
One form that you will see that has many uses is the ending “-세요”. Although the grammar around this is somewhat complicated, I would like to teach you a few phrases with -세요 that you can use intuitively, without needing to know the background.
The first and possibly most useful version of this ending (at least for beginners) is -주세요, which you can use to politely ask someone to give you something or to do something for you. Here are some simple examples:
물 좀 주세요 — May I have some water? / Please give me some water
이거 주세요 — This one, please
한 병 주세요 — One bottle, please
You can also add -세요 to verbs to politely tell someone to do something. When you do this, you should add this ending directly to the verb stem (for example, if you use 가다, the verb stem is 가- and the result would be 가세요).
Here are some simple examples:
이 사진(을) 보세요 — Look at this picture (please)
가세요 — (Please) Go / Go ahead
이거 공부하세요 — Study this (please)
Aside from using -세요, there are some Korean words that you can use exactly as you would in an English setting to be more polite. Here are a few of them:
감사합니다 / 감사해(요) — Thank you
고마워(요) — Thank you
저기요 — Excuse me (usually used to get someone’s attention)
죄송해(요) — I’m sorry
미안해(요) — I’m sorry
아니에요 — You’re welcome / It’s nothing / No problem (when using this, be careful as to your tone of voice – it can also mean “No, it’s not!”)
Although it can be fun to find ways to express Canadian sentiments in Korean, to me it is even more exciting to learn about Korean ways of expression. As you continue to study Korean, you will find more and more windows into Korean thought and how it is woven into the language. As a result, you may find that you have a broader view of the world and your place in it – and I hope that inspires you to learn even more.