So You Want To Learn Korean: Learning from KDramas III

Although KDrama storylines can be sensational and a little unrealistic, they contain a wealth of information for any Korean learner. Having access to hundreds of conversations about widespread topics is extremely helpful, particularly if you aren’t able to practice your Korean with native Korean speakers directly.

There is so much to gain from listening to natural sentences and exchanges, no matter what level of learning you are at! Today I’m going to go through a few words and phrases from KDramas in the hopes that it will be a fun way for you to discover some new expressions and vocabulary.

Also, here are Part I and Part II of this series, as many of the phrases included there will show up in today’s episodes. If you choose to watch these dramas, I encourage you to listen for those past expressions as well as the new ones!

Cinderella and the Four Knights

This modern re-telling of the Cinderella story sees our spirited protagonist Ha Won coming to live with the rich grandsons of a magnate, where she gradually helps them to heal their relationships with themselves and each other. Let’s dive into Episode 1, where we begin to learn about Ha Won and meet playboy Hyun Min.

cinderella one

Ha Won’s stepmother and stepsister are checking her stepsister’s university admission status when Ha Won arrives home. She announces her presence by saying, “다녀왔습니다” (da-nyeo-wa-seum-ni-da). This is a common way to say “I’m home!” and comes from the verb 다녀오다, which means to go and come back.

When Ha Won’s stepmother complains about her clothing, Ha Won replies “전… 이게 편해서요” (jeon… ee-geh pyeon-hae-seo-yo). First, 전 is a shortened form of 저는, which is the formal way to talk about yourself as the subject of a sentence. Here, 이게 is used to talk about “this thing” – which in this case is the uniform that her stepmother mentioned. Both of these are used extensively in Korean sentences, along with other similar words (eg. 나는, the informal way to talk about yourself as the subject; 그게, that thing, etc.). Finally, Ha Won is explaining why she continues to wear her school outfit by using the verb 편하다 (to be comfortable) along with the particle 서 that adds the meaning “because”. If we were to look at a literal translation of this sentence, it might be something like “I… because this is comfortable.” Most translators will adapt this into something more natural in English. Translations that are modified to suit English can be useful for you to learn the feeling and nuance behind a particular Korean phrase.

As Ha Won checks her own admission status, she mentions her mother’s dream for her to become a teacher. When her stepmother takes this the wrong way, Ha Won says, “그런 뜻이 아니라” (geu-ron deu-shi a-ni-ra). This translates to “That’s not what I meant” and can be said in response to an incorrect statement from someone else based on something the speaker said first. The ending –라 adds the feeling of comparison, so you may see additional information shared after that part of the sentence which tells you what they did mean (eg. “I didn’t mean the red one, I meant the blue one.”)

cinderella three

Hyun Min’s quest to meet Ha Won brings him to the convenience store where she works – and where he would normally never go. When she tells him about a buy-one-get-one free offer (called “one plus one” or “원 플러스 원” in Korea), he asks her, “그게 뭔데?” (geu-geh mweon-dae?) or “What’s that?” Here we have an example of 그게 (that thing) which I mentioned in the last section, along with 뭐 (what). The ~ㄴ데 ending is a complicated part of Korean grammar but here it basically gives a slight feeling of “but…” This is a very subtle nuance, so the English translation would probably still be “What’s that?”

When Hyun Min finds out what one plus one means, he exclaims, “대박!” (dae-bak) – “Amazing!” This is a slang term but is widely used, just like “amazing” is in English. As they sit down to eat the ice cream, he uses another: “헐, 반말?” (heol, ban-mal?). 헐 is a slang term as well, with a general feeling of surprise – like, “I can’t believe it” or “OMG”. In this case, he is shocked by Ha Won’s use of informal language – 반말 – even though they are strangers and he is a customer in a store.

To explain his proposition, Hyun Min says, “부탁 하나만 하자” (bu-tak ha-na-man ha-ja). This means “Do me a favor” or “Let me ask you a favor.” Let’s quickly look at the parts of this sentence: 부탁 is favor, and 하나 is one. The addition ~만 adds a meaning of “only”, and the ending ~자 is one that we saw in Part I of this series and means “let’s”.

(Note: Attempting a literal translation of this sentence – something like “Let’s do only one favor” – doesn’t really convey its full meaning, so it’s best to go with the more accurate translation of “Do me a favor.” Keep these kinds of translation differences in mind when you are studying; each language is different and unique! Literal translations don’t always tell the full story.)

When Hyun Min convinces Ha Won that he can follow through with his part of the deal, Ha Won tells him, “번호 주세요” (beon-ho joo-seh-yo) – “Give me your (phone) number.” Here, 번호 is short for 전화번호 (phone number) and 주세요 is a common ending that you can use to say “please give me” or “please do (something) for me”. In response, Hyun Min writes his phone number on Ha Won’s arm and says, “연락해” (yeol-lak-hae) – “Call me.” Note that although this word contains ㄴ, the pronunciation is “yeol” not “yeon”.

My ID is Gangnam Beauty

When Kang Mi Rae starts a new life at university after having plastic surgery, she tries to figure out how to adapt to having a different appearance and to the reactions of those around her. In the first episode of this drama, we follow her and her fellow university freshmen on orientation day.

gangnam beauty one

Once the university orientation splits off into faculties, they start a round of introductions. After the seniors have a chance to share about themselves, they invite the freshmen to do the same. The class president asks them to come forward to introduce themselves by saying “앞으로 나와서” (a-peu-ro na-wa-seo). 앞 is a directional word that means “in front” and the addition of ~으로 to a directional word adds the meaning of “in that direction”, so 앞으로 means “forward” or “to the front”. Then we see the verb 나오다 (to come out or to come forward) along with a familiar particle, 서. In this case, 서 has a slightly different meaning than we saw last time. Here it indicates that after you do one thing, you will do something else (connected to the first action). In this case, the class president does not say anything after 서, but the context allows the listeners to understand that the next action will be a self-introduction.

At this announcement, Jung Boon leans over to Mi Rae and says, “자기 소개 너무 떨린다” (ja-gi so-gae neo-mu ddeol-lin-da), to which Mi Rae responds, “나도” (na-do) – “Me too.” Here, 자기 소개 is “personal introduction” and Jung Boon is saying that the prospect of having to do this makes her very nervous. There are many words for “very” in Korean, but in this case she uses 너무, and the verb 떨린다 is simply “to be nervous”. Mi Rae responds using the casual form of “me too” (나도).

When Kyung Seok introduces himself, someone from the crowd calls out, “잘생겼다!” (jal-saeng-gyeot-da!) – “(You’re) handsome!” Although this adjective is translated to the past-tense form, don’t get confused – this is still talking about the present. There are some situations where you will see this in Korean. It’s best to learn these unusual words individually to become familiar with these exceptions.

Mi Rae is startled to see Kyung Seok and thinks to herself, “설마… 그 도경석?” (seol-ma… geu do kyung-seok?) – “Is he that Do Kyung Seok?” The expression 설마 is used to express a feeling similar to “It can’t be…”, “Could it be…?”, or “No way…”, and can be used in a wide variety of situations.

gangnam beauty four

When Mi Rae’s mother calls her later that evening, she is feeling overwhelmed from her experience at the orientation. Hearing the emotion in her daughter’s voice, Mi Rae’s mother asks her, “왜 그래? 무슨 일 있어?” (wae geu-rae? moo-seun il iss-eo?). These are two common phrases that can both be used to ask someone why they are upset or acting a certain way. A fairly literal translation of “왜 그래?” could be “Why are you like that?”, but usually you will see something like, “What’s wrong?” or “What’s the matter?” The phrase “무슨 일 있어?” means “Is something wrong?” or “Did something happen?” Although 일 is the Korean word for “work”, it can be also used more broadly to refer to some kind of situation, task, or problem.

Mi Rae is able to assure her mother that rather than something being wrong, she is enjoying herself. She says, “나 재밌어” (na jae-mi-sseo) – “I’m having fun”. Here the adjective 재미있다 (to be fun) has been shortened into an easier-to-say form. These kinds of contractions are common in Korean conversations.

Soon, her mother says that she has another call to answer and assures her daughter, “또 전화할게” (ddo jeon-hwa-hal-keh). We saw the word 전화 (phone) earlier, and 또 means “again”. The verb 전화하다 (to phone call/to phone) is conjugated into the present-tense form here, so Mi Rae’s mother is saying, “I’ll call you again.” This might sound more natural if translated to “I’ll call you later.”


Here is a review of the new words and phrases that we covered today:

다녀왔습니다! — I’m home!
저는/나는 — I… (formal) / I… (informal)
이게/그게 — This thing / That thing
편해서요 — Because it’s comfortable
그런 뜻이 아니라 — That’s not what I meant

그게 뭔데(요)? — What’s that?
대박 — Amazing
헐 — I can’t believe it / OMG
반말 — informal language
부탁 하나만 하자 — Do me a favor / Let me ask you a favor
(전화)번호 주세요 — Give me your (phone) number
연락해(요) — Call me

앞으로 나와서 — Come forward / Come to the front
자기 소개 — Self-introduction
너무 떨린다 — (I’m) very nervous
나도(요) / 저도(요) — Me too (informal) / Me too (formal)
잘생겼다 — (You’re/They’re) handsome
설마… — It can’t be… / Could it be…? / No way…

왜 그래? — What’s wrong / What’s the matter?
모슨 일 있어? — Is something wrong? / Did something happen?
나(는) 재밌어 — I’m having fun (informal)
또 전화할게(요) — I’ll call you again / I’ll call you later

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 http://www.viki.com

Learning from KDramas Part I

Learning from KDramas Part II

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